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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Henry Holt Fall 2008 Librarian Preview

Unlike some publishing companies, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers is new to the Librarian Preview game.  So last Tuesday the employees got together, pooled their knowledge and resources, and delivered a new kind of preview for the good people of NYC.

You can hold a librarian preview in your company’s building.  You can hold it in a club.  But Henry Holt had an advantage, in that their preview was held in The Flatiron Building, which is easy to reach for all parties attending.  I’d been in the Flatiron before, but every time you enter it’s a truly odd experience.  Essentially you find yourself navigating a wedge.  With its gorgeous old-fashioned elevators and crazy sloping walls, it’s possible to forget the shape of the structure your in, but only temporarily.  Henry Holt’s preview was held at the front of the wedge with a gorgeous view of the city spread before the audience and behind the speakers.  I sat in the front row, so I had an excellent view right from the start.

The fact that I sat in the front row can be called peculiar at the very least.  Like most librarians, my instincts when facing a room full of chairs is to either sit in the middle of the space or the back.  This stems from my childhood when sitting in the front of the room made you a target and sitting in the back increased your chances of blending in with the woodwork exponentially.  Many librarians both consciously and unconsciously have also internalized this age-old struggle, and few even think about it when finding seating.  Henry Holt, however, seemed to have prepared for this eventuality.  As I walked in I noticed that the chairs in the back of the room were of the uncomfortable wire-framed variety.  Move up a little and there were the nicely padded wooden chairs, with armrests and cushiony seats.  Move up even farther right to the front and the question of where all the conference room chairs went was quickly answered.  There sat the padded leather chairs, bouncy and supple, just the kind of thing to make a librarian feel like a high-powered executive (at least for an hour or two).  I sat up front, having taken some very tasty munchies (my compliments to the chef) and my program for notes.

Unlike other publishers, Henry Holt prefers to hand out their upcoming catalogs rather than create Powerpoints for their presentations.  This is more efficient on their end, though it made it somewhat difficult to locate the books they were discussing from one moment to the next.  Then again, I was probably the only person there who insisted on having the book they were talking about in front of her at all times.  Probably.

Four women sat before us, and unlike the librarians they were not wearing nametags so I wasn’t entirely certain who they were.  What I can tell you is that three out of the four were wearing kick-ass leather boots (and the fourth had shoes that matched her outfit), so I felt a little self-conscious in my terribly scuffed brown leather sandals. But they were very nice and when I forgot my pen (I always forget my pen) they offered me a selection of black or blue choices. Then right from the start they announced that we would have TWO special guest speakers (thereby increasing the number of speakers a preview usually has by 200%).  One speaker would be illustrator Bryan Collier.  The other would be author Elise Broach.  Very cool.  They also mentioned that they would not be discussing the full Henry Holt & Co. list, which was a very clever decision on their part.  Sometimes a publisher will mention every single little itty bitty paperback edition and series title in their upcoming season, which does the librarians in attendance very little good (particularly when we have the catalog on our laps anyway) and just stretches the whole thing out to an ungodly length.  This was better.  This was manageable.

I’ll do some of the books that they mentioned in the order as they appear in the catalog.  Not all, mind you, though they certainly were good at touching on children’s literature rather than YA (which I liked).

To my mild surprise, the book that Henry Holt really loved and really wanted to promote was none other than The Scrambled States of America Talent Show.  You all have probably seen author Laurie Keller’s previous books, The Scrambled States of America, Arnie the Doughnut, and others.  I consider her Queen of the Inanimate.  When I was a kid I used to pretend that everything from my crayons to the cup I drank out of had a personality of its own.  Ms. Keller perhaps once felt the same way.   Her sequel concerns a variety of state-related talents, but poor Georgia gets stage fright.  They showed us a sequence where she goes to the doctor and the X-ray machine reveals first all her counties and then all her cities inside.  Nice.  And this new book was accompanied by little cookies in the shape of America.  I have to show you this because it’s adorable:

Tim Jones did these and he didn’t have a cookie cutter that was the right shape.  So he made every single one individually by hand.  Ain’t that sweet?

Ralph’s World Rocks! by Ralph Covert, illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper (long time buds) marks a potential shift in the world of music/book publishing.  Producing picture books out of performers’ songs is nothing new.  Raffi’s picture books are plentiful enough to this day.  But with the new burst of children’s music talent (just check out my co-worker Warren Truitt’s blog Children’s Music That Rocks if you don’t believe me) and the rise of alternative kiddie tune thrills, we may be seeing more book/album pairings along this line in the future.  This might be an area for publishers to consider.  Dan Zanes has already been doing it for years with his board books alongside his CDs.  Push it a little farther and you’ll have They Might Be Giants album/picture books and imaginative takes on performers like Frances England or groups like Medeski Martin and Wood.  Covert’s book also contains guitar chords at the back for musically inclined parents/librarians who want to take a swing at the songs themselves.  Not a bad pitch.

Great Estimations was a book I missed reviewing a year or two ago, but was a cool concept.  Teach kids to estimate.  Why not?  Now author Bruce Goldstone is back with Greater Estimations, and you can’t help but love the rubber ducky cover.  Poor Bruce spent "five hours setting up more than 1,100 rubber ducks for the cover" when I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that adults will just look at it and assume it was done with computers.  Sigh.

Oh.  I should mention that the staple of all librarian previews these days are the Lincoln books.  Next time I go to a preview I am going to sit down with a timer and find out how long it takes before somebody mentions the upcoming Lincoln books they have coming out.  Everything about the man is being plundered for publication, and now we’ve a book on his death.  Abraham Lincoln Comes Home by Robert Burleigh was Lincoln Book #1 on this particular day.  Wendell Minor did the illustrations, which was a good choice on somebody’s part.  Minor does best when his books are based on historical incidents, and he sure does do a mean Abey Baby.  Mean = good, for the record.

If Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko taught us anything it’s that Americans are obsessed with health care.  I’ve been seeing quite a few doctor-related picture books these days too.  First there was Doctor Ted by Andrea Beatty and now I’ve found a kind of companion novel for it.  Doctor Meow’s Big Emergency has a classic style and limited palate that will lend it to future books in its series.  Illustrator Sam Lloyd is probably best known right now for Mr. Pusskins (aw).  Ms. Lloyd is also, I should note, British.  In fact a lot of Henry Holt’s authors and illustrators were British.  I wonder why. 

But more importantly, and I think all literary bloggers out there should take note of this, the Marketing notation on this book contained the following features:

  • National Media Campaign

  • Whoops-a-Daisy World Poster

  • Storytime Event Kit Online at

  • Author Blog-Tour

Hunhuna?  Author Blog-Tour?  Marketing departments of large publishing companies have noticed blogs to the extent that they A) Know what a blog tour is and B) Want to organize one?  How very interesting.  I’ve participated in a professionally organized blog tour once before and it was rather nice.  As a blogger, my traffic increased due to the professional influence and they in turn got some free publicity.  I’ll be watching Henry Holt with great interest as they attempt to bring this particular promise to life.  Fascinating.

Oh.  This was magnificent.  Undoubtedly my favorite book presented all the livelong day.  I was so happy to see it on the list, to hear it read, and to watch it come alive that I want to review it right now (and won’t since its publication date is too far away).  Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman comes from the same fellow who brought us Chickens to the Rescue.  And if you didn’t read Chickens to the RescueDuncan and Dolores picture book, only with flying kittens rather than a single crotchety cat.  This is just a charmer of a book, and we even got to see a photograph of Himmelman’s own dog, Katie.  Fans of Himmelman’s work will also be pleased to hear that he has a book called Pigs to the Rescue, coming up soon.  I’d just like to add that when they finished discussing this book, the next sentence that was uttered was, "And now after that fun book I’m going to bring you all down stories of teenagers on death row." 

Say.  Were you aware that illustrator Gennady Spirin had a son?  A son by the name of Ilya Spirin?  A son by the name of Ilya Spirin who has a book coming out this October called Ice Bears by Brenda Z. Guiberson?  Yeah, me neither.  Truth be told, his style has surface similarities to dear old dad.  I don’t know about your library branch, but polar bear picture books do particularly well in my own.  And these bears are definitely realistic looking.  Should be a cute one.

If Katie Loves the Kittens was my favorite book I found on the list then Footprints in the Snow by Mei Matsuoka runs a close second.  The presentation of this book was done particularly well, I think.  With hints of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, this is a story about a wolf that is seriously put out over the ways in which his fellow wolves are portrayed in picture books.  An enterprising soul, he attempts to right this wrong by writing his own story, starring a fellow by the name of Mr. Nice Wolf.  Yet as his tale progresses the characters come to be at odds with their author’s intent. 

Fans of Piper Reed will be pleased to hear that Kimberly Willis hold has a new one out called Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy and "five more in the pipeline".  Heavens. 

The sequel to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat will be called Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls and looks yummy.  I was a little sad to see that in the ARC there wasn’t a flip book element to the pages like there was in the first.  But maybe the flip book will be in the final product?  One can hope. 

I don’t know if we can really consider it to be Lincoln Book #2, but Thanksgiving: The True Story by Penny Colman will certainly have to touch on Lincoln’s connection to that particular holiday, right?  The book itself looks as if it will be pretty interesting.  Colman wrote Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial

The official Purty Cover Award went to Aurelie: A Faerie Tale by Heather Tomlinson.  then I’m sorry but unless you are performing surgery on another human being RIGHT NOW you need to run out and read that book.  I am so not kidding here.  His picture book follow-up concerns a small dog named Katie who is pleased beyond words by the three little kittens her owner brings home.  Unfortunately she just loves them SO MUCH that every time she enters a room she runs after them and howls, scattering the easily spooked kitties.  Katie "has a hard time with impulse control" as the presenter put it.  It actually felt a lot like that old for teens, so I’m thinking that she’ll have a good sense of what makes the true story behind Thanksgiving Day interesting.  I was glad to grab this one on my way out the door.

Remember The Swan Maiden from last year?  Yep.  That author.  Apparently this book started life as a take on the old Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale and then evolved beyond the original story.  To my mind, this is too bad.  I always loved the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  The tale is being billed as YA, but seems to have some middle grade potential as well.  We shall see. 

After this came the presentations.  Presentation #1 was by author Elise Broach.  If any of you read Shakespeare’s Secret or Desert Crossing, those are her books.  Her newest is a little story called Masterpiece and the story reminded me of nothing so much as Cricket Winter by Felice Holman in terms of its boy/bug relationship.  The book is kind of a Ratatouille with insects.  A boy named James has a lousy birthday and a beetle named Marvin paints James a picture to cheer him up.  It works like a charm but then everyone assumes that James is the artist and things get a little sticky.  It was described as "for those of you who love miniature worlds" as you would find in something like The Borrowers.  Ms. Broach read Chapter Four, which was rather lovely.  It’s certainly a story for those kids hankering for a classic feel.  I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s received professionally.

After Ms. Broach, Bryan Collier stood up to speak.  His newest book constitutes Lincoln Book #3 and is probably one of the more noticeable.  Called Lincoln and Douglas: An American Friendship it’s written by Nikki Giovanni, who also paired with Collier on Rosa.  The book parallels the lives of both men, flashing back and forth between their past and a grand function where they are both present.  Two pieces of original art were visible behind Bryan as he spoke about "the delicate walk that I try to do visually" and it was interesting to see how one of the works had been cut down and (in a sense) panned and scanned to fit the pages of the final product.  Collier spoke about a variety of topics, from the theme of fabric in the book to the fact that whenever you see Lincoln the scene is behind him and whenever you see Douglass the action is in front.  And did you know that on Bryan’s first book Uptown (a staple on New York City elementary school reading lists) the original art was lost and he had to replace it entirely? 

While in the audience I made a point of asking what his next upcoming project was going to be and he readily answered that it will be an Obama biography.  It is not the only Obama picture book biography coming out this season actually (more on that later this week) but I just wanted him to say it in a public forum so that I could quote him here.  I knew about it a while ago, but you never know what to write on a blog that is or isn’t going to get you into trouble. 

If Henry Holt continues its librarian previews in this vein then definitely sign me up.  A great crop of books will be coming out for the season and hopefully I’ll find time to review one or two when I get a chance.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. janeyolen says:

    What–no Roaring Brook, no First/Second? Aren’t they part of Holt? No Tor YA books? They are part of the parent company, Holtzbrink/Macmillan.

    I am so confused.

    But I do love the Flatiron Building.


  2. Fuse #8 says:

    At this point in time they aren’t bringing in the imprints. It could have been a scheduling question or one of time.

  3. The new Emmy book WILL have a flip-book element, according to some teeny-tiny type on the ARC I snagged at TLA.

  4. anonymous says:

    Actually, Roaring Brook, First Second, and Tor are all part of the same parent company, Macmillan, (as are FSG, Feiwel & Friends, Square Fish, Scientific American, St. Martins, etc.) but they are run as independent entities. That’s why they don’t present their lists together.