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1. stripes and bows...

©the enchanted easel 2014

©the enchanted easel 2014























and a sweet little penguin named alaska!

that's what's been on the easel this week...in honor of my favorite season, which is right around the corner...WINTER! :)

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2. Melissa de la Cruz to Write a YA Spinoff Based on the ‘Witches of East End’ Novels

Witches of East EndMelissa de la Cruz plans to write a spinoff project inspired by her Witches of East End adult novels. Penguin Young Readers Group will release Triple Moon: Summer on East End, the first installment of de la Cruz’s young adult series, on July 14, 2015.

The Triple Moon story stars twin witches named Mardi and Molly Overbrook. Two characters from the original book series and the TV show, Freya and Killian Gardiner, will appear in the new books.

With Lifetime’s Witches of East End TV series facing cancellation, de la Cruz wants to take a hands-on approach to help her fans. In a statement emailed to Entertainment Weekly, de la Cruz explains: “I have asked producers if there is no hope for the show, if I can weave in some of the cliffhangers from season two so I can resolve them and bring closure. I have an idea on how to do it, but we’ll see. It’s a legal issue so it might not be able to fly.”

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3. laying down an icy background...

©the enchanted easel 2014
on some arctic adorableness! :)

it's no secret how much i LOVE winter (yes, i know, i'm a freak...but hey, someone has to love that beautiful season...). so....

i thought i would do a quick set of penguins. cute penguins, of course. will be selling the ORIGINALS of these cuties once they are done.

ah, winter, my friend. can not wait for your return! :)

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4. SkADaMo 2014 Day 11

Piguin 2

March of the Piguins!

What is SkADaMo? Check it out here.


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5. Pois Penguin


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6. Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet 219x300 Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver JeffersOnce Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$26.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16791-1
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now

Beware ever becoming a brand, my sweet, for that way lies nothing but unhappiness and ruin. Or not. I think the only real and true problem with becoming extremely popular in your field is that you have to battle on some level the ridiculous expectations others set for you. You did “X” and “X” was popular? Make another “X”! Creativity is haphazard and in the children’s book biz even the most popular illustrators do jobs that simply pay the bills. Such is NOT the case with Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. I have seen Jeffers do books that were merely okay and some that didn’t quite pass muster. I have also seen him be consistently brilliant with a style that is often copied, whether artistically or in tone. Yet in his latest book he does something that I honestly haven’t really seen before. Each letter of the alphabet is worthy of a story of its own. Each one distinct, each one unique, and all of them pretty much hilarious. No other author or illustrator could do what Jeffers has done here or, if they did, the tone would be entirely off. Here we have an abecedarian treat for older children (at least 6 years of age, I’d say) that will extend beyond Jeffers’ already gung-ho fan base and garner him new devotees of both the child and adult persuasion.

“If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.” So begins Once Upon an Alphabet, a book that seeks to give each letter its due. The tales told vary in length and topic. For example, “A” is about Edmund the astronaut who wants to go on an “adventure” and meet some “aliens” “although” there’s a problem. “Space was about three hundred and twenty-eight thousand, four hundred and sixteen feet above him . . . and Edmund had a fear of heights.” Many of the stories seen here rely on a twist at their conclusion. Danger Delilah may laugh in the face of Death but she’ll book it double time when her dad calls her for dinner. And then there’s Victor, plugging away on his vengeance. Told with wit and humor these tales are each and every one consistently amusing and enjoyable.

One thing that sets Jeffers apart from the pack is his deft wordplay. He has always been as comfortable as a writer as he is an illustrator or artist. Examining the tales I saw that some of the stories rhyme and others do not. This could potentially be off-putting but since each letter stands on its own I wasn’t bothered by the choice. The book could also be a very nice writing prompt title, not too dissimilar from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Once kids get the gist of what Jeffers is doing here they could be encouraged to write their own letter-inspired tales.

As for the art, it’s recognizably Jeffers, but with a twist. A close examination of the book shows that Jeffers changes up his artistic style quite a bit. While I’d say all his art is recognizably Jeffersish, his choices are fascinating. What determines whether or not a character gets a nose? Why is the terrified typist of “t” made so realistic while Ferdinand of “F” is done in a more cartoony style? Then there’s the use of color. Generally speaking the book is black and white but is shot through with different colors to make different points.

You also begin to read more into the illustrations than might actually be there. When the elephant dutifully eats nearly nine thousand envelopes in answer to a riddle, he is directed to do so by a nun who is keeping score. Adults will see this and wonder if it’s the equivalent of that old riddle about how many angels will dance on the head of a pin. I know the nun is there because the letter is “N” but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a connection. Other times there are connections between letters that aren’t explicitly mentioned but that will amuse kids. The owl and octopus that search and correct problems fix the cup that made an unseemly break (literally) for freedom at the letter “C” only for it to break again around the letter “T”. Then there are the back endpapers, which manage to wrap up a number of the stories in the book so subtly you might not even realize that they do so. See the frog hit on the head with a coin? That’s the ending to the “F” tale. And a closer reading shows that each person on the back endpapers correlates to their letter so you can read the alphabet found on the front endpapers through them. Pretty slick stuff!

I guess the only real correlation to this book is Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet. Even if the name sounds familiar I’m sure you’ve heard it. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” I’ve often thought that Jeffers’ sense of humor owes much to Gorey’s. You see it in letters like “H” which features a woman falling off a cliff or “T” where an author meets an untimely end at the hands (or, more likely, mouth) of a monster. And like Gorey, Jeffers is capable of giving potentially gruesome and macabre poems an almost sweet edge. Gorey’s stories dealt well in funny melancholy. Jeffers, in contrast, in a form of humor that turns tragedy on its head.

From what I can tell the book is pretty universally loved. That said, it is not without its detractors. People who expect this to be another alphabet book for young children are bound to be disappointed. No one ever said alphabet books couldn’t be for older kids as well, y’know. And then there’s one criticism that some librarians of my acquaintance lobbed in the direction of this book. According to them some letter stories were stronger than others. So I read and reread the book to try and figure out which letters they might mean. I’m still rereading it now and I’m no closer to finding the answer. Did they not like the daft parsnip? The missing question? The monkeys that move underground? I remain baffled.

Or maybe I just like the book because it ends with a zeppelin. That could also be true. I really like zeppelins. I am of the opinion that 90% of the picture books produced today would be greatly improved if their authors worked in a zeppelin in some way. Heck, it’s even on the cover of the book! But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I suspect that even if you removed every last zeppelin from Once Upon an Alphabet I’d still like the puppy. A lot. A lot a lot. You see Jeffers knows how to use his boundless cleverness for good instead of evil. This book could be intolerable in its smarts, but instead it’s an honestly amusing and tightly constructed little bit of delving into the alphabet genre. It remains aware from start to finish that its audience is children and by using big long fancy dance words, it never talks down to kids while still acknowledging the things that they would find funny. All told, it’s a pip. No picture book alphabet collection will be complete without it.

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7. The North Pole Penguin by Christopher Payne

The North Pole Penguin

Title: The North Pole Penguin

Author: Christopher Payne

Illustrator: Lorena Soriano

Publisher/Year: CreateSpace/2014

Now that Halloween is over, my thoughts have turned to Christmas. It’s less than two months away after all. I’m already thinking about the decorating, shopping, and visiting that make up part of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. You may be too. But are you also thinking about Christmas books? If not, I have the perfect one to get you started: The North Pole Penguin. 

This book has the potential to be a Christmastime classic. With its clever rhyme and bright, put-you-in-the-spirit illustrations, The North Pole Penguin begs to be read over and over again. The story is about Parker Preston, a penguin from the South Pole, who loves Christmas and longs to thank Santa Claus in person for stopping at his igloo every year. So he sets off for the North Pole with a gift for Santa and meets new animal friends along the way who also want to give gifts to Santa. Some even accompany him on his journey. Here’s a sample from the book:

Upon some thinking long and hard, he knew his Christmas cause

To cross the globe and go and see the man called Santa Claus.

He’d bring him gifts and change the roles before the winter’s thaws

To give back to the special man whose kindness had no flaws.

If you’re searching for a sweet Christmas story with amazing illustrations and the strong possibility of becoming a holiday tradition, The North Pole Penguin is a perfect choice.


2 Comments on The North Pole Penguin by Christopher Payne, last added: 11/3/2014
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8. The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series. She is a multi-award winner of many […]

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9. More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

It is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors […]

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10. Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers to Create a Sequel For ‘The Day The Crayons Quit’

The Day The Crayons QuitChildren’s books creators Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers will reunite to collaborate on a sequel to The Day The Crayons Quit.

Publisher Michael Green negotiated the deal with Steven Malk of Writers House and Paul Moreton of Bell, Lomax, Moreton Agency. Philomel Books, an imprint at Penguin Young Readers Group, will publish the new picture book in August 2015.

Green had this statement in the press release: “It’s gratifying to see the Crayons finally getting their due, yet many revealing tales remain untold. I have a feeling every child, crayon, and crayon activist will be inspired by this latest tale of artistic heroism.”

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11. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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12. Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Maybe it’s Common Core.  Maybe not.  I’m not always quite certain how far to place the blame in these cases.  However you look at it, children’s nonfiction bios are getting weird these days.  In some ways it’s quite remarkable.  I’m the first one to say that nonfiction for kids is better now than it has ever been.  I mean, when I was a young ‘un the only nonfiction I ever enjoyed was the Childhood of Famous Americans series.  Not that it was actually nonfiction.  I mean, it made these interesting suppositions about the youth of various famous people, complete with fake dialogue (I am the strictest anti-fake dialogue person you’ll ever meet).  I enjoyed them the way I enjoyed fiction because, for the most part, they were fiction.  Boy, you just couldn’t get away with that kind of thing today, right?

Right?

Meet three new “nonfiction” series of varying degrees of fictionalization and authenticity that caught my eye recently.  I can’t exactly call them a trend.  Rather, they’re simply interesting examples of how publishers are struggling to figure out how to tackle the notion of “nonfiction” and “high-interest” for kids.  And it’s now our job to determine how successful they’ve become.

First up, let’s go back old Childhood of Famous Americans.  They remain beloved, but they’re problematic.  So what do you do when you have a product that slots into that category?  You rebrand, baby!

Introducing History’s All-Stars from Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster).  Observe the following covers:

Sacagawea Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

JackieRobinson Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Look vaguely familiar?  Pick up the book and you may find the words “Childhood of Famous American” in there individually, but never strung together in that particular order. The publication page only mentions that the books were previously published as far back as the 1950s (little wonder I’m worried about that Sacagawea title, yes).  Yet the design, as you can see, isn’t far off so we had to wonder.  Is it just the same series?  A side-by-side comparison:

BetsyRoss2 Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?BetsyRoss Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

The publisher description calls this “a narrative biography” which is technically the accepted term for this kind of book.  But there is no way you could use this for a report.  They’re fiction, baby.  A kind of fiction that doesn’t really have a designated place in a library collection at this time, though that could change.  Which brings us to . . .

Ordinary People Change the World – A series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

AmeliaEarhart Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

AbrahamLincoln Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

It’s the series bound to wreck havoc with catalogers everywhere!  They look like Charles Schulz characters.  They read like nonfiction . . . sorta?  Kinda?  Kirkus said of I Am Rosa Parks that it was, “A barely serviceable introduction with far more child appeal than substance.”  Yet they’re bestsellers and visually incredibly appealing.  Published by Dial (a Penguin imprint), the books were a risk that appears to have paid off in terms of dollars.  In terms of sparking interest in these historical figures it’s also a success.  But is it factual?  Is it accurate?  Does it stand up to scrutiny?  Does it matter?  Why shouldn’t it matter?  You see the conundrum.

Finally, there’s a series coming out from Scholastic that looks like it might be along similar lines to these, but that I haven’t seen firsthand quite yet:

BenjaminFranklin Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

SallyRide Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Called the When I Grow Up series, again we’re seeing historical figures as children.  But maybe these are entirely accurate in their retellings?  They’re Scholastic Readers, made to meet the needs of early readers.  It’s the title “When I Grow Up” that raises the red flag for me.  Because, you see, they’re written in the first person.  And as a librarian who has had to field reference questions from first graders asking for “autobiographies”, this is problematic.  If a book is entirely accurate but seems to come from the lips of its biographical subject, what is it worth in the pantheon of nonfiction?

People will always say that worrying along these lines is ridiculous.  If the books are good and spark an interest, isn’t that enough?  Why do you have to require strict accuracy at all times?  My argument would be that when biographies are written for adults, people are meticulous (hopefully) about maintaining authenticity.  Why should we hold our kids to different standards?

It’s a debate.  These books just crack it open wide.

Along the same lines (WARNING: Shameless plug looming on the horizon!) I’ve gotten out the jumper cables and restarted the old Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL.  Babies have been born and it is time to get back in the swing of things.  On that note, on Saturday, September 6th I’ll be hosting one of children’s nonfiction all-stars in a conversation that might very well touch on this topic.  Behold!

Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson

Author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher by turns, Marc Aronson’s love of nonfiction and his conviction that young people can read carefully, examine evidence, and engage with new and challenging ideas informs everything he does.  Join us for a conversation about the changing role of nonfiction for youth, and the special challenges and advantages of this one-of-a-kind genre.

See you there, yes?

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13. Samples: Cutesy Animals

Something on the drawing board. It’s fun to take a pic and distort it!

h5-leaping-2geth1 fl1

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14. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Turns 50

Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory turns 50 this year. To commemorate the occasion, Penguin Young Readers has released a new paperback edition of the novel and is running its own golden ticket sweepstakes.

Five young readers will win a trip to New York City and a VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar. In addition, winners will get a year’s supply of chocolate, a library of Dahl books and tickets to see Matilda the Musical. Follow this link to enter the contest. Penguin Young Readers will donate money and a book to the nonprofit First Book for every entry they receive.

To help build up enthusiasm, the publisher  hosted a party at Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York back in April. The springtime fete brought out the likes of Roald Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and  Joseph Schindelman, the original illustrator of the book.

 

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15. Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost
By Lisa Graff
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16405-7
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.

Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.

Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.

As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”

Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.

I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.

Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.

Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: BookPage

Interviews:

  • Lisa speaks with BookPage about the creation of the book.

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16. Is it worth it?



Any writer who has been through the launch of a new book will tell you, the process can be all-consuming. Sometimes it feels as though it's impossible to write and market your writing at the same time. Whether you're a well-known author on book tour with a top tier release, or a newly published writer managing the logistics of marketing mostly on your own, it takes tremendous effort and energy to send a new book out into the world.

For my first two picture books, I didn't really do much for the launches. Both times I had small children at home—for the second book I was pregnant and my mom was very sick—so, beyond a book signing at my local bookstore attended by mostly close friends and family, the books went into the world quietly, despite some lovely reviews.

This time around is different. While I do still have little kids at home, the youngest of whom is only three, I am a more experienced parent, far better at multitasking and juggling work tasks with mom tasks. And with the help of my publicist at Penguin, and the incomparable marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, I have a plan. A full-fledged marketing plan complete with book trailer, blog tour, giveaways, story hour kits, social media campaign, launch party, holiday tie-ins... heck, I even started my own hashtag (#BakingDay).

I explained this to a family member recently, who very candidly (and not unkindly) asked, "Do you think it's worth it?" Translated, this person was asking, will all the work and investment amount to significantly more book sales? And the honest answer to that question is, "I don't know, yet." I believe it will. But I can't say for sure until the book is out there and our promotions get rolling. And even then, some books pick up steam over time vs. having breakthrough sales out of the gate.

The question made me ponder the small miracle of getting a book published—one picture book's path to publication. Books have hurdles (many!) before they reach store and library shelves. First, you, author-person, must get an inspired idea. That idea then needs to morph to paper in first draft form. You re-read it, revise it, put it aside and re-read and revise again (multiple times). Perhaps at this point, you share it with your critique group. You absorb their feedback and revise again.

Then, if you have an agent and feel it's in good shape to share, you send it along. (You wait, wait, wait.) Your agent likes it! (Huzzah!) She sends it to a handful of editors. (You wait, wait, wait some more.) The editor likes it! (Huzzah, again!) But hold on, the editor must take into an editorial meeting.

And here's where it really gets perilous.

Your little manuscript is read aloud and discussed at a roundtable of editors, editorial assistants, art directors, marketing and sales. (Eeeps!) If the group doesn't like it, or it's too similar to something they've already acquired, it gets passed over.

(Insert more waiting, here.) They like it! Eureka!

Think your story is home free? Not necessarily. It then goes to an acquisitions meeting (yet more waiting) where the final vote is made to acquire your book and offer you a contract. (Shoo.)

The good news is, books surmount these hurdles every day at publishing houses all over the world. But it's still a miraculous moment when someone offers to publish your story.

Think of all the hard work your little book did to get here!

That's what I've been doing as I approach the launch of Baking Day At Grandma's. It's like a baby—my book baby—and I want to give it the very best chance to thrive in the marketplace, and all the love and support it deserves.

So, is it worth it?

Definitely.

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17. The Baby Tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackallby Sophie Blackall

published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books, at Penguin KidsThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallAbout a year ago, I heard Sophie Blackall give a keynote at SCBWI Western Washington. She wears great tights and shoes and is a total riot. She had this effervescent spirit that had the whole room in stitches. It felt like watching one of her illustrations bounce right off the page and into the room.

See, I’m a big fan. Ivy and Bean are soul sisters. I gushed about The Crows of Pearblossom and The Mighty Lalouche over at Design Mom, and still stand by this tweet from the end of 2013.

Her work has sprinkles of fairy dust or something in it – something enchanting and mysterious and compelling and darn beautiful.

And this, her latest offering, is both calming and humorous, sweet and sassy. It’s a bound and beautiful answer to the dreaded where do babies come from?

breakerShe’s so in tune with the vast (and sometimes creepy!) imagination of a youngster, and look at how that plays out in this art. Real life is a spot illustration, surrounded by white space and unknowns. But the what if bleeds to the edge of the page, filling every millimeter with color and wonder and possibility. Not only is it stunning to see, it’s intentional storytelling.The Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallThe Baby Tree by Sophie BlackallHat tip, always, to Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for the interview that revealed that delicious tidbit. Check out her interview (and more art!) with Sophie here.

Sophie works in Brooklyn with other illustrators Brian Floca, Ed Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier. Can you even imagine spending an hour in that studio, soaking it all up and trying not to faint and fall in it? Dream field trip, for sure. Their kinship and support of one another has always been so apparent. Look here, and here, and here to see what I mean.

But also, look inside The Baby Tree for a glimpse at their love and support of one another. What’s our pajama-clad wonderer reading with Mom and Dad, all cozied up in bed? I won’t spoil it for you, cause it was a gasp-moment for me. If you’ll bust without knowing, check out Danielle’s post over at This Picture Book Life about allusions in picture books. (And stay there a while even once you see what I’m talking about, cause how brilliant is that?!)

You’d like a copy, right? Penguin has two to give away to you! (And you!) Just leave a comment on this post by Monday at noon PST, June 2nd. I’ll pick two, and have the stork deliver The Baby Tree right to your doorstep. Good luck!

ch

Review copy provided by the publisher, all thoughts and love my own.

 


Tagged: book trailer, composition, full bleed, giveaway, nancy paulsen books, penguin, sophie blackall, spot illustrations, the baby tree, white space

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18. George R.R. Martin’s Editor to Do Live Interview on Suvudu Universe

Penguin Random House's sci-fi community Suvudu Universe is planning to host its first live interview and the interviewee will be Anne Lesley Groell, George R.R. Martin's book Editor, as well as an Executive Editor at Penguin Random House. The event will take place online on May 29th from 3pm to 4pm EST. Fans can submit questions here, as well as vote on suggested questions. Groell will answer the questions that receive the most votes during the live event. You can follow this link to sign up for Suvudu Universe. The members that submit the top three highest-voted questions will get a prize pack of books.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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19. Penguin to Close My Artist’s Way Toolkit Site

myartistswayPenguin is shutting down the website My Artist’s Way Toolkit on May 15th 2014. The site was based on Julia Cameron‘s book and supplied interactive tools designed to encourage creativity.

The site, which has been available to readers through subscription, included writing exercises, creative affirmations and a toolset for organizing a user’s own work.

Here is more from the website: “Before the site shuts down, you should export all of the great content you’ve built within the site. You will find explicit instructions on how to do just that here. And don’t worry, all charges from February 1st on will be refunded, which you will see reflected on your next credit card statement. If you have any questions, please reach out to us atappsupport@us.penguingroup.com.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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20. Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

ch

Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Tagged: etsy, kit chase, oliver's tree, penguin

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21. Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

penguinlogo 243x300 Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)There is a certain element of mystery that accompanies each and every librarian preview here in New York City.  When the larger publishers gather the librarians to their proverbial bosom, those same librarians walk in with just one question in your mind: How long is this going to take?  If you’re lucky you’ll be out by lunchtime.  But with Penguin beginning their preview by providing lunch, the day was rendered simply more mysterious.  Fortunately the answer to the puzzle lay on our seats.  Each librarian was given a 48-page collection of PowerPoint slides for the event.  48 pages!  The length of a slightly long picture book.  That’s entirely doable!  And indeed, for this particular preview I was pleased to discover that we’d only be covering a sampling of the books from each imprint.  Bonus!

During the course of the event a photo was taken of the librarians and posted to Twitter that day.  See if you can spot me in this shot:

Penguin14libpreview 500x375 Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

If you said, “Why Betsy is the woman in white imitating a small ocean liner” you would have earned yourself a cookie.  There is very little photographic evidence of my pregnancy this second time around.  As such, this is one of the very rare shots in existence.  Credit due to @VikingChildrens.

But enough of this silliness.  Onward to the previews!  As per usual I’ll just be reporting on the children’s fare, with the exception of the rare YA novel here and there.  And, naturally, we begin with . . .

Philomel

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

To be slightly more specific, we begin with Lisa Graff.  Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff has, as of this blog post, earned itself four starred reviews thus far, unless I am much mistaken.  Like all her other books out there, it’s a standalone.  There’s something infinitely comforting about authors that aren’t afraid to write standalone novels.  Heck, in this era of ubiquitous sequels it’s a downright relief, it is.  In Absolutely Almost our main character goes by the name of Albie.  He’s a good kid but he thinks of himself as an “almost”.  You know.  He does a lot of things . . . almost well.  So what do you do when you’re just almost everything?  Aye.  There’s the rub.  Set in NYC the book is apparently for fans of Wonder, Rules, Joey Pigza books, and Liar & Spy.  An interesting assortment of connections, to say the least!

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton

ChasingMilky Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Next up?  A little Moulton.  Editor Jill Santopolo called her a “gorgeous under the radar” author.  One must assume she is referring to her books, though I’m sure she’s quite cute.  In this particular title two sisters try to take care of their mentally ill mom.  A common theme this year, what with the near simultaneous release of books like Under the Egg.  Lucy the eldest, however, can’t keep everyone safe.  Ms. Moulton’s own mother is a social worker and took her daughter along on the job often enough that it made a significant impression.  Authors Moulton was compared to included Jerry Spinelli, Katherine Paterson, and Sharon Creech.  But no pressure or anything!

Brotherband: Slaves of Socorro by John Flanagan

SlavesSocorro Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

If your library system is anything like mine then you have a devil of a time figuring out where to catalog John Flanagan.  Is he Juv?  YA?  Well don’t expect the answers to come any easier.  Penguin is planning on repackaging the first four books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series as well as the Brotherband books.  Speaking of which, in this latest little novel, the Slaves of Socorro, editor Michael Green called it a “crossover episode” of sorts.  Characters from the Rangers books and the Brotherband books are now banding together.  It’s a fictional literary character supergroup!  Expect already existing fans to be pretty stoked over the idea.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

SecretSky Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Ah.  The first of the true YA novels to be mentioned here today.  I might not have even mentioned it except that Jill, its editor, got so existed.  “This is THE most important book I’ve ever edited”, said she.  Hard to ignore enthusiasm like that.  A love story set in the time of the Taliban, the book is by ABC Bureau Chief, Atia Abawi.  Raised in Germany and the American south after her mother escaped Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, Ms. Abawi’s book has been getting blurbs from authors (Daphne Benedis-Grab, Trent Reedy, etc.) as well as folks in her own business (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondant of NBC Andrea Mitchell, for example).

Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Now to switch gears as far as those gears will go.  Oliver Jeffers is a tricky fellow to judge.  I’ve loved some of his stuff (I maintain that Stuck is a modern classic for our times) and loathed others.  I think it’s fair to say that Once Upon an Alphabet is going to fall a little more squarely on the love side of the equation.  Jeffers tackles the alphabet on his own this time and isn’t afraid to break out the fancy words.  Calling this, “Oliver’s magnum opus” the book contains little stories for each storyline.  Here’s one example: “C: Cup in the cupboard. Cup lived in the cupboard. It was dark and cold in there when the door was closed. He dreamed of living over by the window so he’d have a clear view. One afternoon he decided to go for it.” I won’t spoil the ending of that one for you.  Regardless, think of this as a lighter companion to books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies and the like.

Nancy Paulsen Books

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

BabyTree Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Then we’re off to the Nancy Paulsen Books side of the equation.  And can I tell you how goofy crazy my librarians are about The Baby Tree right now?  I tell you, the cover of this book came up onto the screen and there were universal coos from the librarians in attendance.  And why not?  The whole where-do-babies-come-from niche is still fairly wide open.  In this story a boy asks for some straightforward explanations of where babies come from, only to be met with a flurry of ridiculous answers from a variety of elders.  It’s a pretty darn good second sibling book for the older set (the 4, 5, and 6-year-olds) out there.  Definitely a keeper and one to watch.

Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear by Monica Carnesi

SleepoverBeatrice Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

And speaking of keepers covering well-worn topics, let us now discuss hibernation.  Or not.  Totally up to you.  Now you may think every possible hibernation book out there has already been published but that’s just because you didn’t realize that Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear was on the horizon.  Carnesi was best known to me as the woman behind that rather lovely early chapter book Little Dog Lost a year or two ago.  Nancy Paulsen calls her “our librarian author” so, y’know, right there.  Occupational pride.  In this story a bear and rabbit are buddies but soon it’s time for the bear to hibernate.  Beatrice, the aforementioned bunny, decides she will hibernate too, though she’s not entirely certain what that would entail.  As it turns out, bunnies are no good at hibernation but rather than turn this into one of those books where the bear wakes up in the winter and has a spiffing good time (those storylines always bug me for some reason) the solution to Beatrice’s problem is far more charming.  Good stuff.

Putnam

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

SecretHumDaisy Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Onward to Putnam and a book that I’m just going to have to read for myself if I’m going to figure it out at all.  As you can see, it has one of those non-covers and poetic titles that publishers give books when they’re super excited about their literary award possibilities.  And when they start bandying about the phrase “lyrical”, you know something’s up.  In very brief terms it’s a girl with a dead mom story.  Elaborated upon a bit, the girl in question is ripped from what she knows and is placed with a grandma she never knew well.  In time she goes on a treasure hunt, believing that her mother, in whatever form, is behind it in some way.  Basically, all she wants is for her mom to be the treasure at the end.  Rife with clues, it reminded me of Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass.  I’ll give it a go!

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Dreamwood Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

This year carnivorous trees are quite hot.  We’ve seen four different middle grade novels thus far with trees that have dark desires/appetites, and Dreamwood falls into that category.  Don’t write it off as a mere example of hungry wood, though.  No no, this one’s supposed to be pretty good.  Set during the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest, a girl’s father goes missing in the forest.  So what else can she do but set off with a boy to find her missing father and maybe along the way find a cure for tree blight?  One of my librarians who loves fantasy read it and gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up.  For my part, I was just grateful that the words “eco-fantasy” were never used when describing it.  Oo, I dislike that term!

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat

NinjaRedRidingHood Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

I got name checked with this next book, which had me just knocking my brain try to remember the context.  Perhaps it was another librarian preview in the recent past?  Could have been.  In any case, apparently when I saw the version of The Three Little Pigs by duo Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat I wondered out loud for all to hear why no one had ever done the same for Little Red Riding Hood.  Enter the answer to my prayers (though I’ve no doubt they had the idea long before I did).  Basically, this is the book for you if you ever wanted to see the wolf get the ever-loving-crap kicked out of him by a girl in a red cape.

Oh, and here’s a non-workplace safe fun activity for you: Google Image the term “ninja red riding hood” sometime and see what comes up.  I was looking for a copy of the jacket of this book.  What I initially found . . . wasn’t that.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

AllFourStars Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Finally, something light and frothy and VERY New York.  I have witnessed firsthand the existence of the foodie child.  They exist, often raised by foodie adults, so that they know the difference between flavors and can go so far as to distinguish between them for you.  This, however, is not the life our heroine leads.  She’s a foodie kid, sure, but her parents are fast food lovers.  Still, the kiddo has prodigious talents so she gets hired to review a restaurant professionally.  The catch?  Her new bosses don’t know that she’s a kid, so she basically has to sneak to NYC and the restaurant in question on her own.  Ms. Dairman is a bit of a foodie herself, though alas the book will not include any recipes.  Ah well.  The sequel is due out in 2015.

Viking

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney

NellyGnuDaddyToo Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

There was a time when I wouldn’t have understood the lure of the Llama Llama Red Pajama world.  But have a small child and your view of things changes.  Say what you will about Anna Dewdney, the woman scans.  Consistently and without fail.  You can read a book of hers cold and come out looking like a pro every time.  Since Llama Llama is the unofficial poster child of the single mama household, it was only a matter of time before the masses demanded a book along similar lines with but a daddy.  Llama Llama’s best friend Nelly Gnu now gets her chance to shine in the sun with this latest title.  Daddy Gnu, I should note, is a pretty darn good feller.  He takes care of his kiddo and makes dinner to boot.  This is hardly a novel idea, but it’s not like we see it in picture books as often as we might.  Well played.

Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock

StarbirdMurphy Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

It’s a toss-up as to what I like more: The title of the book, or the name of the author?  On the one hand, “Starbird Murphy” just feels right.  On the other hand, who can resist a last name like “Finneyfrock”?  The plot of the actual book is nice too.  It stars a commune kid who lives entirely off the grid.  This world is entirely normal to her, but eventually she must leave normal and travel into the city.  Think of it as a girl version of Alabama Moon.

Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd

BraveChickenLittle Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Now here’s a real beauty that deserves some of your time and attention.  For the most part, big publishers eschew folk and fairytales.  You want the latest version of Snow White and Rose Red?  Get thee to a smaller company!  But once in a great while a biggie will take a chance.  Mind you, after reading this book I don’t think there’s anything the least bit chancey about Robert Byrd’s work.  The ultimate cautionary fable gets a leg up in this updated look at the chick that went for the most extreme of explanations.  It follows the usual storyline to a point, then diverges and allows the hero to come out triumphant.  The moral of the old story was probably something along the lines of “don’t believe everything you hear”.  The moral of the new story?  “Don’t get eaten. Get even.”  [This phrase, by the way, when you Google it appears to be the tagline of a popular Bear Pepper Spray.  Just thought you'd like to know.]

Puffin/Speak

Follow Your Heart: Summer Love by Jill Santopolo

FollowYourHeart Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

One of these days, my children, my prayers will be answered and someone will republish those old Sunfire Romances where the historical girl had to choose between two hunky men.  Them’s my youth!  Until then, however, we have the next best thing.  Something that sounds so obvious when I say it that I’m shocked SHOCKED that no one until now came up with the idea.  Meet the Follow Your Heart series by Jill Santopolo (she edits AND writes because she is a Renaissance woman).  Basically we’re talking Choose Your Own A Romance here.  A girl has to choose between two boys and you help make that choice.  I wonder if they’ll allow you to plug your fingers into the pages where you make the choices so that you can backtrack when things don’t start going your way (anyone else do that back in the day?).  “The Bachelorette in book form” someone said.  There you go.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (50th Anniversary Edition) by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

CharlieChocolate Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Sweepstakes time.  And really, was there ever a book better suited to a sweepstakes than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?  Because it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary, you’ve probably heard the rumors about the current Golden Ticket Sweepstakes.  Well, it’s all pretty standard stuff.  Before August 8th kids ages 6 and up can apply for this pretty cool prize.  According to the site:

FIVE lucky winners will receive a Golden Ticket trip of a lifetime to New York City that includes:

  • A VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar
  • Tickets to Matilda the Musical
  • A year’s supply of chocolate
  • A visit to the Empire State building
  • A library of Roald Dahl books
  • And MORE!

I love that they get to work in Dylan’s Candy Bar for a day.  But how does one determine what a “year’s supply of chocolate” really consists of, I wonder.  Hm.

In other Dahlian news, copies of Charlie are about to be published with golden tickets in the back of the paperbacks.  Aw.  There was also some mention made of the Miss Honey Social Justice Award which, “recognizes collaboration between school librarians and teachers in the instruction of social justice using school library resources.” Awesome.  In my own life, I recently finished reading Danny, the Champion of the World for the first time in my life.  I’m feeling pretty good about filling that gap in my knowledge now.

Grosset & Dunlap

The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Diamond Mystery by Martin Widmark, illustrated by Helena Willis

Whodunit Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

A good early chapter book is hard to find.  And a good early chapter book from Sweden?  Much easier to find now that Martin Widmark is being brought over to the States in book form.  As a librarian of my acquaintance put it recently, this book apparently contains “A snappy little narrative that will have young readers saying, ‘I know who did it!’ right out loud.”  Little wonder since the original books sold two million copies worldwide and the author is sometimes referred to as the “Children’s Agatha Christie”.  Are you curious yet?

Dial

Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George

IceWhale Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

There are some authors that pass away and their posthumous novels go on and on and on until you begin to doubt that they ever died in the first place.  Tupac Syndrome would be a good description of this.  It tends to hit children’s authors quite often (see: Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones, etc.) and was even mocked in a rather brilliant College Humor piece called I Think They’re Running Out of Material for New Shel Silverstein Books back in 2011.  All that aside, we were assured that this final Jean Craighead George novel really will be her last.  Two of her children finished it and I like that it has a kind of a Heart of a Samurai book jacket going on.  Set in Northern Alaska (the same location as Julie of the Wolves, for the record) the book follows an Inuit boy who learns to bond with a whale.  From the description it sounded like it would pair particularly well with Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone from last year.  And as Travis Jonker pointed out in his recent post 2014: The Year of the Whale, this book is just a drop in the ocean of a much larger trend.

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

ThreeBearsBoat Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

Speaking of whales, here’s a book that gives them some full credit.  I was so blown away by this title when I first read it that I immediately had to rush out and review it without considering how long it would be before it actually reached publication.  Really, this is the book of the year for me.  If you read no other picture book, read this one.  It’s a stunner in the purest sense of the word.  Really remarkable.

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raul Colon

PortraitsHispanic Librarian Preview: Penguin Books (Summer 2014)

And finally, a book that I would like right now please.  Please.  Right now.  What’s that you say?  It’s not coming out until August?!  Well who made up THAT crazy rule?  Look, I don’t care when it’s coming out, I would like to see this book in my lap pronto.  I mean, first of all, it’s art by Raul Colon.  I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but the man’s been on fire this year.  Have you seen his work on Baseball Is . . . by Louise Borden?  Or how about the pictures in Abuelo by Arthur Dorros?  Now we have 24 of his portraits in, what Penguin described as, “tawny golden tones”.  Penned by 2012 California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, it covers the well known folks and the lesser know folks in equal degrees.  Admit it.  You haven’t seen anything like this before that came close to this level of quality.  It’s going to be for the middle grade crowd too, so bonus!

And that, as they say, is that.  There were plenty of other YA titles mentioned and even a guest or too, but I’ll quite while I’m ahead.  Thanks to Penguin for the preview.  Thanks to all of you for reading!

 

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22. Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (2014)

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. Douglas Florian. 2014. Penguin. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, loved Douglas Florian's Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles. I just LOVED it. After finding five or six poems that I loved, I thought this one would be well worth recommending. But as I kept reading, I kept finding more and more poems to LOVE. This isn't a "good" collection with a handful of poems to love. Generally, that is how I think of poetry books: find one with a handful of poems to LOVE, really LOVE, and you've got yourself a good book worth reading and rereading. To find a poetry book with so very many poems that you love and enjoy--poems with the potential to turn children of all ages into POETRY LOVERS--and you've got something magical, something worth GUSHING about!!! Poem Depot is worth gushing about!!!

Poems I Loved: "Insect Asides," "Driven," "More," "My Closet," "I Hate Broccoli," "Mean Meat Loaf," "Soup of the Day," "Water Water," "What A Monster Ate," "Hair Scare," "This Chair," "Where My Cat Sleeps," "Hold Your Horses," "I Am A Robot," "The Computers Are Down," "Zero," "Alphabetter," and "My Mother Has Two Voices."

Poems I Really Loved: "Train to Nowhere," "Exercise," "Appetite," "Alligator Calculator," "Rome and Room," "The Greatest Invention," and "Windshield Wipers."

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. File-Sharing Site WeTransfer to Showcase Penguin Book Covers

zadiesmithPenguin Books has teamed up with WeTransfer, a free file-transfering service, to showcase a series of Penguin book covers WeTransfer’s full-screen backgrounds.

The site , which counts 20 million monthly active users, will exhibit the covers of five of Penguin’s limited edition Street Art series. Titles in this series include:  Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End (Cover: 45RPM); Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel (Cover: ROA); Zoë Heller’s The Believers (Cover: Sickboy); Iain Sinclair’s American Smoke (Cover: Nathan Burton); and Zadie Smith’s Embassy of Cambodia (Cover: gray318).

Here is more about the designs from the press release:

The book covers, designed by leading artists including Sickboy, ROA, Nathan Burton and 45RPM,  will take over WeTransfer’s full-screen backgrounds in the form of multiple still life photographs displaying a range of Penguin authors. When people click on each of the photographs, they will be taken through to Penguin’s online store for further information.

 

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24. The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour and Giveaway


Thanks to Tracy Holczer for including us on The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour! 

Blog Tour Schedule

May 9: AuthorOf


We have something a little different for you -- a guide to planning your own book club, literacy cafe, or party centered around her debut middle grade novel. I recently had the privilege of attending Tracy's launch party and her friend threw her a beautiful, daisy-filled one. Your own event might not be as star-studded (a ton of our friendly neighborhood YA and MG authors were there) but that doesn't mean it can't be just as fun! Read on for our ideas, info about the book and author, as well as a giveaway!




About The Secret Hum of a Daisy

After the sudden death of her mother, twelve-year-old Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met in a small town she's never heard of. A town Mama left years before--with Grace in her belly and a bus ticket in her pocket--and never looked back. It doesn't take long before Grace desperately wants to leave, too.

Until she finds the first crane.

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, takes Grace on a journey to find home. And it might just be closer than she thinks.

The Literacy Cafe

My good friend Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy and I are in an adult YA book club that meets every month. Sure, we get together because we love discussing books, but we also get together because we love to hang out with friends and eat delicious food. Usually we theme the menu around the book we have read. You can do that with this book, too! You would be surprised how often food helps spark discussion and recall of what happened in the book. This is part of what makes a literacy cafe such an interesting event to host and to attend.

Alyson usually does literacy cafes at schools, and to help students engage with the books they are reading and discussing, they sometimes do a writing exercise or craft activity related to the book. This helps make it not just memorable, but also creative and fun. (Note: I was planning to have photos of all the examples I was going to give, but this week just got away from me! I will add them into the post when I can get around to it.)

For resources, I have linked to websites I think might be helpful in case you want to find out more, or actually want to make my suggestion happen for yourself. If I wrote out all of the info here, this would be a very long post! 

Menu

There are lots of foods mentioned in The Secret Hum of a Daisy. Part of Grace's search for home involves some basic needs: food and shelter. (This would be a great lead-in to a discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.) Here are just a few:


  • Soup (p. 119) - The Spoons Souperie is the diner in the town where Grace's mother grew up. Grace meets and gets to know various people here. Their menu has the usual: corn chowder, matzo ball, and split pea, but you can serve your favorite soup. Mine is beef and cabbage, with lots of pepper! You could also make it a potluck and have everyone bring their own soup to share. Just make sure someone brings some fresh-baked, crusty bread for dipping.
  • Brownies (p. 146) Grace and her neighbor Jo have to bake brownies in the book, but they're not allowed to eat any! You can, though. Here is a basic recipe for brownies, but you can make them how you like: out of the box, with nuts or without, cakelike or fudgy. Blondies instead? I'm an edges kind of girl, myself. Once you know why they bake brownies in the book, you can talk about the choices Grace makes and how they lead up to brownies!
  • Chocolate Toast (p. 210) I know the other one already has chocolate, but someone makes this for Grace. It has something chocolatey (Nutella? Cookie Butter Swirl? It's up to you to choose) and slices of banana on top. This is definitely a "Live to Eat" moment rather than an "Eat to Live" one. While you eat it, you might want to discuss what your favorite comfort food is. Does it remind you of a certain place where you are from, or where you felt at home? Does it remind you of a person who used to make it for you? 
Activities

Poetry and writing figure quite centrally in the story. There are lots of different things you can do depending on the interests your students/guests/group members have.
  • Snippets Guessing Game - Have everyone bring in snippets of their favorite poetry to read out loud, and see if anyone else recognizes the poem or poet.
  • Unsent Letters - Not everyone might want to share this with the group, and that's ok. Bring pens or pencils, paper, and envelopes to the event and have everyone write a short letter to someone else that they have wanted to write, but couldn't write before now. They can choose to share the letter, or keep it to themselves. They can choose to send the letter -- though it won't be unsent anymore!
  • Answer Jars - Late in the story, someone shows Grace their answer jars -- Mason or canning jars filled with bits of words and phrases. When they can't decide on something, they reach into the jars for some answers. You can recycle jars or containers and use magazines or small pieces of paper to add your own answers. 
Art and sculpture also are pivotal to the story. You don't need a lot of fancy equipment, just found objects, scratch paper, and the usual materials (scissors, Mod Podge or Gorilla glue depending on what you're working on, writing/painting utensils).

  • Origami Cranes - The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a story about grief, but it is also about hope. Grace sees origami cranes as clues in a scavenger hunt like the ones her mom used to put together for her. You can learn to fold origami cranes with some patience and some perfectly square paper. While you're folding, discuss: where do you hope your cranes would lead you? (link to instructions
  • Found Objects - Grace's mom sculpts birds out of odds and ends. Maybe birds are not your thing, but what is? What's your power animal? Collect some bits and pieces, odds and ends, things that look interesting but maybe incomplete on their own. Get some Gorilla Glue if you're gluing smooth objects like plastic or metal and sculpt your penguin, bear, meerkat, or whatever you come up with.
  • Self-Portrait - Grace isn't just searching for home, she's searching for her identity. She's trying to define the people around her, and trying to define herself now that her mother is gone. There are some great self-portrait ideas in the book. Try composing a shadow box: what would you put inside? 
  • Another Self-Portrait - Alternatively, start with a sturdy cardboard or masonite surface, then draw an outline or silhouette of your head. Now brainstorm some words that describe you... write, letter, or paste them onto the back half of your head (um, the illustration of it, not your actual head). Now go back to your stash of found objects and compose your face out of items that might fit. Glue them on, then stand back and admire your handiwork. It doesn't have to be perfect, but hopefully it's thoughtful and expressive, which is sometimes the most we can get out of life :)


I hope you enjoyed my ideas for hosting a literacy cafe or book club meeting with The Secret Hum of a Daisy. If you've read the book and would like to share more ideas, please leave a comment. Don't post any spoilers, please! I left out some of my ideas since they might give away some later plot points in the story that are better discovered by the reader on their own.

If you do host one, please take photos and share them! I'm sure Tracy would love to see them, too.




About The Author

Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up so she writes them into her stories.

A 2014 ABA Indies Introduce New Voices pick, her debut middle grade, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found if you're willing to hunt for treasure. It will be also be published by Konigskinder/Carlsen in Germany, fall 2015.

Find out more:
Follow @tracyholczer on Twitter
Blogging on the 30th of each month at http://smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com

Buy the book:
Autographed copies (note request on the order or they won't know it needs to be autographed!) available at Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA

Giveaway
US only, ends May 20

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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25. Penguin Random House Has Formed a Consumer Marketing Group

Penguin Random House has formed a division dedicated to marketing directly to consumers called the Consumer Marketing Development and Operations Group. The department will help market specific titles, individual authors and even specific genres within each of its U.S. publishing groups. The entity will also be tasked with developing company-wide digital programs, platforms and partnerships. Amanda Close will lead the new group as Senior V.P. and Director. "By approaching marketing development this way," stated Madeline McIntosh, U.S. President and Chief Operating Officer, "both from within publishing and from a broader corporate standpoint, we will be able to most effectively expand our consumer-focused capabilities, and deliver value for our publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers."

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