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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!"
Statistics for A Fuse #8 Production
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 267
Over Christmas break I got to go to an Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo to see Into the Woods. The theater? Remarkably fun! The show? Um . . . well there were some problems with it. Enjoyable, sure, but . . . some problems. Problems that I suspect would not be replicated in this fabulous pared down version currently being performed by the Fiasco Theater
Thanks to Aunt Judy for the link.
Okay. So let us say that you’re a celebrity. You have written a children’s book. For whatever reason, you thought the Israel/Palestinian conflict would provide just the right kind of fodder. Now you are being called upon to do a little book promotion for your title. Your options are myriad. You could be enthusiastic and really work to engage the watching potential readership in your book’s story and plot. That’s Option A. Option B would be to compare your book to Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm (oo de lally) and then sort of phone in the whole thing. Let us see which option Mr. Duchovny is opting for here.
Don’t nobody tell me nothing. Why was I not informed that the Eerdmans Books for Young Readers site now has its own YouTube channel? More to the point, why are they one of the few smaller publishers to do this? It’s easy. It’s cheap. Actually, if you back up and look you’ll see that the video posts are just part of the new blog for the publisher called Eerdlings. And as design layouts go I think they’ve just won. As for the YouTube show Coffee Break, Ahna and Katherine are remarkably enjoyable to watch and they appear to have been doing this for some time. I was tempted to link to their video that mentions me alongside some other bloggers (because I am vanity incarnate where the blog is concerned) but instead I’ll link to the infinitely useful How to Be an Author on Facebook episode instead.
Arg! How did I miss this? Put this in the pantheon of the greatest book trailers of 2014. I’m ashamed that it has only now come to my attention. Great gobs of gratitude to Matthew Winner for drawing my attention to it:
You’ve undoubtedly already seen this on 100 Scope Notes who found this scoop faster than anyone else, but just in case you hadn’t it’s pretty cool. It’s information about an exhibition making the rounds about the country called Hats Off to Dr. Seuss. Blimey.
And for our off-topic video, I am bereft of shame. Let’s watch animals jumping into things. That is why the internet was invented, yes? So that we might watch things jump into things? That is how they’re going to teach it in school 100 years from now anyway.
In a given day I dive through gobs of mail. Boxes of books from publishers for myself, my current co-workers, my former co-workers, this blog, you name it. And since I pay attention to what’s being buzzed, I notice oddities. In this new series I’ll show you some of the more interesting fare. The items being published for kids that it’s possible you haven’t heard about yet.
I keep this book on my desk at all times. It amuses me. Deeply. If ever I am feeling down or out, all I need to do is to look at this “boyfriend” flip-a-book where you construct “the perfect guy” ala Frankenstein by flipping through different eyes and hair and smiles. It’s so shameless that it perks me up instantly.
I wouldn’t have recognized her if I hadn’t read the titles. Oh, Leila Roy, whatever will you think?
Latino heroine in a middle grade fantasy novel. Honestly, is there any more you need me to say? This I took home.
And just in case my kids need to experience magic mushrooms without any real chemical influence . . . .
Voila! New Herve Tullet board books from Phaidon! My daughter is addicted to this series. She “reads” them to herself all the time. When she finds out that there are more, I expect her to do the three-year-old equivalent of a happy freak out.
And finally . . .
It’s a good thing I’m not going to ALA Midwinter later this month. I’d probably just lollygag around the Eerdmans booth next to this book asking passersby “Don’t YOU think this looks like Roger Sutton?” The truth of the matter is that the book is a Belgian import, so if Roger really was the inspiration then his influence is far vaster than we ever suspected.
That was fun! I’ll try to keep it up regularly. Just a spot of color on a dreary Friday for you.
I didn’t really plan it this way, but this week is basically just wall to wall videos of me yammering till the cows come home. Fortunately, in the case of the latest episode of Fuse #8 TV I’m at least joined by the lovely and infinitely talented graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson.
In this, the latest of my video series, I decide to take you guys on a tour of a castle. A castle chock FULL of children’s literature. Don’t believe me? Then prepare to be amazed.
After that I sit down with Ms. Jamieson and we discuss Roller Girl, an all new graphic novel that combines the fun and personal relationships you might find in a Raina Telgemeier comic with the fury and glory of a roller derby match.
Many thanks to the good people at Penguin Young Readers for letting me speak with Ms. Jamieson. You can find her book Roller Girl on your shelves March 10th. And you can find full episodes of Fuse #8 TV here.
This falls directly into the category of “Me Stuff”. That said, some of you may be aware of the presence of Kidlit TV out there. Just to recap, it’s the closest thing we have right now to an all-children’s literature related blog channel. The brainchild of Julie Gribble with host Rocco Staino and a whole crew of fellow staff members, I’ve been watching the consistently interesting and intelligent fare over the last few months. And now? Now they’re talking to me. I am with the gabby gab, as they say. So much so that they couldn’t fit everything into a single video. This week is part one. Next week we’ll be seeing part two.
Primarily I’m discussing the book I co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Don’t have a copy of your own? Well, you’re in luck. A giveaway is at hand and you could get yourself a free one. Just go here to see me yammer and to win.
Many thanks to Julie, Rocco, and the whole crew (including the make-up artist who hid very well her horror at my inability to understand the most rudimentary aspects of eyeliner). Enjoy!
Fascinating to see what I look like with make-up on, isn’t it?
I was watching the third Hobbit movie the other day (bear with me – I’m going somewhere with this) with no particular pleasure. There are few things in life more painful to a children’s librarian than watching an enjoyable adventure for kids lengthened and turned into adult-centric fare, then sliced up into three sections. Still, it’s always interesting to see how filmmakers wish to adapt material and as I sat there, only moderately stultified, the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” (which, in this film, could be renamed “The Battle of the Thirteen Odd Armies, Give Or Take a Few) comes to a head as the glorious eagles swoop in. “They’re the Americans”, my husband noted. It took a minute for this to register. “What?” “They’re the Americans. Tolkien wrote this book after WWI and the eagles are the Yanks that swoop in to save the day at the very last minute.” I sat there thinking about it. England has always had far closer ties to The Great War than America, it’s true. I remember sitting in school, baffled by the vague version I was fed. American children are taught primarily Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII fare. All other conflicts are of seemingly equal non-importance after those big three. Yet with the 100 year anniversary of the war to end all wars, the English, who had a much larger role to play, are, like Tolkien, still producing innovative, evocative, unbelievable takes that utilize fantasy to help us understand it. And few books do a better job of pinpointing the post traumatic stress syndrome of a post-WWI nation than Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song. They will tell you that it’s a creepy doll book with changelings and fairies and things that go bump in the night. It is all of that. It is also one of the smartest dissections of what happens when a war is done and the survivors are left to put their lives back together. Some do a good job. Some do not.
Eleven-year-old Triss is not well. She knows this, but as with many illnesses she’s having a hard time pinpointing what exactly is wrong. It probably had to do with the fact that she was fished out of the Grimmer, a body of water near the old stone house where her family likes to vacation. Still, that doesn’t explain why her sister is suddenly acting angry and afraid of her. It doesn’t explain why she’s suddenly voracious, devouring plate after plate of food in a kind of half mad frenzy. And it doesn’t explain some of the odder things that have been happening lately either. The dolls that don’t just talk but scream too. The fact that she’s waking up with dead leaves in her hair and bed. And that’s all before her sister is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen, a tailor tries to burn her alive, and she discovers a world within her world where things are topsy turvy and she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Triss isn’t the girl she once was. And time is running out.
From that description you’d be justified in wondering why I spent the better half of the opening paragraph of this review discussing WWI. After all, there is nothing particularly war-like in that summary. It would behoove me to me mention then that all this takes place a year or two after the war. Triss’s older brother died in the conflict, leaving his family to pick up the pieces. Like all parents, his are devastated by their loss. Unlike all parents, they make a terrible choice to keep him from leaving them entirely. It’s the parents’ grief and choices that then become the focal point of the book. The nation is experiencing a period of vast change. New buildings, new music, and new ideas are proliferating. Yet for Triss’s parents, it is vastly important that nothing change. They’re the people that would prefer to live in an intolerable but familiar situation rather than a tolerable unknown. Their love is a toxic thing, harming their children in the most insidious of ways. It takes an outsider to see this and to tell them what they are doing. By the end, it’s entirely possible that they’ll stay stuck until events force them otherwise. Then again, Hardinge leaves you with a glimmer of hope. The nation did heal. People did learn. And while there was another tragic war on the horizon, that was a problem for another day.
So what’s all that have to do with fairies? In a smart twist Hardinge makes a nation bereaved become the perfect breeding ground for fairy (though she never calls them that) immigration. It’s interesting to think long and hard about what it is that Hardinge is saying, precisely, about immigrants in England. Indeed, the book wrestles with the metaphor. These are creatures that have lost their homes thanks to the encroachment of humanity. Are they not entitled to lives of their own? Yet some of them do harm to the residents of the towns. But do all of them? Should we paint them all with the same brush if some of them are harmful? These are serious questions worth asking. Xenophobia comes in the form of the tailor Mr. Grace. His smooth sharp scissors cause Triss to equate him with the Scissor Man from the Struwwelpeter tales of old. Having suffered a personal loss at the hands of the otherworldly immigrants he dedicates himself to a kind of blind intolerance. He’s sympathetic, but only up to a point.
Terms I Dislike: Urban Fairies. I don’t particularly dislike the fairies themselves. Not if they’re done well. I should clarify that the term “urban fairies” is used when discussing books in which fairies reside in urban environments. Gargoyles in the gutters. That sort of thing. And if we’re going to get technical about it then yes, Cuckoo Song is an urban fairy book. The ultimate urban fairy book, really. Called “Besiders” their presence in cities is attributed to the fact that they are creatures that exist only where there is no certainty. In the past the sound of church bells proved painful, maybe fatal. However, in the years following The Great War the certainty of religion began to ebb from the English people. Religion didn’t have the standing it once held in their lives/hearts/minds, and so thanks to this uncertainty the Besiders were able to move into places in the city made just for them. You could have long, interesting book group conversations about the true implications of this vision.
There are two kinds of Frances Hardinge novels in this world. There are the ones that deal in familiar mythologies but give them a distinctive spin. That’s this book. Then there are the books that make up their own mythologies and go into such vastly strange areas that it takes a leap of faith to follow, though it’s worth it every time. That’s books like The Lost Conspiracy or Fly By Night and its sequel. Previously Ms. Hardinge wrote Well Witched which was a lovely fantasy but felt tamed in some strange way. As if she was asked to reign in her love of the fabulous so as to create a more standard work of fantasy. I was worried that Cuckoo Song might fall into this same trap but happily this is not the case. What we see on the page here is marvelously odd while still working within an understood framework. I wouldn’t change a dot on an i or a cross on a t.
Story aside, it is Hardinge’s writing that inevitably hooks the reader. She has a way with language that sounds like no one else. Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of the book: “Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball, and stuffed her skull with it.” Beautiful. Line after line after line jumps out at the reader this way. One of my favorites is when a fellow called The Shrike explains why scissors are the true enemy of the Besiders. “A knife is made with a hundred tasks in mind . . . But scissors are really intended for one job alone – snipping things in two. Dividing by force. Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between. Certainty. We’re in-between folk, so scissors hate us.” If I had half a mind to I’d just spend the rest of this review quoting line after line of this book. For your sake, I’ll restrain myself. Just this once.
When this book was released in England it was published as older children’s fare, albeit with a rather YA cover. Here in the States it is being published as YA fare with a rather creepy cover. Having read it, there really isn’t anything about the book I wouldn’t readily hand to a 10-year-old. Is there blood? Nope. Violence? Not unless you count eating dollies. Anything remarkably creepy? Well, there is a memory of a baby changeling that’s kind of gross, but I don’t think you’re going to see too many people freaking out over it. Sadly I think the decision was made, in spite of its 11-year-old protagonist, because Hardinge is such a mellifluous writer. Perhaps there was a thought to appeal to the Laini Taylor fans out there. Like Taylor she delves in strange otherworlds and writes with a distinctive purr. Unlike Taylor, Hardinge is British to her core. There are things here that you cannot find anywhere else. Her brain is a country of fabulous mini-states and we’ll be lucky if we get to see even half of them in our lifetimes.
There was a time when Frances Hardinge books were imported to America on a regular basis. For whatever reason, that stopped. Now a great wrong has been righted and if there were any justice in this world her Yankee fans would line the ports waiting for her books to arrive, much as they did in the time of Charles Dickens. That she can take an event like WWI and the sheer weight of the grief that followed, then transform it into dark, creepy, delicious, satisfying children’s fare is awe-inspiring. You will find no other author who dares to go so deep. Those of you who have never read a Hardinge book, I envy you. You’re going to be discovering her for the very first time, so I hope you savor every bloody, bleeding word. Taste the sentences on your tongue. Let them melt there. Then pick up your forks and demand more more more. There are other Hardinge books in England we have yet to see stateside. Let our publishers fill our plates. It’s what our children deserve.
On shelves May 15th.
Source: Reviewed from British edition, purchased by self.
Here’s the review from The Book Smugglers that inspired me to read this in the first place.
And here’s pretty much a link to every other review of this book . . . um . . . ever.
Spoiler-ific Interviews:The Book Smugglers have Ms. Hardinge talk about her influences. Remember those goofy television episodes from the 70s and 80s where dopplegangers would cause mischief. Seems they gave at least one girl viewer nightmares.
2014 marked a distinct increase in attention spent on children’s books with diverse characters. However, this is not to say that all books with diverse characters got the same amount of attention. Take, for example, Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante. It was one of the only middle grade books in 2014 to sport a Latino boy protagonist (go on . . . name me two others in 2014). It had great writing as well, so why has almost no one talked about it? NYPL put it on their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list and recently our local station NY1 interviewed Staten Island resident Ms. Vigilante about the book in our Stapleton branch. Watch carefully and you may see me in my cameo role as “New York Public Library” itself.
You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. 90-SECOND NEWBERY FILM FESTIVAL IS COMING TO TOWN!!! You can see the full listing of where the festival is headed here. In the meantime, here’s one of the new videos. Is it bad that it actually scared me? It’s a bunch of kids doing The Graveyard Book (The Dance Macabray as kickline = inspired) but I had the same reaction to it that I had to Shaun of the Dead. I honestly found parts of it (the sleer) scary. I is wimp!!
Maybe I’ve been reading The Lorax to my kiddo too much but you know what this is, don’t you?
It’s a Thneed! Thanks to Aunt Judy for the video.
Have you seen the latest trailer for a new version of The Little Prince? For the first 30 seconds or so of this you’re going to be confused, possibly angry. Stick with it. Please.
Beats Bob Fosse as The Snake, anyway. Then again, points docked for not having any Gene Wilder. (Fun Fact: Most movies are docked points for this very reason)
No no no no no. Not allowed. I call foul. Illustrators have enough talent as it is. They are NOT allowed to also be excellent authors and even if they happen to be precisely that they are NOT allowed to have pitch perfect voices that can read selections from their books with all the vocal skills of the highest paid celebrity. Back you go, Chris Riddell. Ply your magic dulcet tones elsewhere.
At this point there are too many fantastic 2015 picture books out there to tell you about. Thank goodness some of them make book trailers, then. For example, have you heard about Kathi Appelt’s fabulous When Otis Courted Mama, illustrated by Jill McElmurry? If not then remedy is at hand:
Now another trailer. As blurbs go, “This book smells great” may be my pick of the week.
And for the off-topic video of the day, it’s a Swing vs. Hip Hop dance off from Montreal. As my friend Marci put it, “the first swing round is sort of meh but it gets better.”
Some me stuff to start us off. NYPL turned its handy dandy little 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2014 list into an interactive bit of gorgeousness. So as to help it along, I wrote a blog post on the library’s website (I have two blogs, if you want to get technical about it, but only one of them has my heart) with the following clickbait title: They Put THAT Into a Book for Kids?! Forgive me, oh blogging gods. I couldn’t help it. It was too much fun to write. Oh, and while we’re on the NYPL blogs, I really enjoyed Andrea Lipinski’s post about our old (and I mean OLD) Books for the Teen Age lists. How can you resist this cover, after all?
Recently I was alerted to two older but really fascinating links regarding ARCs (Advanced Readers Galleys) and their procurement and use in the book world. Over at Stacked Books one post discussed the current state of handing out galleys at large national conferences like ALA. The other one took the time to poll people on how they use their ARCs and what they do with them. Both make for magnificent reading. Thanks to Charlotte Taylor for the links.
It’s sort of nice when our reference librarians, both past and present, get a little acknowledgment for the super difficult questions they have to field. Boing Boing recently related a piece on some of the crazier questions the adult reference librarians have to field. Children’s librarians get some out there ones as well, but nothing quite compares to these.
Ah. It’s the end of an era, everyone. In case you hadn’t heard the ccbc-net listserv has closed its doors (so to speak) for the last time. Now if you’re looking for children’s literary listservs you’ve PUB-YAC and child_lit. Not much else to read these days, I’m afraid. Except bloggers, I suppose. *irony laden shudder*
I was over at Monica Edinger’s apartment the other day when she showed me this little beauty:
She’d already blogged a quickie review of it, so when the news came in that it won a UK Costa Award I had the odd sensation of being, if only momentarily, inside the British book loop. And if you looked at that cover and thought to yourself, “Gee, that sure looks like a WWI sequel to E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It” you’re sort of right on the money.
So I’m prepping my branches for some hardcore Día programs (El día de los niños/El día de los libros or Children’s Day/Book Day) by buying them lots of Día books. I go on the Día website to order off of the book lists they have there, and what do I find? Some of the coolest most up-to-date STEM/STEAM booklists I have EVER had the pleasure to see. They’re so good, in fact, that I had to alert you to them. If you’re looking for STEM/STEAM fare, search no further.
Pretty much off-topic but while strolling through Bryant Park behind the main library for NYPL, my boss and I came across the fountain back there. Apparently when the temperatures plunge they figure it’s better to keep it running rather than risk bursting the pipes. Whatever the reason, it now looks like this:
This past Saturday I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon at the main branch of NYPL that discussed the topic of middle grade science fiction for children, its history and future. Consisting of a panel of editor Andrew Harwell, author Jason Fry (of the “Jupiter Pirates” series), and librarian Stephanie Whelan (who gave a fantastic encapsulation of how sci-fi for children has changed over the decades) there came a moment when I was able to ask Harwell about acquiring the Jupiter Pirates books for a large publisher like Harper Collins. I walked in with the assumption that he would have had difficulty convincing HC’s acquisitions team that a work of space adventures would sell. As it happens, I was off the mark. Harwell said that in his experience it was harder to publish a science fiction work that further glutted the market (yet another dystopian YA novel, say) than something original like Fry’s series.
However, all this got me to thinking about editors who take risks. Even if Harwell didn’t encounter resistance to the books within his workplace, you could say he took a bit of a risk publishing something that doesn’t fall within the given norms. Over the years I’ve seen editors put their hearts and souls into children’s books that they knew would strike some as esoteric and others as downright weird. Consider, if you will, that an editor’s very livelihood depends on producing as many successful books as possible. Passion projects take on a very different light too when you see those editors let go from their publishing houses. I’ve seen it happen over the years. The threat is real.
And yet they still continue to bring out books that are of high literary quality and yet aren’t what you might call an easy sell. Looking at 2014, it’s easy to identify the books that bypass the norm.
First and foremost amongst editors with a bent for the original and remarkable is Neal Porter. The other day I was sitting down with an old friend who lamented to me that Neal just wasn’t taking enough risks with his books these days. I had to raise an objection to this notion. In 2014, Porter published a book so out there that its very author had assumed that it would never see the light of day. I am referring, of course, to The Iridescence of Birds. Even author Patricia MacLachlan was surprised that Neal took an interest. Here we have a book written in a single sentence that is sortakinda a biography-ish picture book about Matisse. It may be no surprise that it came out the same year as another sortakinda(notreally) bio, Viva, Frida by Yuyi Morales. These books don’t slot into a catalog record neatly at all. Where the HECK do you even put them on your shelves? Yet they’re beautiful and well-written and everything a picture book should be. Just a little unusual.
Of course Mr. Porter has been an editor for quite some time, so maybe he’s worked up enough cred to try something different from time to time. At a different Children’s Literary Salon Neal was one of my guests and the moderator posed the supposition that no one makes quiet books anymore. Yet Neal actually wins Caldecotts with his (see: A Sick Day for Amos McGee).
Another book that came out in 2014 that I’d call risky won a very different kind of award. I couldn’t have been the only person shocked that Aviary Wonders, Inc. by Kate Samworth beat out books like El Deafo and Joey Pigza to take home a whopping $50,000 prize. That the book was even published was amazing in and of itself. If you see it, it’s more catalog than story. Not quite fiction, not quite picture book.
Then there are the publishers that take risks by translating books that could be seen to be “too foreign” to American audiences. In 2014 we saw Enchanted Lion Books present us with some remarkable titles that certainly apply. Pomelo’s Big Adventure could never be mistaken for a work of American fiction. Yet as a picture book it really works well. Then there was the middle grade novel Nine Open Arms by by Benny Lindelauf which dared to be funny and strange and unlike anything else on the market. It may have suffered for its book jacket, but the story inside was grand.
On the nonfiction side, I always feel pleased when folks go beyond the usual school report subjects and highlight individuals and tales outside the norm. How precisely did Barbara Kerley convince Scholastic that six-year-olds would comprehend a story about Ralph Waldo Emerson? We all love Ashley Bryan but was a book about his homemade puppets a guaranteed sale? And then there’s the idea of doing a biography of Sun Ra. For kids. Seriously, Chris Raschka? Yet it works. They don’t all work, I should note. That’s the nature of risks, but at least folks were taking a chance on trying something new.
What were your favorite risky children’s titles of 2014?
Not every child views the imposition of a new sibling as an interloper, but a fair number of them do. They’re just tooling along, enjoying the natural bliss that comes with being the one and only star in their parents’ firmament when BLAMMO! A squalling person of inadequate size is there, hogging the attention. Unsurprisingly a low burn (or, in other cases, epic) rivalry erupts. Plenty of children’s books have addressed this issue, to varying degrees of success. It was then with great joy that I read one of the finest the other day. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman may look, at first glance of the cover, like a lupine variation on that bunny suit worn by Ralphie in A Christmas Story but inside you will instead find a delightful tale of sibling rivalry as well as a cautionary tale of the dangers that come when shopping at a Brooklyn co-op. Issues every child should certainly be made aware of.
If you are a bunny and your parents find that a baby wolf has been left on their stoop, you would be well within your rights to have some qualms. But when Dot’s Mama and Papa first lay eyes on little Wolfie, all tucked tight into his little basket, it’s love at first sight. Not so Dot, who declares with refreshing candor, “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her protestations, however, fall on deaf ears. Next thing she knows, Dot has a little, toothy brother. He likes eating carrots for breakfast. He sleeps very well through the night. And he absolutely loves and adores his new big sister to the point where she can’t use the potty or color without Wolfie drooling all over her. Time passes and soon Wolfie’s a great big furry guy eating the family out of house and home. When he and Dot are dispatched to the nearby Carrot Patch Co-Op to pick up some additional grub, she is certain that this will be the moment he makes his predatorial move. However, when the chips are down and Wolfie finds himself in peril, it’s up to his big sister to swoop in and save the day.
In her Author’s Note at the back, Dyckman mentions that much of the inspiration for this book came from her daughter who, as a toddler, would occasionally “transform” into what they called a “Wolf Baby”. Yet in her story it’s Dot who’s the star of the show. For all that the book is called “Wolfie the Bunny”, Dot has the reader’s sympathies from the get go. Then, after you’re Team Dot for a while, Dyckman cleverly gives us a glimpse into Wolfie’s p.o.v. When Dot and her friends run off after they’ve screamed a customary “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP” we see baby Wolfie crying for the first time. It’s from that point on that Wolfie attaches himself to Dot like a saliva-producing shadow. To give the book the right sound when reading it aloud, Dyckman also adds a little gentle repetition into the text. Combating Dot’s war cry of Wolfie’s dining predilections are her father’s proud exclamations whenever Wolfie does pretty much anything at all. If Mama says he’s sleeping then Papa will note, “He’s a good sleeper”. If Dot complains about him drooling Papa says, “He’s a good drooler.” And back go your sympathies to Dot. It’s a delicate balance but Dyckman pulls it off.
And yet, for all that, you still might have difficulty seeing Wolfie as anything but a bloodthirsty bunny eater, were it not for the elegant stylings of artist Zachariah OHora. Having already cut his teeth on making 500-pound gorillas adorable (but not cute) in “No Fits, Nilson”, OHora’s thick acrylics are perfect for “Wolfie” here. He’s toothy, no question, but his eyes sport this wide-eyed innocence that’s hard to resist. Truth be told, you fall for him as thoroughly as Mama and Papa when you see him. All this is set against a limited color palette. Aside from mustard yellow, green, red, and pink, there really aren’t a lot of other colors. The thick black paints are abundant, and the colors are seemingly subdued, yet pop when required to do so.
Now generally speaking I have a problem with picture books where animals subsume their natural instincts. Books like Miss Spider’s Tea Party where the whole point is not to judge someone, even if they’re a spider that should, by all rights, be eating her guests. So I should probably be upset that Wolfie has somehow gone off his natural wolf instincts. Instead, I’m charmed. This is nature vs. nurture at its finest. Sure he’s drooling on Dot, but anyone who has ever witnessed a kid in the throes of teething will understand what that’s like. On the one hand you could argue that it is cruel to dress a wolf in a bunny suit, no matter how kindly the bunnies or sweet the wolf. On the other hand, this is clearly Wolfie’s choice. You get the distinct impression that the bunny suit might even have been his idea. So what does that say about the choices our children make, even when they don’t gel with society’s expectations? No idea. I just like the image of a wolf in a bunny suit. It’s funny.
It is difficult to estimate how many authors and illustrators of children’s literature live in Brooklyn, NY. General wisdom states that the borough contains the highest concentration of folks of that ilk in the country. Certainly every season we see a new crop of books that reference and work in little Brooklyn-based details and elements. The kicker is that the place exerts such a pull that even artists who have moved away can’t help but reference it. Such is the case with Zachariah OHora. As he mentions in his Artist’s Note, though he now lives in Pennsylvania, the setting of his book is his old Park Slope neighborhood. The co-op, his old co-op. And then when you look a little closer you see other Brooklynesque details. Mama and Papa, for example, are so hip it hurts. I mean just check out their collection of vintage cameras (they must have a basement full of Polaroid film). You just know they both are adept on the ukulele, brew their own beer, and go to art house films with the kids every Saturday morning. But I digress.
Who hasn’t looked at their younger brother or sister and thought at one time or another that they bore more in common with animals than people? Wolfie the Bunny isn’t really going to change their minds on that front. Nope. Instead it’s going to just strike them as amazingly funny. With its catchy refrains, stellar pictures, and original storyline, this is one of the more charming picture books out there. A great book. Personal sibling issues not required.
I’m pleased as punch to be premiering the book trailer for Michael Hall’s rather magnificent picture book RED today. The simple tale of a blue crayon labelled with a red wrapper, it’s rather subtle and brilliant. Naturally I wanted to know where Hall got the idea for it in the first place. Here’s his response to that query:
My interest in crayons began when I fell in love with Mickey Myers’ Crayola prints (see below) in the 80s. Crayons — when represented in two dimensions on paper — make an appealing subject. They are also joyful and unpretentious, and they can work as a metaphor for many things. I used them several times in my graphic design work.
At one point, I made a series of drawings by scribbling one entire crayon—until the crayon was too small to hold—onto a piece of toothy paper and gluing the crayon’s label below the drawing. Each one seemed like a picture of a life. There were many variations; one of them involved pairing one colored scribble with a different colored label.
Later, when I began making picture books, I knew that at least one of them would be about crayons, and the mismatched label idea seemed like a good place to start.
At first, I couldn’t let go of some of the more grown-up aspects of the metaphor. My first draft followed Red, a blue crayon with a red label, until he was completely used up, and the crayons put his label to rest in a grassy field. The berry crayon delivered the eulogy: “When I look up at the clouds, I can’t help but feel that he’s still with us.” And the last page — a picture of the ceremony beneath a crayoned blue sky — read: “And he still was.”
Needless to say the tale is vastly different from this first draft. No crayon funerals are in evidence now. Just a great book with a kicker of an ending.
Enjoy the trailer!
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Collins for passing it along.
It’s a new year but the librarian previews just ah-keep on coming. Generally you’ll read my previews of “The Big Six/Five” (they haven’t really gone down to a proper five yet, but it’s coming). My heart always belongs to the little guys, though. The folks who aren’t necessarily located in NYC. Folks like Chronicle Books, located more in the San Francisco area part of the country. If Candlewick is the publisher of books that are gorgeous in a classical sense then Chronicle is her mod younger sister. Here are some of the treats we’ll be seeing pouring out of that particular co. soon.
Star Wars Epic Yarns by Jack and Holman Wang
A New Hope (9781452133935)
The Empire Strikes Back (9781452134994)
Return of the Jedi (9781452135007)
A little context might be in order here. Since we’re already on the topic of small publishers, are any of you familiar with Simply Read Books? That’s a small company that cares so much about children’s literature that they pay extra money so that the glue in the bindings of their books smells better. I am not making that up. Simply Read was plugging along for a while when they hit upon Jack & Holman Wang. The result was their remarkable Cozy Classics series of board books. We’ve seen plenty of tongue-in-cheek board book editions of stories like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice but the Cozy Classics excelled by being the most beautiful and meticulous out there. Jack and Holman’s attention to detail is paramount. They care as much about the simplified language as they do the natural lighting in a given scene. Now Chronicle has lured them over to their team so as to present all three of the original Star Wars films in the same kind of format. As you can see they are felt (felt droids!) and incredibly fun. We were told that the only digital aspects you’ll find in these photographs are the light sabers. Other than that, it’s all natural, baby. You know you want one. Or three.
You know, the most consistent surprise I found during this preview was how many familiar names I was already a fan of (the aforementioned Wangs, Mark Siegel, Amy June Bates, etc.) started cropping up as part of the Chronicle roster. I love learning about new folks, but there’s something infinitely comforting about finding someone you already love in a new location (so to speak).
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera (9781452141992)
If your first thought upon seeing this was to think of the Blue Apple Books series Bear In Underwear by Todd Doodler, you aren’t alone. However, aside from the obvious similarities of ursine undies, Tupera’s book goes in a different direction. Translated from what I believe was the original Japanese, in this book a polar bear’s underwear has gone AWOL. Various pairs are located but each belongs to a different animal. The zebra’s have colorful stripes, the butterfly’s are tiny, etc. In the end this is less “Bear In Underwear” and more “I Want My Underwear Back” (should Jon Klassen be looking for a sequel to his smash hit, I think we’ve found a winner). There’s even an “underwear bellyband” that has to be removed from the cover so as to open the book (thereby rendering our titular hero naked as the day he was born).
Interstellar Cinderella (9781452125329)
Anyone out there a fan of Cinder by Marissa Meyer? Then consider this Cinder for the 4-7 year-old set. Written in rhyming text this colorful concoction stars a parts-loving Cinderella. Thanks to her fairy bot mother she goes off and ends up becoming not the prince’s paramour but his mechanic. Love it, love it.
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (9781452138510)
I don’t want to shock you folks, but the truth about Rowboat Watkins? That’s not his real name. I know, I know, I was as dismayed as the rest of you when I heard. Living as we do in a world where names like Robert Quackenbush, Mary Quattlebaum, Sara Pennypacker, and even the occasional Betsy Bird proliferate, you kind of hope for the best when you run across a guy with a name you can’t say three times fast. Alas, tis not to be. A former Sendak fellow (how many were there in the end, I wonder?) this book features pastry without manners. A perfect pairing with Scholastic’s recent Please, Mr. Panda, in this tale a cake has to learn a thing or two about being a bit of a boor.
Sea Bones by Bob Barner (9781452125008)
First off, love that cover. It makes me feel as though someone should seriously consider doing a Halloween ocean tale. In any case, bone-obsessed Bob Barner is back. You loved his Dem Bones and thrilled to his Dinosaur Bones. Now check out this remarkably effective little nonfiction title for younger readers. Note the infographic feel and how it incorporates older and younger texts. Behold the underwater informational chart! And see this picture up above of the different parts of the fish. Am I crazy or shouldn’t this be a poster? I would hang it up. Yup yup.
Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates (9781452124087)
Ah. The beach. It lends itself to lovely art, does it not? It’s never too soon to start mooning over the seaside. Indeed here in the cold of January it’s sounding particularly nice. Using lots of oranges and reds, Bates brings to life Caswell’s rhyming text. There are lots of nice little details as well, like hanging towels up on a clothesline to dry. This is why we have watercolors, folks.
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel (9781452112336)
It’s unfortunate that even at as big a scan as this, you can’t quite make out the covers of the books surrounding the boy on the book jacket here. If you could, you’d be able to see how Mark Siegel has cleverly worked in a wide array of picture books, both classic and contemporary, into his art. Pairing two of my favorite children’s book creators together, this is a kind of picture book guidebook on . . . well, you read the title. It sort of reminds me of the text for How to Train a Train, honestly. Fun stuff.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown (9781452111902)
Slowly, ever so slowly, we’re moving away from the books in which having two dads or two moms is the sole point of the title. Still, it’s good to remember that there are a LOT of kinds of tales we’ve not seen before. This book serves more as a story about how there are many different kinds of families out there. When Stella’s class has a Mother’s Day celebration she’s a bit out to sea. After all, she has two daddies. So how can she invite them to the party? It’s a good little tolerance-based tale.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee (9781452142944)
Wordless is the name of the game here. Beautiful might be the other word that comes to mind. From Korean born JiHyeon Lee comes a story of what happens to two kids when they meet at an incredibly crowded pool. Contrasting the nightmarishly crowded pool with a kind of beautiful chaos and underwater adventures, this is one of the riskier and more interesting picture book debuts of 2015.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781452119366)
Rejoice, oh ye fans of Messner and Neal’s Over and Under the Snow. They’re baaaaaack! And this time they’re looking at spring springing. What’s in the dirt? What’s hidden on the underside of the leaves? It’s a tiny little world out there and this looks like a perfect recommendation for any teacher searching for new nonfiction spring-based picture books.
A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (9781452127132)
Speaking of delightful returns, Aston & Long are back with the fifth book in their natural-objects/critters-have-adjectives series (I mean what would you call it?). If you already loved An Egg Is Quiet, A Seed Is Sleepy, A Butterfly Is Patient, and A Rock Is Lively then check out the latest. As with their other books, the duo upset expectations from the get go. You thought this would just cover bird nests? Think again, my friend. Everything from tiny bees to orangutans are on display here.
The Land of Lines by Victor Hussenot (9781452142821)
Because you just cannot have enough wordless books in a given year. The format may be picture book sized but the interiors are pretty darn graphic novelly. Originally French, this philosophical wordless picture book uses just blue and red with the occasional dash of yellow along the way. It sort of reminds me of that old PBS show Secret City, where you’d be shown how to draw in much the same way.
Farewell Floppy by Benjamin Chaud (9781452137346)
Chronicle previews happen in NYC in a restaurant. That’s just how they do. And on this particular day the table of attendees got into a big debate about this book. Created by the remarkable Benjamin Chaud (see my post You Know Him. You Just Don’t Know You Know Him) this tale features a boy who decides to abandon his rabbit Floppy in the woods. Why? Well, the kid is growing up and he’s fairly certain that having a bunny for a best friend keeps you from maturing properly. Trouble is, while losing Floppy might be hard, finding him again once he’s been successfully “set free” is even harder. The debate at my table? Is Floppy a real rabbit or a stuffed one? You’ll have to read it yourself to be the judge of that.
Bigfoot Is Missing by J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt, illustrated by MinaLima (9781452118956)
As the art here shows, the interesting thing about this Lewis/Nesbitt pairing (both have been Children’s Poet Laureates with Nesbitt currently holding the title) is that it’s poetry. Cryptid poetry! With the rather lovely art of Miraphora (best first name ever?) Mina and Eduardo Limo at play (put them together and they become MinaLima) we see poems here disguised as street signs, milk cartons, graffiti, newspaper headlines, etc. I’m always on the lookout for new poetry books. This fits the bill.
The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee (9781452113869)
Chronicle specializes in picture books, generally. So when they decide to invest in a work of middle grade fiction, they do so with their heart and soul. This book is being sold as for fans of A Wrinkle in Time and The Wizard of Oz. A lone girl must find a cure for her best friend’s rare illness. It requires going through a door in an apple tree and discovering her roots (ha ha) along the way. This is a debut for Ormsbee, so let’s keep an eye on it, please.
Boats Go by Steve Light (9781452129006)
One word: YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!
And that’s all she wrote, folks. Now to go tackle the seven OTHER previews I have waiting in the wings presumably *gulp* before summer.
Many thanks to Chronicle for presenting us this list.
If I’m going to be honest about it, this is a list I do every year strictly for myself. It sort of helps me get my head in order. Figure out what I liked. What I didn’t. What I reviewed. What I missed. I recommend you make your own sometime. The categories are from the 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing List as created by New York Public Library. I like how they help me parcel out the genres.
Babies. They just sorta throw the whole reviewing machine into a tizzy. When I first started blogging I was actually able to do a review a day. That was crazy. Then kiddo #1 was born and that slowed to 2-3 reviews a week. Manageable. This year (2014) kiddo #2 made his debut and now I feel inordinately accomplished if I can get one review out a week.
All this is to say that there’s a whole host of fabulous children’s books out there that I missed my chance to review in 2014. I have a tendency to only review books within their current publishing year. So, with a tip of my hat and a shuffle off the stage, here are the books of the year that I jolly well would have LOVED to have reviewed. These are the best books I’ll never tell you about. Cue “Thanks for the Memories” and . . .
The Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, ill. Daniel Salmieri – Because there are monsters and there are bubbles and combining the two? It just makes good clean sense.
Big Bug by Henry Cole – Finding really simple texts in picture books can be hard. This fits.
A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, ill. Floyd Cooper – So incredibly good. Floyd Cooper at his best.
Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg by Debi Gliori – The ultimate blended family tale. Why do all the best stories about different kinds of families involve penguins?
Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren – I just loved the art in this one, as well as the metaphor at work. What was the metaphor? Darned if I know. But if I’d reviewed it, maybe I could have pinned it down.
The Farmer’s Away! Baa! Neigh! by Anne Vittur Kennedy – Have you read this one aloud to a large group yet? It takes a bit of practice but once you’ve got the rhythm down there’s really nothing to compare.
Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, ill. Jeremy Tankard – To my mind, this is one of the best metaphors for toddler/preschooler destruction I’ve ever seen. And you get to see someone destroy NYC!
I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy – I wish I had more books like this.
A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham – This one has a slow burn. Read it the first time and missed a LOT of the details. Subsequent readings (my kiddo’s a fan) revealed just how clever it really is.
Sticks n’ Stones n’ Dinosaur Bones by Theodore Enik, illustrated by G.F. Newland – I only review a couple self-published books in a given year. This year I only did one. But if I could have done two, this book would have been the second, you betcha.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – GAH! Why didn’t I do this one? There’s so much to love here.
Early Chapter Books
Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman – The most underrated early chapter book of 2014. Seriously, if you haven’t read it, run, don’t walk, to your nearest library and check it out.
Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban, ill. Alexis Deacon – When I compare this to the original version there simply isn’t any comparison. It’s amazing. I had some issues with the Magical Black Friend aspects, but otherwise this reinterpretation was jaw-dropping. I must now find everything Deacon has ever done.
Pinocchio by Kate McMullan, ill. Pascal LeMaitre – By some weird lick of fate, this book ended up the very first chapter book my daughter was able to listen to all the way through. Maybe it’s the episodic nature of the text. Maybe the pictures. Whatever it is, it works.
Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, ill. LeUyen Pham – It’s a female Zorro. Nuff said.
Fairytales & Folktales
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, ill. Barbara McClintock – I know everyone’s crazy about the other McClintock book out this year (Where’s Mommy?) but for me she’s doing her best work with this title. And just look at that cover? Nothing compares.
The Princess Who had no Kingdom by Ursula Jones, ill. Sarah Gibb – Has a wry sense of humor you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a princess tale.
The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm, ill. Gerda Raidt – Keeps close to the original material without getting all icky with the accusations of cannibalism. Oddly child-friendly (if that makes sense).
You Can’t Have Too Many Friends! by Mordicai Gerstein – So weird that I fell in love with it instantly. Maybe I’m alone, but this book took some serious risks. Risks that paid off!
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – Arg! I wish I’d gotten to this. The language, man, the language.
Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Shulz – This was actually the next on my pile to review. *sigh*
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snicket – Because I always had a weakness for those “10 Minute Mystery” books that were popular when I was a kid.
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos – Don’t know if it really stands on its own (if you’ve read the other books in the series it makes a lot more sense) but the writing is abso-friggin’-lutely amazing.
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud – And if you haven’t read this then you need to relieve yourself of that personal flaw. The most fun you will have this year. Go on. I can wait.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood: A World War I Tale by Nathan Hale – The only reason I didn’t review it was that I’d already done other books in the series before. But Hale really goes all out in this. Tricky subject matter handled with a twist that actually works.
Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner – Initially I found it off-putting but as I got into it I really began to love what Faulkner was doing with the material.
Princeless 1: The Arduous Business of Getting Rescued by Jeremy Whitley, ill. M. Goodwin – Probably one of the most popular graphic novels in my library branches right now. A pity there are only two in the series thus far.
Greek Mythology by Ken Jennings, ill. Mike Lowery – Initially I’d disregarded the book as a marketing gimmick. Then I actually read it and found out how amazing it is. Lowery’s art does a lot to help as well.
Guys Read: True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka, ill. Brian Floca – So so good. So so gross. Hope you like maggots!
Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, ill. Wendell Minor – There is no other artist living today who could have pulled off what Minor is doing here.
Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray, illustrated by Kenard Pak – Pak is one to watch. A little bit of picture book nonfiction that a kid could actually use in their day-to-day lives.
Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix – Hendrix could probably illustrate IRS statements and I’d read them. So it helps when the subject matter is this interesting.
Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalvan with Bret Witter, photos by Dan Dion – I know it’s just a younger version of an adult tale, but it’s so sweetly done. Making PTSD understandable to a young audience is so tough, only a book like this could pull it off.
Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, ill. Rick Allen – Of all the books I review, poetry is the most difficult. This book was rather perfect and perfect does not make for a good review. Maybe I was right not to do it then. Hm…
Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, ill. Chuck Groenink – Anytime you see a new collection of Raczka poems, that is cause enough for celebration. This book is good above and beyond the Christmas season, by the way. It’s just straight up awesome.
When a successful writer of books for adults decides to traipse headlong into the world of children’s literature, the results are too often disastrous. From Donald Barthelme’s self-indulgent Slightly Irregular Fire Engine to the more recent, if disastrous in an entirely different way, Rush Revere series by Rush Limbaugh, adult authors have difficulty respecting the unique perspective of a child reader. Either they ignore the intended audience entirely and appeal to the parents with the pocket change or they dumb everything down and reduce the storytelling to insulting pabulum. This is not to say that all adult authors are unsuccessful. Sylvia Plath penned the remarkable The Bed Book while Ted Hughes brought us The Iron Giant. Louise Erdrich will forever have my gratitude for her Birchbark House series and while I wouldn’t call Michael Chabon’s Summerland a roaring success, it at least had some good ideas. Then we come to Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman is one of those rare adult authors to not only find monetary success in the field of children’s books but literary success as well. His The Graveyard Book won the prestigious Newbery Award, given once a year to the most distinguished written book of children’s literature in America. Like Donald Hall with his Ox-Cart Man, Gaiman has successfully straddled two different literary forms. Unlike Hall, he’s done so repeatedly. His latest effort, Hansel and Gretel takes its inspiration from art celebrating an opera. It is, in an odd way, one of the purest retellings of the text I’ve had the pleasure to read. A story that begs to be spoken aloud, even as it sucks you into its unnerving darkness.
In the beginning there was a woodcarver and his pretty wife and their two children. Times were good and once in a while the family, though never rich, would get a bite of meat. Then the wars came and the famine. Food became so scarce that the wife persuaded her husband to abandon their children in the woods. The first time he tried to do so he failed. The second time he succeeded. And when Hansel and Gretel, the children in question, spotted that gingerbread cottage with its barley sugar windows and hard candy decorations the rest, as they say, was history.
It’s a funny kind of children’s book. The bulk of it is text-based, with time taken for Mattotti’s black and white two-paged spreads between the action. For people expecting a standard picture book this can prove to be a bit unnerving. Yet the truth is that the book begs to be read aloud. I can see teachers reading it to their classes and parents reading it to their older children. The art is lovely but it’s practically superfluous in the face of Gaiman’s turn of phrase. Consider sentences like “They slept as deeply and as soundly as if their food had been drugged. And it had.” There’s something deeply satisfying about that “And it had”. It is far more chilling in its matter-of-factness than if Gaiman had ended cold with “It had”. The “And” gives it a falsely comforting lilt that chills precisely because it sounds misleadingly comforting. It pairs very well with the first sentence in the next section: “The old woman was stronger than she looked – a sinewy, gristly strength…” He then peppers the books with little tiny nightmares that might not mean much on a first reading but are imbued with their own small horrors if you pluck them out and look at them alone. The witch’s offers to Gretel to make her one of her own and teach her how to ensnare travelers. Hansel’s refusal to let go of the bone that saved his life, even after the witch has died. And the final sentence of the book has a truly terrible tone to it, though on the surface it appears to be nothing but sunshine and light:
“In the years that followed, Hansel and Gretel each married well, and the people who went to their weddings ate so much fine food that their belts burst and the fat from the meat ran down their chins, while the pale moon looked down kindly on them all.”
Some versions of the story turn the mother into a stepmother, for what kind of parent would sacrifice her own children for the sake of her own skin? Here Gaiman is upfront about the mother. She was pretty once but became bitter and sharp-tongued in time. It’s her plying words that convince the woodcutter to go along with the abandonment plan. As the book later explains, subsequent version of this tale turned her into a stepmother, but here we’ve the original parent with her original sin. Gaiman also solves some problems in the plot that had always bothered me about the story. For example, why does Hansel drop white stones that are easy to follow the first time he and Gretel are abandoned in the woods but breadcrumbs the second? The answer is in the planning. Hansel has foreknowledge of his mother’s wicked scheme the first time around and has time to find the stones. The second time the trip into the woods catches him unawares and so the only thing he has on hand to use for a path are the breadcrumbs of the food he’s given for lunch.
Originally the illustrations in this book were created by Lorenzo Mattotti for the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the opera of the same name. These pieces of art (which the publication page says are in “a rich black ink, on a smooth woodfree paper from Japan”) proved to be the inspiration for Gaiman’s take. This is no surprise. Mattotti knows all too well how to conjure up the impression of light or night with the merest swoops of his paintbrush. His children are no better than silhouettes. Does it even matter if they have any features? Here the trees are the true works of art. There’s something hiding in the gloom here and from the vantage taken, the thing lurking in the woods, spying upon the kids, is ourselves. We are the eyes making these two children so very nervous. We espy their mother pacing in front of their home just before the famine starts. We peer through the trees at the kids crossing past a small gap in the trunks. On a first glance the shadows are universal but then you notice when Mattotti chooses to imbue a character with features. The children are left abandoned in the woods and all you can see of the woodcutter is an axe and an eye. I think it the only eyeball in the entire book. It’s grotesque.
Of course, for a children’s librarian the best part might well be the backmatter. Recently I read a version of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” that suggested that the Grimm tale was a metaphor for a plague that had wiped out all of Hamelin’s children, save a few. A similar theory surrounds “Hansel and Gretel”, suggesting that the story’s origins lie in the Great Famine of 1315. Further information is given about the tale, ending at last with the current iteration and (oh joy!) a short Bibliography. You might not be as ready to nerd out over this classic fairy tale, but for those of you with a yen, boy are you in luck!
What is the role of a fairy tale these days? With our theaters and books filled to brimming with reimagined tellings, one wonders what fairy tales mean to most people. Are they cultural touchstones that allow us to speak a universal language? Do they still reflect our deepest set fears and worries? Or are they simply good yarns worth discovering? However you chose to view them, the story of “Hansel and Gretel” deserves to be plucked up, shaken out like an old coat, and presented for the 21st century young once in a while. Neil Gaiman’s a busy man. He has a lot to do. He could have phoned this one in. Instead, he took the time and energy to make give the story its due. It’s not about what we fear happening to us. It’s about what we fear doing to ourselves by doing terrible things to others. The fat from the meat is running down our chins. Best to be prepared when something comes along to wipe it up.
My agent has just found a new home. And since he’s a stellar feller, here are the details of the matter.
LITERARY AGENT STEPHEN BARBARA JOINS INKWELL MANAGEMENT
After six years at Foundry Literary + Media, literary agent Stephen Barbara will join InkWell Management, effective January 5th, 2015. Barbara, who was instrumental in building Foundry’s books for young readers presence, will be followed by all fifty of his clients.
His list of authors includes New York Times bestseller Lauren Oliver, Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz, National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff, Indie bestseller Lynne Jonell, Edgar Award and Emmy winner Jack Ferraiolo, #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Ricardo Cortes, international bestseller Todd Strasser, President of the Board of Directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards Paul Tremblay, and Sam Munson, whose novel The November Criminals is in development, with Chloe Moretz attached to star and Sacha Gervasi attached to direct the film adaptation. Barbara also represents young novelists such as Robert L. Anderson, Lexa Hillyer, Chelsey Philpot, Jess Rothenberg, and Leila Sales, in addition to the companies Paper Lantern Lit and The Story Pirates.
Richard Pine, who co-founded InkWell along with Kimberly Witherspoon and Michael Carlisle ten years ago, said of the move, “We welcome Stephen and his amazing clients to InkWell with great joy and excitement and look forward to helping him and them experience the kind of success they imagine in their wildest dreams.”
Commenting on the change, Barbara said: “I look forward to joining the superb InkWell team. It’s an agency I’ve long admired, and I couldn’t miss the chance to work with such a world-class group of authors’ representatives.”
In the realm of “How crazy is this?” I have a whopper of a weirdo story. As you may or may not know, for many years I worked with the delightful Winnie-the-Pooh toys in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street. Because the toys originally hailed from Britain I become well and truly familiar with folks insisting that they be sent “home”. In fact, if you’d like to read the entire history of the British M.P. who made it her misbegotten mission, you can do so here. I hadn’t thought of the debacle in a while, until a most peculiar and bizarre piece ran in Newsweek. It is difficult to ignore a clickbait headline like Behind Bullet-Proof Glass Winnie-the-Pooh Is In Jail. Come again? Riddled with inaccuracies one Cole Moreton decided it would be a good idea to give the impression that the Winnie-the-Pooh toys are now housed in the “basement” of the Schwarzman building. By “basement” one assumes he means “ground floor” but from the piece you’d be convinced that they were stuffed in a dusty closet lit by a single lightbulb on a string. It is a shockingly poor piece of journalism (not a single NYPL employee is interviewed). If Mr. Morten had spoken to even a single person he might have scooped Time when they reported that Winnie might be making a visit to Britain in the future. Ah well.
In other news, my library’s President was recently interviewed by Humans of New York sounding the good sound byte. Go, Tony, go!
From time to time I do some freelance for the company Zoobean. They specialize in reader’s advisory and now, for the first time, they’ve paired with the Sacramento Public Library to use Beanstack, an advisory app for young children. Well played, y’all!
Christmas may be over but that doesn’t stop me for wanting things. Like this poster from Sara O’Leary’s upcoming picture book This Is Sadie, illustrated by Julie Morstad:
My reviewing took a bit of a header since the birth of kiddo #2 but I still engage. Just the same, I cannot say that I haven’t engaged in all the Top 20 Most Annoying Book Reviewer Cliches at one time or another. With the possible exception of “unflinching”. That one doesn’t come up when dealing with board books very often. (example: “Martin offers an unflinching look at a brown bear’s ursine strength, never hesitating from delving into what it is they truly do see”).
Merry Christmas! Or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate. My week here’s a bit off thanks to the holidays and travels to Kalamazoo (which is to say, Bookbug). Still, we can’t help but do a happy little holiday post once in a while. And with that in mind . . . .
First off, Rudolph! Or, rather, the book of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Last year NPR told the true story behind the manuscript. But even sweeter, the answer to a well known Rudolph urban legend . . . and it’s true!
And now, as per our Christmas Revels, Susan Cooper.
Over at Seven Impossible Things, Jules highlights a self-published book that causes me a lot of guilt. I had every intention of reviewing it last year but the end of the year is always incredibly hectic for me in terms of posts. So for Christmas Jules gave me the perfect gift: assuaged guilt. Along the way she tips her hat to one of the most beautiful Christmas children’s books I’ve ever seen.
Finally, last year Neil Gaiman came to NYPL to step into the shoes of Charles Dickens to do a reading of Dickens’ own performance copy of A Christmas Carol. The results:
My husband’s best friend returned to us the other day from his vacation in South America bearing gifts. Amongst them was a t-shirt for my daughter featuring this cartoon tyke:
Know her? If you’re American the answer is probably no. But if you were Argentinian you’d instantly recognize her as Mafalda. She was Argentina’s answer to Charlie Brown from 1964 to 1973 and is basically recognized all over the world . . . with the exception of the U.S.
She gets me to thining. When we talk about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign we need to look beyond standard fictional fare. We need to look at easy books, early chapter books, nonfiction, poetry, fairytales and folk tales, and, yes, graphic novels. And of all the comics published specifically for the young reader market in 2014 that were marketed to libraries, only one had anything even faintly resembling Latino content (Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, ill. Raul the Third).
None of this is to say that if Mafalda were translated for the American market she wouldn’t appear with an adult publisher like Dark Horse. Like the aforementioned Charlie Brown she had some pretty advanced jokes. No, for me Mafalda is just proof positive that when we’re looking for diverse characters, we shouldn’t forget about the ones published internationally. Our scope is so limited here in the States. If there is any unexpected offshoot of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I hope it’s that we are able as consumers and publishers to expand our focus and look into those characters and creations from countries outside of our own. Mafalda is just the tip of the iceberg.
This past Saturday I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon at the main branch of NYPL that discussed the past, present, and future of children’s book publishing. It was a stellar line-up, moderated by author Jane Zalben. To kick off the panel discussion, the panel was asked a question that has been posed many times before but not always in this context. Let us consider the case of Goodnight Moon. Here we have a book that is often considered right up there with Where the Wild Things Are in terms of picture book popularity. So the question is, could it be published today?
What made this discussion so interesting to me was how it examined the publishing history of Goodnight Moon himself. I was aware that it wasn’t a hit when it came out. It just didn’t make the sales, which seems ridiculous at first glance. What could the public have had against it? But Leonard Marcus made it clear that the book was, itself, a bit of an anomaly. It was a pre-schooler / toddler title in an era when that market simply didn’t get books of their own. Public libraries, the major buyers, weren’t set up to cater to the very young, and books for that age range just didn’t exist. So Margaret Wise Brown’s book came out and missed its mark. It wasn’t until at least five years had passed and a columnist recommended it that the sales started to take off.
The takeaway from all of this is the difference in how long books were allowed to stay in print back then vs. today. These days if you don’t make back your advance in two years (at least) it’s to the out-of-print dustbin with your remainders. Back then a book had a bit more of a chance to find its audience. And as any children’s librarian who has had to deal with summer reading lists from schools will attest, five years is sometimes precisely how long it takes for folks to discover a book.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that the question is impossible to answer because when we are discussion a genre, like picture books, it’s not as though they are published without owing something to their forbears. Goodnight Moon set the tone for all the “quiet books” to come. Bedtime fare was forever changed, and continues to be affected, by its presence in the marketplace. The same could be said if we tried to consider if children’s books as diverse as Where the Wild Things Are or Harriet the Spy or The Phantom Tollbooth could be published today. That said, it’s still fun to ask. And then to look at books being published now, one wonders what books they’ll be saying this about in the future.
Author and artist Steve Sheinkin continues his marvelous “Walking and Talking” series with us today. The subject? Gene Luen Yang, who draws connections between immigration and superheroes in ways I’ve never really ever considered before. Enjoy!
Consider, if you will, the strange relationship that exists between a book jacket created in America vs. a book jacket created in the United Kingdom. Both are appealing to an audience that speaks primarily English. But the perception of what will sell/appeal in one country can vary widely from that of another. Over the years I’ve seen a whole host of British covers translated (so to speak) for Americans, and American covers translated for the British. Today we’re going to look at a couple of these and then I shall reveal a new book jacket that makes me inordinately, enormously happy.
First, we will consider the most popular books and how they’ve fared. For example, there was Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
British Adult Cover
Then there are authors like Laura Amy Schlitz who have done very well on both sides of the pond with her covers.
Harry Potter is a series with book jackets that experience quite a lot of scrutiny. Recently the books got new American and British jackets. Which do you prefer?
And today, ladies and gentlemen, it is my greatest pleasure to announce that I am allowed to reveal the American cover for the Frances Hardinge fantasy novel Cuckoo Song. I recently finished the book and it is everything I ever wanted in a new Hardinge novel. Released as a children’s book in the UK, it will come out here in the States as YA. With that in mind, it is a perfect companion to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone as well as the works of Holly Black, Laura Amy Schlitz, and others. Indeed I kept thinking of Splendors and Glooms as I read this book.
So here we go. In the spirit of this post, here is the British cover:
And here is the American:
If that isn’t the finest creepiest book jacket you ever did see I’ll eat my proverbial hat.
And thus, we end. Though, with such a late ALA Media Awards announcement this year (Monday, February 2nd!) my predictions are coming a bit early in the game. Still, it’s not as though I’ll be seeing much that’s new between now and 2/2. I have watched with great interest the discussions on Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott. I’ve discussed and debated the contenders with folks of all sorts. I’m eyeing the Mock Caldecotts and Mock Newberys with great fervor as they post their results (and I’m tallying them for my next Pre-Game / Post-Game Show). I’ve gauged the wind. Asked the Magic 8 ball. Basically I’ve done everything in my power to not be to embarrassed when my predictions turn out to be woefully inaccurate. And they will be. Particularly in the Caldecott department. Still, I press on!
I should mention that that throughout the year I mention the books that I think we should all be discussing. This post is a little different. It’s the books I think will actually win. Not the ones I want to win necessarily but the books that I think have the best chance. Here then are my thoughts, and may God have mercy on my soul:
What was it I wrote in my Fall Prediction Edition? Ah yes. “This is Woodson’s year and we’re just living in it.” Even without the National Book Award brouhaha and the fact that this book is being purchased by everyone from POTUS on down, Jackie would win in this category. Why the certainty? Well, I’m a big fan of thematic years. I like to take the temperature of the times and work from there. Look back at 2014 and what will we remember? #WeNeedDiverseBooks for one. The Newbery committee canNOT take such things into account, but it’s in the air. They breathe it just like we do and it’s going to affect the decision unconsciously. It doesn’t hurt matters that this is THE book of the year on top of everything else. Magnificently written by an author who has deserved the gold for years, I haven’t been this certain of a book’s chances since The Lion and the Mouse (and, before that, When You Reach Me).
Not a certainty but what is? It’s just enormously difficult not to appreciate what Preus is doing in this book. Mind you, my librarians were not entirely taken with it. Some disliked the heroine too much. Others found it dense. And perhaps it is a “librarian book” intended for gatekeepers more than kids, but I cannot look at the title and not see the word “distinguished” floating above it like a Goodyear Blimp.
Also not a sure thing but I think we’d do well to remember it. Wilson’s one of those guys who drifts just under the radar until BLAMMO! Amazing book. Read the first page of this book all by itself. Right there, he’s got you. I can’t help but keep thinking about it. I try to bring up other potential winners, but again and again I turn to this one. Zombie Beowulf. It’s about time.
Honors: The 14th Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Hm. Tricksy. Jenni has this magnificent ability to accrue Honor after Honor after Honor. I’m not seeing gold written all over this book (that’s a lie . . . the gold would complement the blue of the cover so well and fit on the left side of the neck of the beaker, don’t you think?) but it’s a contender. Committees adore her writing, and why not? She’s one of the best. Newbery Honor best? I’m going to say yes.
Wild Card: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
YA but not too YA. Certainly pushes the old 0-14 age range, but still a beaut. With Brown Girl Dreaming as well, we might end up with a very strong nonfiction Newbery year (and won’t Common Core be pleased with that?). Mind you, if I hesitate to predict this as an Honor it has more to do with the fact that my heart was broken when Candy didn’t receive any award love for her brilliant Amelia Lost biography. Shouldawonshouldawonshouldawonshouldawon . . .
Doll Bones Honored so why not another creepy little middle grade book? Auxier pulls out all the stops here and is seriously literary in the process. Is it distinguished? Yep. There’s serious heart and guts and other portions of the anatomy at work here. It’s a smart book but appealing too. Never downplay child appeal. It’s worth considering.
It’s probably a good sign when you can’t stop thinking about a book, right? Again, we’re pushing up against the upper limits of the age restriction on Newbery Award winners here, but the book is worth it. Objections I’ve heard lobbed against it say that Alexander doesn’t sound like a kid. Well . . . actually, he’s not supposed to but you don’t really find that out until the second book. So does that trip up the first one’s chances? Maybe, but at least it’s consistent. The objection that Aquavania isn’t realistic enough of a fantasy world would hold more weight if I thought it really WAS a fantasy world, but I don’t. I think it’s all in the characters’ heads. So my weird self-justifications seem to keep this one in the mix. The only questions is, am I the only one?
Wild Card: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t even seriously considered this one until a friend of mine brought it up this weekend. And OF COURSE it’s a contender! I mean just look at that language. It sizzles on the page. I’m more than a little peeved that he didn’t garner a NAACP Image Award nomination for this title. If he wins something it’s going to make them look pretty dang silly, that’s for sure. They nominated Dork Diaries 8 and not THIS?!? Okay, rant done. In the end it’s brilliant and, amazingly enough, equally beloved of YA and children’s librarians. The Crossover is a crossover title. Who knew?
By the way, am I the only one with a shelf in my home of 2014 books that have Newbery potential and that I don’t want to read but am holding onto just in case I have to read them? They ain’t gonna Moon Over Manifest me this year, by gum! I am prepared!
Winner: Draw by Raul Colon
Betcha you didn’t see that one coming, eh? But honestly, I think this is where we’re heading. First off, this isn’t one of my favorites of the year. I’m just not making the emotional connection with it that I’d like to. My favorite Colon of 2014? Abuelo by Arthur Dorros. But no one’s talking about that one (more fool they). No, they like this one and as I’ve watched I’ve seen it crop up on more and more Best Of lists. Then I sat down and thought about it. Raul Colon. It’s ridiculous that he doesn’t have a Caldecott Gold to his name. He’s one of the masters of the field and this could easily be a case of the committee unconsciously thinking, “Thank God! Now we can give the man an award!” We haven’t had a Latin American gold winner since David Diaz’s Smoky Night (talk about a book tied to its time period). It just makes perfect sense. Folks love it, it’s well done, and it could rise to the top.
Honors: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
Again, not one of my favorites. I love Marla Frazee and acknowledge freely that though I don’t get this book, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t (my husband berates me repeatedly for my cold cold heart regarding this title). I mean, I absolutely adore the image of the little clown washing the smile off of his face, revealing his true feelings. So since I’ve apparently a gear stuck in my left aorta, I’m going to assume that this is a book that everyone else sees clearly except me. It could go gold, of course. It seems to have an emotional hold on people and books with emotional holds do very well in the Caldecott race sometimes. We shall see.
Could be wishful thinking on my part, but look at the book jacket, man. Look at how it tells the entire story. Look at his technique. Isn’t it marvelous? Look at how it’s not just an emotional journey but a kind of road trip through Americana as well. Look at how he took this spare sparse text and gave it depth and feeling and meaning. That is SERIOUSLY hard to do with another author’s work!! Look at how beautiful it is and the emotionally satisfying (and accurate) beats. Look upon its works, ye mighty, and despair. Or give it a Caldecott Honor. I’m easy.
Honors: Viva, Frida by Yuyi Morales
Admittedly it’s not a shoo-in. In fact I’m a bit baffled that it didn’t show up on the recent list by Latinas for Latino Lit called Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2014. There are admittedly some folks who want this to be a biography and have a hard time dealing with the fact that that is not its raison d’etre. Still others aren’t blown away by the text. That said, we’re not looking at the text. We’re looking at the imagery and the imagery is STUNNING. I mean, it could win the gold easily, don’t you think? Models and photography and two-dimensional art? Yuyi Morales should have won a Caldecott years ago. I think it’s finally time to give the woman some love.
“I still . . . I still, beeelieeeve!!!!” Okay. So maybe it’s just me. But when I sit down and I look and look and look at that image of the three little bears sailing into the sun with the light reflected off the water . . . *sigh* It’s amazing. I heard a very odd objection from someone saying that the bears don’t always look the same age from spread to spread. Bull. Do so. Therein ends my very coherent defense. It’s my favorite and maybe (probably) just mine, but I love it so much that I can’t give it up. I just can’t.
Because how cool would it frickin’ be? Few have looked at this book and considered it for a Caldecott, but that’s just because they’re not looking at it correctly. Consider the cinematic imagery. The downright Hitchcockian view of the seal up above where YOU are the shark below. The two page attack! The beauty of blood in the water. I mean, it’s gorgeous and accurate all at once. I don’t think anyone’s giving the woman enough credit. Give it a second glance, won’t you?
And that’s it! There are loads and loads of titles missing from this list. The actual winners, perhaps. But I’m feeling confident that I’ve nailed at least a couple of these. We shall see how it all falls out soon enough. See you in February!!
You know, folks, there are lists and then there are LISTS. And I’m not saying one is any better than another. Of course not. But when we look at lists of children’s books there’s only one that truly has my heart. Coming in at 103 years old this year, NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) continually published children’s book lists in the nation. It is also the most beautiful. Doubt me? Then check out our 2014 edition.
You can see our interactive list of the 100 books here.
And here’s the cover of our list:
Shall I go on?
You like lists with diversity? Feast your eyes on what we chose. Recently the Center for the Study of Multicultural Literature released their Best Multicultural Books of 2014. We had eight of their titles on our list and included at least eight multicultural books that they did not. The recent list by Latinas for Latino Lit called Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2014? We listed three of their seven titles and included at least three others that they didn’t mention (Saving Baby Doe, Caminar, and Viva Frida). Your move, New York Times.
You like lists that show a variety of books? The 100 Titles list is split into the following sections:
Picture Books (for children ages 2-6)
Stories for Younger Readers (for children ages 6-8)
Stories for Older Readers (for children ages 9-12)
Folktales and Fairy Tales
In short, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a tip top list. Sure, it’ll miss one or two of your favorites. But I guarantee you’ll see amazing books on there that you almost missed this year. Did you read Mikis and the Donkey? Did you almost fail to hear about Handle With Care? The best books aren’t necessarily the best known. If nothing else this list proves as much.
Yes, we’ve yet another Fuse #8 TV episode today and this time we’ve worked out some of the kinks. No more with the herky jerky videos at the start! Instead, I take you on a lovely little tour of the current Grolier exhibit of children’s literature. Then it’s interview time with YA author Jennifer Niven of the much lauded All the Bright Places.
Oh, it’s a big one. A big honking preview, this is. Yes indeed, folks, Harper Collins is in town and they’ve a mess of good looking books just aching to arrive on your shelves. Now the last time I attending a preview for HC I was massively pregnant with back pain to match. This time around, in comparison, I was positively lithe, leaping from table to table as the editors showed us their pretty baubles. Here then is an encapsulation of some of the goodies that will be hitting shelves nationwide fairly soon. To wit:
At these librarian previews we the MLIS degree holders move from table to table, where each imprint gets its own say. With Table One we began with Greenwillow and a season that’s going to feel a little distant to us for a while:
Finding Spring by Carin Berger (97800622510193)
Cute, right? In this story a bear is searching for spring. So what does he find instead? Snow. Lots of it. Done in Berger’s customary collage style, this is one artistic little book that rewards close reading. Note, for example, that the snowflakes and flowers see in these pages are held in place by tiny pins. Sort of gives the whole book a three-dimensional feel. Gorgeous.
I actually already talked a bit about this one back during the last Harper Collins preview, but I like it so very much that I’ll mention it again. To wit, snarky faceless crayons populate a book where a blue crayon is mislabeled as red. A pencil tells the tale (as you might imagine). I’m already imagining a LOT of applications for this as a gift book. It sells itself.
Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson (9780062274472)
Since the popularity of Press Here by Herve Tullet, a load of different interactive picture books have swamped the market. The best of these do more than simply tout their interactive elements, though. And those that have a purpose above and beyond the directives aimed at child readers tend to be worth seeking out. In Matheson’s latest, kids are encouraged to embrace the dark rather than fear it. Touch the firefly and watch it glow on the next page. That sort of thing. It’s interactive bedtime fare and even includes some night sky info as well. Matheson first started these series of sorts with Tap the Magic Tree. The plans for the third book in the works? Planting a seed. Awwww, yeah.
Backyard Witch: Sadie’s Story by Christine Heppermann, ill. Deborah Marcero (9780062338389)
That’s clever. They were pitching this early chapter title as something to hand to the Ivy & Bean lovers of the world. Of course it has magic in it, but that’s okay. If author Christine Heppermann’s name sounds familiar that may be because she was recently responsible for the very YA Poisoned Apples this year. Switching gears a tad, she is now coming out with a story of Sadie. When her two best friends go on vacation without her, she’s none too pleased. A trip to her play house leads to the discovery of a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle type witch. She’s asked to help find the witch’s friends. One is a bird (a yellow warbler) who was turned avian by mistake. And since I’m always desperate for early readers, I’m excited to give this one a go.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062238610)
Oo. This one sounds exciting. Written by an author who was born in the Philippines and moved to Louisiana, the book features a Filipino girl dealing with growing up. The girls at school are no longer nice and her mom runs her home as if she’s still in the Philippines. She would prefer to learn the guitar and emulate her favorite artist – George Harrison. Sounds good.
Anyone but Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp (9780062364340)
Note, if you will, the tiny skulls on the cover. From what I could gather then it was a kind of Amelia Bedelia by way of Downton Abbey in a Tim Burton-like book with a Lemony Snicketesque plot. Got that? In this story the titular Ivy must deliver a diamond to a girl on her birthday.
Waiting by Kevin Henkes (9780062368430)
I have excellent news. I’ve seen the Caldecott winner of 2016. You see? I just saved you an entire year’s work. Slap your hands together, folks, because your work is done. Yes, Kevin Henkes has a new picture book coming out and it is absolutely fascinating. The toys on the cover are, you see, waiting. Based on Kevin’s kids’ own toys, the story takes place at a single setting: the window. And you would be amazed how much drama can be derived from such a location. Beautiful beautiful beautiful . . . and not out until September 2015. Sorry, guys.
The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon (9780062320940)
What you’re seeing here isn’t the cover so much as an example of some of the full-color art found in this title. Three kids (Archer, Adelaide, and Oliver) are waiting for an adventure. Their intent? To find Archer’s grandparents, last seen on an iceberg. Add in a pinch of a Hitchcockian flavor and maybe a little Wes Anderson and you’ve got yourself a fascinating little number.
Ding! Moving on.
Bunnies by Kevan Atteberry (9780062307835)
I’m always on the lookout for that rarest of rare beasts: The very young readaloud picture book. And in this story you will find precisely that. Not too dissimilar from Bob Shea’s 2014 title Don’t Play With Your Food, the story centers on a monster with a serious bunny obsession. They appear. They disappear. They don’t seem to care that all he wants in the whole entire world is just to see them. Awww.
Teddy Mars Book #1: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly B. Burnham, ill. Trevor Spencer (9780062278104)
Teacher debut alert! There are many things I could tell you about this book, but I think I’m just going to leave you will the first line (which may be slightly paraphrased, so forgive me if it’s not 100% accurate): “The day my brother crawled into the catbox I knew my life would never be the same.”
What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig by Emma J. Virjan (9780062327246)
I’m also always on the lookout for picture books with very simple texts. When the Geisel Award goes to picture books, I stand up and cheer. Seems to me that this book, described as containing a text, “where every single word is important,” fits the bill. The plot is simple. There is a pig. Too many animals jump into her boat. Hijinks ensue.
Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream by Tom Watson (9780062278074)
Were you aware that Stick Dog started as an app? Not I, said the fly. Now on his third book, the eternally hungry hero continues to lure in readers not yet ready for Wimpy Kid, looking for something with slightly more text than Bad Kitty. And the good news? Stick Cat is on the horizon. Woohoo!
Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill. Peter H. Reynolds (9780062302038)
Last seen in the book Plant a Kiss, two siblings return to the picture book stage. Clever in its simplicity (and how has no one ever thought to write a title like this one before?) the book contains a young but very funny text. And since funny is at a premium these days, this is a book I’ll be looking to read.
Lazy Dave by Peter Jarvis (9780062355980)
One namer children’s authors are not unheard of (Avi, anyone?). And like all one namers, Jarvis actually has two. His name is Peter Jarvis and in 2015 he’ll be debuting with a story of a girl an her dog. The girl in question loves the dog but is perturbed by the fact that he’s so ding dang lazy. Truth is, the dog gets up to a LOT of adventures. He just happens to experience them through sleepwalking. Certainly this will pair well with that recent TOON book Tippy and the Night Parade, that’s for sure. Look for Jarvis to come out with Forgetful Fred at some point as well.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (9780062229182)
I covered this book briefly in my last Harper Collins preview, but it’s just so nice I’ll cover it twice. Coming from the author of Inside Out and Back Again, this book is Thanhha Lai’s first title since she won her Newbery Honor. No pressure or anything. Fortunately it looks as though she’s not let the win go to her head. Like her last book, this story also features a child of Vietnamese parents, but there the similarities pretty much stop. Writing in prose, in this contemporary novel a girl lives in Orange County with her family and grandmother. When her grandma discovers that there may be new information about her husband, who disappeared during the Vietnam War, our heroine finds herself forced to go along. Inspired by family history it’s getting starred reviews left and right. Better check it out then.
Ferals by Jacob Grey (9780062321039)
10 points to the author and publisher for not naming this book “Crow Boy”. The temptation to do so must have been extreme. I mean, c’mon. “Raised by crows”? Writes itself. Described to us as “Batman meets The Graveyard Book” (surprised they didn’t reference the film The Crow as well) the story stars a boy named Caw. He has the ability to speak to crows, which marks him as a “feral”. Now the most evil feral, a fellow known as the Spinning Man, is returning. Beware the spiders, folks.
The Last Dragon Charmer #1: Villain Keeper (9780062308436)
Here’s a term you may never hear again, but that just sounds interesting: Reverse portal fantasy. Know what it is? Well, the plot of this book might give you a hint. In this story a prince wants to slay a dragon. Pretty standard stuff. Or at least it would be if the prince wasn’t mysteriously sent to Asheville, NC. Number of dragons in Asheville? Zero. Or so you might think . . . They said this would be a good complementary title to The Hero’s Guide for Saving Your Kingdom. Absolutely.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia (9780062215871)
It’s here! It’s here! It’s almost here! In April or so we’ll be seeing the third and final volume in the Rita Williams-Garcia series that began with One Crazy Summer. I thoroughly approve of the clothes featured on the cover here (the bell bottoms on book #2 still rankle). In this book the girls take a bus to visit Big Ma in the family home. The time period is Summer 1969. The place? Alabama. And the three find out pretty quickly that they are not exactly in the best possible time and place to be chanting Black Power slogans. The editor, Rosemary Brosnan, said in all seriousness that it’s the best of the three.
Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly, ill. Skottie Young (9780062272713)
They say it’s Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm but I suspect there might be a bit of Monster High stuck in there on the side. Meet our heroine. She has the eyes of a cat, the wings of a raven, and she has one purpose in life: To rescue girls under the spell of an evil wizard. Simple, right? But when you’re a monster you have to learn that sometimes there are things and people out there even more monstrous than you.
Endangered by Lamar Giles (9780062297563)
Yep. This one’s a YA novel but I’m highlighting it because it’s one of the very rare titles with a contemporary African-American girl on the cover. Little wonder. It’s by #WeNeedDiverseBooks fellow Lamar Giles. Well played.
Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker, ill. Daniel Salmieri (978006198563)
Now again, we talked about this book before, but there’s a lot to love here. Salmieri, man. That kid’s going places. It hurts matters not a jot that his Dragons Love Tacos is on the New York Times bestseller list every week right now (sidenote: the best Dragons Love Tacos video of all time is here). In this book long time pro Pennypacker pairs with Salmieri to present what may be the greatest childhood metaphor of all time. Mom and Dad are dull. Proudly so, and like all good parents they are attempting to inculcate their children in the wide and wonderful world of blahness. Trouble is, the kids are dangerously attracted to activities more interesting than watching paint dry. The description? “The Stupids with boring people”. Nice.
Cat and Bunny by Mary Lundquist (9780062287809)
Doesn’t look like much from the cover, does it? But doggone it if this isn’t one of the cleverer little books coming out right now. A debut, the book features a large menagerie (for lack of a better word) of kids in animal costumes. In this book, a topic horribly familiar to many a kiddo is tackled: Sharing your best friend. Quail, you see, wants to play with Bunny but Cat is NOT down with that plan. Understanding ensues. Talk about a topic parents ask for that we hardly have any books to cover!! Note: My table insisted that the endpapers be turned into a poster someday.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson (9780062298898)
Kadir continues with the cute. Picasso had his Blue Period. Kadir has his Cute Period. Described as “intense”, in this book a mouse and a rabbit plant a seed. What ensues is a tale of selfishness, kindness, karma, and consequences.
First Snow by Peter McCarty (9780062189967)
Okay. So we need diverse books, right? Absolutely. But don’t we also need diverse animal stories? Is there any reason why animals can’t be diverse as well? Peter McCarty has always been remarkably good in this arena. Now he continues his series of books starring familiar characters. He began with Henry In Love, continued with Chloe, and now we have First Snow. Pedro is from South America and has come to spend time with his cousins in the north. When they learn that he has no experience with snow they insist that he join in the fun. He takes some convincing, of course. Snow is, and it’s hard to argue with this, cold. Fortunately a sledding mishap ends with the unintentional consequence of Pedro suddenly loving the white, fluffy, and (yes) cold stuff. Great great great.
Every Little Bit of You is Yummy! by Tim Harrington (9780062328168)
Like a lot of librarians I’m always on the lookout for good picture book readalouds. Did you see Jbrary’s 2014 Favourite Storytime Picture Books? That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. So I was intrigued by what Harrington is doing here. Like a kind of follow-up to Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, the book is interactive with a song online to boot.
Masterminds by Gordon Korman (9780062299963)
The heart wants what it wants. And what my heart wants right now is for 2015 to arrive so that I can finally pick this book up and read it. For whatever reason, Gordon Korman has managed to pen a book that pushes all my buttons. As a kid I would have been all over this thing. You see, in this book a group of kiddos live in a kind of Pleasantville-ish town. They’re good kids too. Then one day a kid bicycles to the town limits and pretty quickly they discover that nothing they know is the truth. They’re a sociological experiment in the making and their purpose has yet to reveal itself.
The Girl in the Torch by Rob Sharenow (9780062227959)
Here in New York we children’s librarians keep one eye peeled at all times for NYC-related children’s book fare. Happily there’s a bloody ton of it out there. Case in point, a book they’re calling “Hugo Cabret meets True Grit“. While on Ellis Island a girl’s mother dies in quarantine. So what’s a daughter to do? With the prospect of deportation looming, our heroine does what any forward thinking young woman would. She decides to live in the torch of The Statue of Liberty. Tackling big themes like what it means to be “American”, this just sounds fun.
Joey and Johnny, the Ninjas: Get Mooned by Kevin Serwacki, ill. Chris Pallace (9780062299338)
Speaking of fun: Ninjas! Ninjas make everything better. The first in a four book series, imagine if Roald Dahl wrote a story about a ninja school and it was then animated by the creators of Adventure Time. That’s what you’ll get in this book of two competing ninja schools. Apparently the book tackles the tricky issue of taking the easy way out of things. With ninjas. Did I mention that part before?
Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (9780062112934)
Gilbert Ford. I hope he’s very rich by now. Periodically middle grade book covers go through phases. There was the Brett Hardinger phase for a while, and before that the C.F. Payne phase. Now it’s all Gilbert Ford all the way. He started out luring in the kiddos with the Pseudonymous Bosch “Secret” series, and cemented his reign with the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky. There’s just something appealing about his style. Now he’s done the cover for the latest Tricia Springstubb novel. This book is about seeing things for the first time. It’s also about a mom who leaves to take care of grandma, themes of evolution, and a load of trilobites (note the cover).
The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson (9780062338143)
Hard to tell. Is this a Dan Santat cover? Sure looks like one. In any case, the author of the delightful Sidekicked is back, but not with any superhero tales this time. Nope, this is a story of Colm. He’s a peasant who, quite frankly is fed up with being a peasant. After picking the wrong pocket (to put it mildly) Colm’s given a choice. He could be done away with in a suitably medieval manner or he can become a member of low born adventurers. He chooses the latter and is enthralled, until he realizes that there are problem with this particular group.
Omega City by Diana Peterfreund (9780062310859)
Strap in, folks. We’re clearly in adventure mode now. I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed a significant uptick in the number of books described using Goonies as a reference. They called the Little, Brown & Co. book If You Find This by Matthew Baker as “Goonies meets Holes“. Now Harper Collins is calling Omega City “Goonies meets City of Ember“. After a girl’s father loses his job she follows clues left by a diary and finds an underground bunker. It’s first in a three book series and promises action. Just so long as it doesn’t reference Omega Man in any way (it’s the title that made me think of it) we’re cool.
The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby (978006224873)
That Matthew Kirby. He just can’t keep away from ice. First it was the remarkable Icefall. Now he has a new three book series set in the near future. Earth has succumbed to a new Ice Age. Meanwhile our hero’s mother is in the Arctic doing some kind of work there. When she disappears after sending a cryptic message, her daughter Eleanor goes to find her. Apparently the book asks the rather difficult question, if we can’t save everyone on earth, who do we save and why? Sounds like it would pair well with the Rebecca Stead debut novel First Light.
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ill. Gris Grimly (9780062293756)
Cool . . . and YA. Doggone it. Yes, the wonderful Gris Grimly is back and this time he’s chosen to illustrate the debut of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous hero. In color no less! Now when I saw what book it was I admit I was a bit incredulous. Anyone who has read this knows that there is a LONG section dedicated to a subplot involving Mormons in America. I asked and yes indeed. The Mormons made it into this book intact. Fascinating.
Picture Perfect #1: Bending Over Backwards by Cari Simmons (9780062310224)
Someday an enterprising librarian in a small system will create stickers that say “snark free” or “mean girl free” and put them on certain titles in their collection. I know that when I was a kid I would have vastly preferred those kinds of books. Those stickers would actually apply pretty well to this new series by Cari Simmons. Each story is a standalone but they all have one thing in common: What happens when you realize that you and your longtime best friend are two VERY different people? They said it was for the Mix / Candy Apple readers. I say it’s also for the fans of The Kind of Friends We Used to Be and the upcoming Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.
Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D.D. Everest (9780062312112)
Kids, here’s some safe advice. Should you receive an ancient book for your birthday, just put that sucker down. You don’t want to know what it’s going to get you into. In the case of Archie Greene, such a book helps him to discover that he’s a Flame Keeper, charged to find and preserve magical books. Mind you, occasionally there are books where characters pop out of their pages. Just consider that one of the hazards of the job.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross (9780062352934)
Adventure! Pirates! Airships! Slum kids who’s made themselves a kind of patched together family. In the future we live in the sky. Why? Because a deadly fog is on the ground, of course. The worse news? It’s rising. For that reason we’re all living on the mountaintops these days. The wealthy are the uppermost while fog divers scavenge below. Our heroes must save their guardian and to do so they must go on a journey. Amongst them is a boy who can survive the fog so, naturally, the bad guy wants him. This will be the first of two books in the series.
The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly (9780062275820)
And this one will be the first of four books. I’ve written about this before, actually. In this book a boy meets a group called “The Keepers” and is given a box that shows the future. Only thing is, this isn’t a fantasy. Nope. It’s a highly developed science fiction title where all the “magical” elements are based on theoretical physics.
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (9780062293992)
My resident science fiction expert librarian (see: Views from the Tesseract) assures me that this book is excellent. In it, Earth is at war with aliens so the kids are evacuating to Mars. Our heroine arrives there and next thing you know all the adults have disappeared. So the kids, the robots, and an alien (!) team up. They described this one as Pixar-esque with plenty of humor. And the name of the sequel? Space Hostages. Awesome.
And that’s that! All that remains is to look at the . . .
You know, sometimes in my quieter moments I look back and think about my favorite bizarre “meets” overheard at a preview. It didn’t even use the word “meets”, but the implication was clear. The name of the book has long since faded from my mind but the description . . . ah, the description is forever. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . . . on MARS!” Still the best. In the meantime, these are pretty good too:
“The Monkey’s Paw meets E. Lockhardt meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman
“X-Men meets Game of Thrones” – The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard