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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Lerner Publishing Group (Fall 2010)

Lerner Lerner bo-burner, banana nana fo-furner, fee fi mo merner.  Lerner!

Round about the time Book Expo was in town, Lerner Publishing Group had a notion.  Since they were in the city already, why not have a Lerner Publishing Group Preview event?  And so a brand new Librarian Preview was born!  That reduces the number of publishers that don’t hold such events significantly.

For this event we were summoned to the heart of Manhattan where a lovely little room was prepared for us.  It had folks bringing in tiny foods on plates.  I hate to tell you this, ladies and gentlemen, but my preferred mode of dining is multiple tiny foods on plates.  If I could order every meal from waiters holding a variety of tiny foods, passing me every two minutes, I would die happy.

Publisher previews fall into two categories.  Either you have a PowerPoint presentation where folks present their lists or you have tables where editors or marketing folks sit amongst the librarians and show off their various imprints.  Smaller companies like Lerner fare better with PowerPoints, so we sat ourselves down with our delightful little colored crib sheets with notes.

But greater than tiny foods or colored paper or free pens . . . the thing that made my little heart go ah-pitter pat . . .?

Stick drives with all the book covers on them.  No longer would I have to contact a company and beg for JPGs of their upcoming season.  Happy camper = me.  The only other publisher I’ve ever seen do this is Albert Whitman & Co.  Clearly the little guys are ahead of the pack with this strategy.

Terri Reden, the Vice-President of Marketing, welcomed us to this, the first Lerner Librarian Preview in NYC.  Reden was followed quickly by one Adam Lerner.  That was pretty cool.  I mean, it’s not as if I go to Penguin previews and get to meet Mr. Penguin.  Or Chronicle previews to meet Miss Chronicle.  Mr. Lerner had flown out from Minneapolis, heart of Lerner publishing, and had even managed to hook a flight that was carrying Garrison Keillor.  No small feat that.  He spoke about Minneapolis as a publishing hotbed, and truly this year’s Kidlitosphere Conference will definitely be held there (I’m going, are you?).  Actually, that particular conference is being sponsored by Lerner.  Small world, eh?

Mr. Lerner spoke of the fact that the company has been in existence for fifty-one years as an independent publisher.  In spite of their Minnesotan roots, Lerner does happen to have a New York office (Graphic Universe, who put out that fabulous Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye title by Colleen AF Venable, is here) and one in London as well. And recently Lerner has done rather nicely for itself, winning a Siebert Medal for Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and a recent Coretta Scott King Award for Bad News for Outlaws.

Then there was information about Lerner’s first digital list, their interactive books, and the fact that they’ve just relaunched their website.  There’s even a little blog, if you’re interested.

Mary Rogers, editor-in-chief, stepped up to the plate next.  Mary is an interesting personality.  She was once offered a job at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, MN, but chose to go with Lerner instead.  With the appearance of Mary, we started getting a better sense of the kinds of books Lerner’s putting out this year.

Speaking of which, let’s go to the books themselves.

In my library system we get the usual crew of kids coming in with school assignments on topics like “Places Animals Live” and the like.  I’ve never really heard a good term to describe what these assignments should be called.  Lerner labels them as “Animal Adaptations” and they’ve become a new subset of their “First Step Nonfiction” series.  Similarly, they’ve a subset called “Discovering Nature’s Cycles” which covers not just the usual seasons, but also the water cycle, hibernation, and the like.  There’s also “Vroom-Vroom” with titles like Big Rigs , which is pretty much what it sounds like.  Best of all, Lerner eSource has teacher guides for each one of these series.

I periodically also get folks in my library that are looking for books, not DVDs or CDs, to teach their children how to play various instruments.  The “Ready to Make Music” series sort of acts like a predecessor to that.  It’s written for those fourth graders who are trying to decide on what instrument to start learning.  There are eight books in the series so far with titles like Is the Violin for You? and facts about some instruments like “You need your front teeth to play it.”  There’s even a quiz in each one that determines if that instrument is the one for them.  Clever notion.  Never would have occurred to me myself.

The “Six Questions of American History” series pinpoints one iconic moment in history and just bases a book on that idea entirely.  Titles look at Why Did the Pilgrims Come to the New World? and when the first slaves were set free during the Civil War.  Other series included “Weatherwise” and “Powerful Medicine”.

At this point in the proceedings I was very impressed.  They seamlessly transitioned into a video of Sandra Markle discussing and there wasn’t so much as a gap between the lead in and the video.  The audio worked, the video was in focus . . . altogether a class act.  Believe you me, working in the library as I do, I have nothing but respect for folks who know their way around an audio-visual presentation.  It takes a heckuva lot of prep.

Now, the USA Today (Stephen Colbert always calls it “The USA Today”) has paired with Lerner’s Twenty-First Century Books imprint to create a series they’re calling “USA Today Cultural Mosaic”. Launched in the fall of 2008, the series is aimed at a middle grade and high school curriculum.  Each book is filled with backmatter, and there are a multitude of images from the USA Today archives and articles.  Makes sense.  Titles include The Hispanic American Experience or The Middle Eastern American Experience and discuss people of those backgrounds who have contributed culturally to the American landscape.  Children’s nonfiction has also been coming out from National Geographic and TIME Magazine for years.  Just makes me wonder what Newsweek’s waiting for.

Everything I’ve discussed here so far as been sort of rah-rah Americana.  All the more reason why the “Civil Rights Struggles Around the World” series would catch my eye.  It’s the kind of series where you can find photographs of Robert Kennedy breaking bread with Cesar Chavez, or find actual honest-to-god information on Tiananmen Square.  I don’t have to look at my collection.  We’ve nothing on that topic right now.

I briefly mentioned the “Powerful Medicine” series earlier, but honestly I don’t get a lot of call for medicine or disease books here in NYC.  I suspect that there are school systems where all the kids are assigned different diseases.  For those systems, there will be a fair amount of interest in the “USA Today Health Reports: Diseases and Disorders” series.  Hepatitis!  Food poisoning!  Anorexia and bulimia!  These books cover these topics, and talks about how to avoid these problems (if indeed they are avoidable).

Along similar lines is Battling Malaria: On the Front Lines Against a Global Killer.  For some reason, I think my library is more comfortable carrying books on diseases that have the greatest influence on American history.  Which is to say, yellow fever.  Malaria?  We’re hardly anything at all.  And when you consider that one million people die from it every year, that makes it all the more important to have something on my shelves.

Carol Hinz came up to discuss the “Food is CATegorical” series.  Each book in the series follows certain kinds of food.  For example, one is called Green Beans, Potatoes, and Even Tomatoes while another might discuss macaroni, rice, and bread.  Each book discusses how much of each food to eat each day.  I was not blind to the irony of hearing about that in the midst of my tiny food appetizer dinner of fried cheese.  One Brian P. Cleary appears to be behind this in some manner.  Awesome.

Then we get to the scream.  What scream?, you ask.  This scream:

That’s the stuff.

It’s reader’s theater time, folks.  The series, in particular, is “History Speaks: Picture Books Plus Reader’s Theater”.  It’s a fun idea.  In this six book series the books cover subjects like Journey to Bunker Hill, and then the online components include downloadable sound effects, prop suggestions, teacher’s guides, and even backgrounds that you can project for the theatrical experience.  It’s a series written for kids between grades 2-4.  My particular scene, done to illustrate this series, involved the San Francisco Earthquake (the old one).  My lines as “Lizzie” consisted of [scream] and “Grammy?  What is going on?” and “GRAMMY!”  So there you go.

Two words: Zombie worms.  Zombie.  Worms.  Two incredibly frightening things that fit great together.  As it happens, you can’t find zombie worms in the earth.  Nope, for them you’ll need to look at Journey Into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures.  All I care is that it involves zombie worms.  Awesome.

Graphic Universe time!  And Carol Burrell steps up to the plate.  Turns out, Graphic Universe has been around for the last five years.  So far they’ve covered a variety of different series like “History’s Kid Heroes”, “On the Case with Holmes and Watson” (which takes actual Sherlock stories and turns them into comics), and “Chicagoland Detective Agency”.  The first Chicagoland book is The Drained Brains Caper.  It seems to bear some similarities to Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks (sans creepy inner chickens).

One graphic novel I grabbed because it particularly caught my eye was Nola’s Worlds.  It’s a French comic with manga inclinations and the craziest cotton candy coloring seen this side of the sun.  It’s seriously like nothing else I’ve ever really cast my eyes upon.  In the book, a girl befriends two kids from another world.

Andrew Karre stepped up the plate next, and introduced Lerner’s newest imprint.  It’s called Darby Creek, which is a name I kind of love.  The “Night Fall” book series seeks to prove that “Horror is also something for the printed page” and not just movies.  And it starts out with the book Thaw which is set, like all the books, in Bridgeport in New England, a little town is a suspiciously high body count.  It’s also horror, straight up.  The covers mimic horror movie posters too, which is clever.

Switching gears entirely, we meet one of my favorite Lerner imprints.  Carolrhoda Books has been around for over forty years.  Their author Chris Monroe was the creator behind one of the greatest readaloud picture books of our era: Monkey With a Toolbelt.  Now Ms. Monroe has dropped monkeys entirely in favor of sheep.  Sneaky Sheep to be precise.  First off, Monroe does a darn good sheep when she wants to.  The book is pretty self-explanatory and reminds me somewhat of Daniel Pinkwater’s bad polar bears.  Bonus: Apparently getting a two-year-old to say the phrase “sneaky sheep” is one of the great joys of life.

Now years ago I reviewed a book by one Joe Kulka for a small publisher called Pelican Press.  For a good time, check out The Rope, which is one of the strangest most surreal little magical realism picture books for the kiddies out there.  Now Kulka is coming out with Vacation’s Over: Return of the Dinosaurs.  You know that whole theory that the dinos went extinct?  Well, surprise!  They were just on a vacation to outer space and now they’re back.  Apparently you get the names of the different dino breeds through their passport photos.  Definitely one that takes the whole dino trend and comes up with an original take on it.

Good old Floyd Cooper.  Year after year he doesn’t win a Caldecott and year after year he really should.  I mean, the man is a genius with his paints.  Now he’s illustrating Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s Ruth and the Green Book (NOT to be confused with The Green Book by Jill Paton Walsh).  The book covers a moment in American history that I, frankly, didn’t know anything about.  In the 1930s (and other decades as well, I think) African-Americans were well aware of The Green Book.  It was a guide for black travelers on the safe places to go when visiting in the south.  In conjunction with the book Carolrhoda Books will put a part of the actual Green Book online for interested students.  And, of course, there will be an extensive Author’s Note.  Thank goodness.

I, Emma Freke is a middle grade novel with an interesting take.  Basically, it’s a book for every kid who has ever thought of herself as a freak.  The book is supposed to be funny, sympathetic, and set in small town Wisconsin.  Noted!

Sally M. Walker is no stranger to cool nonfiction topics for kids.  Now she’s tackling Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed.  The book looks at some of the ice being revealed in Antarctica today.  Everything from an 800,000 year old piece of ice that allows us to study the past to talk of dinos found in the ice to how if the sheets of ice broke apart in the Antarctic then sea levels would rise three feet.  Scary, interesting stuff.  Walker knows her audience.

Carolrhoda LAB is the new imprint for YA fiction coming out.  It’s producing a couple interesting titles too.  The Freak Observer not only conjured up the aforementioned I, Emma Freke but also reminded me of Freak Magnet, coming out with Harper Collins this fall.  As they described it (and this is just too strange not to write up here) it “combines an obscure nineteenth century physicist with Pokemon with Hieronymus Bosch.”  Combined with the cover, I figure a lot of folks will be intrigued by this one, early on.

Draw the Dark really impressed me with its Lois Duncan-esque cover choice.  In it, a young man “draws out” the nightmares of the people he meets.  Then he encounters a man with Alzheimer’s tied to a grisly murder.  Warning: may contain some Nazis.  In any case, they’re saying this one has a page-turning plot.

Finally, The Absolute Value of -1.  And for this book, we actually had the author, Steve Brezenoff, present and in the room.  Now this is the first book that Andrew Karre acquired for the list.  Said he, it reconciles the longing for connection with the need to break free.  And when it comes to teen novels, “You will not find a good YA novel without that.”  The story concerns four narrators, and three main characters.  All three have families that are going through something catastrophic.  Lily is living through her parents’ divorce.  Noah looks like the biggest screwup in the world, but has hidden depths.  And Simon is the -1 of the title.  Sporting some snazzy orange high tops, Brezenoff spoke of his writing process.  For example, when getting down Lily’s voice, he had to write 100 pages of rambling.  I liked how he described Simon as “a negatively charismatic black hole.”

Here’s the trailer for the book itself:

Finally, the shoes.

Editorial Director Domenica Di Piazza is giving certain other folks in the publishing industry a run for their money with her footwear these days.  Check these puppies out.

Look, I had written down what these are.  You are now observing Christian Louboutin red suede slingback pumps (with five inch heels).  Bloody gorgeous work, Domenica.

And thanks to the folks at Lerner for the preview.  Here’s hoping we see more of your books in the coming years!

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. Who is the author of Draw the Dark? I need some more YA in my collection and this sounds super interesting 🙂

  2. Good stuff, but I really have my eye on the music intruction series. I think we need that.

  3. Thanks for the shoe photo, Betsy! They are gorgeous, aren’t they? But I do have to admit that a girl can’t actually walk too far in them….

  4. What? No more monkey with a toolbelt? I’m not sure I can survive *shudder*. I’m hoping there will be more Guinea PI than just the new one coming out in August, And Then There Were Gnomes.