You guys are fairly familiar with the drill on these right? Publisher invites librarians to brunch. Librarians eat food. Librarians listen to roster of upcoming books. Librarians are laden down with ARCs. It’s all very standard in NYC, but with one catch. When the Spring ’09 books start rolling out, that’s when the restraints of self-restraint must be attached. I will not allow myself to read or review any book from any year prior or post the one that I am in. Fortunately this rule does not extend to summing up previews, so here’s a brief recap of what I heard or saw that seemed particularly interesting (depending on both the presentation and the product).
Food Update: Muffins did include those of the chocolate variety. Hunger sated. That day’s workout rendered moot.
Okay, so which table do you pick when you’re at this party? Everyone’s gonna be a little bit off their game at first and only get into the swing of things later on down the line. Greenwillow would be out then because they’ve usually a long list of titles to get through. What about one of the newer imprints like Balzer & Bray or The Bowen Press? They haven’t been around long and probably have an interesting list.
I should note before I begin that at random moments I would, for reasons that have long since been forgotten by my present tense self, put little black stars next to books I thought were good. I’ll mention them as I go.
So it was that I started at Table 1 like a good little pooky with Kristin Daly, Brenda Bowen, and Anne Hoppe there to explain what was what. Ms. Hoppe started off with a new title that’s bound to be near and dear to your Gothy little hearts. When Emily the Strange debuted in 1994 as an odd little Bay area bit of skateboard art, there was no predicting how quickly she’d take the nation by storm. I always saw her as the illegitimate love child of Edward Gorey and MTV’s Daria. Now if you’re a little confused because you are fairly certain that you’ve seen Emily books before, you ain’t wrong. Dark Horse put out an Emily graphic novel back in 2005, but Emily never did prose… until now. One Rob Reger has written Emily the Strange: The Lost Days and the premise is kind of cool. Emily discovers that she has given herself amnesia and she must find out why. Sort of like Memento meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Paycheck … for kids, I guess. Harper Collins was a bit iffy on the age range, though. They seem to be labeling it as 12 and up because of the teen fan base, but I took one look at that cover and knew it’d be ideal for my 4th and 5th graders. Guess we’ll have to see what kind of content Reger cooks up. Or, more importantly, if it’s even any good. Fingers crossed that it is because the novel’s a pretty little thing and my 16-year-old inner self still thinks that Emily’s cool.
Serendipity Market by Penny Blubaugh appeared at first to be exactly the kind of book I wouldn’t be interested in. For one thing, its title is Serendipity Market. However, a little description and suddenly this YA (d’oh!) title began to flesh out and sound pretty sweet. Set up like The Canterbury Tales (full credit for making that a selling point) the book contains eleven storytellers who tell fables where each tale is a twist on a traditional story of some sort. Extra points for the author who is a YA librarian and deeply involved in YALSA. [Little Black Star of Recommendation]
In my age and infirmity I sometimes have difficulty remembering the names of people with whom I’ve had long, drawn-out conversations. One such example may or may not be Tom Warburton. Aside from the fact that I keep picturing Patrick Warburton when I hear his name (Putty!) I cannot remember if he was the fellow I sat next to at a dinner some two years ago. Odds are saying no. Regardless, Warburton was Mo Willems’ writing partner on that television show Codename: Kids Next Door and now he’s written a picture book of his own. Called 1,000 Times No, the book displays at least twenty-seven languages and innumerable other methods (example: robot) of saying the one syllable "N" word.
Greg Foley cannot be introduced as merely "Greg Foley". And when his upcoming picture book Willoughby & and the Lion came up the descriptor of choice was "Handsome Greg Foley" which I hereby declare to be the man’s official name. No one with such perfectly sculpted eyebrows deserves any less. Willoughby I had been sent before, but that doesn’t keep one from staring at how doggone different it is. I can’t figure out if this is Foley’s lunge at a 2009 Caldecott or simply what he does to keep himself amused. The book is black and white but contains so much gold foil that if Demi were to see it she’d be awash in envy. Add in the photographs, mixed media, and simple storytelling and suddenly Thank You, Bear starts to resemble the height of restraint. Clearly Foley (forgive me, I meant "Handsome Greg Foley") has merely been biding his time.
Herbert’s Wormhole marks the first time I’ve seen a book touted as being similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is significant. Under normal circumstances a New York Times series bestseller is privy to similar titles nibbling at its ankles. Think of all the Harry Potter and Twilight wanna bes out there. Herbert’s Wormhole, however, reminded me far more of the Time Warp Trio books, a fine pedigree right there. It was touted as funny (always important) and the author Peter Nelson and illustrator Rohitash Rao are a screenwriter and animator respectively. Convinced Me to Take the Book.
Many of you will be pleased to hear that the third in Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy (isn’t it odd to write the word "trilogy" about books that aren’t fantasy?) is due out on shelves in February. This Full House (do what you can not to think of the Olsen twins or Bob Saget when you read the title) has already become a Richie Pick and the number of pages is greater than those in the previous two books. How much longer? Well, to show off the cover appropriately the book masquerading underneath was The Book Thief. As a verse novel Wolff won’t be as long a read but I was amused by Brenda’s description right off the bat: "Reading this book is like reading Middlemarch." Wolff should be honored by the comparison.
I had read that Lynn Johnston, creator of the comic strip For Better or For Worse was writing a picture book, but somehow I’d forgotten it again before attending this preview. Farley Follows His Nose revives the strip’s long dead English sheepdog for a book that, to my mind, makes for a smart mix. The emotional content of later For Better or For Worse always seemed better suited to a book or graphic novel format than a not-quite soap opera strip. Farley just feels like a natural next step and was co-written by Johnston’s sister-in-law Beth Cruikshank. Now Johnston can follow in the footsteps of fellow comics-to-picture book artists Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson, and (of course) Walt Kelly. She’s the first female artist to do so that I can think of, though.
Other Notes: Peter Abrahams is dipping a toe into the world of Young Adult writing with Reality Check. It is said to be a darker mystery than his Echo Falls fare and he already has #2 in the pipeline. The September Sisters has a pretty cover (note this for it will be important later). Lisa Graff once mentioned to me how much she liked the cover of her upcoming book Umbrella Summer. I myself was intrigued by the influence of Charlotte’s Web on the tale. And it wasn’t discussed much at all but I have heard murmurings surrounding Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s The Year the Swallows Came Early. Something to keep your eye on, in any case. Star of the Week by Darlene Friedman with illustrations by Roger Roth is the rare adoption picture book for older child readers. And there’s to be another Mary Rogers sequel to Freaky Friday called (you guessed it) Freaky Monday.
Then it was time to move to another table . . . . except, wait!
There was one more book waiting to be mentioned. And with only a few seconds left Kristin Daly (filling in for Jill Santopolo) said the two-word pitch that would haunt me long after the preview was over.
It’s called Rampant and it’s by a Diana Peterfreund and . . . . . killer unicorns. I bow before the brilliance of it all. Best. Pitch. Ever.
Table Two and feeling . . . . coo.
Poet I’m not.
This was the mod Maria Modugno / Phoebe Yeh table and what was the super delightful treat they had in store from us? Well, it was related to a tease I’d received at the last HC librarian preview. Back in the Spring I had been told that Antoinette Portis of Not a Box fame had a new picture book on the horizon and it involved penguins. Now A Penguin Story has hit our fair shores and I couldn’t be more pleased. Actually this is one of those picture books I read through later and I’ll say nothing else because it would make for a good review. [Little Black Star of Recommendation]
My little baby niece hasn’t quite decided on many favorite picture books yet (she’s 2). But god help us all the one book she loves above and beyond all others is Pinkalicious. So basically she’s going to freak her little toddler mind out when she sees that Goldilicious has come out. The cover sports a picture of the book’s heroine posing in front a unicorn. I saw this and suddenly I remember the Rampant pitch. Tee hee.
There are always books you miss in a given season. For example, I’d always intended to review Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton but somehow it never came up. Fortunately there is such a thing as a sequel, particularly where Mr. Scotton is involved. Love, Splat is a Valentinian (Valentonian?) book of wuv. It also reinforces my firm belief that nobody, but nobody, does computer animated hair like Scotton. Apparently Apple sends him computers because he "pushes the limits of what can be done" with a pixel. Fuzzy Splat looks just as charming as he was in his debut. I’m definitely looking forward to reading this one. After all, "digital art is only as good as the person doing it." [Little Black Star of Recommendation]
The terms "screamingly funny" and "arch humor" were used to describe We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings. I was a little put off by the sparse cover, but any premise that involves a bloodthirsty boy hoping for his even tempered snake to be a killer is a-okay with me (if that’s really what it’s about, which I am not at all sure of). Convinced Me to Take the Book.
Dean does drugs. Which is to say, Walter Dean Myers is tackling drug abuse in his newest YA novel (introduced after the much younger Rattlesnakes title) in Dope Sick. It’s using the old what-if-you-could-relive-your-life model and twists it. They’re saying it might be the next Monster only in a different visual format. We shall see.
The table was certainly excited about Myers but they were downright chatty cathys about J.T. Dutton. Freaked has them… well, you know. It’s essentially a YA novel about a Holden Caulfield type who is dead set on getting to the next Grateful Dead concert. Apparently Harper Collins is just buzzing the buzz about it. I myself was much taken with the pretty cover. Stare at it long enough and it definitely grows on you.
Ghosts of War: My Tour of Duty is author Ryan Smithson’s memoir of his tour of Iraq. Photos of his time there, written accounts of what he encountered, it’s all in it. They’re sending him on a six-city tour (unfortunate term) to promote it, and really there isn’t much like it out there for teens. I could only think of Off to War by Deborah Ellis, and even that was about the parents leaving and not the kids.
The YA Novel I Took In Spite of My Self-Induced Age Restrictions: My Name is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story. Our Way by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin. It wins the Best Cover Award of the day. Hands down. So of course I can’t find any images of it online. Convinced Me to Take the Book.
Other Notes: Is Jane O’Connor, the Fancy Nancy author, an editor at Penguin? Am I incredibly out of it not to have known this? Fact checking… yup. I am out of it. Leslie Lammie channels Raymond Briggs for Once Upon a Saturday. It’s an understated tale with a kind of graphic novel format at times. I like the look of this one. Sloppy Joe is to be for boys (and messy girls) what Fancy Nancy is for girls (and tidy guys). Actual quote when describing the book, "He’s just a regular Joe the Plumber." I hope Harper Collins will be clever enough to pair the aforementioned 1,000 Times No with Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Yes Day! While they’re at it they can pair the adoption for older kids book Star of the Week with the older divorce picture book My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me by Bill Cochran. Each seems to be the amusing antithesis of the other. Laurence Yep takes a stab at a Lon Po Po pitch (comparisons are inevitable, I fear) with his own twist on the Red Riding Hood tale in Auntie Tiger. Lincoln Alert! Bing bing bing! This was my first Lincoln of the day, and the hook? Well, in What Lincoln Said it’s apparently a "pre-beard book". Granted he seems to have one on the cover, but that’s fine. And A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn was described as "Sleeping Beauty in Miami".
All right. People are feeling pretty good now. Voices are limbered up. Coffee is kicking in. Pacing is getting established. Perfect timing, in other words, to sit down at the Greenwillow table with Virginia Duncan and Steve Geck.
Confession time. Table #2 was awesome and my attention really didn’t flag at any point. But at one moment during the book discussion I could hear Geck’s lilting tones wafting over from the next table. He was saying things like "Persephone" and "romantic" and "underworld". Without my permission my ears turned like little radars to pick up more, and I wasn’t the only one. Now, at the table itself, Laura Lutz and I demanded to know more about this romantic teen Persephone/Hades story. I mean, talk about a book that was meant to be written for a very long time. Literature is chock full of dark romantic fellers hurling pretty lasses under the ground. Phantom of the Opera. The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle. So why not go to the source of all these stories? Emily Whitman’s Radiant Darkness takes a very interesting route with its tale. Hades is the kind of fellow a girl would want to give up natural sunshine for and (I was a little unclear on this but I HOPE it’s the case) Demeter is the villain. How perfect is that? You’re shacking up with your boyfriend/husband and here comes mom to hurl you back up to the surface where you do not want to be. Tell me a teen can’t relate to that? Geck kept using words like "lush" and "tactile" to describe this book. He could have said it was "squiggly" or "spherical" for all I cared. I like the premise. The cover image (not online yet, grr) for all its jungle appeal was actually shot on Avenue B and 6th in a public garden.
Ian Schoenherr’s another one of those authors I always mean to review and then never do. Generally he tends to write picture books involving two characters. Pip and Squeak. Cat and Mouse. You get the picture. His newest title Read It, Don’t Eat It! walks a delicate line. I sit hunched in perpetual wariness whenever I see a book that looks like it might be pandering to the librarian community. But what sets Schoenherr’s latest from the usual gee-aren’t-librarians-great stock is that it’s actually a book we can use and read aloud to classes with fantastic results! Basically he’s written a list of don’ts for books. Don’t eat it. Don’t chew on it. Don’t get it wet. That sort of thing. I may have to rotate my standard readaloud stock for classes once we get this one in. Even young classes would find it easy to follow.
When one sees the new Amelia Bedelia title Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School where the grown woman has been shrunk into a kid, your natural inclination is to wonder whether or not the book will explain what it was that screwed that poor lady up so badly. Will some trauma in her past explain her present flooziness? This does not appear to be the case (unless the moment when she glued herself to her own seat had farther reaching consequences than we might imagine) but it signifies an interesting trend. Youngifying older classic characters to make them young? Who else might benefit from this? George and Martha become baby hippos? The Cat in the Hat becomes The Kitten in the Bonnet? The mind reels.
Vera B. Williams has written a sequel to A Chair for My Mother. This should be bigger news. I don’t know about you but when a kid walks into my library with an assignment to find a picture book with multicultural characters, Williams’ title is one of the first few I pluck. The new title, A Chair for Everyone, involves the same chair and now Rosa’s family is inclined to reupholster it. Needless to say, Rosa does not take kindly to this idea.
This year Carin Berger wrote the gorgeous The Little Yellow Leaf. Now she goes in a different direction with the auto-inspired OK Go (and now that band’s treadmill song is caught in my head). It’s being touted as environmental but not preachy. There are also lots of cool little cars in it. Got a kid who likes cars? Well there you go. And according to my sources she still prefers the J. Crew catalog and Martha Stewart magazine for her cut paper collages (they have such vibrant colors, you see).
Note for the rabid Megan Whalen Turner fans of the world: Greenwillow just received the first few chapters of her new book. Stay tuned.
Other Notes: When Greenwillow looks at the corporate reports to see what the most recent book reprints are, there’s always at least one Aliki book on the list. That’s probably part of the reason they’re so thrilled to have Aliki’s new one Quiet in the Garden coming out next season. Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan was described as what you would get "If Dr. Seuss and E.B. White had ever collaborated." The President of ALAN, David Macinnis Gill, has come out with a book called Soul Enchilada. The title has a fabulous back cover on its ARC and involves someone’s soul as collateral for a Cadillac. What’s not to like? You can see the trailer here. No galley existed for Kate Thompson’s Highway Robbery (boo) which is by the author of The New Policeman, but is written for the My Father’s Dragon age range they say. Author Suzanne Crowley is a descendant of Lady Jane Grey and has written a YA novel set in Tudor England called The Stolen One. [Little Black Star of Recommendation] It was at this point that I noticed that YA novels from Greenwillow all had girls with full-front faces. Silver Phoenix. Radiant Darkness. The Stolen One. Well done there! Finally, the new Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney is due out in May. The title? The Spook’s Tale. Best of all, it shows how the Spook became a Spook and even shows some of Alice’s history.
A brief break. A stretching of the legs . . .
And we’re back. Back at Table #4 hosted by Tara Weikum and Farrin Jacobs. They’re all teen-ish, which ain’t my speed, but I’ll touch on some of the highlights anyway.
I was pleased as punch to see that the first book discussed was R.J. Anderson’s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. I’ve heard a lot about this book and I know that Ms. Anderson was originally a bit worried that it might be too similar to Laini Taylor’s Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer when that puppy came out two years ago. Fortunately they are more than adequately different enough. The world is big enough for more than one fairy warrior book, I think.
Michael Stearns has now passed on to a better place (agenting) but his titles live on. One that he acquired before his departure was Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot by cute Andrew Auseon. The basic premise is that the afterlife’s hottest punk band has to come to the land of the living to get away from fans and write new material. The cover speaks volumes.
The very last Princess Diary is due to come out, y’know. Princess Diaries, Volume X: Forever Princess is due on shelves in January and in it you’ll learn about Mia’s boy choice, college choice, etc. In the book, if I heard this correctly, Mia is writing a romance novel. Well, in a kind of bizarre tie-in the adult division of Harper Collins is going to publish "Mia’s" romance novel and all the proceeds will go to charity. A celebration of the books will also occur at the main branch of New York Public Library, but sadly Jack Martin, YA guru, was unable to get permission to put giant tiaras on the lions. Ah well.
Other Notes: There’s an anti-Saxon fantasy coming out called Warrior Princess by Frewin Jones (Xena fans will probably have their say about the title). Fans of changeling stories and fans of Francesca Lia Block can at last come together in perfect literary harmony when her new title Waters and the Wild comes out. The title is from a Yeats poem, cor blimey. Stephanie Meyers broke her do-not-blurb rule for Aprilynne Pike’s (interesting name) fantasy Wings. The book involves fairies and someone who wakes up to find flowers blooming out of her back.
Best Description: "The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Gossip Girls" in describing Anastasia Hollings’ Beautiful World.
First Runner-Up: "Spring Break 1900s-style" in describing Envy: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen.
Second Runner-Up: "They hate each other, they love each other, they hate each other, they shop" in describing Sloan Sisters by Annabelle Vestry.
Fashion Note: Both Tara Weikum and Farrin Jacobs have exceedingly cool glasses. I know I’m not supposed to comment on fashion during these things, but they do. Tara’s were black with this subtle purple cusp just behind the frames that looked exceedingly cool and a little like this picture. Farrin’s were similar but with a russet hue.
I also started to do a Face vs. No Face cover count.
Books at This Table That Cut Off the Face: 2
Books at This Table That Slice the Face in Half: 2
Books at This Table That Show the Full Face: 7
I hate to be premature, but I believe our long national nightmare is almost over.
All right. Table 5 and still alive.
Katherine Tegan and Barbara Lalicki were hanging in there. They’d given the same damn talks four times already, but what’s one more to round the morning out?
I wonder why I’m not sick of Kadir Nelson yet. I should be. The guy churns out beauty at such a frightening rate that if I ever harbored any kind of artistic dreams they’d be instantaneously crushed by the man’s sheer volume of work. His newest is Coretta Scott, as penned by Ntozake Shange. This is good news. Generally I disapprove of anyone being paired with Nelson if they are not Nelson himself since I don’t feel their writing lives up to his art. Shange is an honest-to-goodness writer’s writer, though, and I think the book may reflect that. Just flipping through a few of the pictures I can see that Kadir does just about the best Martin Luther King Jr. ever (with a tip of the hat to Bryan Collier of course, of course). And the kicker is that at the end of the book you have Coretta walking along wearing glasses. Glasses! Unless a woman is Rosa Parks you rarely see them wearing glasses in books. Granted she’s not wearing them on the cover, but I’ll take what I can get. Text at the back of the book will explain the significance of the movement since the book itself is a poem. Boy, I just cannot wait to see Mr. Nelson’s Obama book. I haven’t heard of him working on it but you just know he must have one squirreled away up his sleeves somewhere….
There were a lot of ARCs present but one that I really wanted to lay my grubby little paws on was none other than Jason Cockcroft’s Counter Clockwise. Like Walter Dean Myers’ Dope Sick it involves changing the past. What’s cool about it though is that as the past is changed the book’s narrative structure also changes and bends with time itself. Cockcroft, fascinatingly enough, is the illustrator of the British Harry Potter covers (and I own all of them partly because of him). He didn’t do the cover to this book, but he will be including his own spot illustrations inside.
For Immortal by Gillian Shields the description was "Jane Eyre meets Twilight." I’m not entirely sure what it means but I think this may be my best bet for a Spring zombie romance title (they’ve really tapered off from 2008!). I was a little surprised that the cover with its blue background and jewel was so amazingly similar to Harper Collins’ other spring release The September Sisters. You would think the publisher would want to keep such covers as dissimilar as possible. Most odd. But there’s lots of time between now and then. Perhaps they’ll change their minds on one or the other.
Yay! There’s a new Pat Mora book in the works! It’s called Book Fiesta! and I’m rather fond of its illustrator Rafael Lopez. And no, I am not just saying this because he included a shot of a girl reading with a stone library lion. Not that it hurts any . . . . Convinced Me to Take the Book.
I’d neglected to review illustrator Rudy Gutierrez’s last picture book which I believe was called Papa and Me. Now he’s done Monica Brown’s picture book biography of Pele, King of Soccer / Pele, El rey del futbol. With its remarkable colors and energy, whoever thought of Gutierrez for this project should be sainted or knighted or somethinged.
Other Notes: I love you, Henry Cole! Say what you will about the man, he does a good panicky hen. A fact that Bad Boys Get Henpecked by Margie Palatini exploits brilliantly. The "elegantly written Stone Age" chronicles of Michelle Paver will be joined by the newest Chronicle of Ancient Darkness: Oath Breaker. Burn My Heart falls squarely into the Slice the Face in Half cover category, but we’ll forgive it since it’s by Beverley Naidoo and we all like her. Dan Gutman ups the stakes in his Baseball Card Adventure series when he focuses on Ray & Me, the only ballplayer killed by a pitch. Sounds pretty bleak but apparently Gutman carries it off. We shall see. And just in case you were suffering fairy withdrawal since the last time I mentioned a fey title, Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston mixes Shakespeare, fairies, and New York all together. Plus the author is a member of a Shakespeare group. Pretty cover too.
Phew! That was exhausting. Thank goodness I’m done. Now all I have left to do is to sit down and think about typing… Little Brown’s preview… from two days ago.