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Beta readers wanted.
I revisted a novel of mine with unexpected results. This time I was touched by the characters and what happens to them in a way I hadn't been before. Was it me just getting older and sappier, or does the narrative really have the capability of doing that? Just what does this story do for readers? And does it do enough of whatever that is to make it worth paying for?
Gundown is a thriller, and it is speculative fiction in that it takes place a few years from now and there are things in the story that haven't happened (yet). Other than that, it’s grounded in today’s reality.
I've done some rewriting, retitled it, created a new cover design, and I’d like to find beta readers who can give me feedback. I just don’t know what/how to think about this book anymore (one reason there's no blurb here).
I've tried marketing it as a thriller and as an issues novel. Where do its best chances lie in its present form? How to present it, or should I just let it rest?
I can email to you a PDF, a Kindle file, or an .epub (Nook and other readers) file. All I ask is that you read it as a reader and give me your reactions—perhaps in review form or whatever you’re comfortable with. I’m not looking for line editing, but any notes you have are welcome. More than that, I'm interested in a dialogue with readers about how to think and talk about it.
In the tradition of FtQ, I’m posting the opening page to see if there are any takers (yes, there's a poll). But today you’ll also be able to read the rest of the chapter. Your comments will be welcome.
The opening page of Gundown.
Jewel wove through the lunchtime crowd that filled the plaza beside the Chicago River. A breeze reeking of car exhaust swirled around the skyscrapers, but she liked its soft touch. She imagined she could feel the spring sun turning her mocha skin a shade darker.
The Wrigley Building clock said she had time to do a little window-shopping, so she headed up Michigan Avenue for Water Tower Place, not that she could afford anything in the boutiques there.
Two white dudes slouching against a gun store smacked kisses her way. A green stripe ran down the center of the blond’s buzz-cut hair, and a red do-rag decorated the smaller guy’s shaved head—he cupped his crotch and puckered at her. Ugh. She picked up her pace, her miniskirt riding high. They pushed off from the store and swung into step on each side of her.
Green-Stripe crowded against her. His sour stink assaulted her, and the skin on her arms goose-bumped. He said, “Hey, Brown Sugar.”
She wanted to say “I’m not your sugar,” but no, just keep going. Staring straight ahead, she said, “There’s a cop back there.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Murphy.”
Wishing she wasn’t wearing high heels, she broke into a run and darted between a couple holding hands.
Would you turn this first page?
Click the link below for the rest of the chapter. If you'd like to go ahead and request a beta reader copy now, just email me with the format you want--PDF, Kindle, and Nook etc. formats.
(chapter 1 continued)
• • •
Striding through the gray trudge of pedestrians along Michigan Avenue, Jake puzzled over why the U.S. attorney general wanted a meeting with him. Sure, she had her hands full, but she had an army of agents—the FBI, DEA, U.S. marshals. What could she want from a hired gun? He’d thought he was done with government work since he quit, but he couldn’t say no—not after the president had called and hoped out loud that he could help..
A tiresome clump of a half-dozen gang jerks swaggered toward him with cocky menace, semi-automatic pistols dangling in their hands. The gangbangers blocked most of the sidewalk, forcing people to step off the curb or sidle along a building front. Jake locked his gaze onto the eyes of the tall kid in the center and walked straight at him.
The kid kept his cool as they came together, but one stride from colliding he dropped his gaze and sidestepped. Never slowing, Jake cut through.
He focused on what he knew of the attorney general. He’d heard from his old contacts in Justice that Marion Smith-Taylor was honest and devoted to the law, and that she hated the under-the-table deal-making of politics. He had, too . . . once upon a time.
• • •
Do-Rag flashed past Jewel and then stopped a few feet ahead, arms spread wide. A hand grabbed at her elbow from behind. She jerked free, cut around a woman with a stroller, and then ran back toward the cop. “Murphy!”
Green-Stripe caught her arm and yanked her to a stop. He swung her to face him and leaned close. “You need somethin’ to relax you, chocklit, and I’m it.”
She yanked free and spun. His partner stood waiting for her.
They grabbed her arms and hauled her backward toward an alley. She pulled with all her strength, but couldn’t tear free.
Thirty feet away, Murphy stood and stared at her.
She cried, “Murphy?”
The punks dragged her into the alley; her call ricocheted from concrete walls. “Help me! Somebody! Hey!”
Glances flicked at her from the throng on the sidewalk and then skittered away. See no evil, don’t get involved, stay safe; she’d done the same a thousand times.
Now what she had to do was live through this.
• • •
A scream cut into Jake’s thoughts. Ahead, two scruffy punks pulled a young woman into an alley. A reflexive impulse to go to the rescue tried to come up . . . but a policeman was headed her way. Let the cop deal with it.
The woman’s cry came again. “Murphy!” The officer, a wide man with multiple chins, halted at the alley entrance and gazed at the action.
Jake reached the alley and stopped a few feet behind the cop. What the hell, he could spare a minute if needed.
The shorter punk held the woman’s arms from behind while the blond with a stupid green stripe in his hair ripped her shirt open. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
She yelled to the cop, “Murphy! Murphy, it’s me!”
Quick, smooth, Clothes-Ripper slipped his hand inside his Bulls jacket, pulled out an automatic pistol, and gave the officer a screw-you smile. He didn’t aim the gun, just held it ready.
How would the uniform handle it?
The cop moved on, hands clasped behind his back as if out for a stroll in a park.
There was a time Jake would have chewed the guy out for not doing his duty.
The kid replaced his pistol and unzipped his pants. A cry from the woman shriveled into a wail. “Murphyyyy.”
The cop didn’t look back. People flowed past, unseeing, as if they wore blinders.
Jake looked north toward his waiting appointment.
