I got three words for you that will sum up this post: Stuffed. Elephant. Head.
You will see.
The publishing industry as we know it today is slogging its way through our current economic depression. Times are tough. Belts are tightening. Publishers are letting folks go and trying to figure out where to downsize . . .
And then a new kid comes to town. And by "town" I mean "country". Those of you who live across the sea from me probably know of Egmont. It’s a European publisher. To be a bit more specific, it was founded in 1878, is one of Scandinavia’s leading media groups, and is Europe’s largest children’s publisher. In the past they’ve pretty much made it so that the only American stuff they handled was Disney’s stuff in other countries. Now they’ve cast their sights on America, have crossed on over, and are upon our shores. Interestingly, the books that will be appearing on their first list will consist of only two titles from the U.K. The rest are 100% red-blooded Yankee.
When I first got an invitation to Egmont’s premier librarian preview I was skeptical because I didn’t know the name. Eg – mont. Eggy Monty. It wasn’t ringing any bells. Then I saw where the preview was going to take place: The Harvard Club. I did a double take because I have a running series on this blog of High Falutin’ Places I Warn’t Never Done Meant to Be. So far the list of the High Falutin’ has included the Metropolitan Club (where I stumbled into a gigantic room that contained a veritable sea of desserts), the Yale Club (where some librarians and I fooled a woman into thinking we were members), the University Club (where I screamed loudly at The National Ambassador of Children’s Literature in a relatively quiet space), and the Players Club (which I’ve never blogged about, but meet me sometime and ask about it cause that place is weeeeeird!). I do not belong in these places. I am a librarian. I belong behind a reference desk. But give me the opportunity to nob with the hobs or hob with the nobs and I go for it. The Harvard Club was within my sights.
Because you know what the Harvard Club has inside of it don’t you?
Stuffed animal heads!!!!
Okay. Maybe it’s not that exciting. But have you ever actually sat down and stared at a stuffed elephant head? First of all, ten’ll get you one that the taxidermist didn’t have a clue what to do with the trunk. In any other setting the natural thing to do would be to have it hang straight down, right? Nuh-uh. In the case of The Harvard Club they have decided that the trunk should go straight out, horizontal to the ground below. The only reason I can possibly ascribe to this is if the guy who shot the poor thing thought it would be fun to have the elephant’s head posed with the expression it had when the unfortunate bullets pierced its rugged hide.
Our hostess on this particular day was Elizabeth Law, Vice-President and Publisher of Egmont USA, who did me the favor of giving two others and myself a quickie tour of the building. This was mighty fine of Ms. Law to do. I believe I probably whopped several Harvard grads with my enormous bag during this time. Of course, it happened after the preview and the preview is the whole point so I’m going to backtrack here and give you a sense of what was where and when.
We were fed and watered and milled about in a curious fashion. Then we came to a nice little room where we had seating assignments. This was relatively novel. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a librarian preview before that sat its librarians (and literature associates) with specific seat assignments. My table was labeled "Candor, Florida" for some reason. All would eventually become clear.
First up, Greg Ferguson, an editor with the company, sat down at my table and said howdy. Various editors and marketing types flitted about the room (which, I believe, held only six or seven tables in total). And at mine was none other than Executive VP Doug Pocock who plunked himself down to personally talk up some books. And away we go . . . .
There weren’t that many books being presented on this day, so I’ll mention a couple YA titles for kicks. For example, there’s Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen. Or, as it was described to us, "Chick lit with a brain." It’s about a kid that goes to an elite public school, akin to New York’s Stuyvesant High School. Her dad, as it turns out, is the school janitor and his OCD is only just barely under control. So it’s not surprising when our heroine pretends she doesn’t know who he is. Oh. And she’s also pretending to be from England. This is not a first novel for Ms. Cohen, considering that she came out with the middle grade novel The One and Only Zoe Lama at one point.
On the fantasy front we’re looking at a new series called Candle Man by Glenn Dakin. Book One is The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance . . . which is a title I’m rather taken with. It’s steampunk meets Evil Genius with a whiff of Octavian Nothing / The Elephant Man / Akira to it (my convoluted comparison, not theirs). High concept too. A boy is raised as though he has an "illness". Whatever happens, he is not allowed to remove his gloves. When a 13th birthday trip to the graveyard reveals more than it should, he discovers that he may have a strange power. One that allows him to melt criminals with his bare hands (hence the series title, eh whot?). Author Dakin is a graphic novelist (though strangely he didn’t do the interior spot illustrations for this book). Looks like it might be a good title to hand to those kids obsessed with The Last Apprentice series. In any case, it’s middle grade and that’s all I care. Too bad it wasn’t one of the titles they were handing out.
Newest Dystopian Novel Alert! The explanation of why the words "Candor, Florida" were placed at my table were explained with the introduction of Pam Bachorz’s Candor. I love the background on this one. First of all, the author actually lived in that horrific Walt Disney "perfect" town Celebration, Florida when she got the idea for this book. Basic concept: Candor, Florida is basically Pleasantville. Kids are controlled by subliminal messages that keep them docile, but there’s one dude determined to fight back. It sounds like a good brainwashing novel to me. A bit of 1984, a bit of Stepford Wives, and a bit of Feed. Line describing this book: "In this town you are what you hear." Not bad.
I mentioned earlier that of all the books on this list, only two or so were imports. Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks is one of these. They are very excited about Mirrorscape. It’s the first of a three book series. Basic concept: Walking into paintings. I’m being very brief with that summary, but that’s what I took away from the description. The crazy thing is, when I hear someone discussing a character walking into paintings what’s my first association? The world’s creepiest made-for-TV movie of all time The Peanut Butter Solution. It bears almost no similarities to Mirrorscape aside from the painting conceit, but now I find that I’m having strange flashbacks to that crazy ghosts/hair growth/sugar trail/painting film anyway.
Most previews have special guest appearance by authors or artists who are either A) local or B) in town brokering a deal. I have the distinct feeling that today’s special guest was as much a surprise to the good people of Egmont as he was to us. Christopher Myers, when called upon to speak off the cuff about the things he’s working on, is a darn good public speaker. Of course, we were all rather amused by where he chose to speak:
So what’s Chris up to these days? Well, as you may know he’s done a fair amount of books with his dad Walter Dean Myers. These collaborations have yielded titles like Blues Journey and Jazz. The process also tends to be the same. Myers the Elder writes the words and Myers the Younger does the pictures. But what if that format was reversed? What if Chris made the pictures first and Walter had to find the appropriate words to accompany? The result is a book that may be Egmont’s first sideways lunge at a Caldecott. Looking Like Me apparently did not have a final cover before the preview began. By the time it ended, however, we had cheered for the art we felt made the best jacket. Undoubtedly they would have gone with that image anyway, but it was kind of fun feeling like we had a say. Sadly, I don’t have it here to show you.
About his process, Mr. Myers said, that "There’s always a competition between the text and the image," and that you can find a richness in those parallel narratives. In the case of this particular book the revision process has, for him anyway, been very rewarding. Recently he’s been wondering about that age old question: How do you create something that lasts? For him, this book is his answer. After all, Chris sees himself as a simple guy. "I like to go for walks, see stuff, go dancing, talk, and make stuff. I’m only five things!"
The most interesting about this book for me is the fact that a lot of the art consists of photographs of slides from Chris’s microscope. The background to the cover, for example, consists of a piece of pine tree that died and that he managed to photograph and collage over. As Regina Griffin said, "I never really knew how banal my thinking was until I met Chris Myers." I sympathize.
Fun Fact: Christopher Myers calls his father "Pop". I find that endearing.
Having been entirely thrown off by the appearance of Mr. Myers, at this point in the proceedings I apparently became so flustered that I started noting the editors on one page, but not the books they presented. So basically my table was joined by Rob Guzman, Elizabeth Law, Regina Griffin, Mary Albi (wearing very awesome glasses), Ellen Greene, Nico Medina (author of two novels of his own wearing this fabulous tie/vest combination), and Allison Weiss.
So, in no particular order, here are the rest of the books.
Concept-wise, Callie’s Rules by Naomi Zucker ain’t half shabby. A girl decides that becoming a middle schooler requires knowledge of an unwritten set of rules that she is unaware of. The solution? Write those rules down. The main character’s name is Calliope, Callie for short. I’m a little jealous. I’ve a list of names I’ve always thought would sound great in a children’s book, and one of those is "Calliope". Looks like Ms. Zucker (author of Benno’s Bear, in case you’re familiar with it) got there first. Really, the book sounds quite good but the thing that won me over to it was the battle Callie fights. You see, the town council decides to cancel Halloween in favor of an "Autumn Fest" and the girl is (understandably) incensed. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen in New York City, so to find a book protesting it is a blessing. Callie’s Rules moves up in my To Be Read pile as a result.
Next up . . . well see for yourself:
There you go. A tween fairy novel. They tried to tell me that there aren’t many novels out there involving fairies for tweens and that it’s primarily a YA genre. I dunno. Off the top of my head I can think of R.J. Anderson’s Knife, Laini Taylor’s Dreamdark, and What-the-Dickens by Gregory Maguire. Not that this doesn’t have a darn pretty cover, though. And it may prove enticing to those kids who would like to read the older fairy books but are turned off by the content.
When I heard about the premise of Janet Lee Carey’s Stealing Death it touched an interesting part of my brain. Remember the old Jim Henson Hour that used to run on television for a while? It had a regular fairytale adaptation series called The Storyteller, where relatively dark tales were told. One that I remembered pretty well was The Man Who Caught Death in a Bag. That sounds not too dissimilar to Carey’s novel, and if the two are related then it’s a brilliant fairytale to adapt. Ms. Carey apparently did a fair amount of research about deserts while writing this novel and as a result she has gotten involved in supporting an organization called playpump.org. A PlayPump is a system that doubles as a merry-go-round for kids and a clean water pump. The kids play, the water is pumped, and all is well. It’s a pretty cool system and a good idea for any author to support.
One last word about this book. I see from my notes that I have written the following, "one word: hellhounds". Nice.
And the award for Best Title of the Preview goes to . . . . Food, Girls, and other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff. Nice. If I heard correctly, this was not the original title. Originally it was something lame and common like "Invisible". This one? Much better. Reading the description it sounds like a slightly older version of Ellen Potter’s Slob (also out this year). Author Zadoff wrote a book for adults called Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin. Someone at Egmont read this and thought to themselves, "That would make a great YA novel." I like that in the book the protagonist’s best friend is in Model UN. Seems to me like Model UN is deserving of a book of its own someday. I’m just saying.
Fans of Walter Dean Myers will be interested to hear that he has a work of historical fiction coming out this fall called Riot. Based on the 1863 Draft Riots the book is written in a screenplay format, not too dissimilar from Monster. It was compared to Ragtime, in that it utilizes a variety of different points of view during the riot. Better still, Myers will at some point be conducting a bus tour for kids where he shows them the different historical places in New York City where the riots took place.
I have a Listmania list on Amazon where I collected every children’s novel that involved a sane child living with crazy, wacky, kooky family members. I created the list about four years ago, so it’s fairly out of date. You’ll find Surviving the Applewhites, Ordinary Jack, Saffy’s Angel, that sort of thing. I guess that when I update it I’ll have to include Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti. In it, a nutty family’s put upon butler is about to escape his terms of service and write a tell-all novel in the process. The author apparently is a theater designer in some capacity and at our table we were privy to a little wooden box covered in danger signs. Inside resided a small stuffed albino alligator, which is apparently important to the plot. Good to know.
Todd Strasser’s got a new book out called Wish You Were Dead. Good premise too. An anonymous bloggers starts writing about how much it wishes people would die, and then one by one they disappear. One description of it said that it’s Lois Duncan updated for the current age. Sounds exciting, though definitely YA.
That would be the end of that, except once everyone was done talking about the 2009 season, we were actually given a quickie sneak peak into Spring 2010. I’ll just rattle off what I remember (and since it was going fast my facts may be way way off here):
– Upcoming The Dark Divine is being described as a werewolf story via The Prodigal Son. It will be YA.
– A new series akin to Philip Pullman’s Ruby in the Smoke will be out soon. Called Hidden Histories it’s middle grade and the first book will be called The Invisible Order. A girl on her way to the market is accidentally pulled into a battle between two fey factions. Fightin’ fairies.
– A new YA novel contains a similar premise to Y: The Last Man. In Epitaph Road 97% of the world is populated with women because of a virus.
– A new chick lit title (or possibly series) will be The Cinderella Society.
– And finally there was a really interesting fantasy title I liked the sound of, though I didn’t catch the name. In it a drought in a village is stopped by a roving wizard and the only thing he wants in exchange is the book’s heroine.
Something to look forward to, anyway.
Best Meets: "The Addams Family meets Cheaper by the Dozen" – Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti.
Thanks to Elizabeth Law for letting me lift her Chris Myers pics.