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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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By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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- I’ve been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently. So far the resident husband and I have only made it through two episodes, but I was pleased as punch when I learned that the plot twist in storyline #2 hinged on a Baby-Sitter’s Club novel. Specifically Babysitter’s Club Mystery No. 12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost. Peter Lerangis, was this one of yours? Here’s a breakdown of the book’s plot with a healthy dose of snark, in case you’re interested.
- And now a subject that is near and dear to my heart: funny writers. Author Cheryl Blackford wrote a very good blog post on a comedic line-up of authors recently presented at The Tucson Festival of Books. Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Jory John, Obert Skye, and Drew Daywalt were all there. A good crew, no? One small problem – we may be entering a new era where all-white male panels cannot exist without being called into question. Indeed, I remember years ago when I attended an ALA Conference and went to see a “funny authors” panel. As I recall, I was quite pleased to see the inclusion of Lisa Yee. Here, Tucson didn’t quite get the memo. The fault lies with the organizers and Cheryl has some incisive things to say about what message the attendees were getting.
- Speaking of Adam Rex, he’s got this little old major feature film in theaters right now (Home). Meanwhile in California, the Gallery Nucleus is doing an exhibition of Rex’s work. Running from March 28th to April 19th, the art will be from the books The True Meaning of Smekday and Chu’s Day. Get it while it’s hot!
- Boy, Brain Pickings just knows its stuff. There are plenty of aggregator sites out there that regurgitate the same old children’s stuff over and over again. Brain Pickings actually writes their pieces and puts some thought into what they do. Case in point, a recent piece on the best children’s books on death, grief, and mourning. The choices are unusual, recent, and interesting.
Chomping at the bit to read the latest Lockwood & Company book by Jonathan Stroud? It’s a mediocre salve but you may as well enjoy his homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mind you, I was an Hercule Poirot fan born and bred growing up, but I acknowledge that that Doyle has his place. And don’t tell Stroud, but his books are FAR closer to the Nero Wolfe stories in terms of tone anyway.
Over at The Battle of the Books the fighting rages on. We’ve lost so many good soldiers in this fight. If you read only one decision, however, read Nathan Hale’s. Future judges would do well to emulate his style. Indeed, is there any other way to do it?
You may be one of the three individuals in the continental U.S. who has not seen Travis Jonker’s blog post on The Art of the Picture Book Barcode. If you’re only just learning about it now, boy are you in for a treat.
That one took some thought.
And now, the last and greatest flashdrive you will ever own:
Could just be a librarian thing, but I think I’m right in saying it reeks of greatness. Many thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.
By: Betsy Bird
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Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli
Viking (an imprint of Penguin Group USA)
On shelves now
I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine the other day when the panelists began discussing the difference between heist films and con man films. A heist film is one where the entire movie is a build-up to a great and fabulous heist. Ocean’s 11 and that sort of thing. In the children’s book world this would be The Great Greene Heist. A con man film is different. There you have a single individual, and not necessarily a heroic one either. Catch Me If You Can is a con man film. And on the children’s book side? Honestly, we don’t have a lot of them. Maybe Pickle by Kim Baker but that’s a stretch. It really wasn’t until I laid eyes on Greg Pizzoli’s Tricky Vic that I could appreciate what I had been missing all these years. Told with a relaxed easygoing style, Pizzoli takes one of the world’s most notorious individuals in the con game, and refuses to humanize him. Here we see a character that was larger than life. Makes sense that he’d try to sell a structure that was in many ways his equal.
In 1890 he was born Robert Miller, but that didn’t last. Names came and went and by the time he was an adult, Miller was a professional gambler turned con artist. His preferred method of payment was gambling on transatlantic ocean liners but then along came WWI and Miller, now calling himself Count Victor Lustig, needed a new occupation. Through a little low level trickery he got the blessing of Al Capone and then set about bilking the easy rich. But his greatest feat, and the one that would put him down in the history books, was his successful con of “selling” the Eiffel Tower to prospective buyers. Though in time he was eventually caught and jailed (in Alcatraz, no less), Vic’s odd life shines a spotlight on those individuals willing to get ahead on our own greed and misplaced hope. Backmatter includes an Author’s Note, Glossary, Selected Sources, and a note on the art.
Every great picture book biography finds something about an individual that is interesting to child readers. In The Boy Who Loved Math it was Paul Erdos’s sheer enthusiasm and childlike goofiness. In The Noisy Paintbox it was Kandinsky’s ability to translate sound to sight and back again. And in Tricky Vic it’s shamelessness. Kids don’t often encounter, in any form, adults that unapologetically do wrong. Vic ultimately pays for his crimes, and in many ways that’s the only way you can get away with what Pizzoli is doing here. You see, the trouble with con man storylines is that they’re just too much fun. You can’t help but root for Vic when he pulls the old Romanian Money Box scheme or when he cons the great Al Capone himself. Really one of the few objections I’ve heard lobbed against the book is a question as to whether or not kids will have any interest in an obscure two-bit criminal. But like all great nonfiction authors for kids, Pizzoli knows that children’s biographies do not begin and end with Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln. Sometimes kids appreciate far more the biographies of the people who didn’t go about with halos hovering around their ears. There’s room on our shelves for the baddies.
Now when Greg Pizzoli debuted with his picture book The Watermelon Seed two years ago, there was nothing to indicate to me that he had any inclination to go the nonfiction route. “The Watermelon Seed” utilizes a three-color print job and distinctly retro aesthetic. That aesthetic remains intact in Tricky Vic but Pizzoli but the technique has been cranked up to eleven. In “A Note About the Art in This Book” at the back, Pizzoli says that the illustrations seen here were “created using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop.” The end result is a book that straddles the line between those picture books actually concocted in the 1930s and a distinctly contemporary creation.
Dig a little deeper and Pizzoli’s illustration choices go beyond mere novelty. The choice to render Vic’s head as a thumbprint has so many different uses. With a mere change in tone or color, Pizzoli can render his personality and character different from one page to the next. This chameleon of a man couldn’t ask for better representation. But much of the success of the book lies in how it tackles the question of Vic as a bad person. Pizzoli’s choice to make Vic expressionless throughout the book is key to this. Because kids aren’t exactly reading about a role model, it’s important that Vic never look like he’s having too much fun. Remove his mouth and eyes and voila! An instant blank slate on which to project your storyline. Let the facts speak for themselves.
And speaking of facts, in no time in our nation’s history have picture book biographies for children fallen under as much scrutiny as they do today. Time was the D’Aulaires could write varying fictional accounts of everyone from Pocahontas to Abraham Lincoln and win Caldecotts for their efforts. These days, the debate rages around how much an author is allowed to do and the crux of that debate centers on made up dialogue. I am firmly of the opinion that made up dialogue is unnecessary in a children’s book biography. However, when handled creatively, there are exceptions to every rule. And “Tricky Vic” is, if nothing else, vastly creative. If you read the book the actual text is all factual. There is some mucking about with the timeline of one of the major events in Vic’s life, but Pizzoli comes clean about that in his Author’s Note in the back, and I give a lot of credit to folks who fess up plainly. Getting back to the text, look a little closer and you’ll see that there is some made up dialogue but Pizzoli keeps it at a minimum and gives it its own separate space. Little speech balloons between the characters will occasionally crop up at the bottom of the pages. The feeling is that these are interstitial fictional bits that simply support the rest of the text. A reader doesn’t walk away from them thinking that they’re strict representations of the past. They are, instead, a little colorful complement to the text to give it a lighter bouncier feel.
I recently conducted a Salon in my library on children’s nonfiction picture book illustration and historical accuracy. During the course of the talk we discussed Vincent Kirsch’s work on Gingerbread for Liberty and the times when a bouncier, more light-hearted feel to the illustrations best fit the text. In Tricky Vic Pizzoli isn’t going for a meticulous reconstruction of past events in his art. He’s going for something with a historical feel, but with fun built in as well. The design elements are what really step things up a notch. I also loved the factual sidebars that complemented the text but never dominate. As kids read they encounter sections talking about Prohibition, The Tower’s Critics (the folks who hated it from the get-go, that is), the Hotel de Crillon, Counterfeiting, and Alcatraz. The end result is as dynamic as it is informative.
I wonder vaguely if this book will receive any challenges from concerned parents living in the mistaken belief that Pizzoli has penned a How To manual for little budding criminals. As I mentioned before, the line between celebrating your biographical picture book subject and simply reporting on their life is thin. The beauty of Tricky Vic, I think, is that his life is just as wild and weird as any fictional character. There is value in showing kids the fools of the past. I don’t think anyone will walk away from this thinking Vic had it all figured out, but I do think a fair number of them might want to follow-up on Pizzoli’s Selected Sources for a little independent reading of their own. And if this book encourages just one kid to rethink their attitude towards nonfiction, then this title has earned its place in the world. The gorgeous art and great writing are just gravy. For one. For all. Un-forgettable.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Other Blog Reviews: 100 Scope Notes
Professional Reviews: The New York Times
Interviews: Greg Pizzoli discusses his technique at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
And it’s fantastic. The latest in Steve Sheinkin’s series “Walking and Talking”.
Big time thanks to Steve for putting these together and for this one in particular.
Previous editions of this series include:
It’s amazing what a blog post can do. About a year or so ago I wrote some thoughts about picture books created in other countries, and how they are received when they are brought to American shores. I’ve a great deal of experience with librarians considering some types of illustrations too “weird” to promote to children and parents and it rankles. Likewise, there are many publishers that eschew a certain kind of look that comes with picture books from other countries. My blog post sparked something, it seems. The great illustrator Etienne Delessert caught on to it and the result is the following program, coming this April 18th. If you are in town and around, I highly suggest you check it out. The line-up is AMAZING! Plus it’s free and you can register here for it.
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Morning, folks. We’re beginning this Sunday morn with stuff that’s good for the soul. How often have you said to yourself, “I’d love to own some original art from illustrator Matthew Cordell but I’m too busy spending all my cash on children’s literacy foundations”? Well, fear not! Now you can do both. In celebration of their book Special Delivery, Messrs. Cordell and Philip Stead are going to hold a raffle for five pieces of awesome art. You win by donating money to good causes. The details are here and the video here:
Next up, the American Hogwarts. I mean, it is if by “Hogwarts” you’re referring to a well-established university setting with a clear cut amazing children’s collection, staff, program schedule, and more. Princeton finally decided to create a little trailer for the Cotsen Children’s Library, and I have to say I’m stunned. First off, there’s my girl Dana Sheridan killing it with the storytimes. Then there’s the just wide range of services they provide. And the furniture, dear GOD the furniture!! I’m fascinated by the Cotsen Critix program too since bookclubs for 9-12 year-olds are my weakness. Wish I lived closer to it! Here’s more background information and here’s the trailer:
Someday I shall teach a course on the art of the book trailer. In it I will show all the different myriad styles and techniques one can utilize when coming up with your very own. And always assuming that I remember, I shall include this simple, lovely trailer for The Mystery Hat by Rune Brandt Bennicke and Jakob Hjort Jensen . Sometimes it’s all in the soundtrack, folks.
There go Scieszka and Biggs. I’ve suspected for years that they were in the pocket of Big Audiobook but never had the proof . . . until now!!
Seriously, though, I’m-a wanting that crazy white wig.
So this year we are seeing not one but TWO different early chapter book series about Latino girls. This is a good thing since the running tally before 2015 was . . . um . . . yeah, it was zero. Zero series in total. The first is the Emma Is On the Air series by Ida Siegal and illustrated by Karla Pena. The second is the Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith. But only one of these (as of this post) has a book trailer:
It’s not a children’s book. It’s not even a YA novel. It’s (*gasp* *shudder*) an adult book . . . but its book trailer is adorable. I can resist it, not at all.
Thanks to Alison Morris for the link.
I had not yet taken the time to see the trailer for the Lena Dunham/Hilary Knight documentary. Nothing too surprising to see here, but it’s certainly a very clear cut case of a famous person attempting to shine their light on someone they admire who might not be a household name (though Eloise certainly is).
Thanks to educating alice for the link.
And I’m not feeling too creative on the off-topic video of the day. And when the going gets tough, the tough links to cat/dog videos. So goes the world. So goes the world.
By: Betsy Bird
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By Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
On shelves August 4th
After much consideration, I think I’m going to begin this review with what has to be the hoity toity-est opening I have ever come up with. Gird, thy loins, mes amies. In her 2006 book Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (don’t say you weren’t warned), philosopher Rebecca Goldstein wrote the following passage about the concept of personal identity: “What is it that makes a person the very person that she is, herself alone and not another, an integrity of identity that persists over time, undergoing changes and yet still continuing to be — until she does not continue any longer, at least not unproblematically?” In other words, why is the “you” that you were at five the same person as the “you” at thirteen or fourteen? Now I don’t know that a lot of 10-14 year olds spend their days contemplating the philosophical meanings behind their sense of self from one stage of life to another. But if they hadn’t before, they’re about to now. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead has taken what on the surface might look like a fluffy middle school tale of selfies and first loves and turned it into a much more layered discussion of bodies, feminism, the male (and female) gaze, female friendships, relationships, and betrayals. And fake moon landings. And fuzzy cat ear headbands. Hard to pin this one down, honestly.
By all logic, Bridge should have died when she was eight years old. She skated into the street and got hit by a car, after all. Yet Bridge lived and with seemingly no serious repercussions. Recently she’s been taking to wearing little black cat ears on her head, but her best friends Emily and Tab don’t mind. It’s their seventh grade year and there are bigger things on their minds. Emily’s been flirting with a cute older soccer player, Tab’s trying to save the world in her way, and now Bridge has become friends with Sherm, a guy she’d never even talked to until this year. When a wayward selfie throws the friends into a tizzy, it’s all the three can do to keep their promise to one another never to fight. Meanwhile, several months in the future, an unnamed teenager is skipping school. Something terrible has happened and she wants to avoid the blowback. But while thinking about her ex-best friend and the way things have changed, she may be unable to hide from herself as well as she hides from others.
Let’s get back to that idea that with every new age in your life, you’re an entirely different person than you were before. That philosopher I was quoting, Ms. Goldstein, asks, “Is death one of those adventures from which I can’t emerge as myself?” Actual death, she’s saying, is where you change into something other than your own “self” for good. But aren’t the changes throughout your life little deaths as well? Is that five-year-old you in that photograph really you? Do you share something essential? Stead isn’t delving deep into these questions but simply raising points to make kids think. So when her teenage character ponders that her best friend has undergone a change from which her old self will never return the book reads, “But another part of you, the part that stayed quiet, began to understand that maybe Vinny, your Vinny, was gone.” Poof! Sherm wonders something similar about his grandfather and the man’s odd actions. He writes in a letter that his grandfather now feels like a stranger and then says, “Is the new you the stranger? Or is the stranger the person you leave behind?”
To write one part of the book, the teenager, in the second person was a daring choice. It’s so unusual, in fact, that you cannot look at it without wondering what the reasoning was behind its direction. When Ms. Stead was deciding how to put Goodbye Stranger together, there had to come a point where she made the conscious decision that the teenager’s voice could only work in the second person. Why? Maybe to make the reader identify with her more directly. Maybe to make her tale, which is significantly less fraught than some of the other stories in this book, more immediate and in your face. Insofar as it goes, it works. The purpose of the narrative is perhaps to prove to kids that age does not necessarily begat wisdom. For them, the revelation of the identity of the runaway, who was previously seen as so wise and older, should prove a bit of a shocker. It also drives home the theme of changing personalities and who the “self” really is from one age to another really well.
Right now, I can predict the future. Don’t believe me? It’s true. I see hundreds of children’s books clubs assigned this book. I see hundreds of teachers having kids read it over the summer. And time after time I see kids handed sheets of paper (or maybe virtual paper – I’m flexible) with a bunch of questions about the book and their interpretation of the events. And right there, clear as crystal, is the following question: “What is the significance of Bridge’s cat ears?” Don’t answer that, kids. Don’t do it. Because if the adult who handed you this book is asking you that question, then they themselves didn’t really read the book. You could ask a hundred questions about “Goodbye Stranger” but if the cat ears are your focus then I think you took the wrong message away from this story.
And there’s such beautiful prose to be enjoyed as well. Sentences like “You can see the sun touching the tops of the buildings across the street, making its way through the neighborhood like someone whose attention you are careful not to attract.” Or, “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.” And maybe my favorite one, “You know what my dad told me once? He said the human heart doesn’t really pump the way everyone thinks . . . He said that the heart wrings itself out. It twists in two different directions, like you’d do to squeeze the water out of a wet towel.” Trust me – if I could spend the rest of this review just quoting from this book, I’d do it. I suspect that would only amuse me in the end, though.
Bane of the cataloging librarian’s job, this book is a middle school title for middle schoolers. Not young kids. Not jaded teens. Middle. School. Kids. As such, were it not for the author’s fantastic writing and already existing fan base, it would languish away in that no man’s land between child and teen fiction. Fortunately Stead has a longstanding, strong, and dedicated group of young followers who are willing to dip a toe into the potentially murky world of middle school. There they will find exactly what we all found when we were that age. There will be kids who seem to be enjoying an extended childhood, while others have found themselves thrust into mature bodies they have no experience operating. With this book the selfie has officially entered the children’s literature lexicon and woe betide those who seek to turn back the clock. Naturally, this will lead some adults to believe that the book is better suited in the YA and teen sections of their libraries and bookstores. I condemn no one’s choice on where best to place this book, particularly since some communities are a bit more conservative in their tastes and attitudes than others. That said, I am of the firm opinion that this is a book for kids. We may like to believe that the situations that occur here (and they are very PG situations, for what it’s worth) don’t occur in the real world, but we’d be fooling ourselves. If the heroine of the book had been Bridge’s friend Emily and not Bridge herself, then a stronger case could be made for the book’s YA inclinations. Moreover the tone of the book, while certainly filled with intelligent kids, is truly intended for a child audience. Adults will enjoy it. Teens might even enjoy it. But it’s kids that will benefit the most from it in the end.
The trickiest part of the book, and the part that may raise the most eyebrows, is Stead’s handling of the notion of feminism and the perception of girls and women. Emily and Bridge’s friend Tab takes a class from a woman who seems to have stepped out of a 1974 women’s studies college course. Her name is Ms. Berman but she says the kids can call her Berperson. Tab, for her part, devours everything the Berperson (as they prefer to call her) says and then takes what she’s learned and applies it in a bad way. She’s a middle schooler. There are college girls who do very much the same thing. So I watched very closely to see how Tab’s feminist interpretation of events went down. First off, the Berperson does not approve of what Tab does later in the book. Then I wanted to see if Tab’s continual feminist statements made any good points. Sometimes they really really do. When it comes to the selfie, Tab’s the smartest of her three friends. Other times she’s incredibly annoying. So what’s a kid going to take away from this book re: feminism? For the most part, it’s complicated but the end result is that Tab is left, for all her smarts early on, a fool. That’s a strong message and one that I’m worried will cast a long shadow over the concept of feminism itself, reinforcing stereotypes that it’s humorless and self-righteous. On the flip side, there are some very intelligent things being said about how girls are perceived in society. When a girl is slut shamed (the exact phrase isn’t used but that’s what it is) for her picture, she says later, “But the bad part wasn’t that everyone was looking at the picture. I mean, it was weird and not great. But the bad part was that it felt like they were making fun of my feeling good about the picture. Of me liking myself.” Lots to unpack there.
If Stead has a known style then perhaps it’s in writing mysteries that aren’t mysteries. Every question raised by the text along with every loose end is tied up by the story’s close. Characters are smart and their interactions with one another carry the thrill of authenticity. Stead is sort of a twenty-first century E.L. Konigsburg. Her kids are intelligent but (unlike Konigsberg, I would argue) they still feel like kids. And there are connections between the characters and events that you didn’t even think to hope for until, at last, they are revealed to you. I heard one adult who had read this book say that it was “layered”. I suppose that’s a pretty good way of describing it. It has this surface simplicity to it but even the slightest scratch to that surface yields gold. I’ve focused on just a couple of the aspects of the title that I personally find interesting, but there are so many other directions that a person could go with it. If Stead has a known style, maybe it isn’t mysteries or kids smart beyond their years or multiple connections. Maybe her style is just writing great books. The evidence in this case speaks for itself.
On shelves August 4th
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
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Other Blog Reviews: educating alice
Those of a certain generation may be unable to read the title of this book without the Supertramp song of the same name coming to mind. So, with them in mind . . .
Note the waitress. I wonder if she’s taking a vanilla shake and cinnamon toast to a table.
There are traditions we adhere to because they are what we know. And what do I know? I know how much fun it is to predict Newbery and Caldecott winners WAY way way before I oughta. Why do I do it? Because it’s fun. Mind-blowingly ridiculous on some level. But fun.
Each year I also see whether or not my predictions had any bearing on the actual winners. With that in mind, here’s how I’ve done for the last six or seven years or so.
2008 spring predictions: I get one Caldecott right (How I Learned Geography)
2009 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The (Mostly) True Adventures of Homer P Figg)
2010 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (One Crazy Summer)
2011 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (Inside Out and Back Again)
2012 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The One and Only Ivan and Splendors and Glooms), and one Caldecott right (Green).
2013 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (Doll Bones and One Came Home) and one Caldecott right (Mr. Wuffles). But pride goeth before the fall.
2014 spring predictions: Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Ah, I was doing so well for a while there but 2014 was clearly a bust. To be fair, I hadn’t read the three Newbery winners by this point in the year since they were all later season releases. On the Caldecott side there were a fair number of books I could have considered. But if the 2015 wins tell us anything, it is that books beloved in the early part of the year can completely turn around and be forgotten by the second half.
And yet, I still love these little predictions. If only because I get to cheer on the books I like the most.
This year, actually, my predictions are a bit backwards. Usually I feel like I have a strong handle on the Newbery and a weak grip on the Caldecott. This year? It’s flipped. But enough jabber jawing. Let’s look at some pretty pretty books:
2016 Caldecott Predictions
A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, ill. Sophie Blackall
Blackall has never won a Caldecott. One might wonder why that is and come to the conclusion that her clean lined style is too seemingly simple for the committee. Perhaps, but if so it’s a misguided interpretation. I recently had the pleasure of hearing her speak about the research she did on this book, and it made me wonder if any of the Caldecott committee members would hear her, or anyone at her publishing house, say similar things. Because once you know the sheer extent to which she fought for details like the book’s ice pit, that is knowledge you can never unknow. Mind you, if her other book out this year about the bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh wins instead, I’ll be perfectly happy with that instead.
Float by Daniel Miyares
The wordless book is the picture book illustrator’s equivalent of a monologue. Suddenly the words vanish and you’re center stage, commanding the audience’s attention by sheer will and artistic technique. It can be intimidating. Now this year we’re seeing a utterly gorgeous (and Canadian) Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson getting a lot of press. It is not, however, the only sidewalk-inclined wordless picture book out there. Miyares, who has flown under the radar for a number of years, has created his own subdued and rather lovely tale of a boy, a boat, a storm, a loss, and coming home to daddy. I’ll need some more time to process this one but I like a lot of what it’s doing.
The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle
I’m sorry the scan of the cover is so crummy here, since part of the lure of this book (aside from the near magical use of cut paper to convey movement and characters) is the use of color. This is a lush, magnificent title that manages to take cut paper and make it live. There’s one particular shot of a little girl running to her daddy that will drop your jaw to the floor and shatter it completely. Absolutely stunning.
Night World by Mordecai Gerstein
I’m always wary of Newbery/Caldecott prediction lists that are full of previous winners. It always strikes me as a technique bereft of imagination. That said, sometimes it just makes good, clean sense. The next two artists you see mentioned here are previous winners in one capacity or another. Gerstein’s book plays with tones and hues and what you do or do not see when the sun is gone. It has a killer ending where the sun rises and the colors return to the world that’s worth the price of admission alone. We haven’t seen him win anything since The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Maybe this year’s the year to rectify that.
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
Not to be confused with the 2015 Aaron Starmer novel of the same name (though the two pair together eerily well). I will confess to you that in the past I’ve not been the biggest Zagarenski fan. It’s something about the crowns she draws. I must have a low crown tolerance. So credit it to low expectations if you like, but when I picked up The Whisper to read I expected the same old, same old. What I got instead was a book so imaginative and clever that it may just as easily live on as a writing prompt title as a work of beautiful art. I do wonder if my love of the text is affecting my view of the art. Maybe so, or maybe this really is the best thing she’s ever done. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
2016 Newbery Predictions
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
I really only have three titles on the old Newbery side of things this spring. It isn’t that I haven’t read a lot of potential winners. I have! It’s just a trickier year than I was expecting. Now Ryan’s book listed here is a big thick brick of a title. A definite paperweight, should you need one. It takes three stories and a single instrument to highlight three very different lives before and during WWII. I’m still picking apart my thoughts on it and I haven’t had a chance to have a nice long conversation with anyone about it yet, so all I’ll say is that it will certainly be a discussed title by the committee.
Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Of all the books list here in this post today, this is the book that I think has the best chance at a win. What Stead has penned here is a middle school book, so it presses up against the upper ends of the Newbery’s age range (14). I’ve already heard some folks wonder if they enjoyed it more as an adult than a kid would. Time will tell on that account, but if the Newbery is supposed to go to the most “distinguished” children’s book, then this is the one to beat. I can’t think of anything else this year that approaches its level.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Tricky one. On the one hand the story is great, the characters vivid, the setting a character in and of itself, and some of the prose just heartbreakingly lovely. On the down side, it’s got a couple scenes that could have been cut down or out. There’s a confusing love triangle that serves no apparent purpose, and a dentist/moped sequence that I had to read and reread a couple times to myself to understand. To win a Newbery this book will have to overcome these elements. Then again, it stays with you long after you put it down. Funny to mention it after Goodbye, Stranger too. One book contains a lacy bra, and this book contains a plethora of thongs.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
You wouldn’t know it from the cover, but this is one of the year’s most enjoyable reads. Review after review comments on how much fun the reader had getting through it. It shouldn’t work but Bradley (who I pegged for a Newbery years ago for her Jefferson’s Sons, only to be disappointed) has amazing skills and an even better cast of characters. I almost wonder if this book has a Newbery chance, considering the pleasure it elicits from my fellow gatekeepers. Guess we’ll just have to see.
That’s all she wrote, folks. What have you preferred thus far? Surprise me.
If you’re going to sit down and study the history of children’s literature, you cannot skip the Little Nemo section of your textbook. Maurice Sendak’s wild imaginings, for example, would not have had their distinctive flavor if a certain little boy had been able to keep his dreamlife under control. Cartoonist Winsor McCay kicked off the twentieth century in fine style when he penned the wildly imaginative comic known best as Little Nemo in Slumberland. So for those of you who count yourselves as Little Nemo fans I have fantastic news. Currently showing at The Society of Illustrators is the show Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. It’s up until March 28th. If you’ve spare time in NYC in the next 11 days, I highly recommend a visit. Here’s the description:
In an exhibit based on Locust Moon Press’ anthology LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM, many of the world’s finest cartoonists pay tribute to the master and his masterpiece by creating 118 new Little Nemo strips, following their own voices down paths lit by McCay. Contributors to the exhibit include Paul Pope, Gregory Benton, Dean Haspiel, Yuko Shimizu, Jim Rugg, Ronald Winberly, Andrea Tsurumi, Raul Gonzalez III, and more!
Naturally I had to see it myself.
Attending any kind of an event with a 3-year-old and 10-month-old is a harrowing experience but I was lucky enough to have relatives in town who were willing to (A) visit this exhibit and (B) run interference on the aforementioned preschooler. On the bottom and first floor of the Society is a show called Alt-Weekly Comics. And since I have only a single lens that I see the world through, I zeroed in on all the children’s author/illustrators who were also alt-weekly comic creators at one time or another. Mark Alan Stamaty (Shake, Rattle and Turn That Noise Down: How Elvis Shook of Music, Me, and Mom). Mark Newgarden (Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug). Jules Feiffer (Bark, George). And so on and such.
Up where the actual Nemo exhibit was taking place there was a television playing the 1989 film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. The three-year-old was immediately entranced by the wiles of Flip, as voiced by (and I am not making this up) Mickey Rooney. The screenplay was by Chris Columbus and the soundtrack by the Sherman Brothers. It’s actually not that bad. Then again, I only watched about 20 minutes of it.
As for the exhibit itself, it was just wonderful. Using the constraints set by the original strip, various cartoonists tried their hand at a range of Nemo inspired art. There was a Charles Vess that was heavily influenced by his connection to Neil Gaiman and The Graveyard Book. There was a Paul Pope, whom you might kn0w best from his Battling Boy graphic novel series. Raul Gonzalez, better known to us as Raul the Third, created some art that definitely brought to mind last year’s Lowriders in Space. There was also a Jill Thompson with art that was looking not all that different from her Magic Trixie series.
Here’s the format that all the strips had to follow, roughly:
For an interview with the Publisher and Creative Director behind the book that inspired the exhibit, head on over to Bleeding Cool.
Note: I have been searching and searching in vain for a Little Nemo comic that eludes me. It’s the one where all the characters start dancing, one by one. The image of Flip doing this funny little dance where he lifts his feet and then plants them firmly is fixed in my mind. I’ve never found it in any of the collections. If anyone knows of its existence and can confirm it for me, I’d be obligated to you.
And now, the Tom Petty video you’ve all been waiting for.