Back into the alley.
The woman staggered her attacker with a kick to his leg. He slapped her, and then had to dodge a knee aimed at his crotch. Girl had guts.
Jake sighed, stepped into the alley, and drew his .45 Colt automatic from the holster under his windbreaker. He pulled the silencer from his pocket, twisted it on, and settled into a marksman’s stance.
The punk holding the woman saw Jake, and his grin O’d toward a shout. Jake couldn’t allow a warning; the one with the gun was fast. Jake’s bullet stopped the kid’s yell in his mouth and slammed him back. His hands didn’t know he was dead and pulled the woman on top of him when he fell.
Jake shouted, “Freeze!”
The tall one spun toward Jake. He jerked his gun out of his jacket as he yelled, “You’re dea—”
Jake shot him in the heart. The kid staggered back, looked down at his chest and then up at Jake, his eyes wide like a scared little boy. His knees buckled and he collapsed, his gun clattering on the pavement.
A familiar rush of nausea hit Jake. He swallowed the sick feeling and focused on the mechanical rhythm of removing the silencer and stuffing his pistol into his holster.
The woman scrambled to her feet. Clutching at her torn top, she stared at the mess that had been her attackers, then at Jake. A strong face: ice-blue eyes, a dark scar curving down from high on her cheekbone.
He turned his back on her and stepped into the mindless herd. His thoughts went back to his meeting.
What did the attorney general want him for?
Would he give a damn?
Could he give a damn?
• • •
Jewel trembled, the scar on her cheek throbbing as though it remembered old trouble. She breathed deep and settled herself down. Her mama had always said, “In this world, you got to be hard. Ain’t nobody there for you but you.” Hallelujah, Mama.
She’d been lucky this day. She had to thank the guy, even if he was white—Mama’d taught her manners, too. Jewel hurried after him, trying to arrange her torn top into decent coverage, but one tit or the other kept falling out. Great, now she had to walk down Michigan Avenue with her boobs on display. And wouldn’t they love it back at the office.
She ran to the mouth of the alley and spotted her rescuer slicing through the crowd. She really should get back to her job, but, hell, he’d pretty much saved her brown ass. She shouted, “Hey!” No response.
He crossed the street. She hurried after him; damn, the man could move. The crossing signal switched to “Don’t” as he entered the Chelsea Hotel.
Jewel ran for it.
If you want to read Gundown and give me feedback on it, please email me with the format you want (PDF, Kindle, Nook etc.). Many thanks for your help and advice.
Full disclosure: I published this novel under the title We the Enemy. While reader reviews are strong, it hasn't thrived. I'm hoping Gundown is a better read.
© 2013 Ray Rhamey
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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Giant Dance Party
By Betsy Bird
Illustrated By Brandon Dorman
Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins)
On shelves now.
I’m just messing with you. No, I’m not going to actually review my book here. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover. I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record). I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.
No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all. And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman. I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.
1. It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.
This is true. The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side. And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman. More than that, they love it.
2. It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.
I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored. As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored. This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book. If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic. Be warned, easily bored children. I’m gunning for you.
3. Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.
I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks. To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog). So what do you do when you get such an urge? You go to Etsy and search for such a thing. In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots. So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get? Something even better. Blue furry rave legwarmers. Oh, they’re the pip. Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.
Dance for me, little children. Dance, I say!
They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.
Special thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pics.
4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number. Beforehand.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse? As of Saturday, I did not. And thus begins my tale of woe.
I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell. But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE. Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse. So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there. The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about. Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it. Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there. I mean nobody. Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.
After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home. Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Not ideal.
And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse. That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name. Two. Not one. Two. And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center. An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.
So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event. Folks I like. Folks I would want to see. Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.
What have we learned here today, children? Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone. All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring. There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now. Yup yup yup.
Onward and upward my patient fellows.
On shelves April 23rd (happy birthday to me!)
Source: Wrote the darn book.
Like This? Then Try:
- For the Harper Collins site I came up with a little explanation of How to Throw a Giant Dance Party. Electric blue Kool-Aid may or may not play a hand in it all.
I would be amiss in not including them.
The second Jasper John Dooley book LEFT BEHIND by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by me is now out and about with a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus
After Jasper John Dooley's beloved Nan goes on vacation without him, he goes pththth.
It feels just like when the air leaked out of his beach ball. At school the next day, he writes a story about a snake that gets stepped on a lot. The story is so long that it needs staples, but he accidentally staples it to his stomach. That eventually somehow necessitates a full 28 Band-Aids, since it just keeps feeling like the air is escaping from his sad body, possibly through the staple holes. Jasper and best friend Ori, who is given to prefacing his statements with, “The thing is...” (a phrase that neatly captures his amiable take on the world), try to build a cruise ship out of leftover lumber, not altogether a success. Ori gets a bit bossy. A final trial comes when Jasper gets to bring home the class hamster for the weekend but accidentally loses it in his house. As in Jasper's first outing (Star of the Week, 2012), nothing truly compelling happens, but the concerns of this early grade schooler are so aptly, charmingly and amusingly depicted that it's impossible not to be both captivated and compelled. Clanton's simple black-and-white illustrations feature skinny bodies, oversized heads—and lots of smiles.
Early chapter book or read-aloud, this effort will leave its audience with lots of smiles, too. (Fiction. 5-8)
I find it funny that the second book got a starred review when the first was called STAR OF THE WEEK and did not. Either way both are very well written stories and a good choice for boys who are just starting to read chapter books (girls too!). I'm now in the midst of working on the third book, which just happens to be my favorite of the lot so far.
One Little Baby is going to Japan!
It was a nice surprise to receive this in the post today. I wish I could nip over to Japan too!
