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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Albert Whitman and Company (Spring 2010)

It seems a bit unfair that while I do round-ups of the publisher previews in New York, publishers located in other parts of the country fall of the radar. Fortunately, once in a while someone comes along to New York City, willing to tell me about what they have coming up. So today, we take a look at Albert Whitman & Company’s Spring 2010 list. Straight out of Morton Grove, Illinois (pop: 22,451), Michelle Bayuk, their Director of Marketing, was in town so off we sat at the lovely Algonquin Hotel with some fellow folks and she told us about what they had coming up.

Albert Whitman and Company?” you say. “What have they done?” Ah yes. You are best familiar with big names like Harper Collins and Little, Brown & Co. aren’t you? What I like about smaller companies like Whitman is that they usually have one big time title or series that folks might be familiar with. Tell me . . . are you familiar with a little number I like to call . . . The Boxcar Children?

Now I don’t know about your library system, but in mine there are certain mystery series where child interest never flags. Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, of course. Encyclopedia Brown. And then, for the early chapter crowd, comes The Boxcar Children. When I was a kid I remember having the first Boxcar Children book read to me. It marks the first time I understood what a silhouette was, since they are used as chapter headings in the novel. The first book came out in 1942, but the story had one element I adored. Mainly, kids living on their own without parental supervision, possibly solving a mystery along the way. What’s not to love? Well, it’s delightful to see that this year, in 2009, the first book is being reissued in a thick gorgeous red hardcover edition complete with original silhouettes and a lovely place holding red ribbon.

Now the series is a little different. Apparently the original author, Ms. Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote the first nineteen in the series… starting in 1942. These days the year is updated and it’s 2009. Same stories, different year. What’s more, the kids in the novels are . . . um . . . well, there’s no good way to say this so I’ll just put it out there. They’re tweeting. Yup.  In the real world the four characters in the book actually tweet one another (which makes perfect sense when you think about it). Teachers are now attempting to figure out how to incorporate such tweets into classroom use. In my own experience, when characters tweet it’s a very solitary activity. So to have characters tweeting one another opens up all kinds of avenues. Conversations that fans can follow, for example. On the other hand, we’re always being told that kids today don’t use Twitter, so we’ll see if it catches on or not.

Speaking of mysteries, that brings us to The Buddy Files by Dori Hillestad Butler. Beginning as a three book mystery series with the possibility of more to come, the books consist of a dog detective. But I’m not talking about a dog detective in a McGruff the Crime Dog sense (one wonders where his book series is these days). This is more about a dog that is placed in a pound when his family goes missing. Over three books he proceeds to solve the mystery of what happened to his family, in spite of being adopted by a new group of humans. Dog + mystery = Are there any? Personally, I can’t think of anything for older (suggested ages 6-8) off the top of my head. Hrm.

Periodically throughout this preview familiar names would crop up. Lynn Munsinger is a good example of this. I know her best from her images accompanying books like Spot the Plot by J. Patrick Lewis and Skunks by David T. Greenberg. You, however, might know her best from the Tacky the Penguin books. In this particular case she illustrated Mary Elise Monsell’s Underwear! which is now coming out in board book form, cut down from the original picture book. The same thing has been done with You Go Away by Dorothy Corey (a story that gets kids used to the whole going away/coming back regularity of family visits, parents going to work, kids going to school, etc.). Book #3 in this group of new board books is You Push, I Ride by Abby Levine (illustrated by Margot Apple of the charming Sheep in a Jeep). I became rather fond of this one when the observant child in the book (prone to statements like “I build, I stack, I put things back”) notices with surprise that while he grows when he eats but, “You eat and you don’t grow at all.” Oh, child.  If only you knew.

For a while there my husband and I weren’t watching a lot of television. Then, one day, we decide to watch TLC while putting together some IKEA furniture. During the commercial breaks we were shocked to discover that some 45% of the commercials we saw during that time were discussing the importance of being eco-friendly. That trend has spilled over to the children’s literature side of things for a while so that each new season sports some customary save the Earth fare. Whitman’s no exception. One of their nods to Earth Day (though not that precise date) is This Tree Counts! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow. Think of it as sporting a kind of Will Hillenbrand meets Ezra Jack Keats type of art. It’s a mix of digital illustration and . . . . I see I’ve written “physical illustration” in my notes, which I’ll interpret as meaning “collage”. The book manages to incorporate both counting concepts and environmental concerns while also (and this is important) naming the trees and discussing the different things they are useful for. Nicely done.

The thing I like about author Eileen Spinelli is that she’s not one of those spouses of a fellow author who fades into the background. Granted, she’s married to Jerry, but I know that in my library she holds her own, beating him sounds in the picture book section, and giving him a run for his money in the chapter books as well. Ms. Spinelli did some books for Whitman called Peace Week in Mix Fox’s Class and Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green. Now she has Miss Fox’s Class Earns a Field Trip coming out with illustrator Anne Kennedy once again.

If you know me I’m not so much for the cutesy. When begin my brood this may all change and you may end up reading full posts on this site that can talk about nothing but fluffy bunnies and kittens with eyes twice the size of their heads. Until then, I have to acknowledge that they have a purpose. Will You Still Love Me? by Carol Roth, illustrated by Daniel Howarth falls into that category. This is a book that goes in for simultaneously maintaining a classic feel while also soothing fears about new babies. It has little touches as well. A polar bear in one of the scenes wears a necklace that caught my attention. It’s cute and that’s that.

All right, all right. So you’ve got your alphabet books, right? And you’ve got your potty training books. I think you see where I’m going here. Rebecca O’Connell is best known at this point for her The Baby Goes Beep and now she returns with illustrator Amanda Gulliver to write Danny Is Done with Diapers: A Potty ABC. Now it was pointed out that when kids are learning to use the potty they end up sitting there for quite some time. Reading material is ideal in these cases. The book is pretty upbeat, and the solution to the “X” factor is smart. I’ve mentioned before that anytime I look at an alphabet book I check out whether or not they’ve “cheated” on the X (other folks do it with the "J"). In this case, the X is the mark you make on the calendar to indicate that you’ve used the potty successfully. Pretty sneaky, O’Connell. Sneaky indeed.

Now we come to the first of the two books I liked the most at this preview. Because at first Crash Bang Donkey! by Jill Newton caught my eye. Sporting a one-man donkey band that could put Bert from Mary Poppins to shame, the story’s about a quiet little farm. Scratch that.  Make that a formerly quiet little farm.  A  music making donkey arrives and is prone to statements like “ride the rhythm, baby!” and “Hey dude, what’s occurring?” In the end the hipster donkey learns that there’s a time to loud and a time to be quiet. The author, as it happens, is British. So there you go.

The other book I had a real affection for was Small Florence, Piggy Pop Star by Claire Alexander. I suspect I would like it even more if I watched American Idol. It’s a story where a pig’s older sisters get on a singing contest on TV and she wishes that she could join them. Characters that get on the show upset my expectations, though. Normally in a book of this sort you’d end up bashed over the head with a bunch of songs that are bad barnyard puns. This book does that, but I think the lyrics are a little headier than the usual fare:

“Bright ears burning like fire.”
“Mama Rilla here we go again.”
“You’re my cat-er-wall.”

You will simply have to forgive the ABBA.  And that’s easy enough to do when you see that there’s a giraffe in the book wearing go-go boots. You gonna ignore a giraffe in go-go boots? I didn’t think so.

Next up is Twinkle, Star of the Week by Joan Holub, illustrated by Paul Nicholls. This got me to thinking. Has there ever been a children’s picture book about the everyday life of stars in a humorous fashion? Surely there must have been. I’ll just sit here and wrack my brains for a little while trying to remember what it was. Anywho, the story is about a class of stars who do the usual star stuff. Play constellation tag. Wear their planets on their belts. Their teacher is Ms. Sun (note the conspicuous lack of Pluto on her belt). Apparently if you’re a schoolteacher you are well and truly familiar with this Star of the Week concept. I’m a public librarian so it shot a good three feet over my head. I did, however, like the range of star shapes, particularly the Stars of David. So you can see, the class is diverse.

Prediction Time: I predict that with our country in its current economic situation we’re going to start seeing a lot more books set during The Great Depression. Economic hardship is so much easier to swallow when it’s historical anyway (apparently). Lucky Beans by Becky Birtha is illustrated by Nicole Tadgell and concerns a black family during The Depression. In it, a small store has a contest to guess how many beans are in a jar and two boys want to win the sewing machine for their mom. After erroneously being told that only white ladies can win, they find a way to estimate the number of beans. So let’s check ‘em off. Multicultural, check. Historical, check. Learning about estimating, check. Not shabby.

There are a lot of picture books on this list, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a novel or two to take your mind off of things. Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off is an early chapter book by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benitez. It’s about a kid with magic sneakers of Hispanic descent whose dad died in Iraq and whose mom is going back to school. There’s also a bit of a comic book style aspect to it. And since I like to keep my eye on comics and the like, this one looks interesting to me indeed. We shall see where it goes.

By the way… correct me if I’m wrong but is anyone out there doing book and DVD packages? We all know that Weston Woods creates plenty of animated versions of picture books, but they don’t tend to include those DVDs with the printed books themselves. Whitman, on the other hand, is creating these hardcover book and DVD sets of titles like Little Rooster’s Diamond Button by Margaret Read MacDonald (narrated by the author herself, no less). They also happen to contain conversations with the author on the DVDs as a bonus feature. Huh.

And that was it! Just a quickie preview, but it’s a small company. Many thanks to Michelle for showing me these titles. There are a couple in there I won’t mind taking a gander at later on down the road.

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. Will You Still Shove Me?

    And then Crash Bang Donkey is ready made.


    It’s hard to stop.

  2. Chrisin NY says:

    “but the story had one element I adored. Mainly, kids living on their own without parental supervision….”
    These were my FAVORITE stories as a kid- my go-to books for fun and comfort. Forget all those pesky parents/adults- I wanted independent adventures. I used to dream how I would manage those kinds of situations on my own- even picked out the tree I would live in.

  3. Michelle Bayuk says:

    Thanks Betsy!

  4. Jennifer Schultz says:

    “During the commercial breaks we were shocked to discover that some 45% of the commercials we saw during that time were discussing the importance of being eco-friendly.”

    Our local all-news radio station runs an ad from a funeral house advertising their eco-friendly burial options.

    I’ll take your word on more books set during the Depression. I’d like something that involved the WPA. Fiction or non, wouldn’t matter. I’ve noticed several recent books that dealt with the 1918 influenza epidemic, but the H1N1 flu is too recent for that to not be a coincidence.

  5. Jennifer Schultz says:

    Sorry. Meant to say that H1N1 is too recent for the books to be nothing but a coincidence.

  6. News of the “modernizing” of the Boxcar Children strikes me as a great shame. The students at my school library love them as they are. Honestly, we don’t need updates of the original All-Of-A-Kind Family books, Bertsy-Tacy, etc. Lots of students come in asking specifically for “old-fashioned” books.

  7. Ooops. Sorry. I think I misread. You meant that the new ones are modern, not that the old ones are being modernized.

  8. Wendy McClure says:

    We definitely aren’t modernizing the original Boxcar series! The first 19 books still have the same stories and art they had back in the day. The paperbacks have updated covers to match the newer books, but the hardcovers haven’t changed.

  9. Yes, I may have been unclear. What I heard was that the year was changing. Not the text for the most part. The kids won’t be blogging or anything in the original tales.

  10. Hank the Cowdog would be crushed at being overlooked.

  11. Hank is strong of spirit. He can take it.

  12. Peg Kehret says:

    When my usual, big publishers turned it down, Albert Whitman took a chance on Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio. I am forever grateful to them for giving what became a best-seller and award winner a chance.

  13. Whitman has graphic novels of the Boxcar Children too now – I think about 5. I got a couple and they check out regularly, but they’re very, very thin – they tend to get squashed, shoved to the back, etc. I’m waiting for them to be reprinted in a big collection that will be easier to shelve. Hint hint!

  14. I am enchanted that the “Boxcar Children” series, in any format, is being revived and brought back to life by this thoughtful company. They really do a nice job balancing the vintage versions with more cutting edge editions (and they distribute really neat mouse pads with illustrations from both). Also had a chance to meet author Joan Holub thourgh this publisher which was a lovely experience.