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About me: "Well, I work at the most succulent plum of children's branches in New York City. The Children's Center at 42nd Street not only exists in the main branch (the one with the big stone lions out front) but we've a colorful assortment of children's authors and illustrators that stop on by. I'm a lucky fish. By the way, my opinions are entirely my own and don't represent NYPL's in the least. Got blame? Gimme gimme gimme!"
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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:
Winner: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
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).
Honors: West of the Moon by Margi Preus
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.
Honors: Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
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 . . .
Wild Card: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
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.
Wild Card: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
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.
Honors: Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, ill. Jonathan Bean
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.
Wild Card: Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
“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.
Wild Card: Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy
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!!
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.
Many thanks to Abrams for the jacket reveal!
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!
Previous editions of this series include:
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?
This type of question is raised fairly regularly on the internet. It ranges from the sane (Rebecca: Could It Be Published Today?) to the ridiculous (Could The Hunger Games Be Published Today?). It is usually raised to highlight changes in the publishing industry. Then vs. now. The distant (or maybe not so distant) past and our much improved/much impoverished present.
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.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, Jenny Brown
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, Susannah Richards
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The holidays are nearly upon us! Time to buy things! To chop down trees. To find books for the small fry! I can’t help you with the first or second of these necessities but #3? Here’s a bit of an aid for you. As you may know, Rocco Staino and KidLit TV have together been interviewing all the heavyweights in the children’s literary field. Now he has a kind of holiday special (cool, right?) with three of my favorite folks: Jenny Brown (Children’s Editor for Shelf Awareness, director of the Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street College), Susannah Richards (Associate Professor of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University), and Luann Toth (Managing Editor School Library Journal Reviews).
You can see the full roster of their recommendations here.
Not to be outdone, Candlewick sent their holiday greetings as well.
I sort of wish the guy in the bear suit had turned out to be Jack Gantos or Tobin Anderson or something.
Now can you keep a little secret? This is a good one. Here it is: If you would ever like to watch me grapple with my own personal hell, make me do a TED Talk. This is nothing I fear more. I like public speaking. I like people looking at me. But for whatever reason the prospect of doing a talk, like the one presented here by expert speaker and children’s librarian Shannon Ozirny of Vancouver, reduces me to a quivering mass of goo. Fortunately, Shannon’s a pro. Watch this:
Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.
And now, this series. It appears to be a sort of Dr. Who meets Buffy concoction. I’m just amused that it’s supposed a group of adults with MLIS degrees and yet not a single one of them is wearing glasses. Ah, Hollywood. How you hate frames so.
Thanks to Marci for the link.
And finally, for our off-topic video, I never post cute cat videos. Life is too short. I’m not that kind of gal. Certainly there are enough fabulous videos out there that I’d never have to rely on . . . OH! Whack-a-Mole!
Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan
By Christine Mari Inzer
Ages 12 and up
On shelves now
There’s been a lot of talk about the role of the reviewer when it comes to self-published books. Horn Book Magazine makes a point of not reviewing self-published fare of any sort. Kirkus, in contrast, makes quite a penny off of doing precisely that. And bloggers? Bloggers make their own rules. Some eschew anything but the professionally published while others are open to all comers. I fall somewhere in the middle. In my experience, you should always be open to self-published books because once in a while you’ll find a diamond in the rough. It might take a while to find them but they’re out there. I receive roughly 2-3 requests to review self-published fare a day, on average. I don’t review books not originally published in the current year and I don’t review books that are only available in an ebook form. That knocks out roughly 60% of the requests I receive right there. I also don’t review YA, so when I was contacted about Christine Mari Inzer’s illustrated memoir Halfway Home I sent a politely regretful email saying I’d be unable to review the title. As it happened, the book had already been sent to me in the mail so I figured I’d just hand it over to the YA specialist in my office and be done with it. Then I saw it firsthand. You know, when folks like Jeff Smith (Bone), Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time), and Kate Williamson (A Year in Japan) are blurbing a high school senior’s memoir of a time spent in a foreign country, you know something’s probably up. Funny and smart with a personal journey that’s infinitely relatable to young readers everywhere, Inzer’s first foray into publishing will leave readers wanting something very specific: more.
Meet Christine. In the summer of 2013 she had a chance to spend a whopping eight weeks in Japan with her maternal grandparents. Born in America with a Japanese born mom, Christine hadn’t visited Kashiwa, a small city outside of Tokyo, since she was ten. Now she’s traveling by herself and recording it all. From crepes and ramen to Kashiwa Matsuri and 6 a.m. sushi, Christine records everything with wit and a surprising amount of acumen. By the time she returns home she’s older, wiser, and more self-assured, though she misses Japan like crazy even before she’s home. But as the quote in the front of the book says, “Each day is a journey, and the journey itself home” – Matsuo Basho.
It’s hard to get perspective on your life when you’re 30, 40, even 50 years of age. Now imagine that you’re a senior in high school and you’ve managed to define for yourself what it is to straddle two very different cultures, both of which you love deeply. Near the end of the book Christine is traveling on a train back to the airport to leave Japan once more. She writes, “What was most painful was when the train doors closed, and Baba was standing outside. And also, the scenery outside the window. Old house rooftops and rice fields and everything, so vivid with color, and I was passing by all of it for the last time.” She concludes eventually that being split between the two countries, she can only be halfway home at any given time. Though the book could be read as a graphic novel, it’s the author’s written passages like this that give it heft and weight. You’re not reading fluff when you read “Halfway Home”. You can get something out of it and apply it to your own life.
To be honest, when I saw the blurbs the book had received I found them interesting but it was Inzer’s artistic style that actually put my mind to rest best. The book is drawn like an artist’s sketchbook, only it has a coherent narrative present throughout. Inzer alternates between pages where the text and images cohabit together to panels to simple images of architecture or food. Photos are also meshed into the final product and help it enormously. The end result is a book that will inspire as many teen readers as it will amuse.
To my mind, all the great cartoonists have one thing in common: if they are writing a memoir then they consistently make themselves less attractive in their comics than they are in real life. This makes perfect sense. If you’re being honest about your life and how you live then often you’ll draw yourself as the “you” that you feel matches the “you” inside your skin. So while the pronounced eyebrows do their best to render Christine heavy browed, you get the distinct sense that she’s just drawing the “Christine” that best represents her inner self. It’s a sophisticated choice on her part. One you’d expect from a cartoonist far older than her scant 17 years.
And it’s funny! Honestly really very funny. Yet not primarily in an “isn’t it funny how they do things in Japan” way. Plenty of books go that route and it’s honestly the easiest way to write a travel manual. I-went-here-and-saw-this-crazy-thing will only get you so far when you’re trying to write a serious book. Fortunately, Christine mixes things up. Because the book has a sketchbook style to it, you really do feel like you’re with Christine every step of the way. And while she’ll milk humor from enormous corner condom stores, toilets, and bathtime, she also knows how to work in situational humor (her Baba’s conversation with a monk is classic), flights of fantasy (imagining Tyra Banks hosting “Japan’s Next Top Maiko”), and everyday moments (flight woes, being eaten alive by deer, etc.). She even uses tropes that I enjoyed greatly, like having her 10-year-old self interact with her present day self (very Hark, a Vagrant).
I once worked the children’s reference desk just a floor below a very active teen library. Since my floor had the nearest bathrooms, we were constantly fielding an array of rather adorkable YA readers. Those that always fascinated me the most were the ones obsessed with Japan. They’d been introduced to it via manga and that obsession had turned into a full on love affair. They learned the language. They read everything they could about it. For them, Halfway Home would read like a How To manual of everything they’ve ever wanted in life. But its appeal stretches far beyond those kids already fixated on the topic. Humor and heart are difficult things to invest in any YA title. You usually either get one or the other. Inzer gets both in a book that feels professional and reads beautifully. Recommended heartily and with a MOS Burger lifted in thanks.
On shelves now.
Like This? Then Try:
Source: Final copy sent by author for review.
Professional Reviews: Kirkus
A patron walks up to your children’s reference desk. Asks for books for beginning readers. The patron has a small child who is just at the very very beginning of learning to read and needs books with simple words. No big long sentences. Nothing too intense. Just the basics. You walk over to your easy section and look at the titles. And that’s when it hits you . . . easy easy? Basic books? Is there anything harder in the world to find sometimes?
I mention this because there’s been a lot of discussion amongst my fellows concerning the most basic readers. I’m talking books that come before you get to The Cat in the Hat. I remember with crystal clear clarity how I would have to turn time and again to the Berenstain book Old Hat, New Hat or other equally useful, equally old books. Where were the really really basic easy books out there that are currently being published? The advent of the Geisel Award for books for beginning readers is a marvelous place to go to try to find such books but even they trend a bit older.
The real problem here is that there’s no consistency between publisher reading level ratings. What might be a “3″ to one publisher is a straightforward “2″ to another. But having your books Lexiled (is that a verb) or otherwise leveled costs publishers money. Money they might not have if they’re a small operation. As a result, leveling often profits the big guys able to produce the cash upfront.
Now there are two series that meet the needs of the very very early reader. They don’t get a lot of attention or press but I figure they’re worth mentioning.
First off, there’s the Holiday House series “I Like to Read“. When looking for very very basic beginning reader books, this series has a lot to offer. First off, they get glorious artists like the Lewins or Emily Arnold McCully or David McPhail to provide the art. Then you’ve incredibly simple wordplay. On the back of each book is the leveling information too, just in case you’ve a patron insisting on such a thing. Their sole drawback? The size. To show off the art properly the books are the size of your average picture book (8″ X 10″). But if your library is anything like mine, the easy reader section contains only books, and consequently shelving, around 9″ X 6″ or so. And as much as you’d like to shelve this series with the other easy books, logistically it just doesn’t work. So you end up putting them in the picture book area, where they get lost amongst the more lengthy texts. If a librarian knows to recognize their singular blue spines then it isn’t a problem. However, until some are released in the standard easy reader format (something I hope for) they’ll never quite become as well known as they deserve to be.
The other series I like is the Blue Apple Press books Flip-a-Word series. These books take very simple words and combine them in multiple ways, drilling them home. They’re akin to phonics without actually being phonics. Initially when I purchased them I put them in the picture book section but my librarians objected vociferously and we realized that they could do a lot more good in the easy reader section (they’re the right size anyway). Though they didn’t get any reviews initially, after perusing the titles I can attest that they’re well done. Smart writing, smart ideas.
So what are the other really really basic series you know of?
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, All-of-a-Kind Family
, celebrity children's authors (may they rot)
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- There was a time, oh children of mine, when the ALA Media Awards would be announced and the morning after the announcement the winners of the Caldecott and Newbery Awards would be whisked away to New York City to speak on NBC. Then Snooki came and ruined everything (this is the abbreviated version, but it’s not too far off). So we’re none too pleased with NBC these days. Al Roker’s Book Club aside (and it looks like it hasn’t updated since Halloween) there’s not a lot going on at that channel. But then they go and post the Latinas for Latino Lit: “Remarkable” Children’s Books of 2014 piece (selected by Viviana Hurtado and Monica Olivera) and much is forgiven. Just one question about the list, though . . . no Viva Frida?
- What is the state of children’s nonfiction in the UK today? For our answer we turn to my favorite British blog Playing By the Book which reveals revelation after revelation in the piece Do We Care About Children’s Non-Fiction? Apparently informational books don’t get reviewed all that often in the U.K. Do the British value nonfiction then? Definitely fascinating reading.
- “I mean, seriously, can you think of one popular show/movie that actually tries to portray Muslims accurately instead of as a confining stereotype?” The excellent Summer writes on her blog Miss Fictional’s World of YA the piece I Am Not Oppressed. In particular she’s not particularly pleased with how Muslim women are depicted on the bulk of our book jackets (to say nothing of the content inside).
- Hm. So Entertainment Weekly just released a list of 50 Books Every Kid Should Read. Interesting, yes? And the choices are fascinating. They made an effort to do the classics and then work in some contemporary titles. What they chose is telling. Little Willow presents the list and leads the discussion as well.
Okaaaaay. So that’s what Evangeline Lilly wore to her children’s book signing at Barnes & Noble. Clearly this is the outfit children’s authors should all be wearing now. Those of you hankering to wear your picnic blanket as a skirt now finally have an excuse to do so. Thanks to Jules for the link.
- And now, the best news of the week. My love for the author Frances Hardinge knows no bounds. Honestly, I do believe that The Lost Conspiracy may be my favorite children’s book published in the last 10 years. It’s a serious contender in any case. So you can imagine how distraught I was when it became clear that Harper Collins would no longer be publishing her books in the U.S. I watched miserably as the U.K. published A Face Like Glass and Cuckoo Song (read the Book Smugglers review of the latter) overseas. Heck, I actually shelled out money and bought the darn books myself (and you know how I feel about spending money). Then, yesterday, a miracle. I was paging through the Spring 2015 Abrams catalog and there she was. Frances. And Cuckoo Song, it said, would be published in May with what may well be the creepiest cover . . . um, ever? Yeah. Ever. It’s not even online yet, so just stay tuned because when it is you know I’ll be blogging it. So excited. (pssst! Abrams! Let me do the cover reveal!)
- If you missed the whole Barbie, Computer Programmer children’s book debacle, now’s your time to catch up. This was the inciting incident. This was the follow-up.
- The nice thing about working for NYPL is that they give me an awful lot of leeway when it comes to programming. I want to do a monthly series of Children’s Literary Salons on a host of different topics? Go to it! Any topic I like. The best ones, however, are often suggested by other people. For example, when editors Cheryl Klein and Stacy Whitman suggested we have a panel on Native American YA literature where authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac could talk about the cross-cultural pleasures and challenges of working with their editors, I was all for it. Sadly, most of my Lit Salons are not recorded . . . but this one was! Cheryl, you see, is married to James Monohan and together they run the blog The Narrative Breakdown. My Salon? It became one of the episodes and you can listen to it here. As for those of you interested in attending a Salon (they’re free after all) there’s one this coming Saturday and you can see the full roster of them here.
- This thing. More libraries should do this thing. Yes.
- Speaking of Ms. Woodson, did you see the list of books President Obama purchased at Politics and Prose last Saturday? If we just pull out the children’s book fare it included:
- “Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business” by Barbara Park
- “A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More” by Doreen Cronin
- “I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles” by Jean Marzollo
- “Nuts to You” by Lynn Rae Perkins
- “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus” by Barbara Park
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
- “Redwall” by Brian Jacques
- “Mossflower” by Brian Jacques
- “Mattimeo” by Brian Jacques
- “Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms” by Katherine Rundell
I consider this my early Christmas present. Years ago when I did the Top 100 Children’s Novels poll, I did a post on All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor that included every book cover I could find of the title. All but one. The book jacket I grew up with appeared to be lost to the sands of time. And now, all thanks to Sadie Salome, it’s been returned to me. Behold the only work of historical fiction I read independently and for fun as a kid from cover to cover:
Still the best, so far as I’m concerned. Thanks, Sadie.
On April 19th of this past year I hosted a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL called Podcasting Children’s Books: Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs. Unlike a lot of my Salons, this one was actually recorded and turned into a podcast here. Why am I telling you all this? Because that podcaster, one Matthew Winner, has just hit a very important milestone. As of November 21st the Let’s Get Busy podcast celebrated its 100th episode. To celebrate this momentous event, Matthew organized a Blog+Pod tour. And lo and behold, I’m on the schedule.
Now if you don’t listen to children’s literature podcasts but have been vaguely interested in starting, I can’t recommend Matthew’s enough. But that’s enough from me. Let’s hear from the man himself.
Betsy: Great to have you hear Matthew! Let’s start with an easy question. Why don’t we delve deep into the nature of podcasting itself?
Matthew: Sounds great! You know, podcasting has gone through much of the same trend the blogging did in the early days of the internet. It’s so easy to do and requires so little prep that it seems like hundreds of new podcasts are popping up every week. And that’s such a good thing, because it means that people are sharing their voices and their unique perspectives on a myriad of topics.
Betsy: So what’s the advantage of being a podcaster?
Matthew: The biggest draw for me as a podcaster is getting to interact with my content in this authentic and meaningful way that an interview format allows. I love being able to ask whatever question comes to mind in the context of our conversation, but I also love hearing guests work through their responses. There’s always a prized moment where an unexpected insight is shared that just rocks me to the core. Those are the moments I live for and it’s the quality that I think keeps people listening. Also, podcasting is a bit less time-consuming for me. Most of the time spent with Let’s Get Busy is on setting up the interviews, confirming that the guest’s technology works, and prepping the episode for publication. I still write reviews, post lesson ideas, and share insights on advocacy and ed trends through my Busy Librarian blog, but it’s really nice to have an outlet where I can interact with a human being, make a connection over great literature or art, and then share that conversation with others.
Betsy: And what’s changed since you began?
Matthew: I’m now receiving interview requests pretty frequently from publishers and publicists organizing blog tours and looking to promote their big releases. I don’t say yes to every request, but when I do I always love being a part of the book’s send-off. Whether it’s the author’s debut into publishing, their first work for a particular age range, or it’s just a great book that is receiving some extra publicity, it’s a huge honor to be a part of the celebration. But most of my guests come through recommendations from previous guests. This might be the quality I feel like is working best of all for the podcast. We’ve built a family through the podcast guests of friends, colleagues, mentors, and man-would-I-love-to-hear-you-speak-with-NAME-about-TOPIC. It’s a really wonderful thing. Oh! And the other thing that’s changed is that I’ve started to find more kidlit podcasters! When we met at the NYPL Literary Salon the only other podcasters doing something similar to Let’s Get Busy that I was aware of were Katie Davis (Brain Burps About Books), John Sellers (PW KidsCast), and The Kids Comics Revolution (Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd). Now I’ve made pals with Gregg Schigiel of the Stuff Said comics podcast, Nick Patton of the Picturebooking Podcast, and a handful of really cool people on Twitter who have plans to start podcasting soon. I feel like collectively we’re all helping to give a greater voice to children’s publishing.
Betsy: Have you gotten any feedback from the public that’s surprised you?
Matthew: I keep a digital folder of all of the nice things people have said about the podcast via email, Facebook, or Twitter. (I know, I know… I’m such a teacher. You do know we all keep “smile” folders with these kids of notes from kids, parents, and administration, right?!) It helps me to know that people are listening and that the podcast is becoming for them something bigger than I ever expected. I even share a couple of them through my “Nice Things Said” tab on the podcast homepage (http://lgbpodcast.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html) as sort of testimonials for new visitors to the podcast.
But the comment that surprised me most and still gives me chills today was from Dan Santat, author of Sidekicks, Beekle, and illustrator of half of your favorite picture books). He visited Julie Danielson’s Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog and had the following to say about Let’s Get Busy:
“I’ve recently become addicted to Matthew Winner’s Let’s Get Busy podcast, where he interviews authors and illustrators in children’s publishing. Everyone should check that podcast out. It feels like I’m hanging out with all my friends. I think in about a year, when everyone catches on, it will be one of the most important media sites in the children’s publishing field.”
My interview with Dan was a really special one and I point people back to it all the time just to hear Dan himself tell the story of Beekle. It makes me a little weepy just thinking about it now. I admire him for his deep sincerity in not just what he writes, but also for who he is. He’s top notch in my book and knowing that there are people like him out there that believe in me and the future of this podcast the way he does is a truth I hold very near and dear.
Betsy: Where do you see the future of podcasting even going?
Matthew: Podcasting is such an easy way to consume media. We’re already seeing a decline in network television and an increase in digital content streaming and on-demand media. In that way I think that much of our content is going to start trending toward formats like podcasting because of the ease of reaching a wide audience and the flexibility in how the content can be presented.
Betsy: And if you could add one cool feature, what would it be?
Matthew: I may have talked about this on the podcast before, but if I could add one feature to the podcast it would be to have a digital shop for all of the past and upcoming guests to share their books, their art, and their talent. A number of illustrators are on Etsy or similar sites. Some sell through their own host sites. But as a huge fanboy of kidlit I feel like we don’t have a central location to access all of this good stuff. A place for me to pick up a tee of Dan Santat’s Beekle alongside a print of Molly Idle’s Flora partner skating with a penguin and an amazing handmade fairtrade Little Lost Owl based on Chris Haughton’s gorgeous books. I feel like what we need is to see more of our favorite books and characters on the walls of our rooms, schools, and libraries and on the totes, tees, and rub-on-tattoos of every card-carrying kidlit fan out there. That would be amazing.
Well big time thanks to Matthew for stopping on by. I think this post may be the most useful encapsulation of the state of contemporary children’s literature podcasting today, thanks in large part to Matthew’s knowledge about the field. Now be sure to check out the rest of the Let’s Get Busy Podcast blog tour:
Wed. Nov. 19 – Picturebooking Podcast
Sat. Nov. 22 – The Library Fanatic
Sun. Nov. 23 – Laurie Ann Thompson
Mon. Nov. 24 – 100 Scope Notes
Tue. Nov. 25 – LGBPodcast via McSpedden Elementary Library blog
Wed. Nov. 26 – Writer Side Up
Thu. Nov. 27 – Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Fri. Nov. 28 – Brain Burps About Books
Sat. Nov. 29 – LGBPodcast via Aimee Winner
Mon. Dec. 1 – Here!
Tue. Dec 2. – LGBPodcast via Carter Higgins
Wed. Dec. 3 – GreenRow Books
Let’s Get Busy podcast - http://lgbpodcast.blogspot.com/
The Busy Librarian blog - http://www.busylibrarian.com
LIKE the Busy Librarian on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/BusyLibrarian
Follow Matthew on Twitter - @MatthewWinner
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Lulu & Pip
By Nina Gurener
Photography by Stephanie Rausser
Cameron & Company
On shelves now
To what do we credit the distinct increase in children’s books containing photography this year? I posed that very question to a group of children’s book photographers not that long ago and the answers were telling. In the past, creating a book of high quality color photographs cost beaucoup de bucks. Plus children’s books illustrated with photos were in black and white. Yet as color photography became more and more ubiquitous, publishers found that folks were unwilling to buy children’s books that were black and white. The era of The Lonely Doll, J.T., and others was over. Yet prohibitive costs kept photos in children’s books minimal. Then came the rise of digital photography and cheaper printing techniques on the part of publishers (see 100 Scopes Notes for the full round-up for 2014: http://100scopenotes.com/2014/08/01/the-state-of-photography-illustration-in-2014/). The floodgates consequently opened and what we’re seeing now is a variety of different types of children’s books that use everything from handmade models to wildlife to cut paper techniques. Few of these really harken back to the 1950s and 60s big books of photography. Few, that is, but Lulu and Pip. A companion of sorts to the author/artist’s previous book Kiki and Coco in Paris, the book shouldn’t work as well as it does. Yet all the elements align so perfectly that there is nothing to say except that it is undoubtedly the most charming work of pure photography in a children’s book format that I’ve seen in years.
Meet Lulu. She’s a girl. Meet Pip. She’s a doll. The two are inseparable and that’s a good thing since living in a big city like San Francisco can be intimidating. Then one day the two pack up their things. Today they’re leaving the city for a campout in the wild and that means leaving behind all the toys, except Pip. Once there Lulu adjusts to the differences. She’s wary of the donkey they meet and she realizes that she may have brought too much stuff. Still, next thing you know the twosome are cooking their food on a fire and getting a glorious view of the universe above. The next day it’s all fishing, swimming, and exploring. But when Lulu and Pip get lost without a clue how to return to their campsite, they find help from an unexpected source.
I was in a wonderful independent bookstore when I first spotted this book. Because of the nature of my job I don’t usually buy children’s books all that often, but there was something unique about this title. The size, for one thing. Coming in at an impressive 9.8 x 12.8 inches, the book stands just slightly taller than the other picture books on your average bookshelf. It distinguishes itself. Then there’s the arresting cover. Photography is too often the last bastion of the sentimental. Whether we’re talking Anne Geddes or the art in the style of Nancy Tillman, there are those that believe that photography only works when its used in the service of the easy aww. The jacket image seen here of a little girl kissing a donkey would seem to support that belief, but that’s a textbook case of judging a book by its cover. I had only to open the book to see that this wasn’t the usual fare. Not by half.
First and foremost, the star of this book is photographer Stephanie Rausser who carries a particular talent for photographing kids and lifestyle types of images. The red-haired moppet that is her subject is a charmer. Cute but not cloying. The shots of her that pepper the book are carefully selected and cropped. As for the photos themselves, I took great joy in them. There’s a shot of Lulu and Pip’s feet in a stream, the sunlight filtering through the water that socks it to you. In books of this sort I’m not a huge fan of images that feel staged. I’d rather go about believing that the photographer is some kind of guerrilla-style rebel than a professional who sets up her shots. Still, because she has the lifestyle background, Rausser gets very natural shots out of her young muse. Only the occasional image (peeking around a tree, exiting her tent, etc.) feel like you’ve accidentally picked up a copy of Parents Magazine or something. For the most part, Rausser keeps it real.
What also struck me as remarkable on a fifth or sixth reading was how well the design of the book incorporates the text into these images. I don’t know if Ms. Rausser took them while thinking in the back of her head about where the text was supposed to go. Illustrators are very keen on such matters, so photographers should be just as vigilant. As it stands, the book does a very good job of breaking the images into more than just full-page bleeds. Some pictures will appear only on the left or right hand side of the page. Other times the pictures will fill both pages in long horizontal spreads. Because of the nature of the shots the text changes from black to white and back again depending on the levels of contrast to be found. In spite of that, the book is easy to read and visually stimulating.
Full credit where credit is due to author Nina Gruener too. I don’t know the background behind this book. I don’t know if Ms. Rausser, in her capacity as a photographer, took these images first and then they were handed to Ms. Gruener to cobble together into some kind of story. If that was the case then she is to be commended. Such assignments often come off as feeling forced or false. Not so here. Gruener keeps the tone light and the storyline frisky. It is equally possible that Ms. Rausser was handed the text first and then took the pictures to match, of course. Or perhaps it was a bit of a combination of both. Whatever the case, the book reads very nicely. It’s not swimming in purple prose or anything but neither is it austere or simplistic. It tells the story it has come to tell and tells it well. Nuff said.
Because my daughter is a city kid I was much taken with the plot of a urban child’s first rural campout experience. As odd as it sounds, camping isn’t a common activity in children’s picture books. Not realistic camping sans bears anyway. And though the book does eschew the issue of mosquitoes, it’s realistic in its portrayal of campfires, smores, tents, night sounds, hiking, and star filled skies. It fills a gap in library and bookstore sections everywhere and will be of great use to those parents trying to excite their kids with the prospect of sleeping beneath the stars. Mind you, it may raise expectations of certain kids a bit far. If they’re hoping to bag a gigantic rainbow trout on their first fishing trip then they are bound to be woefully disappointed.
Perhaps Lulu & Pip marks the beginning of something. Maybe we’ll be seeing large format picture books of fictional stories featuring real kids a lot more in the future. Maybe. Certainly Rausser takes care not to include much of anything that will significantly date this book. Technology and gadgets are nonexistent and Lulu herself is dressed in contemporary children’s fashions that, with only a few exceptions (sneakers, etc.) won’t be dated anytime soon either. There’s a lot to love about this one-of-a-kind little book, and a lot to enjoy. With any luck, Rausser and Gruener will continue their partnership of creating great books and we the readers will be the lucky beneficiaries. Marvelous unique stuff.
On shelves now.
Source: Copy purchased at The Book Beat.
Like This? Then Try:
Misc: Don’t miss the outtakes. Ms. Rausser’s site has additional photographs of this book. Some made the cut. Some did not.
Video: And finally, some more info on the book.
Joyeux Turkey Day, my fellows! Between bites of sweet potato and rolls, perhaps it might do the soul good to listen to a l’il ole podcast that’s actually a bit perfect for the day. The “original” Thanksgiving was between Pilgrims and Native Americans, or so we were taught in grade school, yes? Well perhaps we should do away with the myths and listen to some American Indians today in one of my Children’s Literary Salons. Normally they’re not recorded but Cheryl Klein and her husband James Monohan turned one such Salon into a podcast. Here’s Cheryl’s description of it:
In happier news, the recording of the Native American Young Adult literature panel at the New York Public Library is now available here: http://www.thenarrativebreakdown.com/archives/698. Joseph Bruchac (author of KILLER OF ENEMIES), Stacy Whitman, Eric Gansworth (author of IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE), and I had a terrific conversation (moderated by Betsy Ramsey Bird) about finding Native authors, the editor-author relationship across cultural lines, creating authentic covers, and the many pleasures of Native YA books. Please listen! #Weneeddiversebooks
Go! Enjoy! You’ll feel happy you did. They were an impressive crew and kept me on my toes.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending the AAP Tri-State Book Buzz for Children’s and Teen Librarians here in NYC. This is an event where a whole heaping helpful of publishers gather together to do a kind of massive librarian preview for folks like myself. It’s a mix of big folks (Macmillan, Random House, etc.) and smaller houses you might not hear from otherwise. With that in mind, I’ve either already attended or am about to attend some of the big guys, so I’ll leave them off of this particular preview. Additionally, I had a meeting in the morning of the Book Buzz day so those publishers who just happened to present anything prior to 1 p.m. pretty much fell off of my radar. Sorry, guys!
Even though I only spent a small portion of my time at the Book Buzz I’m just going to highlight the books that caught my particular attention. Because honestly there were some truly interesting titles on display. Here’s just a small sampling of what I happened to see. First up:
Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, ill. Tiphanie Beeke (9781492601685)
This year (2014) I had a great deal of difficulty finding good poetry books. Honestly, at times it felt like I was pulling teeth to find anything halfway decent. This shouldn’t be so hard! So I was keeping a very sharp eye out for anything verse-like. I was quickly rewarded by this, the first collection of ALL of Zolotow’s seasonal poetry. You remember Ms. Zolotow, yes? Worked under Ursula Nordstrom? Mother of Crescent Dragonwagon? Yep, well I’ve always been a fan of her book Seasons as illustrated by Erik Blegvad so this is just a natural follow-up. It’s coming out in the same year when she would have celebrated her 100th birthday. If the illustrator (Tiphanie Beeke) looks somewhat familiar that may be because she was behind that rather lovely little book Fletcher and the Falling Leaves which came out a couple years ago.
Fairy Tale Reform School: Flunked by Jen Calonita (9781492601562)
On the middle grade side of things we have Fairy Tale Reform School: Flunked by Jen Calonita. Written by the author of the YA novel Secrets of my Hollywood Life the premise behind this one is that when a villain is vanquished in a tale it’s time for them to go to reform school. Our heroine is a normal girl who lives in a shoe with her siblings and is so poor that she’s forced to steal. One thing leads to another and the next thing she knows she’s in a reform school where all the teachers are former villains. Kinda writes itself, right?
This Book is Gay by James Dawson (9781492617822)
I don’t cover YA usually but for this book I shall make an exception. It was a little bit difficult to parse but insofar as I could tell this appears to be a handbook for dealing with sexual identity. It’s a YA nonfiction title with a forward is by David Levithan and it’s full of sketches, illustrations, and jokes. As they say, it’s for anyone exploring their own identity.
National Geographic Kids
Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee (forward by Tim Gunn) (9781426319204)
Now see, the reason I like National Geographic Kids is that they’re reliable. Take Why’d They Wear That?, for example. You know what you’re getting here, even if you don’t know the details. Mind you, the details are where all the good stuff is. Chronicling the history of the world through the lens of fashion, the book covers everything from the Syrian warriors who rode into battle in fishnets to an Archbishop of Canterbury who wore a hair shirt so full of bugs that they left his body and flew into the cold when he was assassinated. From togas to mini skirts, this book talks about clothing and explains why folks wore one thing or another with plenty of historical context.
Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey (9781426315190)
I think I heard about this book a little while ago and got very excited . . . until I realized that it wasn’t coming out until 2015. Fortunately that year is breathing down our neck and so tis nigh! Nigh, I say, nigh! From her childhood in WWII England to the jungles of Gombe this book covers everything Jane related. Riveting and full of images (including the photography of Michael Neugebauer) this has lots of great content from the field. It’s the most up-to-date title out there for kids. At least for an older readership.
Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty: Planet Earth by Steve Tomecek (9781426319037)
Steve Tomecek, the Executive Director and founder of Science Plus, Inc., and Digger his prairie dog sidekick talk all about dirt. Or, put another cuter way, dish the dirt on dirt. Tomecek had a New York Kids show on WNYC radio in New York City for eight years so he’s old school. In his book, Fred Harper from Marvel illustrates multiple peppy comic book sections that start off each chapter. Inside you’ll find DIY experiments, facts, and science bios along with lots of STEM connections. Happy science stuff.
How to Speak Cat by Aline Alexander Newman and NPR’s Dr. Gary Weitzman (President of the San Diego Animal Humane Society) (9781426318634)
This would be a companion to the previously published How to Speak Dog. The dog vs. cat voice in my head wonders which of the two books will sell better. In any case in this tome you get, amongst other things, an explanation of what the 30 different cat poses mean. Lots of expert cat training advice is in this one as well.
1000 Facts About the Bible (9781426318665)
You don’t have to be a library in a religious community to appreciate what National Geographic is going for here. Big and small pieces of information give some great background. Little facts include the tidbit that David was crowned with a 75-pound crown and, elsewhere, that the blue of the robes mentioned in the text came from sea snails. Easy to understand words are helped in no small part by the Biblical scholars who were consulted. Naturally this makes me wonder how long it took them to write the darn thing. My suspicion: quite a while.
Maddeningly they also teased us with Fall 2015 titles as well. With that in mind look for . . .
Book of Nature Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis
Treasury of Norse Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli
Welcome to Mars by Buzz Aldrin
At this point in the proceedings, mention was made of a magazine I’d not heard of before. It’s not like I’ve been following the periodical trends for teens and pre-teens since I was one myself. So to hear that there’s a publication out there called Justine that contains “more teen book reviews than any other magazine” . . . well that’s just downright cool it is. Voila:
Based out of Philly. A quarter of this little publisher’s output consists of books for kids. I often say that small publishers just need one book to sustain them for life. Well Quirk produced Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so I’d say they’re pretty much good to go. For, like, ever. Most of their children’s books coming out in 2015 are just sequels, but there was one adult title that actually caught my eye.
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (9781322126760)
A classic horror novel set in a Swedish furniture store, written like an IKEA catalog.
Next up, Chris Vaccari, a man clever enough to name drop his local library branch (Kips Bay). Chris thrives in a BookBuzz atmosphere. He is calm. He is at ease. And yet, all at the same time, he is capable of packing in loads of information about the books Sterling is producing soon. Case in point:
Good Question: History Series: Did Christopher Columbus Really Discover America? by Emma Carlson Berne (9781454912590)
This is a series that dare to question history. Particularly useful when we’re talking about that ever so controversial Italian Columbus.
Little Traveler series – How Tiger Says Thank You (9781454914976), How Penguin Says Please (9781454914969) by Abigail Samoun, illustrated by Sarah Watts
These are the latest two books in this series to come out. I should note though that my librarians are BIG fans of these books. They’re finding them easy to hand sell and really filling a need for those parents that wish to get their small children interested in other languages.
ABC Universe – done in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History (9781454914099)
Just consider it an oversized board book for the budding little astronomers in your life.
I’m Not Reading by Jonathan Allen(978-1910126240)
Man. Way back at the beginning of my blogging career, around 2006 I reviewed the Jonathan Allen baby owl book I’m Not Cute. It’s nice to see the series not only still kicking around but upgrading to a whole new board book form.
Ally-Saurus by Richard Torrey (9781454911791)
Who says only boys get to love dinosaurs? Yet when Ally starts school she finds she’s the only girl there who’s into dinosaurs. She is subsequently snubbed by princess lovers (and on this, the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls). I know I’ll be looking forward to this.
A Dozen Cousins by Lori Houran, ill. Sam Usher (9781454910626)
The plot is simple: one girl has a dozen boy cousins. She loves them but they sure do bug the heck out of her. Nice and multicultural, this is utterly pleasant (and more interesting than a lot of the other “big family” tales out there).
The Birthday Cake: The Adventures of Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordquist (978-0735842038)
I believe this is a reprint of an older title. In it, Pettson is a forgetful farmer and his neighbor gives him a kitten named Findus. So he reads the kitten so much that the cat starts to talk. In this book it’s Findus’s birthday (which somehow happens more than once in a year). The dilemma? Our intrepid heroes need flour for a cake. To get the flour they need a bike, to fix a tower they need to get into the shed, to get into the shed they need a ladder to get to the sunroof, and so on and such. Phil Pullman did the blurb for the books and said that it has a folktale feel. Noted.
Mr. Squirrel and the Moon by Sebastian Meschenmoser (978-0735841567)
If you buy nothing else I mention to you today, buy this. Show some of the art. On the endpages you see a boy with his father and one of the man’s wheels of cheese is rolling down the hill and flies into the sky. Later, a squirrel wonders how the moon got into his tree. Worried that someone will think he’s the thief he tries to roll it off the tree. The cheese next gets stuck on a hedgehog and a goat gets stuck in it. The art is the real lure here. A-maze-ing.
The Bernadette Watts Collection: Stories and Fairy Tales by Bernadette Watts (978-0735842120)
Turns out, Ms. Watts is beloved in Europe. They just call her Bernadette there. In this book you will find thirty-eight timeless tales with an Eric Carle forward. The result is a book containing pitch perfect, sumptuous backgrounds.
Perseus Books Groups (Running Press Kids)
Go, Pea, Go! by Joe Moshier and Chris Sonnenburg (978-0762456789)
I’ll give ‘em this. I have never seen a potty book that used peas in some manner. This book features one such rhyming pea. He is told by his family to go. See the world. A potty chart and stickers are part of the ensemble.
Butterfly Park by Elly Mackay (978-0762453399)
A paper cut artist takes it to the next level. In this story a girl moves next to a butterfly park and then goes and sees that there aren’t any there. She then gets the community together to plant the plants that attract butterflies.
My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando (978-0762456819)
In this tale a 12-year-old girl’s family is selling their red barn home. She’s against this move so she creates dioramas of each room to best preserve her memories. She also tries to throw a wrench in the works to prevent the sales. One color illustrated dioramas for each chapter. Essentially, it’s all about moving forward.
And that was that. Phew! I can’t imagine how tricky it would be to organize such a thing. Many thanks to the folks who presented. I’ve high hopes for these books.
Last week Jackie Woodson won The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It was a win so deserved that I had difficulty processing it. Under normal circumstances National Book Awards for children’s books come out of left field and are so blooming unpredictable that they almost always serve my perpetual amusement. The fact that a deserving book (one might call it “the” deserving book of the year) won was enormously satisfying. Of course, Ms. Woodson’s not exactly the new kid on the block. She’s been writing for decades, her style growing sharper, her focus more concentrated. When she wins awards it’s often for personal stories (her family story Show Way was the last picture book to win a Newbery Honor, for example). Now Brown Girl Dreaming is poised to do the rare double win of National Book Award and Newbery Award, a move that hasn’t happened since Holes back in 1999.
It feels right that a familiar author who has honed her craft should accrue more and more awards as time goes on. It seems logical. Yet once in a while a wrench is thrown in the works and a debut author will pop onto the scene and win scores of awards. It’s not a bad thing. It just sometimes happens that such authors and illustrators get more immediate attention as a result than their longstanding hardworking fellows.
On a recent(ish) episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour the topic was debuts. The show discussed musical debuts, acting debuts, and authorial ones as well. At one point I think it was Glen Weldon who pointed out that if you look at a typical high schooler’s summer reading list, it’s just debut title after debut title. To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, The Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, Catch-22, The Bell Jar, White Teeth, The Kite Runner, and on and on it goes.
Naturally, after thinking about this I wondered if this equated on the children’s side of things. So I took a gander at those old Top 100 Picture Books and Top 100 Children’s Novels polls I did of yore to see if the debuts were the majority of the titles there. Here are the top 20 in each category (correct me if I’m wrong about any of these):
#1 Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963) – No
#2 The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1979) – No
#3 Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2003) – Yes
#4 Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947) – No
#5 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962) – No
#6 Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1941) – No
#7 Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (2004) – No
#8 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz (1972) – No
#9 Bark, George by Jules Feiffer (1999) – No
#10 The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin (1971) – Yes (?)
#11 Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (1996) – No
#12 Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (1960) – No
#13 Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982) – No
#14 Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (1947) – No
#15 Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (1970) – No
#16 Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (1955) – Yes (in that it was the first he wrote and illustrated himself, I believe)
#17 The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (1936) – No
#18 A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010) – Yes
#19 The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902) – Yes
#20 Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean (2010) – Yes
#1 Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952) – Yes
#2 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962) – No
#3 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997) – Yes
#4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993) – No
#5 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950) – Yes (for kids anyway)
#6 Holes by Louis Sachar (1998) – No
#7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967) – Yes (sorta – this was the weird case where her first two novels were published in the same year and BOTH received Newberys of one sort or another)
#8 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908) – Yes (?)
#9 The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978) – No
#10 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977) – No
#11 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009) – No
#12 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999) – No
#13 The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997) – Yes (if a previously published short story doesn’t count)
#14 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1938) – Yes (for kids, though I’m not sure when he did that Santa Claus letters book)
#15 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911) – No
#16 Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (1975) – No
#17 Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964) – Yes
#18 The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (1964) – No
#19 Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932) – Yes
#20 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000) – Yes
I was admittedly surprised by how many “Yes”es there were here. To my mind stunning debuts happen from time to time but are relatively rare. This seemed to hold true for the picture books, but on the novel side of things the classics are continually peppered with debut works.
Then there’s the difference between an authorial debut and that of an illustrator. I wasn’t able to tell if Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was Ray Cruz’s debut or if he’d been working in the field for years. What about Mike Smollin and The Monster at the End of This Book?
Then there comes the question of how debut authors and illustrators are celebrated. Recently the periodical Booklist revealed an issue called “Spotlight on First Novels“. The cover showed primarily adult and YA titles, though there was an inclusion of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Inside the regular feature “The Carte Blanche” by Michael Cart concentrated on what could potentially have won the William C. Morris YA Debut Award if it had originated in 1967. The Morris award, for folks who might not be familiar with it, “honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.” Cart’s list is good and worth reading, though it include the baffling inclusion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a book that never could have won since it’s so clearly a children’s title). Children’s books too often get the short end of the stick when folks discuss debuts. For example, later in the issue a list of the “Top 10 First Novels for Youth for 2014″ mentions only the entirely worthy (and rather charming) The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham as the sole children’s inclusion.
Here then is a listing of some of my favorite children’s book debuts of 2014. I’m sure I’m getting folks here wrong when I say they haven’t published before, so if you see a mistaken entry do be so good as to let me know and I’ll amend accordingly.
- Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, ill. Laura James – For Laura James. I believe Ms. Senior has written several books before.
- Anna & Solomon by Elaine Snyder, ill. Harry Bliss – Elaine’s debut, that is.
- Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
- Sparky! by Jenny Offill, ill. Chris Appelhans – He’s contributed to the Flight series, but I hardly think that counts. Jenny is a known entity and not a debut.
Middle Grade Fiction
- Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy (she did the illustrations for books like The Expeditioners but this is her formal writing debut)
- Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus; ill. Evan Turk – For Turk, naturally, though you could probably count Arun as well.
Then there’s the question of what you count as a debut when a picture book author writes their first middle grade or a YA author writes an easy book series. I leave that to the publishers.
Is there any debut author or artist with whom you were particularly taken this year?
By: Betsy Bird
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Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands
By Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio – Roaring Brook (Macmillan)
On shelves now.
When you’re a librarian buying for your system, you come to understand that certain nonfiction topics are perennial favorites. You accept that no matter how many copies you buy, you will never have enough train or joke or magic books. And the king daddy topic to beat them all, the one that leaves a continual gaping hole in the Dewey Decimal area of 597.3 or so, is sharks. Kids can’t get enough of them. Heck, adults can’t get enough of them. Between Shark Week and movies like Sharknado, sharks haven’t been this pop culturally relevant since the good old days of JAWS. And sure, we’ve plenty of truly decent shark books on our shelves already. What we don’t really have are books that combine the blood and the facts with the beauty of full-color, wholly accurate paintings. We’ve never truly had a shark book that’s as accomplished and stunning as Katherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks. It’s crazy to contemplate that though shark books are never unpopular, only now did someone take the time and effort to give them a publication worthy of their terror and wonder.
A single great white shark cuts through the waters surrounding San Francisco’s Farallon Islands “just 30 miles from the city”. Prey comes in the form of a fine fat seal and before the mammal realizes what’s happening the shark attacks. What makes a shark the perfect killer? Consider its weapons. Note the body, covered in “skin teeth”, capable of acting like a warm-blooded fish. Observe its high-definition vision and five rows of teeth. Did you know that a shark’s jaws aren’t fused to the skull, so that they can actually be projected forward to bite something? Or the method by which you would go about actually tagging this kind of creature? With candor and cleverness, author/artist Katherine Roy brings these silent killers to breathtaking life. You may never desire to set foot into the ocean again.
It’s hard to imagine a book on sharks that has art that can compete with all those shark books laden with cool photographic images. Roy’s advantage here then is the freedom that comes with the art of illustration. She’s not beholden to a single real shark making a real kill. With her brush she can set up a typical situation in which a great white shark attacks a northern elephant seal. The looming threat of the inevitable attack and the almost Hitchcockian way she sets up her shots (so to speak) give the book a tension wholly missing from photo-based shark books. What’s more, it makes the book easy to booktalk (booktalk: a technique used by librarians to intrigue potential readers about titles – not dissimilar to movie trailers, only with books). There’s not a librarian alive who wouldn’t get a kick out of revealing that wordless two-page seal attack scene in all its horror and glory.
The remarkable thing? Even as she’s showing an eviscerated seal, Roy keeps the imagery fairly kid friendly. Plumes of red blood are far more esoteric and even (dare I say it) lovely than a creature bleeding out on land. You never see the shark’s teeth pierce the seal, since Roy obscures the most gory details in action and waves. There are even callbacks. Late in the book we see a shark attacking a faux seal, lured there by researchers that want to study the shark. Without having seen the previous attack this subsequent wordless image would lose much of its punch. And lest we forget, these images are downright lovely. Roy’s paintbrush contrasts the grey sea and grey shark with a whirling swirling red. You could lose yourself in these pictures.
Yet while Roy is capable of true beauty in her art, it’s the original ways in which she’s capable of conveying scientific information about sharks that truly won my heart. She’s the queen of the clever diagram. Early in the book we see an image of a shark’s torpedo-shaped body. Yet the image equates the shark with an airplane, overlaying its fins and tail with the wings and tail of a typical jet plane. Seeing this and the arrows that indicate airflow / how water flows, the picture does more to convey an idea than a thousand words ever could. I found myself poring over diagrams of how a shark can let in cold water and convert it in an internal heat exchange into something that can warm its blood. It’s magnificent. The close-up shot of how a shark’s five rows of teeth tilt and the shot that will haunt my dreams until I die of projectile jaws will easily satiate any bloodthirsty young shark lover hoping for a few new facts.
The projectile jaws, actually, are an excellent example of the tons of information Roy includes here that feels original and beautifully written. Roy is consistently child-friendly in this book, never drowning her text in jargon that would float over a kiddo’s head. Using the framing sequence of a shark attacking a seal, she’s able to work in facts about the creatures and their environment in such a way as to feel natural to the book. Neighborhood Sharks is one of the first books in the David Macaulay Studio imprint and like Mr. Macaulay, Ms. Roy is capable of artistic prowess and great grand factual writing all at once. The backmatter consisting of additional information, a word or two on why she decided not to do a spread on smell, Selected Sources, Further Reading, and a map of The Farallons is worth the price of admission alone.
The book is called “Neighborhood Sharks” for a reason. When we think of big predators we think of remote locations. We don’t think of them swimming along, so very close to places like the Golden Gate Bridge. Plenty of adults would be horrified by the notion that they might run into an unexpected shark somewhere. Kids, however, might see the prospect as exciting. Neighborhood Sharks has the potential to both satisfy those kids that have already read every single book on sharks in their local library and also convert those that haven’t already made sharks their favorite predator of all time. Remarkably beautiful even (or especially) in the face of straightforward shark attacks, this is a book that sets itself apart from the pack. If you read only one children’s shark book in all your livelong days, read this one. Disgusting. Delicious. Delightful.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
Top of the morning to you, folks! I’m happy to release my second Fuse #8 TV episode. This time around I thought it would be a bit of fun to take a trip to the Eric Carle Museum. Not everyone has ever had a chance to visit and it’s just the loveliest place. After that, I sit down with the truly delightful Lisa Graff to talk a bit about the slow burn of her career and her latest book Absolutely Almost. Enjoy!
An Evening with Brian Floca
Saturday, December 6, 6:00–7:30 p.m.
Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall, Uris Center for Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Join award-winning author and illustrator Brian Floca, this year’s recipient of the prestigious Randolph Caldecott Medal for Locomotive, for a presentation about his creative journey, his work in various formats, and exciting upcoming projects. Meet the artist and explore the Museum until it closes at 9:00 p.m.
Brian Floca is the author and illustrator of picture books Locomotive, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, Lightship, The Racecar Alphabet, and Five Trucks. He has illustrated the Poppy Stories series by Avi; Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; Kate Messner’s Marty McGuire novels; and Lynne Cox’s just published Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas. In addition to the Randolph Caldecott Medal, his books have received four Robert F. Sibert Honor awards, an Orbis Pictus Award, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators, and have twice been selected for The New York Times‘ annual 10 Best Illustrated Books list. Brian was born and raised in Temple, Texas. He graduated from Brown University and received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Locomotive will be available for purchase in the Uris Center Met Store. Mr. Floca will be signing books after the presentation.
This event is free with Museum admission, but registration is required. Please RSVP. Preregistration is not required for the book-signing portion of this program.
Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This event is made possible by the Friends of Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- Recently I’ve grown rather fascinated with the academic children’s collections of the world. The rare book collections in particular. With that in mind, what do you do if you’re an institution that specializes in archived materials, and yet you still want to engage young readers in some capacity? Enter Teaching the untouchable, a great article by Dana Sheridan at the Cotsen Collection of Princeton University. Written for College and Research Libraries News the piece really delves deep into how to best conduct rare book programs with real honest-to-goodness children. Great stuff.
- Whatcha up to tonight? Got big Tuesday night plans? No? Excellent since there’s to be a Twitter chat between Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature and brilliant librarian Allie Jane Bruce at 9:00 p.m. Just go to #SupportWNDB. Be there or be square.
- So cool. Over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jules got cartooned up. I would love it if that became a regular thing at her site. Everyone should cartoonify her when interviewed.
- Jules also tackled a recent re-illustrated title that will have librarians everywhere just shaking their heads, trying desperately to figure out where to put the darn thing in their collections. If you’re familiar with the 2001 picture book Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban then you’ll have a hard time looking at its new incarnation without blanching. It’s one of the most innovative children’s books of the year but a psychological nightmare that would actually pair magnificently with Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, if nothing else. Jules has the scoop. Well played, she.
Wow. Just, wow. Kidlit TV is live, people, and boy does it look fancy. I mean just LOOK at that site! Someone put their heart and soul into it, that’s for sure. Makes me feel like a bit of a slacker, if I’m going to be honest. Boy howdy.
I am always very pleased with folks take public review sites like Amazon or Goodreads and use them to have a bit of fun. One Hamilton Richardson evidently must have sat through one Mr. Men book too many and the result is a series of thoroughly enjoyable “reviews” that are all distinctive in their own little ways. Thanks to Steve for the link.
- Sometimes you just don’t know if the name you see on a series is a real person or not. Take R.A. Montgomery, for example. Recently he passed away in his Vermont home, and if his moniker is ringing a couple bells that might be because he’s the fellow behind the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Like any good child of the 80s I devoured my own fair share of CYOA titles back in the day, perfecting the art of sticking all my digits in between the pages so that the moment I chose poorly I could instantly retrace my steps. There’s a metaphor lurking in that statement somewhere, I’d wager. Thanks to Mom for the link.
Christmas is on the horizon and you know what that means? Time to start trying to figure out what to purchase for the children’s literature-obsessed person in your life. Want an early idea? I know it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet but I just discovered that that Children’s Book Council sells their old Children’s Book Week posters in a variety of different forms, dating back to 1921. Everyone from N.C. Wyeth to the most recent one by Robin Preiss Glasser. Here are some of my own personal favorites:
Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelin
By Russell Brand
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster)
On shelves now.
If there is a trend to be spotted amongst the celebrity children’s books being released these days then I think it boils down to a general perception on their part that books for kids aren’t subversive enough. This is a bit of a change of pace from the days when Madonna would go about claiming there weren’t any good books for kids out there. Celebrities are a bit savvier on that count, possibly because the sheer number of books they publish has leapt with every passing year. Now their focus has changed. Where once they pooh-poohed the classics, now they’re under the impression that in spite of masters like Shel Silverstein, Jon Scieszka, Tomi Ungerer, and the like, books for kids are just a little too sweet. Time to shake things up a bit. At least that’s the only reason I can think of to justify what Russell Brand has done here. When I heard that he had a new series out called Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales I admit that I was intrigued. Tricksters! What’s not to love there? Plus the man has talent and imagination. This kind of thing would really work. Add in the art of Chris Riddell and you might have something clever and worth reading on your shelf. I probably could have continued thinking in this manner if I hadn’t made the mistake of going so far as to actually read the book. Oh me oh my oh me oh my. In this, the first book in his series, Brand goes headlong in the wrong direction. Needlessly violent, humorlessly scatological, with really weird messages about disability and feminism thrown in for no particular reason, you can say lots of things about Brand’s foray in to the world of children. One thing you cannot say is that it’s actually for kids.
You think you know the story of The Pied Piper? Think again. In the town of Hamelin, the children are the future. Which is to say, the pretty children are the future. Kids like Sam, a child born with a withered leg, are ostracized and have to avoid being chased by the other kids’ zombie roadkill robots and such. The adults are little better with their misspent love of physical perfection and money. To this sordid town comes a hoard of nasty rats, each worse than the last and within a short amount of time they take over everything. As you might imagine, when a mysterious Piper arrives offering to do away with the hoard the townspeople agree immediately. He does but when he comes for his payment the town turns on him, rejecting his price. In response he takes away the kids, all but Sam, who is allowed to stay because he’s a different kind of kid. A good one.
Before any specific objections can be lobbed in the book’s general direction, I think the important thing to note from the start is that this isn’t actually a book for kids. It’s not published by a children’s book publisher (Atria Books is a division of Simon & Schuster, and does not generally do books for kids). Its author is not a children’s book author. And the writing is clearly for adults. When I read the review in Kirkus of this book I saw that it called it, “A smart, funny, iconoclastic take on an old classic,” and recommended it for kids between the ages of 8-12. Now look here. I like books that use high vocabularies and complex wordplay for children. You betcha. I also like subversive literature and titles that push the envelope. That’s not what this book is. In this book, Brand is basically just throwing out whatever comes to mind, hoping that it’ll stick. Here’s a description of the leader of the rats: “Even though they called themselves an anarcho-egalitarian rat collective (that means there’s no rules and no one’s in charge), in reality Casper was in charge . . . In his constant attendance were a pair of ratty twins – Gianna and Paul – who were both his wives. In anarcho-egalitarian rat-collectives, polygamy (more than one wife) is common. It’s not as common for one of the wives to be male but these rats were real badasses.” It’s not just the content but the tone of this. Brand is speaking directly to an adult audience. He does not appear to care one jot about children.
Of course when Brand decides to remember that he is writing a children’s book, that’s when he makes the story all about poop. Huge heaping helpfuls of it. There’s a desperation to his use of it, as if he doesn’t trust that a story about disgusting rats infesting a town is going to be interesting to kids unless it’s drowning in excrement as well. Now poop, when done well, is freakin’ hilarious. Whether we’re talking about Captain Underpants or The Qwikpick Adventure Society, poop rules. But as the authors of those books knew all too well, a little goes a long way. Fill your book with too much poop and it’s like writing a book filled with profanity. After very little time the shock of it just goes away and you’re left feeling a bit bored.
Other reasons that this ain’t a book for kids? Well, there’s the Mayor for one. Brand attempts to curtail criticism of his view of this woman by creating a fellow by the name of Sexist Bob. See, kids? Bob is sexist so obviously Brand can’t be. Not even when he has the Mayor crying every other minute, being described as a spinster who was mayor “a high-status job that made her feel better about her knees and lack of husband.” Then there’s the world’s weirdest message about disability. Our hero is Sam, the sole child left in the city of Hamelin after the children are whisked away. He’s the one described as having a “gammy leg all withered like a sparrow’s”. Which is fine and all, but once you get to the story’s end you find that Sam gets to have a happy ending where he’s grows up to become Hamelin’s mayor and his disability is pretty much just reduced a slight limp. So if you’re a good person, kiddos, that nasty physical problem you suffered from will go away. Better be good then. Sheesh.
Now Chris Riddell’s a funny case here. He’s a great artist, first and foremost. Always has been. Though I feel like he’s never been properly appreciated here in America, every book he’s done he puts his all into. Riddell doesn’t phone it in. So when he commits to a book like The Pied Piper then he commits, by gum. For better or for worse. Honestly, Brand must have thought he died and went to heaven when they handed him an artist willing to not only portray drops of blood dripping from a child’s pierced nipple but robot gore-dripping animal corpses and sheer amounts of poo. In this book he really got into his work and I began to wonder how much of a direct hand Brand had. Did Brand tell Riddell to make the Piper look like a member of the film version of A Clockwork Orange? No idea. Whatever the case, Riddell is as much to blame for some aspects of the book (the Mayor’s mascara comes to mind) as Brand, but he also is able to put in little moments of actual emotion. There’s a shot of Sam hugged by his mother early in the book that’s far and away one of the most touching little images you ever will see. Just the sweetest thing. Like a little light bobbing in the darkness.
The kicker is that beneath the lamentably long page count and gross-out factors, there might have been a book worth reading here. Playing the old “blame the editor” game is never fair, though. Editors of celebrity children’s books are, by and large, consigned there because they performed some act of carnage in a previous life and must now pay penance. No one goes into the business saying to themselves, “But what I’d really like to do is edit a picture book by Howard Stern’s wife about a fat white cat.” And so we cannot know how much input the editor of this book was allowed to give. Perhaps Brand took every note he was handed and hammered and sawed this book into its current state. Or maybe he was never handed a single suggestion and what he handed in is what we see here. No idea. But it’s difficult not to read the book and wonder at what might have been.
It’s more ambitious than your average celebrity children’s book, I’ll grant you that. And yet it feels like nothing so much as a mash-up of Roald Dahl and Andy Griffiths for adults. Lacking is the kid-appeal, the tight editing, and the reason why we the readers should really care. Our hero Sam is the hero because he’s essentially passive and doesn’t much act or react to the events going on in the tale. The Piper is there to teach a town a lesson, does so, and the story’s over. Brand would rather luxuriate in nasty kids, adults, and rats then take all that much time with his rare decent characters. As a result, it’s a book that might have been quite interesting and could even have been for actual children but in the end, isn’t. Here’s hoping Mr. Brand’s future forays in storytelling don’t forget who the true audience really is.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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The We Need Diverse Books campaign has kicked it up a notch with an Indiegogo campaign. They’re raising money to support authors, diversify classrooms, develop educational kits, promote diverse programming, you name it. As of my writing this they are $40,000 or so away from their goal. Check it out:
Diverse Campaign w Thanks Card from Undercurrent on Vimeo.
And now for something completely different. Cookie Monster has parodied Harry Potter and Hunger Games (not to mention Star Wars). Dare we hope Twilight is on the horizon? Because I would pay a lot of money to hear him say, “Climb onto me back, little spider monkey.”
It was Travis at 100 Scope Notes who alerted me to the Vine illustrator videos at The Guardian. There are lots there to choose from so I had a hard time figuring out which one to show here. In the end I went with James Mayhew. Lovely stuff.
Thanks to Travis for the link!
Moomins! Rivera Moomins! In Finnish, yes? Beautifully done.
By the way, when I die I’m coming back as one of Aaron Zenz’s kids. A strange ambition but after watching this video can you blame me?
I don’t think I need to tell you children’s librarians out there what a perfect fall craft this would be. And talk about cheap! Here are some additional photos of their creations. These kids once did some Giant Dance Party fan art that I treasure to this day. And as a side note, how cool is it that they watched Exit Through the Gift Shop as a family?
All I can say about this next Alice in Wonderland inspired video is that I am SO grateful I didn’t watch this while on any kind of drugs. Lordy.
Thanks to Marci for the link.
I don’t think I need remind any of you that this past week BookOps (the combined technical services of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library) engaged in a sort-off with the Kings County Library system. You were all watching the play by play on your phones, right? Right? No? Hm. Well, in any case, I am happy to report that this year we won our trophy back. It was a close race but that’s how we get it DONE, SON! Now you can see this drone video of our freakin’ awesome sorter here, but if you’d like to check out the competition the following video shows a sorter very much like our own (and a Collection Specialist doing my job to a tee).
Granted, we don’t have a machine named “Mustang” in our building, but we’re still pretty cool.
I agree with Jezebel that Samuel Jackson’s reading of Go the F*** to Sleep is as good as it gets, but LeVar Burton reading it fulfills some deep hitherto unknown need in my soul. Do I really have to warn you about the language in this?
As for our off-topic videos, this one got me to thinking about how these goofy little internet videos often strip down a famous song to its most essential elements, and make it clear how strong the original melody really was. I think it was Weird Al who pointed out that he could only parody songs that had a distinctive melody. Case in point:
So I’m having lunch with author Jeff Baron (I REPRESENT SEAN ROSEN) the other day and we’re talking about his play VISITING MR. GREEN. It’s a remarkably popular work, and has had debuts all over the world. The topic naturally turned to translation and Jeff mentioned that he takes an active role in reading and critiquing the various translations of his work. This got me to thinking about translated children’s books. Not the foreign titles that are translated into English, but the American books that are translated into other languages around the world.
The fact of the matter is that the time and care and attention that Jeff has pored into the translations of his staged productions do not have much of a children’s book correlation. American authors, by and large, don’t tend to care what the translated versions of their stories sound like. And even if they do, I don’t think there’s a publisher contract out there that gives the author creative control over translation (you may feel free to correct me on this).
Authors care about the translations of the titles of their books, of course. Jeff Kinney, for example, has gotten a lot of laughs from the fact that DIARY OF A WIMPY KID couldn’t be directly translated into German because there is no German equivalent for the word “wimpy”. Many authors, as it happens, enjoy seeing the different covers and titles of their books worldwide. How many, I wonder, take it a step further and translate back their own books so that they can see how their words have been changed? After all, if you’re going to be known to a foreign nation solely through your writing, wouldn’t you want that writing to be as pitch perfect and accurate as possible?
For a time I had some fun collecting various editions of Harry Potter from around the world. Indeed, I have quite the little collection. My favorite of all these were the various editions of HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Why? The anagram. At one point in the story the words “I AM TOM RIDDLE” turn into “LORD VOLDEMORT” (should I have said “spoiler alert”?). In enjoying the various iterations of that anagram my husband and I noticed that in many cases the very names of the characters had changed. Two of my favorites -
Italian: “Tom Orvoloson Riddle” becomes “Son io Lord Voldemort”.
Czech: “Tom Rojvol Raddle” becomes “Ja Lord Voldemort”.
I’ve searched and searched for a website where someone comments on the changes in a foreign edition of one of the HP books but so far no go.
So I’m going to throw this one out to the authors out there, and not just those of the American persuasion. I want to know if in other countries writers care more about their English translations than we do about our foreign ones. Perhaps they don’t. Maybe no one cares. Maybe everyone does on some level. And are there authors here that have offered to personally oversee the translations of their books? Likely, but is it allowed? Will it ever be?
Much to chew on.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now
Beware ever becoming a brand, my sweet, for that way lies nothing but unhappiness and ruin. Or not. I think the only real and true problem with becoming extremely popular in your field is that you have to battle on some level the ridiculous expectations others set for you. You did “X” and “X” was popular? Make another “X”! Creativity is haphazard and in the children’s book biz even the most popular illustrators do jobs that simply pay the bills. Such is NOT the case with Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. I have seen Jeffers do books that were merely okay and some that didn’t quite pass muster. I have also seen him be consistently brilliant with a style that is often copied, whether artistically or in tone. Yet in his latest book he does something that I honestly haven’t really seen before. Each letter of the alphabet is worthy of a story of its own. Each one distinct, each one unique, and all of them pretty much hilarious. No other author or illustrator could do what Jeffers has done here or, if they did, the tone would be entirely off. Here we have an abecedarian treat for older children (at least 6 years of age, I’d say) that will extend beyond Jeffers’ already gung-ho fan base and garner him new devotees of both the child and adult persuasion.
“If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.” So begins Once Upon an Alphabet, a book that seeks to give each letter its due. The tales told vary in length and topic. For example, “A” is about Edmund the astronaut who wants to go on an “adventure” and meet some “aliens” “although” there’s a problem. “Space was about three hundred and twenty-eight thousand, four hundred and sixteen feet above him . . . and Edmund had a fear of heights.” Many of the stories seen here rely on a twist at their conclusion. Danger Delilah may laugh in the face of Death but she’ll book it double time when her dad calls her for dinner. And then there’s Victor, plugging away on his vengeance. Told with wit and humor these tales are each and every one consistently amusing and enjoyable.
One thing that sets Jeffers apart from the pack is his deft wordplay. He has always been as comfortable as a writer as he is an illustrator or artist. Examining the tales I saw that some of the stories rhyme and others do not. This could potentially be off-putting but since each letter stands on its own I wasn’t bothered by the choice. The book could also be a very nice writing prompt title, not too dissimilar from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Once kids get the gist of what Jeffers is doing here they could be encouraged to write their own letter-inspired tales.
As for the art, it’s recognizably Jeffers, but with a twist. A close examination of the book shows that Jeffers changes up his artistic style quite a bit. While I’d say all his art is recognizably Jeffersish, his choices are fascinating. What determines whether or not a character gets a nose? Why is the terrified typist of “t” made so realistic while Ferdinand of “F” is done in a more cartoony style? Then there’s the use of color. Generally speaking the book is black and white but is shot through with different colors to make different points.
You also begin to read more into the illustrations than might actually be there. When the elephant dutifully eats nearly nine thousand envelopes in answer to a riddle, he is directed to do so by a nun who is keeping score. Adults will see this and wonder if it’s the equivalent of that old riddle about how many angels will dance on the head of a pin. I know the nun is there because the letter is “N” but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a connection. Other times there are connections between letters that aren’t explicitly mentioned but that will amuse kids. The owl and octopus that search and correct problems fix the cup that made an unseemly break (literally) for freedom at the letter “C” only for it to break again around the letter “T”. Then there are the back endpapers, which manage to wrap up a number of the stories in the book so subtly you might not even realize that they do so. See the frog hit on the head with a coin? That’s the ending to the “F” tale. And a closer reading shows that each person on the back endpapers correlates to their letter so you can read the alphabet found on the front endpapers through them. Pretty slick stuff!
I guess the only real correlation to this book is Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet. Even if the name sounds familiar I’m sure you’ve heard it. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” I’ve often thought that Jeffers’ sense of humor owes much to Gorey’s. You see it in letters like “H” which features a woman falling off a cliff or “T” where an author meets an untimely end at the hands (or, more likely, mouth) of a monster. And like Gorey, Jeffers is capable of giving potentially gruesome and macabre poems an almost sweet edge. Gorey’s stories dealt well in funny melancholy. Jeffers, in contrast, in a form of humor that turns tragedy on its head.
From what I can tell the book is pretty universally loved. That said, it is not without its detractors. People who expect this to be another alphabet book for young children are bound to be disappointed. No one ever said alphabet books couldn’t be for older kids as well, y’know. And then there’s one criticism that some librarians of my acquaintance lobbed in the direction of this book. According to them some letter stories were stronger than others. So I read and reread the book to try and figure out which letters they might mean. I’m still rereading it now and I’m no closer to finding the answer. Did they not like the daft parsnip? The missing question? The monkeys that move underground? I remain baffled.
Or maybe I just like the book because it ends with a zeppelin. That could also be true. I really like zeppelins. I am of the opinion that 90% of the picture books produced today would be greatly improved if their authors worked in a zeppelin in some way. Heck, it’s even on the cover of the book! But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I suspect that even if you removed every last zeppelin from Once Upon an Alphabet I’d still like the puppy. A lot. A lot a lot. You see Jeffers knows how to use his boundless cleverness for good instead of evil. This book could be intolerable in its smarts, but instead it’s an honestly amusing and tightly constructed little bit of delving into the alphabet genre. It remains aware from start to finish that its audience is children and by using big long fancy dance words, it never talks down to kids while still acknowledging the things that they would find funny. All told, it’s a pip. No picture book alphabet collection will be complete without it.
Like This? Then Try:
- Oh, thank the high heavens. Good news, folks. The celebrities have arrived to show us how to write books with darker themes. Thank goodness they’re here! Until now the field of children’s literature was just an unending vista of sunshine and daisies. But thanks to the combined efforts of Evangeline Lilly (“I look around me and I see a lot of young people who are very entitled and who are very confused when life isn’t perfect. I think that often comes from some of the messaging we receive as children from our stories, but that’s really not life and especially not on the playground”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Bruce Springsteen on Outlaw Pete and Not Sheltering Kids From the Realities of Life“) we can finally stop handing our children consistently sweet and innocent . . . hey. Psst. You there. Sit down. You too. And I don’t even want to talk about you. All youse guys. You’re ruining my moment. Stop being so doggone subversive! You don’t want to prove the singer and the elf wrong, do you? They’re famous. They know what they’re talking about.*
- Publishers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we need ‘em. Hence the piece Save the book publisher. Hard to argue the man’s points.
“Thousands of illustrations, books, comics, graphic novels, animations, products, paintings and more will be on view. In addition, a Children’s Reading Room within the gallery will hold hundreds of children’s books by SVA alumni.” What’s that, you say? It’s only the description of the upcoming We Tell Stories exhibition of work by more than 250 alumni of the School of Visual Art’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program. Jules Danielson alerted me to this event and can’t go (seriously, someone just send her to New York City already – she deserves it!) but those of us in NYC can certainly try.
Lolly Robinson speaks truths bloggers may not like to hear. It’s not specifically blogger-related either. It’s just an issue we all have to deal with these days. Can you really and truly be critical of a children’s book if you’re buds with that particular author or illustrator? Lolly weighs in and her thought process winds around until she ends with, “What would happen if EVERY picture book had a YouTube video revealing the details of its creation?” Spoiler Alert: It would be fantastic. Meantime, I’ll just say that she’s speaking in the piece as a Horn Book reviewer and not a blogger. Bloggers, for the most part, are not held to the standards of a Kirkus or a Horn Book. We have no editors. We are judge, jury, and executioner (at times) all in one. As such, you take every blogger with a grain of salt, just as you take every professional review with a similarly sized, if somewhat different, salt grain as well. And for my part, I review so few books these days that my selection simply consists of those titles I think deserve particular attention or are deserving of criticism. In fact, I’ve got a rip-roaring critical review on the horizon . . . but I shall say no more.
- The Best Books lists have begun with a mad sprint. On the one hand you had PW’s Best Books of 2014. The middle grade fiction category is particularly remarkable. Then you have the New York Times Best Illustrated list. Now just as that Lolly article talked about, I’m buds with two of the jurors who were on that committee. So I can inquire with calm patience and certainty WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU GUYS THINKING WHEN YOU DIDN’T INCLUDE LINDBERGH?!? *ahem* That was awkward. Good show, blokes. Nice list. Moving on.
- By the way, Travis Jonker’s analysis of the NY Times Best Illustrated books and how well they do Caldecott-wise upset a lot of my expectations. I did NOT see those stats coming. Fascinating!
- In the words of the great Jan Thomas, can you make a scary face? Cause I can. So can Kate Milford, Jonathan Auxier, and Aaron Starmer for that matter.
- Here’s my dirty little secret. I have never, not a single day of my life, biFirsnge watched a single show. Maybe I indulged in a few too many Northern Exposure‘s when I was young, but that’s it. However, upon hearing that A Series of Unfortunate Events is slated to be an all-new Netflix series, this record I hold may have to change. This interview with Handler about the show is worth reading, particularly when the subject of casting comes up. Sez he, “As Count Olaf, James Mason. In 1949. You can see why my involvement may or may not be welcome.” Thanks to Kate for the news.
- The old book smell. Want to know its chemical composition? Darn tootin’ you do! Thanks to Mike Lewis for the link.
Halloween has come and gone but one thing remains clear. The folks at FirstBook DC? They won it. They won Halloween.
If this picture means nothing to you then go here and read up.
*As you might imagine, Bruce is far less to blame here than Ms. Lilly. He didn’t seek out the picture book writing life and says nothing detrimental about the state of children’s literature today. It’s the article writer I probably have more of a beef with.
As librarian previews go, Little, Brown’s remain the gold standard. The food, the guests, the layout, the everything. It is the rare preview that leaves you feeling more relaxed that when you entered. Yet such is the case whenever Victoria Stapleton don’s her latest pair of delightful shoes (shown below).
And then the editorial stars come out to show us what they’ve been cooking up in their Bunsen burners and labs. Spring 2015 is on the horizon! Can you smell it in the air? Tis there! As such, here’s a sample of some of the books LB & Co. think you might want to know about.
But first! The obligatory viewing of Victoria’s shoes and earrings!
Oooo . . . .
Aaaaah . . .
All right. Now books.
First off, that nice Frank Viva person has another book coming out. If his name is vaguely striking a bell, that may be because he’s the fellow who likes to do books that don’t adhere to the natural rules. There was Along a Long Road which was a single piece of work he broke up into pages for a nearly wordless book. Then there was A Long Way Away which was to be read vertically rather than horizontally. Now we have Outstanding in the Rain (9780316366274) where the carefully placed die-cuts on the pages change both the words and the pictures. This is an oronym book, a word I had to look up for myself. Oronym: A sequence of words that sound the same as a different sequence of words.
Added fun fact for New Yorkers: Mr. Viva will be doing a piece of art for our subway cars soon. Woot!
Now don’t be fooled by this cover:
Yes, it’s by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Yes, the last book she wrote was Sugar. Yes, there were a lot of threads left dangling at the end of that title. Yes, the girl here looks an awful lot like Sugar. However, while Ms. Rhodes may someday write a Sugar sequel, that day is not today. Bayou Magic (9780316224840) is an original tale set in a summer in Louisiana. Maddy is staying with her grandmother for that time and has been informed that she might be a witch. Fortunately, she quickly bonds not just with “Grand-mere” but with the wilderness itself. Then, to top it all off, she discovers that she has a magical legacy. She can call fireflies, dream premonitions, and speak to the bayou mermaids (note: Bayou mermaids are NOT cute). This book looks like it has a lot more in common with Rhodes’ previous novel Ninth Ward than with Sugar. An oil spill proves to be the inciting incident in this book, loosely based on the Gulf Oil Spill of a couple years back. Look for this one in May.
Now as per usual I’ll be eschewing the YA in this preview because it’s just not my bag, baby. But I always make exceptions and when they tell me that there’s a Muslim American heroine featured on the cover of a book that reads like Veronica Mars. Well, sure. I’ll show that:
It’s a pretty darn good title. The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark (9780316406178). So here’s a true story. Not too long ago someone discovered that if you took the iChing you could find Morse Code messages that actually make a fair amount of sense within it. Talk about a beautiful conspiracy theory! In a book described as “The DaVinci Code meets Back to the Future”, a group of nonwhite 21st century kids get dropped into the 1800s and thanks to the time period have to get out of there FAST. This is one of those books where dropping a pencil can make huge problems for the future.
All this got me to thinking about what kind of time travel fiction people prefer. I guess 12 Monkeys will always be the gold standard for me. I love that creepy little thing.
Not many children’s novels are inspired by Moby Dick but why not? That’s a ripping little yarn, once you get past all the interminable whaling parts. Set in the midwest in the 1850s Wonder at the Edge of the World by Nicole Helget (9780316245104) features one Hallelujah Wonder, a scientist’s daughter. Through a series of events, it eventually comes to pass that she and a runaway slave go to Antarctica. Like ya do. Add in some supernatural elements and the fact that the author acknowledges in the text that not all abolitionists were pure unqualified saints and you’ve got yourself a book that may find itself compared in the future to “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. We could use another one of those, by gum.
There’s a reason I never went into marketing. In theory I’d like to think I’d be pretty good at it. In practice, I’d probably be pretty lamentable. Take, for example, “The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey (9780316297790). See now if I was the one selling this book I probably would have eschewed the “From the writer of Daddy Day Care and Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas!” that graces the top of the cover and said something more like “From the author of the amazing Chronicles of Egg and what do you MEAN you haven’t read it yet?!?” But, as folks were quick to inform me, more people have watched the films named here than read Geoff’s book. Pooh. His Chronicles of Egg series is truly delightful, containing some of the funniest pirates I’ve ever encountered in a children’s book. That said, I think it was editor Andrea Spooner were said of this book that it was “the guilty pleasure reading of the preview”. I think many of us are already familiar with Mac Barnett and Jory John’s upcoming prank-based book The Terrible Two. Well, come April, you’ll finally have something to pair it with. In this book a prank war between twins escalates from the real world into a Minecraft-like world where the twins tend to spend their time. The book will contain screen shots, chat logos, photos, and transcripts of the texts made between the parents about their kids. Might also pair rather well with Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald too.
And now my favorite book of the preview. Heck, as of this writing, it’s probably my favorite book of 2015. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9780316226141) features a family of bunnies who come home one day to find a baby wolf abandoned at their front door. The parents are immediately enthralled. The daughter, however, is appalled. She’s fairly certain that the baby is just biding its time until it can eat them all up. It’s a kind of new sibling twist, really. I think Sendak would have approved. The book is set in Brooklyn with the Park Slope Co-op playing a significant role. Note too the all hand-painted art. Fantabulous.
Extra added bonus – this is not the last book these two will ever do together. Expect to hear about Horrible Bear, a story they worked on which is about a bear accused of . . . well . . . you can probably guess.”
Oh, and the cover totally falls into that longstanding tradition of characters wearing bunny suits on covers. Remember Piggy Bunny? Or Big Bad Bunny?
Now it’s a little early to be spotting trends in 2015 books but if I might be so bold I am seeing a SIGNIFICANT uptick in plucky girl detectives who are based on real historical figures. There’s that Random House book about young Mary Shelley and Eva Lovelace, Woolstonecraft. And on the Little, Brown side there’s The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan (9780316403511). This book focuses its lens on the world’s first female detective. Kate Warne worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in pre-Civil War America. She worked alongside the men and was paid the same. Heck, she even helped foil a pre-inauguration assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln. In this book her fictional niece is sent to her and is determined to help her aunt solve crimes. I was actually a bit of a fan of author Kate Hannigan’s Cupcake Cousins last year, which was a lovely Michigan-flavored concoction that contained some nice jolts of seriousness beneath its seemingly sugar-coated covering. Looking forward to this one.
Just recently I read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein to my three-year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed it. Happily I’ll have another Gerstein to show her soon thanks to Night World (9780316188227). Now I was a little thrown by the cover at first. What we’re seeing here is a boy and his cat looking out at a night sky filled with stars and NOT a snow filled sky. So FYI. Said editor Bethany Strout, “I’ve never used the word glorious to describe a picture book before.” The book is a pre-dawn to dawn title. It begins in that pre-dawn black and white world we’re all familiar with. Then, as the sun begins to rise, things get (as Bethany put it) “glorious”. Worth checking out.
I’m currently reading Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan which has a pretty darn silly name. Not to be outdone, we now also have Woundabout by Lev Rosen, illustrated by Ellis Rosen (9780316370783). This is more of a young middle grade filled with lots of pictures inside. In this book two orphans and their pet capybara (the largest rodent in the world) are on their own after the kids’ parents die in a freak accident. They move in with their aunt and butler in Woundabout, a city where nothing in the town changes. The river doesn’t move. Everyone has a routine. The town has apparently been “wound down” and these kids are determined to wind it back up. It is, as editor Deirdre Jones put it, like reading “Lemony Snicket’s gentler, younger sibling.” Jacques?
All right folks. It’s 2014. Time to replace Love You Forever. It’s had a good run but I think it’s time to find something new. Something that fills that same need in gift-givers’ brains whenever there’s a baby shower or what have you. My nomination? Mama Seeton’s Whistle by Jerry Spinelli, illustrated by the great and delightful LeUyen Pham (9780316122177). I know Mr. Spinelli is a Newbery award winner and all that, but in this book I think he seriously lucked out in his publisher’s choice of artist. Mind you, it took some time. The book was acquired in 2009 but it required waiting for LeUyen’s schedule to free up for anything to happen. In this book one mom has four kids and you watch the family grow up and age throughout the years. The hook is that anytime Mama Seeton wants her kids back home she whistles and they arrive. The book covers something like 50 years in total, as the kids move away from home and have children of their own. Worthy reading.
And then there were a couple quick mentions of books that there just wasn’t time for anyone to delve deeply into but that folks still wanted us to know about.
First off, Jerry Pinkney returns with another fable. This time it’s The Grasshopper and the Ants (9780316400817). Now my curiosity was piqued when I heard about this. I always worry that books of this sort might go the Frederick route. Nothing against Leo Lionni but is anyone else mildly disturbed by stories where “dreamers” and “artists” are told they don’t have to worry about simple basic preparation skills because they have different talents? This tale appears to be the original tale done right. I won’t mild delving a bit into it.
Now when introducing the book Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (9780316400022) the librarian attendees of this particular preview were asked what the quote “Wherever you go, there you are” is from. This is a bit of a trick question. When I was in high school this was precisely the kind of question we would obsess over, trying desperately to come up with a good answer. Now that we have the internet we know that multiple places in pop culture contain the phrase. Doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one, though.
Then there’s Ed Young. His book Should You Be a River (9780316230896), like many of his books, comes with a backstory. When Ed’s wife died she left behind two daughters – a teenager and a preteen. During the course of their healing process Ed wrote his girls a poem. But in the mix and mangle of sending the manuscript of Nighttime Ninja off to Little, Brown, the poem accidentally got shipped off to the publisher as well. Naturally they wanted to print it as its own book and so we now have this book today.
Then at last it was time for the super secret guest. This one wasn’t too hard to guess, particularly when he’s prefaced with Victoria saying “he is a permanent resident of Fear Street”. This was followed up with “He puts a tingle in your spine, the goose in your bumps.” He was also said to have “a dangerous twinkle. More like a dwinkle.” Yes indeed, it was R.L. Stine!
Stine hoped on up as part of the promotion of his upcoming picture book The Little Shop of Monsters illustrated by Marc Brown. He proceeded to launch into not just an explanation of the book and how he got in touch with Marc but also the various things fans have said to him over the years. Some of the highlights:
“Can I have my picture taken with you? The kids all think you’re dead.”
Fan letter: “I want to know everything about you. Do you have hair?”
Fan letter: “You’re my second favorite author.”
The how-the-met story of Stine and Brown was worth telling as well. Apparently a children’s literature book conference was being held in Moscow and Laura Bush wanted to take three children’s book authors. Now put yourself in her shoes. If you could choose three children’s book authors to take with you to Russia, who would they be? In Laura Bush’s case it was Marc Brown, R.L. Stine, and Peter Lerangis. We heard ribald tales of what that trip consisted of, culminating in a Russian orchestra playing “Hang On Sloopy” at a hoity-toity event. In midst of this madness Brown turned to Stine and said, “We should do a book together.” Quoth Stine, “Why?”
But a book they did make and here it is today. To my enjoyment the conversation then turned to the Goosebumps movie out this summer. Why? Because I know that in the film Jack Black would be playing Stine himself and I wanted to hear his take. When the idea was first floated by him, Stine asked his family members whether or not he should play himself. His son suggested Morgan Freeman instead. His wife informed him that “You’re too old to play yourself.” In the words of Victoria Stapleton, “I would now like Mrs. Stine to adopt me and teach me her ways.”
All in all a lovely preview. But that is not, oh no. That is not all. On to the meets! Just two this time. They were:
- “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist meets Easy A” – Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys) by Amy Spalding
And my personal favorite . . .
- “Game of Thrones meets Hunger Games meets Little Women” – Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
I’d just graduated college when a book came into my possession that was to have a surprising amount of sway over my life from that point onward. Its title? Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. The year was 1997 and it may well be that I’ve never enjoyed a book quite as much since.
Fast forward to 2014 and I’m asked if I would like to officially reveal the next Dave Barry middle grade novel. Note: It does not involve Peter Pan in any way, shape, or form. Well, heck sure yes! And better still, they told me that Dave would be willing to answer some of the inane questions I felt like lobbing his way. Here then is the cover:
. . . . and here the questions:
Betsy Bird: First off, why class trips? Was there a particularly awful class trip of your own that you were able to pull from here?
Dave Barry: I did have a fairly eventful class trip when I was in ninth grade. My class went to Boston, as was the tradition at my school then, and the trip was so eventful that we were the last ninth grade ever to go on it. But what really inspired this book was my experience as one of the chaperones on my daughter’s class trip. It occurred to me that many bad things can potentially happen when you send a bunch of kids on a trip under the supervision of clueless amateurs like myself.
BB: I don’t think it’s crazy to say that kids know you primarily through your Peter and the Starcatchers books with Ridley Pearson. You haven’t done high action real world books since Science Fair back in 2008. Why the return to the genre?
DB: I always liked Science Fair, and I thought it’d be fun to take another stab at the real world — lthough it might be A stretch to call middle school (or for that matter Washington D.C.) the “real world.” Also I had this image stuck in my head of a kid flying over the White House on a kite.
BB: Okay. So the film rights to “The Worst Class Trip Ever” get sold and by some gift of the gods you are allowed full control over the casting. Who ya gonna cast for the roles?
DB: I don’t know about the kids, but Brad Pitt would play me.
BB: Any plans for a sequel in the works?
DB: Maybe! I really enjoyed writing this book, and I really like the way it came out.
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It’s not widely known but here is a true fact about my current job – I don’t work in the big stone library with the big stone lions anymore. Surprising, right? I still have my job, it’s true. But about a year ago I was moved with the rest of my department to Long Island City where I’ve been happily ensconced ever since. I like LIC but I do occasionally miss working behind world famous felines.
Their official names are Patience and Fortitude, though they were originally named Lord and Lady Astor. That fact, as well as many others, can be found in the book Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions by Susan G. Larkin. It’s a book dedicated entirely to them but it’s hardly the only book to contain them. Over the years I’ve noticed many a children’s book that has made mention, even if it was brief, of the lions.
Up for debate is the book Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. My system’s Library Shop does a swift business with that title even though it never directly references either Patience or Fortitude. However, that is not to say that the big stone fellows were not without influence on the title. Said Michelle recently:
“My dad likes to tell me about the first time we walked by the 42nd street library when I was little, when he pointed out the lions to me and I was immediately and thoroughly enchanted. I didn’t write my picture book Library Lion until many years later, of course, but I believe that initial connection between the lions and the magic of the library stayed with me and helped to inspire the story. Those majestic stone guardians were (and remain!) such a welcoming presence to all who wish to enter; I wanted to capture that feeling of welcome in my book, and it seemed only natural that the visitor in question should be a lion himself.”
On that note, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of some of the children’s books that take a trip to NYC’s most famous library and its lions:
Coral Reefs by Jason Chin
What starts as a routine research trip in the Rose Reading Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building turns into a raucous underwater adventure. If you’ve ever wondered what the main branch of NYPL would look like if whales crashed through its windows and the entire edifice sank to the bottom of the sea, now is your chance to find out.
Hilary and the Lions by Frank DeSaix, ill. Debbie Durland DeSaix
Patience and Fortitude get to star in their own picture book this time. When a visitor to the city loses her parents, she finds that at night those stalwart guardians of knowledge are willing to carry her back to the people she loves.
I’m Going to New York to Visit the Lions by Harriet Ziefert, ill. Tanya Roitman
Originally published in 2005 (before the Children’s Center at 42nd Street had a chance to move into its current location in 2008) the book isn’t entirely up-to-date on its library info. Apparently the whole building is gilded in gold and people “cannot take the books home”. Now with the addition of the children’s circulating collection, books can indeed be checked out of the ground floor location.
A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino
Take a walking tour of the city and be sure you catch a glimpse of the front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building when you do! You just can’t miss those lions.
Inside Outside Book of Libraries by Julie Cummins and Roxie Munro
Need I say more?
So fess up, folks. I know I’m missing stuff. Can you tell what it might be?