I checked Amazon the other day for new reviews and found one for The Summer Boy. It’s interesting to see the commonalities when a few have accumulated. See what you think.
I read this book in two days. I had to find out who the murderer was, how the young lovers survived, and how the various characters were going to deal with all the triumphs and adversities of their summer. It's a tale of friendship(the long-lasting kind), love, hatred, deceit - all told through the lens of a long, hot Texas summer. I felt like I was right there with them, sweat and all, while trying to do the right thing and grow up all at the same time. Highly recommend it for a good summer read, or a mid-winter read if you need the reminder of summertime!
An entertaining page-turner about teenagers coming of age in Texas. Two Dallas city boys -- rancher wannabes -- hire on as summer help on a ranch near Kerrville in the hill country. As they learn the ranching trade and lifestyle, they also face the challenges of emerging manhood, young love, sexual discovery, a dysfunctional family, and, well, a murder or two. The author adroitly portrays the adolescent awkwardness and angst of his protagonist, Jesse, and also his grit and courage. Jesse begins the summer as a naive boy, but arcs into a young man by August. His love interest, Lola, compels as a sensual teenager challenged by her own emerging sexuality, her abusive mother, and her lecherous uncle. She also grows through the summer,as her competitive spirit spurs her to become an independent young adult in spite of her over-controlling mother.
I read this book because I enjoy Mr. Rhamey's writing blog, "Flogging the Quill," in which he advocates for high tension, precise writing, and compelling action to motivate the reader to turn the page. "The Summer Boy" does exactly that. I couldn't stop turning the pages until the end.
I've read several of Rhamey's books, and one thing I love about them is his genre-bending style. In "Summer Boy" he gives us a murder mystery, a teen romance, and a coming-of-age story, all woven together with effortless skill. Rhamey has created a believable cast of characters--some heroic, some disturbed--whom readers come to really care about, plot twists rich with lethal pitch forks and black widows, and all of it supported by a back-drop of real-life Texas ranch experience--like how to prepare cactus for cow consumption during dry spells.
The main character Jesse's crush on Lola brought back my own teenage longings--minus the murder--without being sappy. A pleasant surprise was that Jesse's evolution over the course of the novel emerged not only from his encounter with first love and ranch life, but also from his challenging relationship to the jealous and dangerous ranch foreman, Buddy.
I read Rhamey's novels quickly, shaving off sleep time in order to finish them. "Summer Boy" was no exception. Highly recommended!
A warm and engrossing tale of growing up--Texas style. You'll find yourself rifling through the pages, as you sweat through the oppressive Texas heat along with Jesse, a young man struggling to survive his summer job as a newly hired ranchhand in 1950's Texas.
Jesse's journey to discover who he is as a man, and find his place in the world, is complicated by his budding relationship with a young woman, Lola, who he can't keep his eyes off of, a dangerous loose cannon of a co-wor
By: Betsy Bird
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I apologize for the recent radio silence, folks. There’s something goofy in the state of Fuse 8. For one thing, I can’t seem to comment on my own posts. Most peculiar. I will assume that this is just a passing fancy of the blog and that all will be well and good from this day forward. Onward then!
This year, as some of you may know, I eschewed plastering myself with fake tattoos in favor of instead impaling myself with Shrinky Dinks at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Shrinky Dinks: The classy choice. I did this because I was tired of picking clumps of multicolored skin off of my arms in airports, but if we want to get to the real reason behind the reason I can sum it up in three words: Becky Quiroga Curtis. More specifically, Becky Quiroga Curtis, the Children’s Book Buyer and Event Coordinator of Books & Books (also known as one of the only reasons to visit Miami). This is a woman who takes her love of children’s books and turns it hardcore. Oh, you think you love picture books? Really? Enough to have them tattooed onto your arm?!?! Just one arm, mind you. In any case, you can see how she convinces artists to draw on her arm here and you can see a feature on her at the Scholastic blog On Our Minds here and an older PW article on her here. You can also enjoy a slew of posts showing the tattoos if you follow the Becky’s Arm tag. Hard. Core.
- By the way, folk. A bunch of you signed up to get cool PDFs of my Top 100 polls, yes? You may be wondering where the heck those PDFs are, yes? Well fear not. I have it from on high that they are almost done, looking good, and you should see them within the next week or so. Stay tuned, faithful readers!
- On the One Hand: The recent news that Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan is being turned into a film is fantastic and I am very excited indeed.
- On the Other Hand: The book is being turned into a screenplay by . . . . Stephenie Meyer. Hubba wha?
- So I was looking at the very cool Spring 2013 Sneak Preview provided by PW, which offers a glimpse of some of the upcoming books next year. Fun stuff. And as I look I note several things of interest. The most notable is by far the fact that Yuyi Morales has a book coming out called Niño Wrestles the World that features a kid dressed as a Mexican wrestler . . . I’m beyond thrilled. Oh, and then there’s this little picture book coming out with Greenwillow called, um, Giant Dance Party. And who is it by? Well let’s see here. . . could it be by me? I do believe it could be. *smile*
Oh the previews are here, they’re here, they’re here,
The wonderful previews are here
Time to go out, go out, go out,
Go out and order a . . . . beer? No, no . . .
From that catchy little tune (working on it) I hope you realize that preview season is upon us yet again. Time to sit down and hear what is in store for the future. Will 2013 completely and utterly stop any and all supernatural romances dead in their tracks (which is to say, are vampires finally over?)? What picture book idea will spontaneously manifest itself at two entirely different publishers without rhyme or reason? And what, the heckedy heck, is up with fuzzy blue giants? Why are they so awesome?
Yes. It’s finally happened. The pandering. The blatant self-promotion. The self-satisfied mugging. You thought I was insufferable when I wrote my ALA Editions textbooky thing a couple of years ago? Brother, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen my fiction side in action.
