Mmm. Fall. How quickly we desire to see the shiny and new. Spring and Summer 2010 books? Old hat. Gimme the sparkly new stuff that won’t even begin to hit bookstore and library shelves until the leaves start turning brown. Yep, it was a good old-fashioned Little, Brown librarian preview the other week. There was food. There was drink. There was a special guest. And most importantly, there were books and art.
Let’s talk art first. There were several original pieces presented around the room but only two really caught my eye. The first was a brand new Ed Young collage piece. It appeared to be from a book called The House My Baba Built. I doubt we’ll be seeing the final product until this time next year in 2011, but it was nice to see that he’s continuing to work in a collage format. The second original piece that caught my eye was from Laban Carrick Hill’s Dave the Potter. More on that later.
So! Each table had little PowerPoint printouts in full-color with the editors’ names color-coded down the sides IN alphabetical order. Lar de dar. Those of us taking notes appreciated it. And since Liza Baker is clever enough to find herself at the start of things, with her we do start.
And, by extension, with one of my favorite books of 2010. Okay. So. Here’s the thing about Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden. I liked it, I did. It was very good. Very attractive. Not annoying in the least. But I reviewed it kind of out of a sense of the fact that it was on the New York Times bestseller list and I wanted to put in my two cents. Still, I didn’t read it and feel transported back to the age of five. I mean, it was gorgeous, but I often feel more affection for books that are funny. Maybe that’s why I feel so downright delighted by Brown’s next offering, Children Make Terrible Pets. Edited by Alvina Ling with a wonderful use of faux wood, I don’t want to say too much about this since I want to review it. I think the cover pretty much says it all, of course. Let’s put it this way. How many of you remember the animated television show Tiny Toons? All right. Now how many of you remember Elmyra? Okay. Now translate her into a bear with a bow and a tutu. Babies, you do that much and you know what I’m talking about. This book is a hoot.
Hm. Well, I did a sly little “More on that later” regarding the book Dave the Potter about two paragraphs ago. But turning the page in my PowerPoint handout, I see that it’s next. All right then. Later is now. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the best Bryan Collier book I have ever seen. And I am including Uptown in that assessment. Author Laban Carrick Hill may be familiar to those of you who have seen his older YA nonfiction fare like Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance or America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60s. This is his first foray into picture book nonfiction, and he couldn’t have chosen a better subject. The true story concerns a slave named Dave who, within his lifetime, created more than 40,000 pots. Amazingly, he was so strong that he was able to throw 40-gallon pots (roughly 60 pounds worth of clay). What’s more, he wrote his own poetry on them, in spite of the fact that slaves were technically not supposed to know how to read or write. Collier’s work on this book is nothing short of breathtaking. I knew he was good with hands when he illustrated Hope Lynn Price’s book These Hands. But in this newest book both the hands and the faces are superior. Collier also appears to be using a collage style much like folks like the aforementioned Ed Young, and even Kadir Nelson (in this year’s Mama Miti). Seems like it must be the style.
(By the way, I was also gratified to see that over at Roaring Brook, Mr. Hill has also written DJ Kook Herc, a biography of “the Godfather of Hip Hop” as illustrated by Theodor3. It’s due out in Fall 2011. And yes, my spellcheck went a little nuts just now).
You know whom I love? I love Holly Hobbie. And what’s strange about this is the fact that I love her in spite of the fact that I think I’ve only ever read a single Toot & Puddle book from cover to cover. It was okay, but I came away from it thinking that maybe her fantastic art overshadowed her writing. I have since changed my mind. First I read her Fanny, which was a simply lovely picture book that charmed me thoroughly. Now I’ve seen her latest book, Everything but the Horse. This one is based in “a childhood memory” and concerns a little girl who has grown up in the city. One day her parents buy an old farmhouse and after she adapts to her new surroundings the little girl is determined to own a horse. Her farm has lots of animals, but no horses! I was particularly delighted with this book when I found that the outfit worn by the girl in the pictures is replicated from an old photograph of young Holly from her own youth. I know she’s done everything from sunbonnet sues to intrepid pigs, but I think Holly Hobbie is doing her best picture book work now. Seriously.
All the fun of Liza Baker with twice the Poppy!
Poppy imprint time. That’s that teen imprint LB&Co. started a year or two ago. Teen stuff’s not my bag, but danged if they don’t put out some fun stuff once in a while.
First up, (and you knew it was inevitable right?) Glee novels. There will be a prequel coming out this fall called Glee: The Beginning. It goes on from there. Clever dogs.
Next up, The D.U.F.F. I ain’t too caught up on my slang these days (I never even got around to using the term “fierce”). So the term “DUFF” or “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” used to described the plump girl that hangs out with her skinny hot friends . . . nope. That’s a new one on me. Written by 18-year-old author Kody Keplinger, this book’s about a “duff” and the manslut slimy hottie she hates / hooks up with. Consider it an “enemies with benefits” relationship, as Cindy put it. Though, to be honest, that wouldn’t be a bad YA title right there.
There were two potential D.U.F.F. covers shown at this preview. Alas, I liked the other cover more than this one. The book is supposed to be about an overweight gal. This lovely lass with her minute accumulation of baby fat shown to the left here isn’t quite what I expected. But then, as it has been pointed out many times before, no one wants to put overweight characters on book jackets. Not even when they’re the main characters.
Bloodthirsty by Flynn Meany is Little Brown showing it has a sense of humor about the whole Twilight thing. Sure, they’re happy to rake in the moolah with every little tiny Twilight-related bit of work, but they’re also not afraid to skewer the vampire genre entirely. If Balzer and Bray at Harper Collins can come out with Adam Rex’s Fat Vampire then LB&Co. is coming out with it’s own funny book … and it stars a kid named Finbar Frame. Finbar’s a bit of a skinny, weedy, pale dude. He also can’t get dates. The solution? Convince everyone you’re a vampire. Batta bing, batta boom, instant lady love! Consider it in the vein of I Love You, Beth Cooper or King Dork. I believe they may still be working on the jacket for this one. Getting just the right tone is bound to be a challenge.
I like Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan because (A) Cover = Purdy and (B) it boils down to “immortal party girl goes to immortal rehab.” Fun.
If it weren’t for Ingraine the Brave, I’d say that Reckless by Cornelia Funke carries some distinction since it comes in at a svelte 288 pages. As it is, I think folks will have other things to say about it as well. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover. Is that not fantastic? Eat your heart out, Gaiman! Jennifer Hunt loves her some Funke, and for this book she edited the German writer in translation. Usually Funke is edited by her German editor, so this was a bit of a change of pace for everyone. In this story, we have two brothers. One has a tendency to disappear into a secret world. When his younger sib follows along unexpectedly, the kid gets zapped by a curse that begins to slowly turn him into stone. The setting is a kind of fairy tale world that is slowly moving into its own Industrial Revolution. Funke did all the interior illustrations for this book, which is pretty cool. Jennifer even showed us a picture she did of a fellow with scissors on one hand and needles on another that, for a second there, I thought was Struwwelpeter. I suppose the Grimm brothers were German and so too was Struwwelpeter. Man. They get all the good stuff!
For those of you in the market for a good crying book, Sarah Ockler has written a sequel to her previous hit Twenty Boy Summer. Fixing Delilah Hannaford is coming out November or so, and should be popular with those folks who liked her previous outing.
Then I get myself some very good news indeed! Longstocking Jenny Han is author of YA fare like The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You. I remember her best, though, as the gal who wrote that great middle grade crush-on-the-boy-next-door story Shug. To my delight, now Jenny goes even younger on us. Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream is an early reader about a Korean-American girl living in a Gilmore Girl-esque small town. It’s one of those books that bridges kids between easy readers and early chapter books. They don’t really have a name. In any case, Jenny wrote this her senior year of college (bet we all feel like slackers now, don’t we?) under the original title “Grandpa’s Best Girl”. I approve of the title change. Art in the book is by newcomer Julia Kuo. Coo.
What I like about Wendy Mass is how well she builds a fanbase. It’s been slow and steady, but over the years kids have really started to ask for Mass by name. Every Soul a Star in particular is one I get a lot of requests for. Once in a while she lapses into YA, but generally speaking Mass has been good about writing middle grade fare. The Candymakers is just the latest version of that. The book is about four out of thirty-two kids, all contestants in a candymaking contest. Basically, the kids are competing to make the best candy, and they get to use a super high-tech lab to make it. Of the kids we follow, one kid is the son of a candymaker, one is cheery, one is essentially Alvin Ho, and one is a guy who makes it his business to win contests. Oh. And one of them is a child spy (ala Slugworth in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). It sounds like a lot of fun. Sort of Gollywhopper Games-ish. I just hope they hold a tasty tasty book release party for Ms. Mass.
You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin is not written in the second person. So if you were hoping for another Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas you are barking up the wrong tree. No, this book is far more like the movie Brick. You saw Brick, right? You didn’t? Okay. Shut down your computer, leave the room, and don’t come back until you have seen Brick. I loved that doggone film. High school noirs, when done well, are gold. In this book a new kid comes to town and investigates a mystery. Along the way, he realizes that each clique at this new school, Salt River High, is like its own separate little mob. There’s even a chart in the book detailing all the cliques. My favorite? The one called New Skids on the Loom, which is described as “more a poorly dressed amoeba than a true clique.” I hear ya. There’s also a glossary in the back for slang.
I truly believe that someone somewhere should give author April Lindner a cookie for resisting the urge to do to Jane Eyre what I am CERTAIN at least one person in the world told her to do: Add vampires. She doesn’t. You will not find a single vamp or zombie in her new novel Jane. You will, however, find the byline “What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?” In this updated take on an old classic, Jane is still poor (she has had to drop out of college for financial reasons) and so she takes up with working for a dilapidated rock star staging a comeback. The cover’s rather lovely if you spread it apart. There’s a nice spooky tree at work on the back cover. Lindner, a English professor and poet, is also working on a Wuthering Heights update of some sort. It’s funny how often people do WH, when Jane Eyre (to my mind anyway) is such a stronger novel and generally gets left alone. Hm.
Author Cris Beam of Transparent is back with a YA novel for trans-boys. I know you’ve hundreds of them filling your shelves right now . . . aw, who’m I kidding? You don’t have a single one, do you? Well, don’t worry about it. Now you do. In the new book I Am J, the character of Jennifer is born a girl but wants to have the right body. When Jennifer becomes J, his best friend betrays him and he has to find a new kind of family. There’s an Author’s Note and resources for kids in the back of this book, making it kind of a necessary purchase where kids aren’t getting a lot of this information. Fans of David Levithan and Julie Ann Peters, we are told, will enjoy this one. I liked the non-gender cover too. Good old hoodies. Everyone can wear those.
Sherri Winston impressed a lot of people a couple years ago when she came out with the gorgeously jacketed The Kayla Chronicles. That book was YA, though, so for President of the Whole Fifth Grade Winston goes a bit younger. This book is about a girl who decides to become the Oprah of the cupcake baking world. To do this, she decides to run for class president. Think The Lemonade War meets Bobby Versus the Girls (Accidentally). The book will include presidential facts and cupcake recipes, which is good enough for me. Now Winston is working on a black Harriet the Spy meets Nancy Drew. I am there!
