We find ourselves in a restaurant that bears the name The Red Cat. The weather outside is awful. Gushing torrents of freezing rain and gale force winds intent upon tearing children’s librarians into strips of book-loving confetti. But inside The Red Cat, all is warm. The food alternates between what appear to be deep fried green beans on the one hand (tastes better than it sounds) and creamy risotto on the other. And joining us is the illustrious Cathleen Brady who has traveled from the wilds of San Francisco to tell us a little about Chronicle’s upcoming season. So. Let us see.
First up, one of my favorite fairy tales. It would be ridiculous to say that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to Thumbelina, because as picture book adaptations there are some truly lovely versions out there. From Pinkney to Sneed, tons o’ folks like to try their hand at this teeny tiny runaway bride (full credit to Barbara Ensor for coming up with that particular phrase). 2010 is definitely going to be the year of the little ladies, though. On the one hand you have Candlewick coming out with its Laura Amy Schlitz fairy story for the future wild women of America The Night Fairy as well as a Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrated Thumbelina, and on the OTHER hand Chronicle is coming out with its own Thumbelina. Their secret weapon? Sylvia Long.
Remember Sylvia Long? Even if her name doesn’t immediately ring any bells I think An Egg Is Quiet should be a sufficient jolt to your gray matter. Yup. Ms. Long is back and she’s just as good at drawing petite people as she is inanimate shells. In fact, this newest Thumbelina (at a cool 58 pages) has a cover I’m rather attached to.
Look! Koi! How come no one ever puts koi in children’s books? Knowing how koi operate, I wouldn’t be surprised if these fishies made a lunge at some point for Thumbelina’s head, but we’ll assume they ain’t going for it.
Off-Topic Note: As a child, did anyone else ever get mad that Thumbelina didn’t end up marrying the sparrow? Or am I the only weird one here?
MoMA. It’s what’s for dinner. Wait… that doesn’t sound quite right. Oh yes! What I meant to say was MoMA… it’s the new partner of Chronicle, launching a bunch of fun book/toy-like products for the inquisitive mind. Example A: The MoMA Make Art / Make Mistakes Sketchbook. This looked kind of cool. On one page you have an actual piece of art, and on another a blank page. The kids can then draw on the art, replicate it, or just "make mistakes". Huh. We also took a look at the images of the MoMA Modern Play House, which essentially boils down to "modular nesting boxes". I’d say more, but I’m having too much fun repeating the word "modular" over and over again. Modular. Modular.
On the next page, guess what’s back? Ye Olde Lacing Shapes. MoMA Lacing Shapes, no less. Clearly we’re going for a nostalgic feel here. More fun was the MoMA String-Along Books. Much as everything at a state fair is improved by frying it and putting it "on a stick", these items of literature are made of felt and superior to other books because you can put them all "on a string". Helloooo, design nerds everywhere!
Note: I did not get to see the MoMA Modern Play Family which was described in the pamphlet as consisting of a "hip press-out-family" containing five members. I’m desperate to see the ways in which they are "hip". Ten’ll get you five that the toddler is wearing a newsboy cap.
Okay. Back to real books. Cathleen next displayed a clever little number that will either hit big or fly under the radar entirely. One Too Many: A Seek and Find Counting Book by Gianna Marino is subtler than you might expect. It’s sort of a Napping House meets The Water Hole situation. Various animals go to get a cool drink of water. #1 is a bouncing flea. As you watch, the flea leaps off of two cows. Turn the page and the cows are still there, but now the flea is indicating three horses. Nobody leaves. More and more animals start piling into the scene, and by the end you’re dealing with a fully crazed barnyard chock full of critters… until one of them clears the room. I consider this to be the unofficial return of The Napping House flea. He’s been absent for way too long. If Animalia is the picture book for the 4-8 alphabet crowd, then this could be its numerical equivalent.
George Shannon, insofar as I can tell, is becoming our unofficial chicken man. First there was his Tippy-Toe Chick, Go! Now he returns with Chicken Scratches: Grade A Poultry Poetry and Rooster Rhymes. Partners in crime include co-writer Lynn Brunelle and illustrator Scott Menchin. There is a governing theory that states that there can never be too many chicken-based picture books out there. Whatever your stance, I was surprised to see the old "Guess what? Chicken butt!" joke make a mention in one of the spreads. Until this year, Erica S. Perl’s Chicken Butt had been the first I’d heard of that one. Now you can’t get away from it!
The next one’s YA but we forgive it because (A) Chronicle doesn’t sport that long a list and (B) the cover is cool. The Space Between the Trees by Katie Williams marks Chronicle’s second foray into the wild world of YA. If the blurb I read is anything to go by, this book is a good old-fashioned spine-chilling horror story. I’ll just quote one or two little sentences from what I read:
"As I reach for Hadley, she’s reaching for me, too. When we see what we’re both doing, we laugh at how we’ve spooked ourselves, and it feels like a regular slumber party again, as if we’ve indulged in nothing more serious than scary stories. It would have been something if the killer had come crashing through the woods right then and there. You wouldn’t believe it, not even in a story.
In reality, it takes almost an hour more before he arrives."
If publishers were smart they’d ask librarians, "What are the non-fiction books and biographies that circulate a lot, in spite of the fact that they were published more than twenty years ago?" I know what my answers would be. (A) Those Amazing Leeches. (B) Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me, and All the other Peanuts Characters by Charles M. Schulz. I kid you not when I say that that little Schulz bio for kids circulates madly. It came out in 1980 and doesn’t rest on a shelf more than two days before someone else is whisking it away. So it was with great joy that I heard about Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman. The woman who brought us Delicious delves into the life of a mighty popular man. I liked too that the catalog text said that he was acclaimed by artists, "ranging from Andrew Wyeth to Mo Willems". Now about that leech book . . . .
Back me up on this one. Look at the cover of Tortilla Sun. Just look at it:
That’s Ana Juan’s art, right? Geez, I sure think so. Nobody does luminous quite like Juan. Tortilla Sun is by Jennifer Cervantes and is a middle grade fiction novel with ambition. All I know is that for 2010 Ms. Cervantes has just won herself the Awesome Book Jacket lottery. I won’t have any difficulty selling this one to my tweens.
The requisite earth-friendly fare was, of course, present. Sometimes it announces itself in the catalog by having a paperbag brown cover of some sort (paperbag brown being the universal symbol for eco happiness). Simple Steps Toward a Healthier Earth by Molly Smith (illustrated by Tad Carpenter) does have a bit of that brown to it, but the designer was clever enough to liven the product up with a fair smattering of yellows, blues, and greens as well. It’s an activity book for kids that gives some of its money to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
With the new Tim Burton movie waiting in the wings to emerge, it’s logical that there would be some new releases of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland getting ready to publish soon. A new edition compiled by Cooper Edens (who apparently owns one of the largest collections of vintage Alice in Wonderland books in the world) will contain the story and tons o’ illustrations from multiple artists over the decades. A very good idea, and one that you could easily replicate with other books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan, I think. Sweet sweet public domain.
I will watch with interest the fate of Lisa Railsback’s Noonie’s Masterpiece. A work of middle grade fiction, the book looks like nothing so much as a MG version of those zines we youngsters used to engage in pre-internet. This is due, in part, to the artistry of Sarajo Frieden who is doing the copious illustrations, making this a double debut for the author and illustrator alike. And while it may not slot neatly into our preconceived notions of what a middle grade novel looks like, I am very intrigued by this. If there is any book on this list that draws my interest the most, maybe it’s this one. Note: The illustrations will apparently be in color. Groovy.
Re: You Can Do It Too! and I Can Do It Too by Karen Baicker, are coming out as lap-sized board books. Woot!
And in our Hipster Moms Are Gonna Freak category, slot in Mini Lunch Notes by Peagreen. I probably shouldn’t even report on these since they’re not books, nor do they contain any booklike qualities. But Peagreen (whether a person or a company) is creating the ultimate mix of hip design and what I like to call "bringing the cute". I can think of no better way to regularly embarrass your teenager too.
Is a panda a bear? That was the question that suddenly rose to the forefront of our brains when we saw Bob Barner’s latest title Bears! Bears! Bears! This number one threat on the threatdown had us scrambling to remember our Snapple cap knowledge. Is a panda a bear? After much theorizing it was eventually established that yes, pandas are bears but red pandas are not. As for the book itself, it gives you fun facts involving all eight species of bear. There’s even a little poster that includes these species and where they live. Extra points to whoever wrote the catalog copy for this book for using the term "budding ursinologists". Sadly, those points will have to be retracted for the rest of the sentence, claiming that said ursinologists, "will bearly be able to contain themselves." *shudder*
And that’s the long and short of it folks! I tell you, I love these small pubs. I say because it’s true and also because there’s a Harper Collins preview breathing down my neck right now that I need to write.
Extra thanks to Cathleen Brady for the preview.