I direct your attention to this: Your average five-year-old.
Five-year-olds are an interesting bunch. Inquisitive? Oh yes, quite. Perky? Generally speaking, it’s an important developmental stage. And with the 5th birthday of Amulet Books, it was time for Abrams to throw a publisher preview for their pretty little imprint. The first of its kind, from this particular publisher, for the local librarati.
Librarian previews tend to be morning affairs. They happen in the wee hours of the day for those of us who can get out of work for an hour or two and not be missed. Librarian previews typically serve orange juice and bagels. Amulet decided to do it different. Not only was this preview at 5:00 at night but the refreshments included cupcakes. Cup. Cakes. Sly dogs. You can bet I zeroed in on the cupcake table and messily smashed mine into my mouth like Cookie Monster shaved of blue. It was worth it though. Cupcakes usually are.
The seating was a tad cramped, but we all found seats (curiously hosting bags that read "Knitting for Peace" on their sides) and then it was off to the races! First up, a listing of what most five-year-olds can do. The list was pretty droll. "The best news is that five-year-olds can carry on a conversation with adults." "Five-year-olds can stand on one foot for short periods of time." One might have hoped that this would naturally lead to the Amulet presenters doing the rest of the preview on one foot. Sadly, not the case.
Other library previews roll out a super secret guest at some point during the proceedings. This being a special occasion, Amulet was far more interested in rolling out FOUR guests for our general consumption. Michael Buckley, Benedict Carey, and Daniel Kirk, and Aidan Chambers. These blokes had to wait for the introduction of various books, however.
As with many previews there was an audio visual component. The Powerpoint aspects of the presentation consisted of a projector resting on several copies of a book called National Gallery of Art and another simply called Wonders of the World. Good thick tomes every one.
First up, a book I would not have thought to notice were it not for the fact that the cutesy cover has some interesting aspects. Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle has several pros and cons going for it. Pro: It’s by Lauren Myracle. You can trust Ms. Myracle. Her book may be pink, may have the word "Luv" in the title, and may even featured big-eyed girl cartoons lacking noses, but you can trust her. Con: The "v" in the word "Luv" is a little heart. Pro: Ms. Myracle was declared to be "one of the most challenged authors in the country." Con: Pinkness. Oh, the pinkness. Pro: Interracial girls in a middle grade novel (and how many headscarves appear on the covers of girly books anyway?). And the last time Ms. Myracle went all middle grade on us the results were Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. So I’ll pick it up. Some tween girls will flock to it like rats to sugar, and who am I to judge? Jacket illustration or not, I trust Lauren Myracle. So we’ll see.
Next up, Michael Buckley was introduced. And he, in turn, introduced us to his all new series. You know Michael Buckley’s Sister Grimm tales, perhaps. Now he’s switching gears. Instead of fairy tale-based mysteries, it’s all about the spies. The nerdy nerdy spies.
Donning a trenchcoat, fedora, and sunglasses, Buckley pointed out that this new outfit was quite a relief. "For Sisters Grimm I had to dress up like a fairy princess!" He explained that in his newest series, NERDS (National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society) was inspired by a visit to his 20th high school reunion. He saw how all the popular people from back the day were little sacks of sadness. And the nerds? Happy folks. So in NERDS, six misfits must defeat a series of villains. Villains like the somewhat Dr. Doom-esque character Dr. Jigsaw. His evil plan? To put the continents back together. This has apparently been done before in the comic book world but not in a children’s book. And each kid has their own special talent that hinges in a particular nerdy talents.
- Jackson Jones – His braces turn into tools. The flaw? They remain attached to his teeth the entire time.
- Duncan Dewey – Ate so much paste as a tot that he can now stick to walls.
- Matilda Chow – Inspired by Mr. Buckley’s wife, she’s an asthmatic with inhalers that can do major damage to foes.
- Heathcliff Hodges – Teeth so bucky they can literally hypnotize.
- Ruby Peet – Allergic to everything. Even lies.
- Julio Escala – His hyperactivity has turned into superpowers.
I like the variety of nerds on display. Usually you just get one kind in a book. In this one, a lot of kids are going to be able to identify with one type or another. Pity there isn’t a girl character with glasses so thick they can see through walls. As a kid, that would have been my kind of gal.
Next up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4. No, they didn’t reveal the title. No, they didn’t reveal the color of the cover (in fact Chad Beckerman was downright coy on that subject). What they did reveal is that it’s out on October 12th. Which would be fine if I could get some of my library branch’s copies of #3 back! I’ve not seen them since they first came in. Consarn it.
At some point in the proceedings author Benedict Carey stood up to introduce his new book, The Unknowns. One of the few Spring titles discussed, The Unknowns consists of two kids. One is named Lady Di. Her friend is named Tom Jones. Using math they are able to solve the mystery of what happened to their math tutor who disappeared. Carey spoke about how limited the middle grade options are for kids who dig math. Admittedly the only titles I could think of off the top of my head that actively employ it in the text would be things like Eric Berlin’s Winston Breen stories. That and Chasing Vermeer, I guess. In describing The Unknowns the words "gradient" and "slope" were given voice. I dusted off their definitions from that part of my brain that used to have to "find" such terms. The memories were not happy for me, but perhaps for a math-minded kid such invocations would be bliss. We shall see.
You probably know Marissa Moss for the Amelia’s Notebook series. Well apparently that lass has decided to get a little more middle grade fictiony (sans copious amounts of illustration) with The Pharaoh’s Secret. It’s a mystery with a bit of ancient Egyptian flair.
A little earlier I was bemoaning the big-eyed girls on the cover of Luv Ya Bunches. Big-eyed elves on the other hand? Far more palatable. At this point Daniel Kirk stood up and started talking about his Elf Realm series. You know Mr. Kirk even if you don’t think you do. Does the title Library Mouse mean anything to you? Yup. That’s his. And you might have seen the first book in the aforementioned series, The Low Road, back in 2008. This October we will be seeing the next book, The High Road. I will give Kirk this… when he sets out to make critters that have human features but are somehow different, he does a good job. You know that moment in the newest "Star Trek" movie where the woman with the strange eyes helps Kirk’s mom (different Kirk) give birth? That was sort of the same feeling I got from the huge-eyed but not cutesy elves of this series. After all, these dudes have tats. Tats that, I guess, the human child hero of the second book is going to have to get.
Mr. Kirk had brought in a bunch of original art for us to coo over. Mind you, he began by saying, "if I’d known there was Powerpoint I wouldn’t have brought along original art." The audience gave a massive, "Aw!" to this. Original art is always appreciated, oh artists. Always. Now the first piece was of the art meant to accompany the original cover. Kirk had illustrated a ton of little people behind the head of the fellow in the foreground. The problem? That was sort of where the words "Elf Realm" ended up. Over the little people. So, having learned his lesson, he proceeded to show us the cover for The High Road which made sure to leave lots of room for the title. Subsequent pieces consisted of charcoal drawings of various characters.
I don’t usually report much on YA titles at these previews, but the list was so short that I might as well make a passing mention. Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron was introduced by Art Designer Chad Beckerman, who pointed out that the fellow on the cover is a talented musician by the name of Joshua James. The book contains a playlist at the end (always a good idea). Chad mentioned that one thing he hates in novels is when the author goes about creating fake names for bands.
Chad: "Hairy Meatball" is not a band and will never be a band.
Tentative Audience Member: But you kind of want to hear it.
Chad: Not really.
Apparently Struts and Frets does not suffer from this problem. So there you go.
And now the YA title that I’m going to say is rather inspired. We keep seeing all these classic works of literature reinterpreted for teen audiences. There was Gordon Korman’s Jake Reinvented, which was a YA Great Gatsby, Rodman Philbrick’s The Young Man and the Sea (you get three guesses what that was referring to, and the first two don’t count), The Heights by Brian James (an update of Wuthering Heights), and who knows what all. Consider then, Troy High by Shana Norris. It’s The Iliad. Set in a high school. And it’s so crazy it just might work. Consider the following:
You have two rival high schools. One team is the Spartans. One team is the Trojans.
Elena, captain of the Spartan cheerleader team, transfers to Troy High and falls for the narrator (Cassie)’s brother Perry.
The Spartan "wildcard football star" is Ackley.
There’s more, but that’s a taste. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town where football is king will recognize that when it comes to that particular game, "epic" is not too strong a word to use. I was impressed with the idea. Nicely high concept. It’s due out in August.
A glancing mention of the occasional Spring 2009 title was made throughout these presentations. One book mentioned was Lisa Greenwald’s debut novel My Life in Pink and Green. A Longstocking, Lisa’s book was described as being particularly well poised in the current economy. After all, it’s all about a family’s money woes and the possibility of having to sell their store. And since it’ll be another year or two until we see more of THOSE stories coming out, Ms. Greenwald proves to be ahead of the curve.
All right. At long last the final speaker of the day was poised to talk. I’d not heard Aidan Chambers address a room before. As he began I found myself jotting down little sentences of his.
- He used the word "holiday" repeatedly, which is a word I particularly enjoy hearing Brits say (blame Chicken Run if you must).
- "Five-year-olds can’t do everything."
- "How dare a 75-year-old man write about a 19-year-old girl and her sex life."
Huzzy wha? Yes, in the midst of some very funny stories about aging and chocolate ice cream-related mishaps, we got to the nut of the matter. Abrams is rereleasing Mr. Chambers’ multi-book series "Dance Sequence" with gorgeous new covers. You can see Dance on My Grave, Breaktime, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (starring the aforementioned 19-year-old girl), Now I Know, and The Toll Bridge. That is undoubtedly out of order, but you get the gist. Mr. Chambers explained the roll of women as characters in his novels at some length, saying that it all plays into the role of women in history itself.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t also mention:
The World’s Greatest Swag
Generally I’m not a swag hag. I can live without the countless bookbags/stickers/pencils/what have you publishers create to sell their books. However. There are exceptions. And the Michael Buckley super secret and supremely awesome blacklight pen was one of them.
Here is the pen:
Due to my lamentable photography skills you probably can’t see the plus and minus signs on the side. That’s okay. All you need to know is that on the top of the pen is a blacklight.
And here is the white tipped pen. Now merely write on something like a hand or a wall (writing on panes of glass is not recommended).
Then press a button on the pen . . . .
Laura, if you’re reading this, I saved you one. Dunno if they had these at BEA, but if there are any at ALA in Chicago, get ‘em! Get ‘em right quick.
For actual photos of the preview itself, I didn’t have the guts to steal them, but you can find copious shots on Amulet’s Flickr page.