Let us pause for a moment in true appreciation of the cover of The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. If you have ever seen the original cover of To Kill a Mockingbird you might notice the inspiration. Compare:
The book concerns a swanky private school where a vigilante group of students have established a secret court. Whenever the students feel that one of their own deserves discipline, they turn to this court rather than the unreliable adults around them. Then one day someone brings a date rape case to The Mockingbirds. The subject is handled thoughtfully, and was described as more than merely an issue book. Something along the lines of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
While The Mockingbirds may have one of the loveliest covers, Dark Song by Gail Giles is one of the most original. The book tackles the “savior complex” that comes with dating bad boys (i.e. you can save him). It’s a good instructional guide in how to go really wrong. In this book, an upper class family shatters after dad’s poor financial decisions. Then the daughter hooks up with a gun-obsessed older guy. Though she wrote Shattering Glass, this was described as a book that was maybe the hardest for Ms. Giles to write.
And along a slightly more psychological horror bent, Little Brown is pleased as punch to announce that they’ll be reissuing some Lois Duncan classics in brand new paperback editions. Did you know that Little Brown was Ms. Duncan’s first publisher? Tis true. The three best known are out for starters (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Don’t Look Behind You, and Killing Mr. Griffin) with handy dandy Readers Guides and Q&A’s in their backs. The text has been modernized a little (ala my recent Horn Book article Friending Mr. Henshaw, no?) but that’s pretty standard. Interestingly, this is the first time Ms. Duncan has ever been out in trade paperback editions. In the past it was all mass-market paperbacks. How the times do change. And don’t worry, folks. Down a Dark Hall was my favorite too. It’s apparently slated to come out some point in the future. Fret not.
That’s what my PowerPoint handout read. I guess they figured out that I like to flip to the back early to see who the guest will be. I also like the surreptitiously make trips to the bathroom in the hopes of tripping over the guest (that’s how I found out about Jerry Pinkney). This time, they were pulling no punches. I was vaguely hoping it might be Lemony Snicket waltzing through that door, though he only JUST signed with LB&Co., so I was being silly. As it was, in walked the fabulous Bryan Collier of the aforementioned Dave the Potter to tell us even more about the book.
Sidenote: Exactly one year before Jerry Pinkney was the guest and he told us about The Lion and the Mouse. Later he would win a Caldecott. And while I don’t want to draw comparisons . . .
Mr. Collier was, as ever, charming, outspoken, and utterly at ease at the podium. As he said right from the start (and as it read in the byline), Dave the Potter was a poet, an artist, and a slave last. Bryan spoke about how he prepared for this book. How he journeyed down to South Carolina to see the pots of Dave the Potter. Apparently the story of Dave goes back about 20 years when author Leonard Todd started learning about him. Potter Stefan Farrell was the person who alerted Todd to the story of how a slave had created thousands of pots during his lifetime and now they’re scattered around. Only 200 have shown up so far, and they’ve a starting price of roughly $30,000. As Bryan said, “Everything was tacked against these pots ever being seen.” After all, they had a function. “This is an unlikely story… it went through 100 years and showed up.” Todd wrote the book Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave. And in the course of his research he discovered that his own family had actually owned Dave. Now Laban Carrick Hill writes Dave’s story it for a younger audience.
There were no formal photographs of Dave, so Bryan had someone else pose for the paintings in this book. You will note too that in the book Dave is seen using clay that is particular to Edgefield, South Carolina. It’s a white clay that shows up beautifully in his paintings.
Those of you interested in seeing any of these pots will be able to do so this coming ALA Conference in Washington D.C. Some will be on display in the Smithsonian during that time. Feel free to stop by and look at them.
And that, as they say, wraps up that. Victoria Stapleton, class act that she is, would be willing to send you a galley or two from this list if something caught your eye. However, she can NOT send picture book galleys or Reckless (no galleys exist). If other middle grade and teen books appealed and you wish to review them or consider them for your library collections, you may let her know at Victoria.Stapleton@hbgusa.com.
Thanks to the fine folks at LB&Co. And of course . . .
“Juno meets a teenage She’s Come Undone.” – The D.U.F.F. by Kody Keplinger
“Clementine meets The Year of the Dog.” – Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
“The Sopranos meets Veronica Mars meets L.A. Confidential meets The Clique.” – You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin