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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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Not long after starting my new job with the Evanston Public Library system I wrote a post called Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature in Rather Adult Places. The impetus came from the fact that within the capacity of my new job I see quite a bit more adult literature than I ever did back at NYPL. But like some perverse kidlit dowser I can’t turn off my continual need to find children’s literature references in everything I see. Here are some more books that owe a great deal of credit to books written with young people in mind.
Mostly I’m just happy because this is a mystery set in my old stomping grounds but there does appear to be at least one children’s literature connection. In this tale a woman is murdered in Bryant Park and another elsewhere. Kirkus goes on to say, “What was the killer of the two women looking for? The leading candidates are a priceless 1507 map that the library didn’t even know it had and an edition of Alice in Wonderland that’s not suitable for children. The exact identity of the murderer’s target, however, is less interesting than the incestuous web of relations among the library’s trustees…” Library Journal added that the detectives’, “investigation leads them to the New York Public Library, where they discover the magnificence and secrets that lie within this historic landmark. As they travel through hidden passages, marvel at rare antiquities, and uncover decades-old secrets, their adventures are reminiscent of the quests of Indiana Jones or National Treasure.” I’m still wondering about that unsuitable edition of Alice in Wonderland . . .
Apparently this book contains the question, “Why read The Wind in the Willows when you can be Ratty or Mole?”
As Kirkus responded, “It’s not quite on the order of ‘because it is there,’ but it’s a good enough rationale for adventure and a fine note on which to begin.”
Admittedly, this one’s more on the YA side of things. Now we’ve seen a LOT of Peter-Pan-as-bad-guy books and television shows lately. It’s not a particularly new idea, but it gets the job done. This is the first in a series, apparently, and a gory one at that. And speaking of gory . . .
I sort of love this one , mostly because PW in a bit of inspiration described it as, “it’s as though Brian Jacques and Quentin Tarantino went drinking one night.”
To be fair, check out the author on this one. Yep. Catherynne M. Valente. The description from the publisher reads, “A New York Times bestselling author offers a brilliant reinvention of one of the best-known fairy tales of all time with Snow White as a gunslinger in the mythical Wild West.” Sort of resembles an adult companion to Rapunzel’s Revenge, doesn’t it? Well, have no fear. She gets her own adult book too.
This last one is my favorite, by the way.
Admittedly I was kind of hoping that this would be a story about Scrooge opening up his own detective agency with the help of his ghostly friends (whom he can now see). It’s not quite that, but I wasn’t disappointed. Check out the publisher description:
“Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol investigates a shocking murder—before he becomes the next victim—in this playful mystery in a new series from aNew York Times bestselling author.
Scrooge considers himself a rational man with a keen sense of deductive reasoning developed from years of business dealings. But that changes one night when he’s visited by the ghost of his former boss and friend, Fezziwig, who mysteriously warns him that three more will die, and ultimately Ebenezer himself—if he doesn’t get to the bottom of a vast conspiracy.
When he wakes the next day, Scrooge discovers that not only is Fezziwig dead, but he’s under arrest as all evidence points toward himself: Scrooge’s calling card was found in the cold, dead hand of Fezziwig’s body, and someone scribbled “HUMBUG” in blood on the floor nearby.
Now, Scrooge must race against the pocket watch to clear his name, protect his interests, and find out who killed his last true friend—before the “Humbug Killer” strikes again. Joining Scrooge in his adventures is a spunky sidekick named Adelaide, who matches his wits at every turn, plus the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Belle, Pickwick, and even Charles Dickens himself as a reporter dealing in the lurid details of London’s alleyway crimes.”
When I was a kid my family saw what, to this day, can only be described as the most wonderful/horrible version of A Christmas Carol of all time. About ten of the parts were all played by the same guy doing some pretty half-hearted quick changes, but my heart was won when, at the beginning, Fagin (Fagin?) appears on the stage and he and his kids (including an “Olivia”?) sing a rousing rendition of “Consider Yourself” to start the show. Reading the description of this book, I’m experiencing flashbacks.
Extra points for Adelaide, the “spunky sidekick”.
Steve Sheinkin returns once more to write up and illustrate his “Walking and Talking” series. As with other posts in the series, Steve will have a conversation with an author or illustrator and then pluck out and bring to life the parts that really define something about the process. Part of the reason I love these is that Steve’s such a marvelous editor. He knows how to get to the heart of a conversation. And this week’s subject is near and dear to me. Behold all that is Tim Federle!
Thanks to Steve for allowing me to showcase his work. For previous entries in the “Walking and Talking” series, please be sure to check out the following:
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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The Hired Girl
By Laura Amy Schlitz
Ages 12 and up
Bildungsroman. Definition: “A novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.” A certain strain of English major quivers at the very term. Get enough Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man shoved down your gullet and you’d be quivering too. I don’t run across such books very often since I specialize primarily in books for children between the ages of 0-12. For them, the term doesn’t really apply. After all, books for kids are often about the formation of the self as it applies to other people. Harry finds his Hogwarts and Wilbur his spider. Books for teenagers are far better suited to the Bildungsroman format since they explore that transition from child to adult. Yet when you sit right down and think about it, the transition from childhood to teenagerhood is just as fraught. There is a beauty to that age, but it’s enormously hard to write. Only a few authors have ever attempted it and come out winners on the other side. Laura Amy Schlitz is one of the few. Writing a book that could only be written by her, published by the only publisher who would take a chance at it (Candlewick), Schlitz’s latest is pure pleasure on the page. A book for the child that comes up to you and says, “I’ve read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. What’s new that’s like that?”
The last straw was the burning of her books. Probably. Even if Joan’s father hadn’t set her favorite stories to blazes, it’s possible that she would have run away eventually. What we do know is that after breaking her back working for a father who wouldn’t even let her attend school or speak to her old teacher, 14-year-old Joan Skraggs has had enough. She has the money her mother gave her before she died, hidden away, and a dream in mind. Perhaps if she runs away to Baltimore she might be able to find work as a hired girl. It wouldn’t be too different from what she’s done at home (and it could be considerably less filthy). Bad luck turns to good when Joan’s inability to find a boarding house lands her instead in the household of the Rosenbach family. They’re well-to-do Jewish members of the community and Joan has no experience with Jewish people. Nonetheless she is willing to learn, and learn she does! But when she takes her romantic nature a bit too far with the family, she’ll find her savior in the most unexpected of places.
I mentioned Anne of Green Gables in my opening paragraph, but I want to assure you that I don’t do so lightly. One does not bandy about Montgomery’s magnum opus. To explain precisely why I referenced it, however, I need to talk a little bit about a certain type of romantically inclined girl. She’s the kind that gets most of her knowledge of other people through books. She is by turns adorable and insufferable. Now, the insufferable part is easy to write. We are, by nature, inclined to dislike girls in their early teens that play a kind of mental dress-up that’s cute on kids and unnerving on adolescents. However, this character can be written and written well. Jo in Little Women comes through the age unscathed. Anne from Anne of Green Gables traipses awfully close to the awful side, but manages to charm the reader in the process (no mean feat). The “Girl” from the musical The Fantastiks would fit in this category as well. And finally, there is Joan in The Hired Girl. She vacillates wildly between successfully playing the part of a young woman and then going back to the younger side of adolescence. She pouts over not getting a kitten, for crying out loud. Adults reading this book will have a vastly different experience than kids and teens, then. To a grown-up (particularly a grown-up woman) Joan is almost painfully familiar. We remember the age of fourteen and what that felt like. That yearning for love and adventure. That yearning can be useful to you, but it can also make you bloody insufferable. As such, adults are going to be inclined to forgive Joan very easily. I can only hope that her personality allows younger readers to do the same.
My husband used to write and direct short historical films. They were labor intensive affairs where every car, house, and pot holder had to be accurate and of the period. It would have been vastly easier to just write and direct contemporary fare, but where’s the fun in that? I think of those days often when I read works of historical fiction. Labor intensive doesn’t even begin to explain what goes into an accurate look at history. Ms. Schlitz appears to be unaware of this, however, since not only has she written something set in the past, she throws the extra added difficulty of discussing religion into it as well. Working in a Jewish household at the turn of the century, Joan must come to grips with all kinds of concepts and ideas that she has hitherto been ignorant of. For this to work, the author tries something very tricky indeed. She makes certain that her heroine has grown up on a farm where her sole concept of Jewish people is from “Ivanhoe”, so that she is as innocent as a newborn babe. She isn’t refraining from anti-Semitism because she’s an apocryphal character. She’s just incapable of it due to her upbringing, and that’s a hard element to pull off. Had Ms. Schlitz pushed the early portion of this book any further, she would have possibly disinterested her potential readership right from the start. I have heard a reader say that the opening sequence with Joan’s family is too long, but I personally believe these sections where she wanders blindly in and out of various situations could not have worked if that section had been any shorter.
But as I say, historical fiction can be the devil to get right. Apocryphal elements have a way of seeping into the storyline. Your dialogue has to be believably from the time and yet not so stilted it turns off the reader. In this, Laura Amy Schlitz is master. This book feels very early 20th century. You wouldn’t blink an eye to learn it was fifty or one hundred years old (though its honest treatment of Jewish people is probably the giveaway that it’s contemporary). The language feels distinctive but it doesn’t push the young reader away. Indeed, you’re invited into Joan’s world right from the start. I also enjoyed very much her Catholicism. Characters that practice religion on a regular basis are so rare in contemporary books for kids these days.
As I mentioned, adults will read this book differently than the young readership for whom it is intended. I do think that if I were fourteen myself, this would be the kind of book I’d take to. By the same token, as an adult the theme that jumped out at me the most was that of motherhood. Joan’s mother died years before but she has a very palpable sense of her. Her memories are sharp and through her eyes we see the true tragedy of her mother’s life. How she wed a violent, hateful man because she felt she had no other choice. How she wasn’t cut out for the farm’s hard labor and essentially worked herself to death. How she saw her daughter’s future and found the means to save her (and by golly it works!). All the more reason to have your heart go out to Joan when she tries, time and again, to turn Mrs. Rosenbach into a substitute mother figure. It’s a role that Mrs. Rosenbach does NOT fit into in the least, but that doesn’t stop Joan from extended what is clearly teenaged rebellion onto a woman who isn’t her mother but her employer. Indeed, it’s Mrs. Rosenbach who later says, “I felt her wanting a mother.”
Is it a book for a certain kind of reader? Who am I to say? It’s a book I’d hand to a young me, so I don’t think I can necessarily judge who else would enjoy it. It’s beautiful and original and old and classic. It makes you feel good when you read it. It’s thick but it flies by. Because of the current state of publishing today books are either categorized as for children or for teens. The Hired Girl isn’t really for either. It’s for those kids poised between the two ages, desperate to be older but with bits of pieces of themselves stuck fast to their younger selves. A middle school novel of a time before there were middle schools. Beautifully written, wholly original, one-of-a-kind. Unlike anything you’ve read that’s been published in the last fifty years at least, and that is the highest kind of praise I can give.
On shelves now.
Interviews: Laura speaks with SLJ about the book.
More discussions of the book and where it came from!
Oh, I’m so very pleased today. It’s not every day when you get to be part of a blog tour AND feature a distinctive portion of the human anatomy. Thanks to Mara Wicks, now you can have both.
As you may know, a certain graphic novel by the name of HUMAN BODY THEATER is sweeping the nation. Imagine the wit and humor of a Cece Bell, the visual clarity and inviting style of a Raina Telgemeier, and the non-fiction humor and fascination of a Nathan Hale. Voila! This book. And as part of the blog tour (full schedule for the week visible here) each participating site gets to feature a body part written up and illustrated by the illustrious Wicks. Think of it as a tiny taste of the whole. And I don’t mean to brag, but my body part? THE BEST!
Listen up, because I’m about to tell you all about ears. Ears are those flappity, cartilaginous things you have on either side of your head. Human ears have evolved to be the shape that they are to best catch sounds, but ears and ear shapes can vary from animal to animal. Birds have tiny little holes for ears (under all those feathers), while frogs actually have their eardrum (tympanum) on the outside of their body (looks for a round circle behind each eye). Fish can sense vibrations and sound with their whole body, but have an inner ear to process sound. Ears aren’t just for hearing though! Our inner ear is responsible for helping us balance, and for letting us know what is “up” and “down” (though I suppose gravity actually does that too). When you hang upside-down, that woozy feeling that you feel is your inner ear adjusting to a big change in your body’s position. If you want to hear more about ears, check out Human Body Theater!
I was walking the stacks yesterday, minding my own business, when this book catches my eye:
I stare at it for a moment. It looks remarkably familiar for some reason, though I know I’ve never seen it before. Then it hits me:
Barbara O’Connor fan that I am, I remember really adoring this cover when the book came out. Check out my review if you don’t believe me. But in terms of the cover here’s what I waxed eloquent upon at the time:
Bravo. Bravo, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. You’ve managed to create the most adorable cover featuring a canine since last year’s Sheep by Valerie Hobbs. This is almost too perfect in execution. Nitpickers might point out that this scene never happens in the book, but I say pah. Pah, I say! First of all, this dog looks exactly like the one in the book, down to the black circle around one eye. He’s the right size and his little body is just adorable. I love the use of yellow as a background as well. It really allows the book to pop. Then there are the aesthetics to consider. The black and white of the dog match the black and the white of the spine. This book is one of those rare covers that will lure in an equal amount of boys AND girls. It’s a magic combination, and I just want to credit jacket designer Barbara Grzeslo for a bang-up job. Getty Images strikes again. THIS is a cover.
Keyword: Getty Images. Because, of course, just because an image appears on one book that doesn’t mean it won’t appear on another.
Now I distinctly remember this coming up when Twilight became a huge hit. The image of the hands holding the apple was striking, but I feel like it appeared on other books prior to Twilight‘s publication. Yet a search of the internet today yields nothing. Am I making this up? Possibly, but I feel like this was my first real understanding of how Getty Images would work.
Even more recently, it came up when I saw adult author (and friend of my mom) Bonnie Jo Campbell’s latest novel:
A great image. Just not the first time the picture has been used:
Or even the second time:
A great image remains a great image, no matter how it’s used. There’s no shame in sharing your book jacket’s photo with other books. It just behooves reviewers like myself to take every great Getty Image cover with a grain of salt.
By the way, if we’re talking about my favorite incident involving a stock image, then it’s a story that appeared in Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, which I co-wrote with Julie Danielson and Peter Sieruta. The following adult novel was published with a strangely famous author on its cover:
Who’s the writer playing the accordion? How did he get on the cover of a book by a Bosnian novelist in the first place (because I assure you, he was completely unaware of the book until it was brought to his attention)? For the answer to that, I highly recommend that you come by my talk on October 7th at National Louis University in Skokie, IL. I’ll tell all! Or, failing that, you can buy Wild Things. Honestly, I’m easy either way.
Shameless self-promotion, out!
Not to be confused with picture books about cults. *shudder* There’s a genre we needn’t plumb.
No, today I’m talking about those picture books that are released, do moderately well, or maybe not well at all, fall out-of-print, and then long after their demise accrue a kind of cult following. The fans swell, demand that it be republished, and sometimes it actually is.
I mention all this because the other day I found out that a friend of mine is a big time fan of Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty. A cult picture book in the truest sense of the term, the book’s post mortem popularity really and truly did lead to its re-publication a couple years ago. Basically this is a book for people who’ve picked up titles by Peter Sis, looked at the man’s meticulous pointillism, and though, “Surely he could have crammed much more work into this). Stamaty’s book uses every possible smidgen of space and then some.
Not entirely the same is the cult of The Lonely Doll. Seen by some as a beautiful example of black and white photography and dreamlike images, others can’t really get over the strange tale and spanking sequence (frilly underwear and all). What no one can argue with is the fact that it’s still a memorable book. Once for Halloween I went as The Lonely Doll (a fairly easy costume if you just find a pink gingham dress and blond wig) and my husband went as Mr. Bear. BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE ROLL!
For a time one of my own favorite picture books saw a brief resurgence. I’ve posted before about picture books beloved of children’s librarians. In fact, I have good reason to believe that one of these days we may see the republishing of Jessica Souhami’s Old MacDonald (a.k.a. the best version of Old MacDonald ever created). But a couple years ago it was The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade and Jon Buller that really made my heart skip a beat. I could kill in toddler time (metaphorically) if I read that book. That was MY book. And then, oh joy of joys, they republished it in a board book format. Fascinatingly it’s out of print in board book form (though you can get a used copy on Amazon for $389.77) but the Kindle version is alive and well.
Yesterday I spoke with someone who adores Donald Nelsen’s Sam and Emma, illustrated by Edward Gorey (!). It’s basically an awesome story about xenophobia, but told with furry animals rather than people. It also sports some amazing rhyming cadences. Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves covered this title back in 2009. Looks like Dutton published it back in the day (circa 1971) so Penguin? Ball’s in your court now.
I’d be interested in other people’s cult picture book favorites. What are the books that are long since gone that you think have enough underground fans to make a comeback?
Today I am pleased to introduce to you Ms. Ellen Handler Spitz. Author of Inside Picture Books (Yale University Press, 1999), Ms. Spitz currently holds the Honors College Professorship of Visual Arts at University of Maryland. She is, as you can see, a smart cookie. She is also a Beatrix Potter fan. Indeed, amongst her other accomplishments, she reviewed Alexander Grinstein’s The Remarkable Beatrix Potter for “The International Journal of Psychoanalysis”.
It is with great pleasure that we are hosting Ms. Spitz’s recent piece “Who Was Beatrix Potter?” (not to be confused with the Grosset & Dunlap title of the same name) in honor of the upcoming 2016 sesquicentennial of Beatrix Potter. It is will be added to the Study Guide for teachers when Philadelphia’s Enchantment Theatre presents its own production of “Peter Rabbit Tales.”
Due to the limitations of this blog, the font may strike some of you as small. Those of you who have difficulty reading the piece may find the full PDF available for viewing at a larger scale here.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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The problem with this Fusenews feature is that if I don’t do them regularly then the news out there builds up, builds up, builds up, until there’s so much of it out there that I’m almost embarrassed to do anything with it. Such is the case today! And, as per usual, I’ll say that I’m just going to type these pieces up very fast, when in truth it’s pretty much going to be the same kind of thing I always do. Truth! Let’s do it.
- I highly recommend that each and every last one of you guys move to Illinois. The people here are so freakishly nice it’s amazing! Case in point, SCBWI-IL and The Center of Teaching Through Children’s Books are pairing up to have me talk to a whole bunch o’ folks on the evening of October 7th. Isn’t that kind of them? If you live in the area, please come by. I like to blather and while doing it in my own head is fine, it’s much nicer when there’s a healthy number of other people out there to absorb the blow.
- In case you missed it the National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature was released last week. A very YA-centric list indeed with only two clear cut books for kids. Yet look in other categories and you’ll find that children’s authors do not relegate themselves solely to the children’s category. For example, in the adult nonfiction section you’ll see that our beloved Sy Montgomery has been nominated for The Soul of an Octopus.
- New Blog Alert: Reading While White. You might argue that that is the unspoken title of most children’s literature blogs, but in this case they’re acknowledging the fact freely and commenting on what that means all the while. There are some fascinating pieces on there already, so if you’re anything like me you’re checking it daily. Ooo, I just love folks that aren’t afraid to touch on potentially controversial topics for the sake of making the conversation at large a richer experience.
- In a particularly unfunny move, The Roald Dahl Estate has closed down the beloved Roald Dahl Funny Prize that was the brainchild of Michael Rosen. Why? There are hems and haws to sort through here but I think the key lies in the part where they say that in conjunction with next year’s centenary celebration, “the estate would be focusing on a new children’s book prize to be launched in the US.” So clearly they didn’t want two Roald Dahl prizes out there. One wonders if this mysterious prize in the US will also be for humor. I suspect not, but I’d be awfully interested if any of you have further details on the mater.
- If you were once again faithfully checking your Iowa Review this season (ho ho) you might have seen three interesting things. #1 – It contains a “portfolio” all about children’s books this month. #2 – The cover is by Shaun Tan. #3 – Phil Nel’s piece A Manifesto of Children’s Literature; or Reading Harold as a Teenager is free for viewing online. I should note that the actual issue also has pieces by Jeanne Birdsall (yay!), Mr. Tan, and Kevin Brockmeier, so get thee to an academic library! Stat!
- I don’t do much in the way of Instagram myself, but even without knowing it I can acknowledge that this Buzzfeed piece on what would happen if Hogwarts characters had it was rather inspired. Thanks to Travis Jonker for the link.
- You ever hear the one about the bookseller who would get artists to draw their best beloved picture book characters on her arms and then she’d tattoo them there? Yes? Well, I hadn’t heard about her for a couple of years so I decided to check in. And lo and behold, one of my new neighbors here in the Chicago area, Eric Rohmann, was the creator of her latest tat.
- If someone asked you to suggest a children’s book that they hadn’t read but should, what would you choose? It helps if the person asking is British and wasn’t practically required by law, like those of us here in the States, to read certain books in the U.S. kidlit cannon. My suggestion was actually Half Magic by Edward Eager. See some of the others here.
- Wowzer. Children’s authors have power. Don’t believe me? See what Marc Tyler Nobleman pulled off with DC Entertainment. Well done, sir!
- Speaking of superheroes, two years ago Ingrid Sundberg drew a whole host of children’s and YA authors as spandex-wearing, high-flying, incredibles. It’s still fun to look at today here.
- Me Stuff (Part Deux): It’s a little old but I was interviewed by Joanna Marple not too long ago. There’s some good stuff there, like shots of the dream office I aspire towards (hat tip to Junko Yokota, though).
- I feel a bit sad that I never read Lois Lowry’s Anastasia books when I was a kid. I think I would have related to them (or at least to her glasses which originally rivaled mine in terms of width and girth). How I missed these books I’ll never know. Now I’m reading all about the changes being made to the newly re-released series. Some make sense but others (changing Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst to Anastasia Off Her Rocker) don’t make a lick of sense. I get that “analyst” is not a common term these days. I care not. The term “off your rocker” is, after all, no less dated.
There are fans and then there are fans. And best beloved is the author or illustrator who meets a fan who knows, really knows, how to quilt. Ms. Sibby Elizabeth Falk showed this to Jane Yolen recently. It’s Owl Moon like you’ve never seen it before:
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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So, fun fact. I read a serious 2017 Newbery contender a couple months ago and it looks like they may release it in the nearish future (February 2nd). I’m calling 2016 as The Year of the Fox, by the way, since both Sara Pennypacker and Kathi Appelt have fox related middle grades on the horizon. This is a particularly nice little book trailer for the Pennypacker book, and not just because they get my current workplace correct. It’s a classy little number.
Betcha bottom dollar you’ll need to read it.
You know, when I hear about librarian parody videos, I naturally assume that they’re done of the latest, hottest song. It’s almost a relief to see one of, of all things, Bohemian Rhapsody. What’s next? Eye of the Tiger? Cause I’ll take it!
Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
As you may have heard, the internet being what it is, there’s a new illustrator of Harry Potter in town and his name is Jim Kay. A whole host of new images were released the other day, and that was swell, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from the artist himself.
You know, I thought I’d posted this video before but it appears I somehow didn’t. Ah well. It isn’t a Video Sunday without at least one 80s style toy ad. Such as it is.
Thanks to Dana Sheridan for the link!
And for today’s Off-Topic Video I’m going to say, “YES! I KNOW HE DOESN’T HIT THE BRICKS WITH HIS HEAD BUT WITH HIS FIST! THIS IS STILL FUNNY, CONSARN IT!” Phew! Had to get that out there.
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By Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Books)
On shelves October 20th.
When I whip out the old we’re-living-in-a-golden-age-of-picture-book-creation argument with colleagues and friends, they humor what I’m sure they consider to be my hyperbole. Suuuuuure we are, Betsy. Not prone to exaggeration or anything, are you? But honestly, I think I could make a case for it. Look at the picture books of the past. They were beautiful, intricately crafted, and many of them are memorable and pertinent to child readers today. What other art form for kids can say as much? You don’t exactly have five-year-olds mooning over Kukla, Fran and Ollie these days, right (sorry, mom)? But hand them Goodnight Moon and all is well. Now look at picture books today. We’re living in a visual learner’s world. The combination of relaxed picture books standards (example: comics and meta storytelling are a-okay!), publishers willing to try something new and weird, and a world where technology and visual learning plays a heavy hand in our day-to-day lives yields creative attempts hitherto unknown or impossible to author/illustrators as recently as ten years ago. And when I try to think of a picture that combines these elements (meta storytelling / new and weird / technology permeating everything we do) no book typifies all of this better or with as much panache as Robo-Sauce. Because if I leave you understanding one thing today it is this: This may well contain the craziest picture book construction from a major publisher I have EVER seen. No. Seriously. This is insane. Don’t say I didn’t warn you either.
We all know that kid who thinks pretending to be a robot is the most fun you can have. When the hero of this story tries it though he just ends up annoying his family. That’s when the narrator starts talking to him directly. What if there was a recipe for turning yourself into a REAL robot? Would you make it? Would you take it? You BET you would! But once the boy starts destroying things in true mechanical fashion (I bet you were unaware that robots were capable of creating tornadoes, weren’t you?), it’s pretty lonely. The narrator attempts to impart a bit of a lesson here about how to appreciate your family/dog/life but when it hands over the antidote the robot destroys it on sight. Why? Because it’s just created a Robo-Sauce Launcher with which to turn its family, its dog, the entire world, and even the very book you are reading into robots! How do you turn a normal picture book into a robot? Behold the pull out cover that wraps around the book. Once you put it on and open the other cover, the text and images inside are entirely robotized. Robo-Domination is near. It may, however, involve some pretty keen cardboard box suits.
So you’re probably wondering what I meant when I said that the book has a cover that turns into a robot book. Honestly, I tried to figure out how I would verbally explain this. In the end I decided to do something I’d never done before. For the first time ever, I’m including a video as part of my review. Behold the explanation of the book’s one-of-a-kind feature:
These days the idea that a narrator would speak directly to the characters in a book is par for the course. Breaking down the fourth wall has grown, how do you say, passé. We almost expect all our books to be interactive in some way. If Press Here made the idea of treating a book like an app palatable then it stands to reason that competing books would have to up the ante, as it were. In fact, I guess if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I think I’ve kind of been waiting for Robo-Sauce for a long time. Intrusive narrators, characters you have to yell at, books you shake, they’re commonplace. Into this jaded publishing scene stepped Rubin and Salmieri. They’re New York Times bestsellers in their own right ( Dragons Love Tacos) so they’re not exactly newbies to the field. They’ve proven their selling power. But by what witchcraft they convinced Penguin to include a shiny pull out cover and to print a fifth of the book upside down, I know not. All I can be certain of is that this is a book of the moment. It is indicative of something far greater than itself. Either it will spark a new trend in picture books as a whole or it will be remembered as an interesting novelty piece that typified a changing era.
Let’s look at the book itself then. In terms of the text, I’m a fan. The narrator’s intrusive voice allows the reader to take on the role of adult scold. Kids love it when you yell at a book’s characters for being too silly in some way and this story allows you to do precisely that. Admittedly, I do wish that Rubin had pushed the narrator-trying-to-teach-a-lesson aspect a little farther. If the lesson it was trying to impart was a bit clearer than just the standard “love your family” shtick then it could have had more of a punch. Imagine if, instead, the book was trying to teach the boy about rejecting technology or something like that. Any picture book that could wink slyly at the current crop of drop-the-iPhone-pick-up-a-book titles currently en vogue would be doing the world a service. I’m not saying I disagree with their message. They’re just all rather samey samey and it would be nice to see someone poke a little fun at them (while still, by the end, reinforcing the same message).
As for Salmieri’s art, the limited color palette is very interesting. You’ve your Day-Glo orange, black, white, brown, and pale pink (didn’t see that one coming). Other colors make the occasional cameo but the bulk of the book is pretty limited. It allows the orange to shine (or, in the case of the robot cover, the limited palette allows for something particularly shiny). And check out that subtle breaking down of visual stereotypes! Black dad and white mom. A sister that enjoys playing with trucks. I am ON BOARD with all this.
I won’t be the last parent/librarian/squishy human to hold this book in my hands and wonder what the heck to do with it. What I do know is that it’s a lot of fun. Totally original. And it has a bunch of robots in it causing massive amounts of destruction. All told, I’d say that’s a win. So domo arigato, Misters Rubin and Salmieri. Domo arigato a whole bunch.
On shelves October 20th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus,
Misc: Still need some help figuring out the cover? Check out the book’s website here.
The greatest advantage to being a children’s book editor, as I see it, is the power to occasionally pair your favorite authors with your favorite illustrators on a picture project near and dear to your heart. We know on a logical level that it is rare when an editor manages to attain the precise perfect pairing they’ve always dreamed of. There are schedules to work with, egos to stroke, and sometimes it’s just the wrong project for your chosen duo. But since most of us are not real editors, we are not constrained by the chains of mere reality. As such, I’ve come up with a couple of my own dream pairings that I haven’t seen (yet!) but would absolutely love to view. When I open my next PW Children’s Bookshelf newsletter, these are the announcements I want to hear about:
Mac Barnett and Kadir Nelson
Here’s my thinking. Mac gets great illustrators all the time, right? And Kadir is only rarely paired with standard children’s book authors anymore. He’ll either write his own picture books or not do them at all. But what if, WHAT IF, you put these two crazy guys together? Barnett can be manic or meaningful, depending on the book, and if he had a toned down text alongside Kadir’s art the end result could be pure movie magic (for lack of a better term).
This is fun! Let’s try another.
Neil Gaiman and Lisa Brown
I think they may already be buds, so this is sort of cheating. It would not surprise me in the slightest if a Gaiman/Brown book were in the works as we speak. But if it is not, and it may not be, then why in high heaven haven’t we seen this duo working side by side? Her books could suit his tone to a tee.
Alternatively . . .
Neil Gaiman and David Small
Oh, it could work. Small’s doing a lot of super cute stuff these days (princesses, kitty cats, muddy fairies, etc.) but anyone who has ever read Stitches knows that he would be a dream Gaiman pairing. Doesn’t even have to be a picture book. Could be a novel. *sigh* Such a lovely thought.
Kathleen Krull and Raul Colon
I had to double check that this pairing hadn’t already happened when I came up with this one. It feels like it already has, right? One of our greatest nonfiction authors and the guy who can bring any real life subjects to life with a wave of his remarkable paints. But odd as it may seem, the two have somehow never produced any books together (that I could find – you are more than free to correct me if you locate one). What if they did a book about a subject that wasn’t the usual stuff. He does a lot of heroes so what if they switched gears and did a Typhoid Mary picture book or a story of the Great Molasses Flood? Just spitballing here.
Mo Willems and Christian Robinson
Granted GRANTED this is a long shot, but I have my reasons. You see, in spite of his worldwide domination, Mo has never eschewed pairing with other illustrators as an author. He did it with Jon J. Muth and he did it more recently with Tony DiTerlizzi. Now, granted, he and Tony are buds who practically live in the same town, but if you haven’t seen Diva and Flea it is WELL worth your time. Mo cultivates a rather classic feel in that book, harkening back to children’s books of old. And that is EXACTLY what I think Mr. Robinson needs. His books evoke a bygone era of children’s book publishing. If he and Mo were to collaborate on something with a contemporary city feel but alongside a tale with heart and hope, they’d be on to something big.
Andrea Davis Pinkney and Julie Morstad
Okay. I’ll confess it. I don’t really have a project in mind for these two. I just like the idea. It could be amazing. Just saying.
Dan Santat with LeUyen Pham
Now please bear in mind that Dan has never written anything that wasn’t also illustrated by his own hand. I aim to change that. Imagine if Dan branched out more into the authorial side of things. Clearly he has the chops. And think about Ms. Pham. If he wanted to do something high energy she’d be able to match him, and if he wanted to go the slow and meaningful route she’d be there as well.
Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Selznick
Brian hasn’t illustrated another author’s work in years. I think his work on Barbara Kerley’s Walt Whitman title might have been the last time. The likelihood that he’d do it again is low. And then I remember when he won the Caldecott. Were you there? I maintain to this day that it was the best Newbery/Caldecott speech pairing of all time. There was Laura, resplendent in blues and silks and not merely reciting a speech but honest-to-goodness storytelling. She was off the podium and amongst us. It harkened back to the very roots of telling stories in the first place. And then there was Brian with his screens and videos, a graceful integration of text and electronics with special guest stars (Remy Charlip!) on the side. Now imagine if she wrote a book and he illustrated it. Imagine.
Jon Scieszka and Adam Rex
Adam’s done a lot of work with the aforementioned Mac Barnett over the years and Mac was sort of Jon’s protege when he was first starting out. Yet Adam has never illustrated anything for Jon, even though it would fit his verbal gymnastics perfectly.
That’s just off the top of my head, but you see where I’m going with it all. What are your dream author/illustrator pairings?
Around this time of year people start discussing what kind of a publishing year it has become. Is this a strong year for picture books? A weak year for nonfiction? An unusually peculiar year for fiction? It’s all based on personal assessments, containing little to no empirical evidence one way or another, culminating, in the end, in personal opinions. Of which I’ve a mint!
So, from my sole, solitary standpoint, 2015 is shaping up to be . . . well, it’s fine. There really haven’t been that many late breaking hits. The books the publishers assumed would be hits became hits (though maybe not to the degree that they’d like in some cases). The books they thought would get critical acclaim have gotten critical acclaim, again to varying degrees. But nothing I’ve seen discussed thus far is all that different from what I saw back in April. Envelopes are not being pushed one way or another in particular. If I’ve seen any trend it’s for YA nonfiction that clearly behooves the adult reader.
So today you’ll only see a couple changes from the spring edition and the summer edition of this prediction list. The Calling Caldecott site is up and running by this point, as is the delightful Heavy Medal, so you may wish to get alternative opinions on these matters. In the meantime, my list so far . . .
2016 Caldecott Predictions:
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Beauty should be rewarded. And Mr. Lopez has not gotten his just rewards in this respect. To be fair, it’s difficult to say whether or not any of the books he’s done thus far have contained Caldecott-worthy subject matter. I think we can all agree that when you add Lopez’s art to Engle’s writing, the results deserve as many of those bloody starred reviews as possible. And maybe a couple of those shiny round medals too.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
That Ms. Blackall has never won a Caldecott seems to me a bit of an oddity. And consider the pedigree of this book. It’s about an animal that inspired one of the great characters in children’s literature. Lovely writing (which I found rather clever in its construction) alongside pitch perfect art. The tone, man, the tone! Can we talk about tone? Can we talk about the fact that there is a feeling of calm and peace that emanates from the pages? Give it something shiny, for the love of all that’s good and holy!
In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van. Illustrated by April Chu
You know, I started out by saying it was a dark horse contender but the more I look at it and the more buzz it receives, I think I’m actually on to something here. Chu’s a debut illustrator and this book is so smartly done. I still haven’t seen the work she’s done on Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, but give it time. This artist is going places.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson
I’ve been getting the title mixed up in my brain recently. And to Think I Saw it On Market Street . . . no . . . no, that’s not it. Or was it On Market Street? No . . . no . . . still not right. I know Chronicle managed to grab the wheel of the Christian Robinson conversation and put all the attention on that Mac Barnett book he did (which is, let’s all admit it, perfectly nice) but if you’re talking award contenders then this is the one to discuss. You get whiffs of Ezra Jack Keats off the pages as you turn them. That ain’t nothing.
The Marvels written & illustrated by Brian Selznick
That image of the baby. Need I say more? Those of you who read the book will understand. Baby. I’m out! *drops the mic*
The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle
I’m bloody standing by this one. I just get sort of tangled up in my own emotions when I encounter artists that can capture physical movement with mere snips of their scissors. The fact that the papers themselves are beautifully made doesn’t hurt, but I really like how the story is told, the relationship between the characters, and the overall package. Moon. Sisters. Bedtime.
Night World by Mordecai Gerstein
Another night book. Gerstein at his best attempting to capture whatever the opposite of “magic hour” is called. The nice thing about Mr. Gerstein is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing him. He simply is the best.
Water Is Water by Miranda Paul. Illustrated by Jason Chin
Like a lot of children’s librarians I keep a little list of “Never Won a Caldecott But Shoulda” contenders in my back pocket. And if I were to rank them, Mr. Chin would be somewhere high up on the list. Until now his books have been his own. Here he combines with a different author and for all its simplicity it may well be his best work. He does such lovely things with mist. I shall say no more.
Float by Daniel Miyares
Back on the list by popular demand! Popular demand = people actually really enjoying it. When I mentioned this book on my spring list I was left wondering if I was the only person who saw real potential in it. Now I know I’m not alone. Miyares manages to not only capture a kind of cloudy light found only on overcast days, but the relationship between the boy and his father is so beautifully rendered (wordlessly at that!) that you can’t help but adore the end product.
Fire Engine No. 9 by Mike Austin
Betcha didn’t see THAT one coming! Ha ha! It’s not like we haven’t seen Mike Austin books before. You may even see this book and think “Oh great. Another firefighter book.” But that’s where you’re wrong, bucko. This is a great book. It’s an onomatopoeiaic (not a word) extravaganza. All the sounds of the fire engine with a classic look (it’s been compared to the work of Donald Crews) and a contemporary feel.
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
Betcha saw THAT one coming! I kid, but you did, didn’t you? Everyone did. Everyone has. Quiet Henkes at his best. I think I called it “Waiting for Godot . . . for Kidz!” once, which I’ll stand by. That said, it’s lovely and a child would actually find its static lack of action interesting. It’s probably a great big metaphor anyway and we all know how much librarians adore metaphors. So maybe maybe . . .
And now we move on to the,
2016 Newbery Predictions:
Usually I’m able to determine potential Newbery winners far easier than Caldecotts. This year is different. I’m having a great deal of difficulty with the Newbery slots, whereas the Caldecotts (as you can see) just keep on coming. Still, here are with the ones that I continue to like and some I have newly discovered.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
Hm. I think it holds up. Granted my early impressions were tempered by low expectations. Someone referred to it as the “Snicker of Magic of 2015″ but I don’t get that vibe from it. I think I may need to reread it, though. Best villain of the year, in any case.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Jonathan Hunt at Heavy Medals did some good pondering on this book so go thee hence and read what he has to say. Personally I found two of the stories far stronger than the third, and I found the magical element entirely superfluous. Yet I don’t think these objects make it any less “distinguished”. Interesting, isn’t it, how a tiny detail can sink some books in a reviewer’s eye while massive writing choices can be critiqued but the book remains strong just the same. Hm.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
Recently Rita Williams-Garcia sat down with Jeanne Birdsall to discuss their series and how they write for sisters. And certainly the sisters in this book are its strongest element. Now the first time I read this book, I wasn’t sure if it stood up for me. I was confused by the great-grandmother’s tiff with her sister and if the book stood alone. This is why I sometimes feel bad for books with a late fall release schedule. As time goes by you have the ability to step back and process a book. To return to it and synthesize it and determine what truly did and didn’t work. In the end, I found that this book stands on its own (or so my fellow librarians tell me) and that the ending is gut punch powerful. In short, it works. You can see my recent interview with Ms. Williams-Garcia here (but only if you want to know what she’s working on next).
Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This was one of the books I felt truly baffled wasn’t nominated for the National Book Awards this year. To be honest though, children’s books didn’t make a strong showing in 2015 in general. It was all YA, YA, YA with two sole exceptions. A pity since this book straddles children’s books and YA titles so successfully and yet it will struggle forever to find its home on library shelves. Which section should it go into? I say juv. I love what Stead’s done here and feel it’s a return to form.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I’m so very pleased that everyone likes this book. And that everyone who walks into it with a skeptical eye walks away nodding slowly. Yes indeed. Strong writing that doesn’t pander. Big differing opinions on the book jacket, of course, but you can’t have everything in life. It was released VERY early in the year which may hurt its overall chances but I feel it has the chutzpah to carry through until the finish line. Go, team, go!
A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder
My new dark horse contender. I thought I’d be so sneaky to put it here but I see that it’s already been mentioned by a perceptive reader in the Heavy Medals comments. I was rather shocked that this slim little book was as beautifully written as it was. There is a great art to writing a short book for kids. I feel like the longer you go, the more you pad the story out. But Crowder (a master in her own right) keeps it “handsome” as my movie friends like to say. And in this post-Frozen world of ours, the theme of sisterly love is fascinating. It’s like a darker version of Rossetti’s Goblin Market or something. I still need to process it fully but it’s good. Very good.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Because it’s one of the best books of the year. Period. I may be giving away my review of it, but I very much feel that this is a book that only Candlewick would have published and only Laura Amy Schlitz could have written. It is the book for the kid who says “I loved Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Do you have anything like that but that just came out?” Because the answer is almost always no. No, they just don’t make books like those anymore. Books about 14-year-old girls that just pulsate with that age’s bizarre combination of worldliness, uncertainty, and downright childishness. I’ll stop myself now. It’s hugely distinguished. FYI.
And yourself? What do you feel burns bright with distinction and joy?
“Who can turn the stove on with her smile? / Who can take a bubble bath and suddenly fill it with crocodiles?”*
If you answered: Rita Williams-Garcia then you are more than correct! The illustrious, charming, all around nice woman stopped by the Harper Collins offices to do a little talky talk with me the other day. Heck, here’s the proof of it:
Though, if I’m going to be realistic, the proof is the fact that I have today’s video at all. On the surface it may appear to simply be a talk with Ms. Rita about her latest title GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA but it is instead so much more. We get the dirt on her recent appearance in the documentary The Black Panthers (coming soon to a theater near you), the fact that she actually makes up stuff when she writes fiction, a quick shot of what she’d look like as Wonder Woman (in a word: awesome), and information on her next book/series, which I know you’re just dying to know more about.
Mind you, to get to the interview you’ll have to sit through another episode of “Reading (Too Much Into) Picture Books”. This month I look at the “Mr. Croc” books by Jo Lodge. You could call them the poor man’s Maisy, but I think they’re improvement. As I say in the video, it’s like someone said, “I like Maisy, but can I get a version where she is a vicious meat-eater with the potential to devour her friends at any time?” Batta bing!
Some of the other Fuse #8 TV episodes are archived here.
Once more, thanks to Harper Collins for being my sponsor and helping to put this together.
*50 points to anyone who can identify the quote without Googling it.
The other day I wrote the following on Facebook about my four-year-old:
“We’re reading my daughter a graphic novel for 9-12 year olds every night (her insistence) called Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks. Basically it goes through all the different parts and functions of the body. Well, tonight she was once again swallowing her toothpaste rather than spitting it. I called her on it and this was her response. I’ve written it as close to her own words as possible:
“It’s not my fault. It’s called abolation and everybody gets it. It makes you not like your toothpaste anymore. You know that pink dot that hangs down from the appendix? Well it swells up to this big [indicates palm] and moves around the body. It makes you not like your toothpaste anymore . . . and sometimes your food, but that’s rare. You know writer’s block? It causes that too. It’s called abolation.”
She later explained that the pink dot wants to leave the body and that it’s why the appendix has to be removed. So. In case you want a book that will inspire your child to think medically . . .
I then linked to Human Body Theater, which seems to have the singular ability to cause small children (and older ones as well, I’m sure) to want to know as much as possible about medical science. No small feat. Granted mine has a bit of a propensity for original science, but seeing as how she is the product of two English majors, I’m not exactly surprised.
Of course I’d been a fan of Ms. Wicks for years, starting with her work on the picture book Yes, Let’s as written by Galen Goodwin and continuing through Primates, written by Jim Ottaviani. At Day of Dialog in the spring I learned about the incipient existence of Human Body Theater and had been (not so) patiently awaiting its release ever since.
But wait!! Hold the phone!! That is not all Ms. Wicks is capable of, oh no. That is not all. For lo, see ye the following cover reveal. Yea verily, tis a bonny bonny book:
My hope is that this inspires in the resident offspring the same love of the ocean as her previous book caused in terms of bodily functions. But looking at these interior spreads, I think I’ve little to worry about.
Want to know more about the new Science Comics series? Here is the full description:
“Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic–dinosaurs, coral reefs, the solar system, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and more. These gorgeously illustrated graphic novels offer wildly entertaining views of their subjects. Whether you’re a fourth grader doing a natural science unit at school or a thirty-year-old with a secret passion for airplanes, these books are for you!
This volume: in Coral Reefs, we learn all about these tiny, adorable sea animals! This absorbing look at ocean science covers the biology of coral reefs as well as their ecological importance. Nonfiction comics genius Maris Wicks brings to bear her signature combination of hardcore cuteness and in-depth science.
Maris Wicks lives in sunny Somerville, Massachusetts. She is the author behind Human Body Theater, as well as the illustrator of New York Times-bestselling Primates, with Jim Ottaviani. When she’s not making comics, Wicks works as a program educator at the New England Aquarium. She is quite fond of being in the water, whether it’s swimming in ponds or scuba diving in the Atlantic Ocean. Her latest book, Coral Reefs, will be in stores in May 2016. dotsforeyes.blogspot.com”
Many thanks to First Second for allowing me this cover reveal and to Ms. Wicks for generally existing in the first place.
Foof! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these so forgive me while I stretch the old app-reviewing little gray cells for a second.
There was a time, best beloved, when I thought this little blog would do it all. V-blogging. Podcasting. And, yes, app reviewing. But reviewing apps is an arduous process that takes an entirely different set of muscles than those used for book reviewing. Still, once in a while you encounter an app that speaks to you. Particularly if it is a very rare literary app for kids.
In the early days of apps, publishers were under the distinct impression that since they were new and cool, they’d provide a possible revenue stream. And so, for a little while, we saw a real plethora of lovely apps based on picture books. Freight Train by Donald Crews. How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills. Wild About Books by Judy Sierra. That sort of thing. It didn’t take long before simple economics made it clear that apps don’t make much in the way of moolah. You invest a lot of money at the front end, but charge only scant amounts to the customers (I mean, seriously, who’s gonna buy a $10 app?). Over a very long period of time an app might make back its money, but that’s always assuming you aren’t producing a bunch of them at once.
The end result of all this was that the picture book apps we’ve been seeing over more recent years have been of an artistic bent. Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (with music by Sxip Shirey!) or maybe The Numberlys by Bill Joyce (which is kind of a cheat to include since the app preceded the book, but you know what I mean).
Into this uncertain landscape steps Mental Canvas. Julie Dorsey, a Professor of Computer Science at Yale University, is the Founder and CEO of this relatively new software company. Funded by the National Science Foundation’s SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research Program), the company uses Dorsey’s visual computing specialty to develop “a new digital graphical media type that sits between a 2D drawing and a 3D model.”
Come again? Well, honestly, the only real way to explain it is to see it. And the book that Mental Canvas decided to use to kick off a lot of what it’s doing was, of all things, Istvan Banyai’s The Other Side.
Children’s librarians who’ve been in the business since 2005, do you remember this book? It was one of the first I ever reviewed at old Amazon.com. One January 23, 2006 I wrote it up (marking it as one of the last pre-blog reviews I would write) and said that, “I’m not gonna tell you that every person and child you hand this to is gonna adore it. But for pure visual adrenaline, few things will entrance and entice you better than Banyai’s remarkable effort. A book that won’t make it easy for you. Your intelligence will just have to rise to its level.”
Forgotten in the wake of Banyai’s more popular Zoom and Re-Zoom, the book finds a new life in the form of an app for kids. And as it happens, I never would have considered it but The Other Side is rather ideal in an electronic format.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s the description I wrote of the book back in the day:
“You need to understand how to read this book before you pick it up. Fortunately, the instructions are in the title itself. Everything on one page corresponds to what happens on the next by showing the “other side”. Example: One page shows a boy in a coral colored cap peeking from an airplane window. Now turn the page and you find yourself on the other side of that window. You are now in the plane looking at the back of the boy’s head from down a row of passengers. A boy floating merrily in a swimming pool seems to be quite close to the fin of a shark. Turn the page and that shark is actually the point of his own black flipper and an underwater seascape is now the focus of your attention. The pictures are sometimes like conjurings from the mind of David Lynch. In one picture a single woman wearing a thin strapped shirt (of which Banyai has always been a big big fan) sits alone in an empty auditorium, a single spotlight on a face that peeks from the curtain. Sometimes the pictures are remarkable in their simplicity too. A yellow page with a white circle show a tiny point piercing through. Turn the page and there stands a baby chick with its beak poking into the white. Taken separately each picture is a story and a world in and of itself.”
If I can work at least one David Lynch reference into a picture book review, my job here is done.
So how does the app work? Simple. The pages, for the most part, remain intact. Unlike some apps where pages are animated or include games in their crevices, there are only two things that Mental Canvas has done to distinguish these pages. First, they’ve rendered Banyai’s two-dimensional drawings in 3D. Turn your iPad around and you can almost see above and behind the subjects. Second, they’ve done a bloody good job at incorporating sound into the design. From car engines to street noises, the inside white noise of an airplane to the sound snow makes when you compact it with your feet, the audio design is king here. The underwater scenes alone will give swimmers a kind of sense memory little heard in app technology.
Some apps can be handed to a child while the adult walks away to, oh I dunno, cook dinner (not that I’d have any experience with that or anything). Other apps demand parent/child interactions. The Other Side falls squarely in the latter camp. Like its book before it, a lot of questions need to be asked as you read through. Where is the book going to take you next? Did you catch the connecting picture from the previous scene? Do you think this is what’s really on the other side of that cage?
There’s isn’t much to it beyond the book, which is a novelty in some ways. When apps are expected to shove in as many bells and whistles as conceivable, the idea of simply presenting a book with a limited concept is . . . well, it’s rather original.
Of the original book I pondered why it wasn’t better known, writing, “The only thing I can figure at this point is that Banyai’s style, for all the critical praise and gushing adoration it receives, doesn’t connect to children particularly well. There’s certainly plenty to confuse them here. ‘The Other Side’ hasn’t any plot, but sometimes it seems as if characters carry over from scene to scene. There are also too many danged boys wearing caps. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to infer that they are all the same boy (even though some caps are the aforementioned coral and some are a bright eye-catching red).” I don’t know that many of my points have changed with the release of the app. However, I do think that children that might have eschewed it for easier fare could be more inclined to delve into it more deeply with the app as an aide. They’d be older kids, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with handing older kids wordless picture books. Particularly when they’re brain benders like this one.
In a way, Mental Canvas is using The Other Side to draw attention to their ability to render already existing art three-dimensional. It’s unlikely that they’ll adapt Zoom and Re-Zoom next (though clearly that would be the logical next step). In the meantime, for folks looking for another picture book app that isn’t the same old, same old, Banyai may have your ticket. Pick up the app and pick up the book in a local library while you’re at it. Definitely one wild and crazy ride, no matter how many dimensions you read it in.
See more information here.
I’m happy to say that Steve Sheinkin’s “Walking and Talking” series is back in full swing. For those of you unaware of the Sibert winner’s predilection for drawing his conversations with his fellow literary luminaries, this is a bit of a treat. And for me, to see David Levithan fully drawn . . . well that’s just the icing on the cake, isn’t it? Here is the latest.
Once again I cannot help but thank Steve for creating this series and allowing me to post it on this site.
Previous editions of this series include:
I’m two-timing you, SLJ. Yes, the ugly truth had to come out sometime. I admit all. You see, I’ve been blogging elsewhere.
Crazy but true? It is, but this is a kind of blogging I’ve never really done before. Because while my specialty is children’s literature, my new job here in Evanston, IL requires that I have a deep and abiding familiarity with books for adults. The end result? I’ve been occasionally blogging for EPL about adult titles.
Of course finding topics upon which to speak can be tricky. I’m not sure what folks want to hear about, so I’ve gone the tried and true method of figuring out what people already like and then just tying the posts to those topics accordingly. Example: Yesterday was apparently the first day of the new football season. Do I watch football? I do not. Do I read about football? I do not. But none of that stopped me from writing a post about the newest 2015 adult titles about football in all its myriad forms. If you know a football fanatic in your life and they have, say, a birthday coming up, this list may be of use to you in some way.
I cannot write posts for adults without thinking of their child equivalents, however. And football has always been a very tricky subject in the children’s room. Years ago a parent came in just before Thanksgiving and asked for any picture books we could hand over about football. Not nonfiction, mind you. Fiction. And really, once you get beyond The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed (which Molly Ivans reviewed for The New York Times, doncha know) the pickings are slim. I mean, there was the recent Fall Ball by Peter McCarty, Dino-Football by Lisa Wheeler, and the not so recent Miss Nelson Has a Field Day by Harry Allard, but by and large baseball has a lock on the sports/book market.
This year, I was going through the usual pre-pub galleys and advanced reading copies when I saw a very slim little easy book going by the unprepossessing name of Don’t Throw It to Mo!. It was by David Adler and illustrated by Sam Ricks. Good easy books are, I don’t need to tell you, a rarity. The crazy thing is that as I read the story I found it original, interesting, and a really cool idea. The whole premise is that it’s easy to fool your opponents when you’ve lowered their expectations. Particularly if those expectations weren’t all that high to begin with. I may have to stump for this one for a Geisel if nothing else. It’s succinct and very cool to read. I worry that with my reduced reviewing these days I won’t be able to get to it, so in lieu of a length diatribe, let me just say that if you choose only one football related easy book this season, let it be Adler, Ricks, and Mo himself who bring you in for a final touchdown.
Now play ball!!
(Yes, I am aware that you do not begin a football game by saying “play ball”. However, I don’t know what you do say. “Hut hut”? Just sayin’.)
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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
By Chris Barton
Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
On shelves now
“It’s the story of a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.” Come again? That’s the pitch author Chris Barton pulled out when he wanted to describe this story to others. You know, children’s book biographies can be very easy as long as you cover the same fifteen to twenty people over and over again. And you could forgive a child for never imagining that there were remarkable people out there beyond Einstein, Tubman, Jefferson, and Sacajawea. People with stories that aren’t just unknown to kids but to whole swaths of adults as well. So I always get kind of excited when I see someone new out there. And I get extra especially excited when the author involved is Chris Barton. Here’s a guy who performed original research to write a picture book biography of the guys who invented Day-Glo colors (The Day-Glo Brothers) so you know you’re in safe hands. The inclusion of illustrator Don Tate was not something I would have thought up myself, but by gum it turns out that he’s the best possible artist for this story! Tackling what turns out to be a near impossible task (explaining Reconstruction to kids without plunging them into the depths of despair), this keen duo present a book that reads so well you’re left wondering not just how they managed to pull it off, but if anyone else can learn something from their technique.
From birth until the age of sixteen John Roy Lynch was a slave. The son of an overseer who died before he could free his family, John Roy began life as a house slave but was sent to the fields when his high-strung mistress made him the brunt of her wrath. Not long after, The Civil War broke out and John Roy bought himself a ride to Natchez and got a job. He started out as a waiter than moved on to pantryman, photographer, and in time orator and even Justice of the Peace. Then, at twenty-four years of age, John Roy Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House. The year was 1869, and these changes did not pass without incident. Soon an angry white South took its fury out on its African American population and the strides that had been made were rescinded violently. John Roy Lynch would serve out two terms before leaving office. He lived to a ripe old age, dying at last in 1939. A Historical Note, Timeline, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Bibliography of books “For Further Reading”, and map of John’s journey and the Reconstructed United States circa 1870 appear at the end.
How do you write a book for children about a time when things were starting to look good and then plummeted into bad for a very very long time? I think kids have this perception (oh heck, a bunch of adults too) that we live in the best of all possible worlds. For example, there’s a children’s book series called Infinity Ring where the basic premise is that bad guys have gone and changed history and now it’s up to our heroes to put everything back because, obviously, this world we live in right now is the best. Simple, right? Their first adventure is to make sure Columbus “discovers” America so . . . yup. Too often books for kids reinforce the belief that everything that has happened has to have happened that way. So when we consider how few books really discuss Reconstruction, it’s not exactly surprising. Children’s books are distinguished, in part, by their capacity to inspire hope. What is there about Reconstruction to cause hope at all? And how do you teach that to kids?
Barton’s solution is clever because rather than write a book about Reconstruction specifically, he’s found a historical figure that guides the child reader effortlessly through the time period. Lynch’s life is perfect for every step of this process. From slavery to a freedom that felt like slavery. Then slow independence, an education, public speaking, new responsibilities, political success, two Congressional terms, and then an entirely different life after that (serving in the Spanish-American War as a major, moving to Chicago, dying). Barton shows his rise and then follows his election with a two-page spread of KKK mayhem, explaining that the strides made were taken back “In a way, the Civil War wasn’t really over. The battling had not stopped.” And after quoting a speech where Lynch proclaims that America will never be free until “every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic,” Barton follows it up with, “If John Roy Lynch had lived a hundred years (and he nearly did), he would not have seen that come to pass.” Barton guides young readers to the brink of the good and then explains the bad, giving context to just how long the worst of it continued. He also leaves it up to them to determine if Lynch’s dream has come to fruition or not (classroom debate time!).
And he plays fair. These days I read nonfiction picture books with my teeth clenched. Why? Because I’ve started holding them to high standards (doggone it). And there are so many moments in this book that could have been done incorrectly. Heck, the first image you see when you open it up is of John Roy Lynch’s family, his white overseer father holding his black wife tenderly as their kids stand by. I saw it and immediately wondered how we could believe that Lynch’s parents ever cared for one another. Yet a turn of the page and Barton not only puts Patrick Lynch’s profession into context (“while he may have loved these slaves, he most likely took the whip to others”) but provides information on how he attempted to buy his wife and children. Later there is some dialogue in the book, as when Lynch’s owner at one point joshes with him at the table and John Roy makes the mistake of offering an honest answer. Yet the dialogue is clearly taken from a text somewhere, not made up to fit the context of the book. I loathe faux dialogue, mostly because it’s entirely unnecessary. Barton shows clearly that one need never rely upon it to make a book exemplary.
Finally, you just have to stand in awe of Barton’s storytelling. Not making up dialogue is one thing. Drawing a natural link between a life and the world in which that life lived is another entirely. Take that moment when John Roy answers his master honestly. He’s banished to hard labor on a plantation after his master’s wife gets angry. Then Barton writes, “She was not alone in rage and spite and hurt and lashing out. The leaders of the South reacted the same way to the election of a president – Abraham Lincoln – who was opposed to slavery.” See how he did that? He managed to bring the greater context of the times in line with John Roy’s personal story. Many is the clunky picture book biography that shoehorns in the era or, worse, fails to mention it at all. I much preferred Barton’s methods. There’s an elegance to them.
I’ve been aware of Don Tate for a number of years. No slouch, the guy’s illustrated numerous children’s books, and even wrote (but didn’t illustrate) one that earned him an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award (It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw). His is a seemingly simple style. I wouldn’t exactly call it cartoony, but it is kid friendly. Clear lines. Open faces. His watercolors go for honesty and clarity and do not come across as particularly evocative. But I hadn’t ever seen the man do nonfiction, I’ll admit. And while it probably took me a page or two to understand, once I realized why Don Tate was the perfect artist for “John Roy Lynch” it all clicked into place. You see, books about slavery for kids usually follow a prescribed pattern. Some of them go for hyperrealism. Books with art by James Ransome, Eric Velasquez, Floyd Cooper, or E.B Lewis all adhere closely to this style. Then there are the books that are a little more abstract. Books with art by R. Gregory Christie, for example, traipse closely to art worthy of Jacob Lawrence. And Shane W. Evans has a style that’s significantly artistic. A more cartoony style is often considered too simplistic for the heavy subject matter or, worse, disrespectful. But what are we really talking about here? If the book is going to speak honestly about what slavery really was, the subjugation of whole generations of people, then art that hews closely to the truth is going to be too horrific for kids. You need someone who can cushion the blow, to a certain extent. It isn’t that Tate is shying away from the horrors. But when he draws it it loses some of its worst terrors. There is one two-page spread in this book that depicts angry whites whipping and lynching their black neighbors. It’s not shown as an exact moment in time, but rather a composite of events that would have happened then. And there’s something about Tate’s style that makes it manageable. The whip has not yet fallen and the noose has not yet been placed around a neck, but the angry mobs are there and you know that the worst is imminent. Most interesting to me too is that far in the background a white woman and her two children just stand there, neither approving nor condemning the action. I think you could get a very good conversation out of kids about this family. What are they feeling? Whose side are they on? Why don’t they do something?
And Tate has adapted his style, you can see. Compare the heads and faces in this book to those in one of his earlier books like, Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue, in this one he modifies the heads, making them a bit smaller, in proportion with the rest of the body. I was particularly interested in how he did faces as well. If you watch Lynch’s face as a child and teen it’s significant how he keeps is features blank in the presence of white people. Not expressionless, but devoid of telltale thoughts. As a character, the first time he smiles is when he finally has a job he can be paid for. With its silhouetted moments, good design sense, tapered but not muted color palette, and attention to detail, Mr. Tate puts his all into what is by far his most sophisticated work to date.
This year rage erupted over the fact that the Confederate flag continues to fly over the South Carolina statehouse grounds. To imagine that the story Barton relates here does not have immediate applications to contemporary news is facile. As he mentions in his Author’s Note, “I think it’s a shame how little we question why the civil rights movement in this country occurred a full century following the emancipation of the slaves rather than immediately afterward.” So as an author he found an inspiring, if too little known, story of a man who did something absolutely astounding. A story that every schoolchild should know. If there’s any justice in the universe, after reading this book they will. Reconstruction done right. Nonfiction done well.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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MFA in Creative Writing and Literature
CONTACT: Emma Walton Hamilton
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016 Children’s Literature Fellows Program
Now Accepting Applications from Aspiring Children’s Authors Worldwide
August, 2015. Southampton, NY. The Children’s Literature Fellows, a one-year graduate level certificate program sponsored by Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, is now accepting applications for 2016.
The year-long course of instruction—accomplished mostly in distance learning format—was developed by author and Children’s Literature Conference Director Emma Walton Hamilton, MFA in Creative Writing Director Julie Sheehan and YA author/faculty member Patricia McCormick to offer aspiring children’s and young adult authors a more affordable and flexible option than matriculation in a two- or three-year MFA program.
Because not all writers who want to complete projects have the time or the funds to complete a full degree program, the Children’s Literature Fellows do their work within a framework tailored to their needs. The program bears 16 graduate level credits, and is customized, affordable, comprehensive, and professionally useful. Twelve Fellows are accepted into the program per year. The Fellows work independently with award-winning, best-selling authors who serve as faculty mentors—such as Christopher Barton, Samantha Berger, Rachel Cohn, Donna Freitas, Cindy Kane, Megan McCafferty, Patricia McCormick, Margaret McMullan, Trica Rayburn, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Tor Seidler, Amy Sklansky, Emma Walton Hamilton, Ann Whitford Paul and Maryrose Wood—in a highly individualized curriculum that is primarily accomplished from home.
Twice a year, the Fellows come together as a cohort: once in July during the annual Southampton Arts Writers Conference and a second time in January for a special Publishing and Editing Conference, during which they study with visiting faculty such as Libba Bray, Peter Lerangis, Grace Lin and Dan Yaccarino – and meet with editors, agents and other members of the publishing industry.
During their year, each Fellow completes either one publishable YA or middle grade manuscript, or, for chapter and picture book writers, three to four separate manuscripts.
“There are very few programs like this out there for aspiring children’s literature authors,” says Walton Hamilton. “But children’s literature and YA are among the strongest and fastest growing sectors of the publishing industry right now, so this is valuable for writers on a number of levels. And thanks to the program’s distance learning format, aspiring authors from all over the world are able to take advantage of what it offers. We have participants in California, Arizona, Texas, Philadelphia, Florida—even Australia.”
She adds that the few places where graduate level programs like this are offered tend to be remote, while Stony Brook Southampton, with its satellite campus in Manhattan, is near to the heart of the publishing industry in New York City, and therefore offers more opportunities than most. In addition, the publishing industry tends to be closed to writers not represented by agents. The Editing and Publishing Conference and the access it provides are a key part of the program.
Picture book author Julie Gribble, a 2013 Children’s Lit Fellow, says, “Being a Children’s Lit Fellow is like having a guided tour of a city you’d always wanted to explore—you learn so much more than you could traveling about on your own!”
“The Children’s Literature Fellowship was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” says Florida-based middle grade novelist Janas Byrd. “It is a one-on-one mentorship with award winning authors who are also brilliant teachers. As a middle school teacher and mother of two, time is a hot commodity. This fellowship allowed me the flexibility to write when it was most convenient for me. I finished and polished my novel in nine months, a feat that would not have been possible to accomplish on my own.”
Admission to the Children’s Lit Fellows program is highly selective, and the application process is now open and underway. The application deadline for 2016 is December 1, 2015.
For more information about the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program and the application process, go to http://childrenslitfellows.org or visit http://www.stonybrook.edu/mfa and click on Children’s Lit Fellows.
Not too long ago The Guardian had a piece out called Picture books that draw the line against pink stereotypes of girls. I was keen on it, particularly since in the midst of all these children’s books about breaking down stereotypes, I’ve seen awfully few “tomboy” titles. Books about girls who won’t wear dresses or care two bits about makeup and pink sparkles. They exist, but they’re not often commented on, so I liked the piece.
In the midst of all its books mentioned, I was particularly intrigued by a Yasmeen Ismail title that I’d not seen before. Called I’m A Girl!, it was described as, “a challenge to every instant playground assumption that a blue-clad, rambunctious speed demon must be a boy.” It looks awfully neat, and it got me to thinking about a little commented upon children’s book character: The female who doesn’t sport eyelashes, bows, or pink. In other words, books where girls are just as sordid and snarling or wild and wacky as their male counterparts. An ode to my four favorites:
Sasspants from Guinea PIG, Pet Shop Private Eye
She made her debut just before the current wave of children’s graphic novel love sweeping our fair nation. She was a guinea pig, dour and more interested in reading than interacting socially. She solved crimes. Her name was Sasspants. Honestly, is there anything else that need be said? Her series was fantastic, but might have been hampered by the fact that sizewise it looked like a picture book. Still, you can’t help but adore any series where the fish make obscure MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH jokes.
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
There are many reasons to love Bad Kitty. She has more chutzpah than Garfield, more charm than Heathcliff, and more of an appetite than Grumpy Cat. She uses the word “Feh” with flair and I would argue that she is a feminist icon since her driven self-interest makes her a wonderfully flawed character. At no point does she fall in love or bat her eyelashes or do anything but act like a very inwardly focused cat.
Piggie from the Elephant and Piggie series
Honestly, it wasn’t until Mo wrote I Am Invited to a Party that I realized that Piggie was a girl at all. When it comes to animal characters, so many illustrators think it necessary to deck their girls out in bows and eyelashes and the like. Mo figured out that if you say a character’s a girl then by golly it’s gonna be a girl. And though at first you might worry that she’s the manic pixie dream pig to Gerald the elephant’s Eeyore-like persona, we know that at times she is just as prone to dour thoughts as her pachyderm pal.
Bink from Bink and Gollie
Of all the characters I’ve mentioned today, it is Bink that throws my four-year-old for a loop. She refers to Bink as “he” constantly, though I point out repeatedly that Bink wears a skirt (unlike, say, any of the girls previously mentioned). The skirt may throw her out of contention, but clearly it doesn’t register with her readership, so I’m keep her on this list. Truth be told, Bink may also be my favorite gal here. She has only three books but one can hope that the Bink & Gollie train has not entirely left the station. Three is a perfect little number, sure . . . but four? Four would be superb. Four then, please!
Feel free to mention your own lovely ladies that don’t rely on frills and furbelows.
First things first. Look at that book jacket.
Gaze upon it. Feast thine peeper upon its delightful creepy factor. That’s a cover, my friends. And it takes a good book to live up to it. Fortunately, A Curious Tale of the In-Between hasn’t exactly been lacking for the stellar reviews. As Kirkus put it, “DeStefano artfully concocts a moving and multilayered tale that is an effective mix of genres and tones, at times contemplative and philosophical yet also macabre and psychologically sophisticated. Love, loss, and hope are at the heart of this exciting read.”
You’ll understand then why I was intrigued when Bloomsbury offered unto me Ms. Lauren DeStafano herself for an interview. And actually, I saw her speak in person years ago. Remember the YA Chemical Garden trilogy? That was her! So saying, she agreed to my probing queries:
Betsy Bird: Hello! Thank you so much for acquiescing to a rousing series of questions. First things first, though. What we have here appears to be a book by the name of A CURIOUS TALE OF THE IN-BETWEEN. Can you give us a run down of what it’s about?
Lauren DeStefano: I like to describe it as a love story between a living girl, a living boy, and a ghost.
BB: Well, how did you come to write it? Which is to say, why did you make it a middle grade book (for ages 9-12) and not YA. You are, after all, the author of two New York Times bestselling YA series. Why the switch into younger territory?
LD: When I wrote this story, I wasn’t conscious of the idea that it would get published, so things like MG and YA weren’t in my head. I had an idea about a girl who had a peculiar condition that caused her to conspire with ghosts, and I began to write it. After dinner one night, my cousin, who I think was 8 or so at the time, asked me to tell her a story. I told her about this one, though it was only half finished at the time. Her interest and questions really surprised me, and I began to wonder if Pram did have something to offer to younger readers.
BB: I know that writing books on the younger end requires an entirely different set of muscles than writing for the YA crowd. How was writing this book for you? Did anything surprise you along the way?
LD: Writing for younger readers was nothing but a joyous experience from start to finish. I had little of the fears and insecurities I have when tackling some of my other endeavors. All I had to do was believe in magic and let that carry me to the end.
BB: Great. Now when an author gets a particularly good cover on their newest title I like to say they’ve made small animal sacrifices to the book jacket gods. You fall into that category perfectly. How do you like it?
LD: I LOVE it. I wish I could claim credit, but that all goes to my designers.
BB: This book has already been compared to Coraline, which is sort of the de facto thing reviewers say when dealing with gothic middle grade literature. What are some of the books for kids you’d equate it with? Related (or maybe not) what did you like to read when you were a kid?
LD: That is an incredibly flattering and humbling comparison, and I’m honored to hear that. I don’t know if, plot-wise or voice-wise, I could compare it to any particular work off the top of my head. When I was a young reader, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was my most treasured book and I obsessed over it for months. It reached me on some cosmic level that made me feel understood. I would just hope this story could do that for someone else.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
LD: A tangled web of secrets and intrigue.
Many thanks to Ms. DeStefano for submitting herself to questions that, I am sure, she has answered many times before and will answer many times again. And thanks too to Bloomsbury for offering her up to me in the first place.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Morning, folks. I’ve been looking to expand my knowledge beyond just children’s literature, so I figured a good podcast would be the best way to go. After reading Bustle’s 11 literary podcasts to get your bookish fix throughout the day I settled on Books on the Nightstand as the closest thing out there to a Pop Culture Happy Hour of books alone. Yet even at that moment I couldn’t escape the world of kidlit. The aforementioned Bustle piece also recommended a podcast called Dear Mr. Potter, described as “an extremely close read of J. K. Rowling’s series, starting with book number one. Host Alistair invites comments and thoughts from readers as he dissects each chapter, (there are live YouTube and Twitter chats before the audio is archived for the podcast) and is able to do some bang-up accents of beloved characters like Professor McGonagall and Hagrid.” Well, shoot. That sounds good too.
- Speaking of podcasts, you heard about The Yarn, right? That would be the podcast started by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp that follows a single book through its creators and helpers. Having finished Season One, our intrepid heroes had a Kickstarter, met their goal, and are now soliciting ideas for Season Two. Might want to toss in your two cents or so. Such an opportunity may not arise again.
- So I say “Proust Questionnaire: Kidlit Edition“, and you say, “Come again?” And I repeat, “Proust Questionnaire: Kidlit Edition”, and you say, “I’m sorry, but you’re just putting a bunch of random words and names together higglety-pigglety.” At which point I direct you to Marc Tyler Nobleman and his interview series. The questions are not too dissimilar from the 7-Impossible Things interview questions, which in turn were cribbed from Inside the Actor’s Studio, (though I forget where they got them before that). For my part, I read the ones up so far and I am now entranced by Jonathan Auxier’s use of the word, “anagnorisis”. Proust would approve.
- The Bloggess likes us, we the librarians. We could have guessed that but it’s nice to have your suspicions confirmed from time to time.
- Kidlit TV: It’s not just videos! Case in point, a recent interview with my beloved co-author Jules Danielson in which she says very kind things about myself and my fellow Niblings. She is a bit too kind when she says that, “Betsy never whines or feels sorry for herself.” This is the advantage, dear children, of co-writing a book with someone in another state. They will not see you whine or kvetch in person, thereby leading them to believe that you are better than you are. Learn from my example.
- As ever, Pop Goes the Page takes the concept of activities in a children’s library (or, in some cases, a museum) to an entirely new level. Good for getting the creative juices flowing.
- And now it’s time for another edition of Cool Stuff on the Internet You Didn’t Know and Weren’t Likely to Find By Browsing. Today, the Kerlan Collection! You may have heard of it. It’s that enormously cool children’s book collection hosted by the University of Minnesota. Cool, right? You may even have known that the doyenne of the collection is Lisa Von Drasek, who cut her teeth at the Bank Street College of Education’s children’s library for years n’ years. Now she’s given us a pretty dang cool online exhibit series tie-in and if you happen to know a teacher in need of, oh say, primary sources and picture book nonfiction titles, direct them to the Balloons Over Broadway site. Explore the links on the left-hand side of the page. You won’t regret the decision.
- Here in Evanston, October will bring The First Annual Storytelling Festival. A too little lauded art that can be sublime or painful beyond belief, the festival will be quite a bit of the former, and very little of the latter. If you’re in the area, come by!
- We all know from Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle that it’s the daddy seahorses that shoulders the bulk of the parenting responsibilities in the wild. Now travel with me over to Portland, Oregon where the husband of a buddy of mine just started Seahorses, “Portland’s first dad and baby store.” I helped them come up with some of the good daddy/kid picture books they’re selling there. If you’re an author in the area with a daddy/child title to your name, consider contacting them. They’re good people.
- Lucky, Baltimorians. You get to host Kidlitcon this year. I would go but my October is pure insanity, travel-wise. You go and write it up for me, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I don’t mind. Really.
And finally, this is precisely what you think it is.
Yep. Goodnight Goodnight, Construction Site PJs. Awesome? You betcha.
Leaving one library system to enter another can give one a sense of
déjà vu. At least when it comes to weeding the books.
Back when the Donnell Central Children’s Room across the street from the MOMA had to weed down its books to fit in the new location on 42nd Street, we did some EXTREME WEEDING (I’m using capital letters to emphasize the extremity of the situation). A lot of oldies but goodies fell by the wayside. Then I moved to the Evanston Public Library system. They are undergoing a big weeding project in their children’s room and lo and behold many of the titles I weeded back in the day were there on the carts, ready to be weeded yet again.
They are the same books because they were well reviewed in their time, maybe even garnering a couple awards here and there, but they didn’t have staying power. The elusive art of writing a book that stays in hearts and minds not just for a couple years but for decades on end is impossible to teach.
With these thoughts tooling about my brain I went over to my wiki of reviews (I need to update it with my recent reviews, but that’s neither here nor there) and looked at some of the old titles there. I started posting my reviews when I started my blog way back in 2006, though I’d been writing them on Amazon for a couple years before that point. And the books that were the cream of the crop since ’06 . . . well, some of them just don’t get mentioned by much of anyone anymore. Remember Fortune Cookies by A. Bitterman or The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer? Some of you do. Others, not so much.
So here’s a bizarre idea for a series. I’m going to revisit an old review of an out-of-print book once in a while. Not with any real hope of getting it republished. More, just to shine a light on the fact that the sheer number of titles published in a given year often leads to hidden gems that stay that way. Hidden. And today’s lucky little number is . . .
Wings by William Loizeaux
Originally published in 2006, the book got a nice round roster of favorable reviews.
- Booklist said of the art, “Shaded pencil drawings illustrate this graceful story with sensitivity and subtlety.”
- SLJ said, “the story is both realistic and tender.”
- Said Horn Book Guide, “The writing is deft, and the bird lore authentic.”
- PW Annex said, “Bowman’s pleasing halftone illustrations augment the narrative’s emotional impact. “
It didn’t garner any stars but everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It was author William Loizeaux’s first novel for children and he would later go on to write the also charming Clarence Cochran, A Human Boy. I liked it very much and it would appear on NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. And so, just because I enjoyed it, here is my old review for Wings, by William Loizeaux.
In a February 8, 2006 edition of Christian Science Monitor, author William Loizeaux offered these thoughts on the “elastic” nature of the personal memoir: “memoir is the creation of a mind remembering. The writer recalls and reflects on the past and evidence gathered about that past. Usually, the more evidence the better, but as any memoirist will tell you, remembering is always a tricky business.” With memory such a tricky beast and literary scapegoats like James Frey to draw attention to the facts surrounding a person’s past, it’s seems safest to do as William Loizeaux has done and fictionalize an important moment in one’s past instead. You cannot be held responsible for what is and is not true when you produce fiction. Instead, if you happen to mention after the fact that such n’ so in the book really did happen to you, you’ll meet someone delighted with this startling piece of evidence. And that certainly beats the complete stranger that may take you to task over whether or not you really did, say, comb your hair counterclockwise on the 15th of November. Loizeaux, however, has gone even farther and has turned a small moment from his childhood into a children’s book. It could have been awful or patronizing or puffed up with self-regard. It could have been, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s a misleadingly simple tale of a boy and his mockingbird. A tale worth remembering.
Nick found the bird standing in the center of the street looking like nothing so much as a circular ball of feathers. As it turned out, it was a baby mockingbird, alone and abandoned by its parents. After naming the little creature Marcy, Nick comes to care for the bird with a little help from his mother and his best friend Mate. Once she has thrived under his care, Marcy is able to offer Nick a great deal of comfort. She listens to his problems, whether they involve how his father died in the Korean War or the man who’s currently courting his mother. The book follows the two friends as they experience a whole summer together. But when a family trip means that Marcy and Nick must separate, the boy must learn how to let go of something he loves, even if that means losing it along the way.
Children’s librarians tend to eye adult authors that have crossed over into the world of kiddie lit with a wary skeptical eye. Adult novelists, after all, have proved time and time again that they are not always able to produce a believable title for children. Such writing often requires an entirely different set of muscles, and too often you’ll see these authors either going too far and creating something faux-childish or not far enough, creating a book of laughable complexity. Allow me to set your mind at rest in the case of Mr. Loizeaux. With an ease that is sure to infuriate his frustrated adult-authorial brethren, Loizeaux’s “Wings” reads as if it was written by a man who has been penning children’s books for years. He doesn’t speak down to his readers or insult their intelligence. His adult books have been described as having a “luminous clarity” and that same clarity is what makes him such a perfect children’s book writer. Nothing in “Wings” feels simplified. Just simple.
Nostalgia, should anyone ask, is very big right now. Peruse your local bookstore and you’ll see title after title set in 1950s or early 60s American. Sometimes this is because the author looks back on the political situation of the U.S. at that time and can draw parallels to the current administration. Sometimes it’s because they see the post-war era as a “simpler” time and they want to return to that moment, warts and all. But the impetus for Loizeaux to set his book then is neither of these. Rather, this is his story of what happened to him, personally, when he was growing up in the early 60s. The time period is not the focus here. It’s important to the story, sure, but it’s also incidental. Throw in some iPods and this book could just as easily take place today. But it didn’t. It took place in 1960, so that’s when it’s set.
A reviewer would be amiss if they did not happen to mention illustrator Leslie Bowman’s work on this book as well. With a title of this length (138 pages) the question of whether or not to even have an illustrator would have been difficult to figure out in the first place. You don’t want to drive off the older readership that would eschew “baby” books with pictures. On the other hand, if the artist is able to add something to the experience of reading the book, wouldn’t that person be an asset rather than a drain on the book’s reception by children and adults alike? It doesn’t hurt matters any that Ms. Bowman was undoubtedly the perfect artist to place alongside Loizeaux’s prose. Bowman’s work in the children’s book field has been sparse over the years, though not without praise (as with her work on “The Canadian Geese Quilt” by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock). Now, however, it feels as though she’s found the perfect fit. Images that look as if they were done in graphite are drawn in a realistic style. Marcy looks like a real mockingbird, white patched wings and all. The boys who raise and love her are crewcutted and haven’t a trace of cartoonishness to them. For this book, that was essential. I don’t like to consider what the alternatives could have been.
In his Christian Science Monitor article, Mr. Loizeaux had this to say, “At its best, a memoir combines hard research, an engaging narrative, the intimacy of lyric poetry, and the thoughtfulness of an essay.” He was, of course, referring to adult memoirs, but it’s not stretching the truth to say that this applies perfectly to “Wings” as well. You’ve facts on real mockingbirds provided in the back of the book in Loizeaux’s, “A Note On Mockingbirds” (though a source of some sort would not have been out of place). You’ve an interesting story that kids will want to know more about. You’ve the lyric poetry of lines like, “It’s hard to describe just how good this felt: to call something wild from out of the sky, and then to see her with her wings so wide.” And finally you have a sense of the thoughtfulness that went into the creation of the tale. “Wings” also performs the one act a book must fulfill to truly become a classic. It touches adults just as closely as it does children. Anything that can affect a person, regardless of age, is a thing worth remembering. A memorable children’s novel.
Notes On the Cover: Brilliant. Bowman’s a smart cookie and this is exactly the kind of picture that’s going to pull on children’s hands with the force of a strong animal-centric magnet. It also makes it perfectly clear that this is a “boy book”, or at least has a boy in it. Reluctant readers may prefer it for that reason. However you care to look at it, this is how a cover should be done. A nod of the head to Melanie Kroupa.
Boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. So MUCH very very good stuff to show you today. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. Hrm. Howzabout we begin with one of my favorite tropes: things that parody other things that you’ve never seen. It was Dana Sheridan who directed my attention to this video about The Queen of Hearts from an Alice ballet. A lot of time is spent explaining how one of her dances parodies a very specific dance from Sleeping Beauty. All I know is that we need more funny ballets in this world. Preferably based on children’s books in some manner.
Thanks to Dana Sheridan for the link.
In the book trailer world I came across this little trailer for Hilo. I liked Hilo quite a bit and the animated portions of this video simple sweeten the pot.
And well . . . come on. It’s the viral video of the week. You don’t think I’d let this one go, do you? It’s practically the whole reason I’m doing a Video Sunday today. What I like to do is look at the book covers the kid’s being read. Lots of Margaret Wise Brown in there, but a nice shot of Global Babies and other beloved contemporary favs as well. Bravo, parents!
Me stuff and it’s audio, not video, but eh. Life’s short. I was asked to speak with Chicago’s radio station WGN on Friday evening, so I did so about pretty much all things children’s literature. Now I’ll admit right now that I should have made a better point about how picture books have a higher reading level than easy books and that reading them as an older kid is totally legitimate. That’s the problem with live radio. It just goes too fast. But Justin Kaufmann was an awesome host and we had a great time with the yakkety yak. In case you’re curious, the link is here.
So full credit where credit is due to Travis Jonker for locating this remarkable Wall Street Journal interview with Brian Selznick about how his drawings become a book like The Marvels. Brief it may be, but worth your time and attention.
Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.
Okay. The off-topic video. I want to pay tribute to my new town. And what better way to do so than to show you this truly dated and WONDERFUL history of Evanston, IL. For fun, just skip to the section on “Evanston Today” at 12:10, sit back, and just soak it in. Soak. It. In.
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In this day and age it is prudent of the self-sufficient blogger to warn readers when they may encounter something that will affect the rest of their day, nay, week. And so I say unto you, BEWARE! Be Wary! For in today’s book trailer premiere video for Sing and Dance in Your Polka-Dot Pants (words by Eric Litwin, art by Scott Magoon) you may find the dreaded earworm. The dreaded catchy catchy earworm. Apparently earworms like nuts. Who knew?
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And many thanks to Little, Brown for the link.