It has always struck me as monumentally unfair that all the New York publishers have the option of having these ultra-cool librarian previews for members of the NYC children’s literary field, while pubs located in other parts of the country are left blowing in the wind. Take Kane/Miller, for example. They’re a relatively small publisher based out of La Jolla, California and on their site they describe themselves as such:
"We search the world for books that through great stories and arresting illustrations enrich the lives and the imaginations of the children who read them. American children need to learn not just about the United States, but about the world. They need to know that they can share adventures, and fantasies and dreams. Because our children will not simply be citizens of their own countries, they truly will be citizens of the world."
Which is to say, they are one of the few children’s book publishers out there that look around the world for stuff to translate for our kiddies back here in the States. The result is that they often end up finding stuff that is super cool and that no one else has managed to discover. Just this year they published TWO (count ‘em) TWO early chapter books, the like of which I’ve not seen before (Snake & Lizard and Wombat & Fox, if you’re interested).
So when the beauteous Sondra Santos LaBrie (she of the very cool name) asked if I would be interested in hearing about her upcoming season I had a brainwave. Why not do a one-on-one librarian preview with the librarian being me? Easy peasy. Sondra sent me PDFs of the upcoming season (not hard since they don’t do huge lists) and I talked to her on the phone about the beauties she’d mentioned. Here then are the Spring 2009 books you should definitely perk up your ears and peel your eyes for. You definitely won’t find them anywhere else unless you suddenly start traveling overseas.
The hot country of the upcoming year? Australia. I asked Sondra, "Are Aussies awesome?" The answer was a definite yes. Aussies are incredibly awesome.
Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan – Australian, though you wouldn’t know it from the dust jacket. Seems like a departure from their normal picture book stuff since it stands at a full 212 pages. I was particularly drawn to the beautiful cover which may touch on the current desire a lot of manga-loving teens feel for Japan. At first glance the novel appears to be YA since it has a teen protagonist. But the text as I learned from Sondra could also be middle grade. All this marks a departure for Kane/Miller, tiptoeing to the novel line of work. Nice to see them branching out a little.
Moonrunner by Mark Thomason – Ditto this one in terms of Aussie books. It’s Australian all the way. And like Hannah’s Winter it’s also about a teen uprooted and introduced into a new culture, only while Hannah’s Winter has a kid going from Australia to Japan, Moonrunner has a kid going to it.
Norman and Brenda by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat – Notable because it is described as Sondra’s “favorite book EVER”. Little wonder as it displays everyone’s favorite picture book everyman, Norman. A de-mustached Norman at that. The by-line “the anti-heroes’ anti-heroes” combined with the fact that the protagonists are unapologetically thirty-seven means that this isn’t your usual fare. Sondra said right from the start that this is not a children’s book. So I look at it this way: If we are allowed to have graduation picture books whose sole purpose is to send our children off into the big blue world in some kind of a meaningful fashion, why can’t we have post-graduation books? This is the kind of story you’d hand to someone who was certain they’d never meet the love of their life. Norman and Brenda ain’t sexy, but they’re hopeful.
And here’s Norman’s personal ad:
Not All Animals Are Blue: A Big Book of Little Differences by Beatrice Boutignon – It is French, this one. And it is also not what they might call a “normal book”. It’s not a story exactly but the kind of book a parent reads one-on-one with a child, asking questions and getting their responses. I mean, you’re supposed to do that with children anyway, but this title makes it more interesting somehow. The kids identify each character with the sentence that describes it best. And apparently the translation left some of the questions about the animals a little unclear. So the clever designer made it so that there are even hints about one creature or another in the appropriately colored text. Nice.
Froggy Green by Anna Walker – A “Toddler Tales” book. Ostensibly a book about colors (and also Australian, I’d like to point out), each child in the story is associated with a shade or hue. And while there is a girl who likes pink, a different girl likes blue so that’s cool.
Cranky Paws by Darrel and Sally Odgers, illustrated by Janine Dawson – This is the first in the Pet Vet series. And just check out that cute Maine coon cat on the cover. Aww. Australian (again). All in all it looks very cute. There are even spot definitions in sideboxes alongside the text defining various vet terms. Good idea for a series too. I can think of a lot of kids who would find the adventures of animals in a vet hospital interesting.
Superduck by Jez Alborough – Ah! You may have heard of this person! The duck books are certainly in my library collection, and Alborough has a name that has come up often over the years. This particular title is a book from Great Britain. It’s very endearing, but then you’d have to expect that from any person who came up with the book Hug. Now in the course of my conversation with Sondra I mentioned how much I liked "her" books. "Jez is a he," Sondra corrected me. I figured my phone wasn’t working properly and gave it a little shake. "I’m sorry, you were breaking up there. What did you say?" "Jez Alborough is a ‘he’," she repeated with a laugh. I was baffled. I haven’t had this great a shock since I discovered Aliki was a she. You know how you make a mental image of an author in your head as you read their books? I had envisioned Jez as a short brunette with a lovely bowl-cut of a haircut and snapping black eyes. Now I’m going to have rehire my mental sketch artist and reread all of MISTER Alborough’s books. Heavens.
I save the best for last, because these final two titles were particularly keen when I saw them. A Friend by Anette Bley is the author and illustrator of other books like And What Comes After a Thousand. Speaking of Aliki, this is rather Alikiesque (I’m thinking of Feelings in terms of the cover). And it’s German! Reading through it, the book is a really good definition of what friendship is for anyone, not just kids. Friendship is defined in touching, but not sickly sweet, way. The tone is so good that it might be my favorite on the list. Really, it defines beautifully not only what friendship is, but what it means to people of different ages. And check out some of the interior illustrations:
The other book I enjoyed particularly was My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe. Tis French!! On the back the book reads, “This is Japan, my country! Japan is made up of over 3,000 islands. This map shows the largest five islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Okinawa – and the 47 prefectures.” I don’t know about you but we have NOTHING like this in my collection. Basically it covers daily life in Japan. It’s like Richard Scarry in terms of stuff and items and details, but realistic too. It discusses the home, food, holidays, going to school, you name it. As far as I could tell this could be a librarian’s dream come true in terms of reports.
Thanks again to Sondra for the images and PDFs! I can’t wait to see the finished products when they come out.