So it is that we begin today’s Harper Collins Preview at the Greenwillow table. As you may recall, Harper Collins is one of those publishers that allow you to sit at their tables, eat their bagels and muffins, and hear their editors tell you face-to-face about their upcoming season. Sure, they could do a boring PowerPoint to a big room, thereby saving themselves some sanity, but the fact that they take the time to talk to us in this intimate fashion makes them one of the better previews in town. It’s the personal touch that counts, y’know? Plus I’m far more likely to remember a book when the editor has taken my questions about it firsthand than if I’m dozing in a big audience with a bunch of other folks, later desperately trying to remember why one teen novel with a flowy gown on the cover is different from another teen novel with a flowy gown on the cover when it’s time to do my ordering.
In any case, the clock is ticking, there are books to be discussed, so we begin with Greenwillow.
Actually we begin with me. They didn’t. I’m just mucking with the order of presentations here because I’m so pleased to announce my pretty little Giant Dance Party picture book. It comes out on my birthday (April 23rd), and isn’t THAT a lovely present to receive? Brandon Dorman is the illustrator behind it, and a nicer fella you couldn’t hope to find. You may know his book covers on everything from Savvy to the more recent Goosebumps novels. As you can see, the title is self-explanatory. The tale follows young Lexy, a girl who can cut a rug better than most her age. That is, if she’s dancing for her parents or herself. Put her onto a stage and you might as well be staring at a frozen ice pop in the shape of a young girl. When Lexy decides the answer to her problem is to teach rather than perform, she finds that no one wants to have a kid as her teacher. No one, that is, except a herd (is that the best term for it?) of benign furry blue giants. All seems to go well until the day of their recital when Lexy discovers that maybe she’s not the only one with stage fright problems out there.
Don’t let the cute nature of the cover fool you. Is it cute? Yeah. Guilty as charged. But there are some slammin’ moves to be found inside and, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, this is the first picture book I have encountered that includes krumping. I kid you not. Expect me to come up with some kind of video to accompany this soonish. Suggestions are welcome. I’m slightly stumped since Dan Santat created the world’s greatest dance-related picture book trailer three years ago for Tammi Sauer’s Chicken Dance. More to come about this in time.
And there are apparently other books coming out in 2013 as well! Did you know that? I was stunned! For example, they have decided to republish the original picture book edition of Amelia Bedelia for one and all to see. Not an easy book, mind you, but a full picture book sized title with all the art reproduced full and some in-depth backmatter at the end. And you know I love me some backmatter. I guess the success of the young Amelia Bedelia picture book series gave the idea the extra push it needed. In any case, look for this soon.
Speaking of the younger version of AB (Amelia Bedelia), the new title coming out in the spring with be Amelia Bedelia’s First Library Card. Otherwise known as the picture book hundreds of children’s librarians will be using for first-time library users visiting their branches. In a new twist, they’ve also noticed that those early chapter book Fancy Nancy books have been doing rather nicely. As a result, you can expect some early chapter books of young AB as well. It makes me think that if these also sell a whole world of possibilities opens up. What if they did longer Nate the Great or Cam Jansen books? What if they made an Amelia Bedelia middle grade novel? Or teen! Lord knows I’d pay good money for an Amelia Bedelia supernatural romance novel. A penny to anyone who gives me a serviceable plot to go with it.
Shadow boxes. There is nothing cooler on this globe than shadow boxes. I’m sure there are art students in colleges across the country that would agree. Yet for the most part you don’t see them used in children’s books all that often. Sometimes here and there, but it’s not consistent. In Stardines Swim High Across the Sky we definitely see some in action. A kind of follow up to Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger, this is yet another wordplay rich book of poems by Mr. P. The particular draw, however, is how Ms. Berger chose to do the art. But why describe the style when I can simply show you?
Caldecotty! Best of all, you’ll get to see a display of this art at ALA in Chicago this coming June.
This next book is a bit of a riddle: How do you resist a tiptoeing bear? Answer: Why bother? Anything big that tries to be small and quiet is instant picture book gold. In Tiptoe Joe by Ginger Foglesong Gibson (illustrated by Laura Rankin) a bear in sneakers highs himself hence on sneaky sneakered feet. The book’s a simple cumulative tale with readaloud potential. Put it on your preschool readaloud radar then.
Harper Collins is the publisher that seeks out self-published authors of picture books more often than other publishers I’ve seen. And since old Pete the Cat has paid off very very well for them indeed (catchy songs are ALWAYS a plus) it seems natural that they’d take everything a step further and look into self-published apps/ebooks that convert to the picture book format. That apparently is the case with Axel the Truck: Beach Race by J.D. Riley, and illustrated by MY illustrator Brandon Dorman. What’s interesting about this book is the fact that it’s more of an easy book than anything else. Perhaps the first self-published app turned easy book out there. Interesting.
All I will do for Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes is write down some of the descriptive direct quotes the editors tossed about when describing the easy book. Ahem.
“The great American novel in I Can Read form.”
There you have it, folks. Need more be said?
Now it’s cover art comparison time!!!
Of the two I think I prefer Jeff Baron’s upcoming I Represent Sean Rosen. And not just because of the Christoph Neimann art either. The kid just seems more appealing. Basically, this is just your average story about a kid hitting it big. Like The Toothpaste Millionaire but without the business angle. You see, Sean Rosen is a kid with a great idea, but he’s not gonna tell you what it is because clearly you’d steal it. Whatever it is, it’ll change the entertainment industry. Sean decides to sell the idea to Hollywood instead but runs into the problem of not having an agent. The solution? Meet fake agent Dan Welsh (one trip to the fridge will tell you where Sean got that name). Author Baron’s a playwright himself, so he’s been working up some “podcasts” of Sean’s. Podcasts/YouTube videos. Here’s the first.
Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz is a PK middle grade novel. Those of you in the know will be aware that PK = Preacher’s Kid. And frankly, I don’t see a lot of those. We see a lot more army brats in a given year than preacher kids. Wonder why that is? In this case, the story is about Anna’s move from Colorado to Kansas (I was this close to writing Cansas). Even more interesting is the fact that the book discusses without fanfare a family where the Bible is just a regular part of the day to day. Apparently not in a strident way or anything either. Just a way of life. We’ll check it out.
New series, new series! Now this preview happened pre-Sandy, but you just know that had it happened afterwards this next book would have had an evident tie-in. The Lightning Catcher by Anne Cameron (all similarities to The Lightning Thief title-wise or the lightning bolt letters on all the American Harry Potter book jackets are strictly coincidental, you betcha, uh-huh, uh-huh) is the first in a four book series. In this debut young Angus is whisked to The Exploritorium for Violent Storms. Turns out his parents are two of the world’s greatest living lightning catchers, keeping the world safe from wild weather. When the parents are kidnapped, that’s when the rubber meets the road. It follows in a definite trend of weather-related middle grade novels like Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner and The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith, but to name but a few.
I’ll be eschewing most of the YA stuff today, as per usual, but I will say that I’m thrilled to see the eleventh book in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney is due to come out. Slither is the first book in the series to be told from the p.o.v. of one of the creatures. Fans will be happy to hear that Rimalkin is in it but sad to hear that Tom is not. FYI: The movie is definitely slated to come out in October of 2013! It’s called Seventh Son and will star folks like Julianne Moore (Mother Malkin!), Jeff Bridges (when he isn’t working on The Giver, apparently), and Ben Barnes a.k.a. Hot Prince Caspian as Tom Ward.
That’s enough from Table Four. Onward to Table Five with big time folks like Barbara Lalicki, Rosemary Brosnan, Tara Weikum, and Erica Sussman. I see that at this point in my notes I’ve turn philosophical, writing stuff like “In many ways previews break down to a variety of people telling you all kinds of stories.” Oh aye?
First up, the book Adam Rex was tweeting about long ago when it was first arranged. His first collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Chu’s Day follows a sneezy little panda and the havoc he creates thanks to an itchy nose and distracted parental units. Apparently it was inspired by a trip to China, and indeed if you see an F&G or final copy of this book you will encounter a jacket photo of Gaiman with a panda on his lap. Rex, insofar as I can tell, has never done pandas much before. But back in early 2011 he did a series of posts where he drew different types of pandas (seen here and here and here and here). Now you know why.
You can read the real reason Gaiman wrote the book here (long story short, he’s trying to get printed in mainland China for once). And there is, naturally, a book trailer. As Rex says of it, “Fun fact–Gaiman wasn’t available to make this video, so I played him wearing a Neilsuit a la the British ‘pantomime’ tradition.”
I’m sure the process was very much like the old Black Books skit. Dylan Moran even looks like Gaiman (though Rex, happily, has few similarities to Manny).
You know, go to enough of these previews and you begin to get a sense of which editors you really trust. The ones that crank out books you can’t get enough of. Rosemary Brosnan fits that category. Often I’ll compliment someone at HC for a book and then find it’s one of hers. You may know her best from editing Rita Williams-Garcia’s marvelous, miraculous One Crazy Summer. Well, hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen. The sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, is due out this May. As Rosemary said, she can’t stop smiling about it. And, she pointed out, she signed Rita up for it long before the first book won those four shiny shiny medals that now grace its cover. Kudos to Ms. Rita, it’s more than a little daunting to follow-up any book that got as much attention as her first did with a sequel of any type. In this book anyway Delphine is tall, dad is betrothed, there are crushes, Panthers, and a 6th Grade dance. The jacket, as you can see, matches the art of the paperback edition of the first book. And yes, folks. Number three is in the works.
You’ve gotta kind of respect a middle grade novel that begins with the heroines convinced that they’ve just watched their guidance counselor killing someone only to find that she was merely making pickled beets. Sophie and Grace have their own spy club in The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittshcer but beets or no beets there is indeed something sinister going on. The sequel is already slated with the title Tiara on the Terrace.
Here’s some more exciting reissue news, particular for those of you looking to get some summer reading paperbacks on your shelves. All the Ramona Quimby books are about to be repackaged with interior and exterior art by one Jacqueline Rogers. Eight titles in all, they’re coming out simultaneously in hardcover and paperback just in time for Ms. Cleary’s 97th birthday. And if these catch on they may do the same with other Cleary titles too. An excellent idea. High time we had some new art.
I was surprisingly taken with Ms. Tui T. Sutherland’s novel this year. I don’t know if you read Ms. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire which Scholastic put out, but for a talking dragon novel it wasn’t too shabby. Now she’s got a book out with HC called The Menagerie which she wrote with one Kari Sutherland. In it a boy moves a small Iowa town and, once there, finds a griffin cub under his bed. Turns out there’s a magical menagerie in the town, and the boy must find the other griffins and uncover a big time mystery.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai will indeed be out in paperback this January (I’ve already ordered my copies) and as we speak she is working on a second book. Meanwhile Molly Moon and the Monster Music, the sixth and final Moon title, by Georgia Byng is out this March, and should be well-timed with that MM movie in the works.
Now a flip around and a walk to Table 1. Here we have the good mistress Alessandra Balzer and sweet mistress Donna Bray. And Jordan Brown, of course. He’s not mistress of anything.
Mo Willems is back, baby! Not that he really went away but while his Elephant & Piggie books have been consistently primo, his picture books have merely been amusing. All that may change with the publication of That is NOT a Good Idea! In it, Willems stretches himself a little further. Becomes a bit more subversive and strange, but in a thoroughly good way. Channeling himself some Hilaire Belloc we have a silent film inspired presentation. Fox (or is it a wolf?) meets chicken. Chicken meets fox/wolf. Romance and possibly dinner (eek!) ensue. And all the while you’ve this steadily increasing Greek Chorus of chicks pooh-poohing the characters’ decisions. I’m thinking big time readaloud potential on this one. Can’t wait to see the final product.
Bob Shea returns as well with Cheetah Can’t Lose. In it an overly self-confident, not to mention obnoxious, cheetah finds himself at odds when he crosses two adorable little kittens. Hilarity, not to mention Shea’s copyright customary sympathy for bullied bullies, ensues.
Just the other day I went and reviewed one Michelle Markel’s remarkable picture book bio called The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. Well the woman is keeping busy, now coming out with Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Aside from the cool nonfiction picture book subject matter (Yiddish Clara went on to lead the longest walkout of women workers in American history) the illustrations are by none other than Melissa Sweet. And Ms. Sweet, aside from winning a Caldecott Honor for A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, won a Sibert last year for the fantastic Balloons Over Broadway. In this book she’s worked in time cards and sewing into her art. I can’t help but wonder if with the rise in interest in strikes (the folks in Wisconsin and Chicago come to mind) we’ll be seeing more of these union-centric titles in the coming years. It just makes sense.
“This is our Core toe book, I like to say.” As a mom of a toddler I admit that I now view with great interest any and all picture books that adapt nursery rhymes and simple songs into a written and illustrated format. And quite frankly This Little Piggy by Tim Harrington fits the bill. It starts with the usual five and their mildly disturbing desire for things like road beef and then goes onto the second foot as well. Why on earth have I never heard of anyone doing that before? The other foot! It’s obvious when you say it. By the way, as more toes get involved they seem to have a lot more occupations to work with. In some cases they’re selling hotdogs (what IS it with the meat and these hungry piggies?). And in the vein of the aforementioned Pete the Cat there will be an accompanying song with this online. Clever piggies. Of course, I should probably mention that Tim Harrington is the lead singer of Les Savy Fav and you can see what he looks like here. Sort of a pseudo-celebrity. I tell ya, man. Eventually everyone comes to my world. Eventually.
“Little Women with wings featuring Tinkerbell’s little sister.” I keep beginning these write-ups with quotes but c’mon. Can you blame me? And I admit that though I love Julia Denos (the illustrator on these books) I wasn’t really sold until I saw the author. The new Fairy Bell Sisters series may be more of the fairy same, but the author is Margaret McNamara a.k.a. former Harper Collins editor Brenda Bowen. Donna Bray then whipped out her history chops by quoting the great long dead editor Ursula Nordstrom. “If I can resist a book, I resist it.” Ooo. Well played, madam. Ratchet it all up another notch and we were told that these books echo classics and act as gateway drugs to books like The Secret Garden and Little Woman AND they’re great readalouds to boot. Geez o’ petes. If you’re gonna sell librarians on a new fairy series, you may as well pull out all the stops, eh?
Jarrett Krosoczka is convinced that this little blog o’ mine (I’m gonna let it shine) was the first place to debut the cover of his upcoming Platypus Police Squad series opener The Frog Who Croaked. I told him I just lifted it wholesale from Barnes & Nobles. Okay, so there are a lot of reasons to love what’s going on here. I think it’s fair to say that you guys are just as sick of the nursery rhymes-meet-noir detective novel style books as I am. Sometimes I feel like we see one a year. There’s just too much faux noir out there. I’m sick of it. But buddy cop children’s books? Dude . . . I can’t think of any. So it is that we get “Frog and Tad meets Law & Order” (I usually leave all the “meets” until the end of this post, but this one I could resist including here). In his first full-length novel Krosoczka presents a heavily illustrated tale of a hotshot rookie and a grizzled old timer as they fight crime. Said his editors, “It marries his love of buddy cop films with his love of platypuses”. Sold. There will be four books in the series altogether and please note that the hotshot rookie on the cover is pulling a boomerang out of his black leather jacket. Suh-weet.
My notes at this point read “Jenny Lee – writes for Shake It Up”. But I don’t know what that means so I Google it. Ah ha. Shake It Up. A television series that has so far run from 2010 to 2012 on the Disney Channel and is about the following: “Two Chicago teens attempt to realize their dream of becoming professional dancers by landing spots on a popular local show.” Gotcha. Well, in any case we see a couple television writers crossing over to make children’s books but they tend to write for adult fare like The Daily Show. Elvis and the Underdogs was sold as marrying literary quality with fun. Fair enough. Benji, our hero, is a sickly kid whose best friend is a male nurse. Naturally, he’s bullied quite a bit and in the course of things gets himself a therapy dog. A 200-pound Newfoundland of a therapy dog named Elvis with the personality of Fraiser Crane (he was supposed to go to the President of the United States, thank you very much). So there’s that and a mystery as well. Oh, and the dog talks. I think you had me at Fraiser Crane, anyway, though.
As titles go, my favorite this season (from Harper Collins anyway since I still think Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is mildly brilliant) has gotta be The Girl from Felony Bay. Now THAT gets a person’s attention! Written by J.E. Thompson and set in rural South Carolina (so hand it to fans of Three Times Lucky) the book was described as “Carl Hiaasen rummaging through Margaret Mitchell’s closet”. In this book a dad is framed so our heroine and her buddy have to go through some serious Southern heritage to clear his name.
Editor Jordan Brown could sell you flaming cheese in Hell. The man is just that good. So good, in fact, that I have to put my guard up when he starts talking because otherwise this preview will turn from a sane and sober What’s Coming Out Next Year into a wild free-for-all encapsulation of Jordan Brown’s Greatest Hits. In this particular case we hit upon Kevin Emerson (The Lost Code)’s The Fellowship for Alien Detection. As Brown tells it, this middle grade novel is sci-fi for non-sci-fi readers. In this book two kids travel about with some folks who investigate possible alien sightings. Brown called it a Men in Black type book that will please many a Joss Whedon fan.
With The Laura Line I am very pleased to see the return of Crystal Allen. Her debut with How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy was an excellent middle grade a year or two ago (I recall reading it on a plane and having a flight attendant grill me about what it was about). Allen is one of the very few authors out there writing about contemporary middle grade African-American kids. In this particular book our overweight protagonist is convinced that she is about to be humiliated. Her teacher has just organized a field trip to the slave shack that sits on her property. I don’t know much more about it, but you can bet that this will be one of the first books I read for next year when I get my hands on it.
Sidekicked by John David Anderson was described as “A mash-up of what you’d get if you asked Louis Sachar to write an Avengers novel.” Which, naturally I now want to do. In lieu of that plan, this book is about a kid who develops super powers but ends up being super sensitive as a result. It’s a clever idea. We’ll see how the final product tackles this not-often-seen metaphor.
There would be lots of ways to sell Director Chris Columbus as a co-author on a book like House of Secrets. The smartest way for this particular book? Goonies. Yeah, break out the Goonies connection (he wrote the screenplay) because secretly that’s what every children’s librarian secretly wishes they could find in a book. Alongside co-writer Ned Vizzini (no stranger to the movie world himself what with his It’s Kind of a Funny Story hitting the big screen a year or so ago) House of Secrets is the first of a three book series that promises a new installment every spring. It follows the Walker family and its three kids consisting of an eldest boy and two younger girls. Sorta like The Emerald Atlas, I guess. When their surgeon dad moves them into a creepy house in San Francisco, they discover that they are part of a secret legacy. Add in some giants, witches and skeleton pirates and you have, what they were calling, “An American Cornelia Funke”.
Finally, one of the cleverest sequel titles I’ve seen. Did you like The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom? Me too. I just keep meaning to review that puppy. Well, hopefully I’ll be able to do so before I read The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, due out in April. Can I just praise that title a little more? I mean, how smart is it to reference The Princess Bride like that? Very smart. The book series would certainly be enjoyed by Princess Bride fans, that’s for certain, so by invoking the name you do yourself many favors. Plus, from what I can tell the cover sports all four princes. I remember the kids really were upset that only two princes made the front cover of the first book with the other two princes on the back. This time, all four. Awesome.
Next table, Table #2. With the honorable Katherine Tegen, Maria Modugno and Molly O’Neill presiding.
Yep. All I really need to say about that. It’s Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson and editor Katherine Tegen had the idea for the book four years ago when it was Mandela’s 90th birthday. Now it’ll be out in time for his 95th. Considering that he and the aforementioned Beverly Cleary are both celebrating their 90-something birthdays with HC books, those crazy kids should have a joint birthday party. (Now imagining what the guest list for a Beverly Cleary/Nelson Mandela birthday party might consist of.)
Katheryn Fitzmaurice returns with the middle grade novel Destiny, Rewritten. In it, a girl named after Emily Dickinson hides a secret desire. Though her mom would love her to be a poet, what she REALLY wants to do is become a romance novelist. Um . . . that is awesome. She then goes in pursuit of a lost book and finds ways to stand up for herself. The book is set during Poetry Month, which is clever, and includes a series of one-sided letters written by Emily to Danielle Steele. The good Harper Collins folks did send a copy to Ms. Steele to let her know about this book but as of this preview had not heard back. Pity. It’d be a helluva blurb.
Big news here! At long last the Septimus Heap saga is reaching its end in a grand finale with Fyre! Every single character of significance will make an appearance in this last book, clocking in at 544 pages if Amazon is to be believed, 750 pages if the preview is. Can’t say which one is true, but it’ll be complete, you can bet on that!
New illustrator alert! When shopping for a new artist of picture books, it can be a good idea to hand them a classic text and see what they do with it. So when newbie Mike Austin was given The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, the results were a fresh new approach. Now he does a helluva monster. Now you probably already know Mike from over at Blue Apple Books where he’s done work on A Present for Milo and other stuff. Monsters Love Colors is his first Harper Collins title. One has to wonder if there will be an app for it as well someday. Who knows?
If you think 123 Versus ABC looks very Adam Rex you’re not alone. As far as I can tell, that’s a good thing. We need more Rexian art out there. Plus, let’s face it, this is a remarkably good idea for a children’s book. Written and illustrated by Mike Boldt, this eyebrow-rific title shows what happens when numbers go to war with letters. “They’re refrigerator magnets come to life.” Note to self: Buy refrigerator magnets for child. Those things are awesome.
See, the thing about Fancy Nancy is that she’s ain’t half bad. As a librarian you always have this instinctual gut-reaction when you see one of her books. Your innards want to say they’re just cheap pinkness meant to lure in unsuspecting little girls. But the doggone things have substance, and that kills me. They are written well and the art is lovely each and every time (at least, if it’s Robin Preiss Glasser actually doing it). The newest FN title is Fancy Nancy: Fanciest Doll in the Universe. When Nancy’s younger sister puts a permanent ink tattoo on her fancy doll’s previously fancy tummy it is not a happy household. Yet when the time comes for Nancy to pick her doll out of an identical line-up, guess who doesn’t have any difficulty? Sounds like it would make a perfect companion to Barbara McClintock’s Dahlia. Love that book. There is also a new addition to the Fancy Nancy early chapter book series, Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer.
One final table to go and it sports Anne Hoppe and Phoebe Yeh.
Now first and foremost, here’s a book that I could have easily have passed over had I but thought it was that most unfortunate of literary genres, the eco-thriller. Something about the very term screams “didacticism” to me. Fortunately, Jinx by Sage Blackwood has been read by a couple folks I trust and though you could conceivably slap that moniker on it, it’s so much more. The first in a trilogy, the book is recommended to fans of Angie Sage, though Anne said the writing adhered more to Diana Wynne Jones. She also said it had “The best first chapter of anything I’ve published.” All I care is that it sounds like a good companion to The Mostly True Story of Jack, has a villain called The Bonemaster, and contains were-chipmunks. Honest-to-god were-chipmunks. Love.
From the author who brought you The Princess Curse a year or two ago comes Merrie Haskell’s next standalone middle grade title Handbook for Dragon Slayers. According to her editors, Haskell’s strength lies in her ability to conjure up complex girls coming of age and determining what their role in society will be. Noted.
At this point Phoebe Yeh mentioned that 2012 was a hard year for great authors. We lost two, Maurice Sendak and Jean Craighead George, almost simultaneously. As such, we’re seeing some of their books coming back into print where once they were gone from our shelves. In terms of Maurice two books of his are due this spring. One is a reprint and one a new title never seen before. The older book is the Caldecott Honor winner The Moon Jumpers. Apparently the art for this was still available so they re-separated it and reshot it to get the full effects. Sendak even signed off on the proofs before his death.
The other title is Sendak’s last book (or perhaps penultimate if that nose book ever comes out from Scholastic) and one of his most personal. Called My Brother’s Book, it focuses on Sendak’s older and much beloved brother. Tapping into the man’s deep and abiding love of Blake, this is being marketed as an adult title but is recommended to those high school teachers who do work with Shakespeare as well. There are, I should note, more than a few Shakespearean references inside.
The Jean Craighead George book is a new picture book by the name of A Special Gift for Grammy. George was apparently in the middle of two picture books when she died.
Next up, one of the best pushed and marketed books I’ve seen in a while. When KidLitCon was held at NYPL this year there was a moment when I saw a young man really talking up and pushing copies of this next title at my attendees. I’m not certain if that young man was a Harper employee or author Eric Kahn Gale himself but whoever it was it got my attention. Right off the bat we were told that this is a controversial little sucker because it’s a book that in the course of its story outlines how one goes about becoming the perfect bully. In this tale a kid who is bullied decides to handle the situation on his own. Told through both journal entries and the aforementioned bullying rules, the book taps into some serious black humor. They mentioned Jack Gantos as a possible comparison. Apparently Gale wrote the book after meeting with some of the bullies of his own youth only to find they’d grown up to become nice and decent people. I like to call that The Facebook Effect. It’s the moment when a person who made your life a misery in school Facebook friends you. We talked about this a bit in a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL. Good stuff. In any case they’re going all out for this book, giving it a 3/4 jacket (something they haven’t done for a title since Walter Dean Myers and Monster).
Next up, a guy who was in the same screenwriting program at Columbia as my husband. I don’t know Mr. Soman Chainani myself but Matt tells me that he was a very nice guy and did often speak about this book of his being published with Harper. The School for Good and Evil sounds like nothing so much as Wicked with a twist (and less Oz). Two best friends are kidnapped and sent to different schools. One is a school for evil and the other for good. Thing is, they sort of get the wrong schools. At least that’s what I gathered from the cover. Still a little unclear but it looks fun.
Next up, a book that will make for an excellent nonfiction companion to Simon & Schuster’s Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story is one of those stand up and cheer books, but good for kids with Broadway dreams. Raised in Iowa with a dad that didn’t want him to have a life on the stage (then died of cancer), Alex had his chance to live his dream thanks to older siblings who were willing to do extra jobs to help him out. And as luck would have it he really did have a chance to become Billy Elliot on Broadway. Then, on the first night of his performance, he hurt himself and needed therapy to recover. Happily he returned and all was well and these days he performs with the New York City Ballet.
Here’s a tip to publishers: Want me to want a book instantly? Do as How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster did. All you need to do really is get Kate Beaton, the woman behind the wonderful Hark, A Vagrant webcomic, to do the jacket. I will buy anything she touches. Seriously. Love love love love this.
I eventually got almost all the references, even the Lord of the Flies one, but the lion still stumps me a little. Suggestions on that one are welcome. Best I could come up with was Pyramus and Thisbe.
Not entirely certain how a Zits illustrated novel by syndicated cartoonist Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman could be YA (they’re suggesting ages 13 and up?!?). Pity since if it were middle grade (like the actual comic strip) you could add it to the trend of syndicated cartoonists writing books for kids in 2012 (The Odd Squad and Timmy Failure respectively). Maybe there’s some sex and stuff in it? The mind boggles.
That, as they say, is it. Except . . . .
On with the Meets!!!
“The Natural History Museum meets Tim Burton” – Not sure if someone said this or I made it up myself (I suspect the former) but that’s a description of Carin Berger’s work on Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky
“Storm Chasers meets The Mysterious Benedict Society” – The Lightning Catcher by Anne Cameron
“The Artist meets Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” – That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
“Life is Beautiful meets The Walking Dead” – That’s actually my description of it, but I don’t think I’m too far off. That’s for The End Games by T. Michael Martin
“13 Reasons Why meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” – Wild Awake by Hilary Smith
“Ender’s Game meets Hogwarts in space” – Vortex by S.J. Kincaid
“Roald Dahl meets Lemony Snicket meets Gregory Maguire” – The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani