The other day I was sitting down with some editors when we began to speculate what would happen if you made a point of naming your child after publishing companies. A number of silly concoctions presented themselves. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to name my kid Random Bird, Little Brown Bird, or Sterling Bird (though that last has a fair ring to it). Then we hit on the perfect one: Chronicle Bird. Yes sir, there ain’t a man or woman alive who could be anything but impressed when Chronicle Bird enters the room. In the event that I become an insane celebrity, expect me to name my kid that. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for a preview instead.
The thing I like about Chronicle’s books is . . . everything. There is nothing about them that I do not like. I like how many books they release in a given season (a select few). I like their location (San Francisco: home of sourdough, chocolate, and seals, preferably not mixed together). And I like Cathleen Brady who occasionally visits us here in New York to show us what she’s got. And what she’s got is hot.
First up, let’s talk French. Not the language necessarily, but rather the artists and illustrators that come out of that particular country. Folks like Herve Tullet. You probably don’t know Herve. I mean, there’s a chance that at some point in your wanderings you managed to pick up a copy of his now out-of-print Night and Day or saw the illustrations he did for The Aspiring Poet’s Journal, weighing in at an impressive 400 pages. Insofar as Chronicle is concerned, though, his picture book Press Here is his breakthrough book in America. In France he’s published over 100 and is called “the Prince of Preschool”, which makes me a little envious that I’ve not given that moniker to someone here in the States. Surely there’s a picture book somewhere out there with that name anyway, right?
Interactive is the name of the game with this little number, but without all the fancy die-cuts and sparkles you might expect. Nope. You’ve just got inks and paper in this puppy, and that’s all you need. With the turn of each page kids are told what to do next. Turn the page after you’ve been told to press the yellow button and look! It’s changed colors! Now tilt the pages to the left and turn the page. All the dots have collected on one side. It all leads to a rather natural climax at the end, and then encourages kids to read it just one more time. This book was purchased at great personal expense to Chronicle in Bologna where it was called the “picture book of the year”. It also stands on its own and doesn’t need any electronic whizbangs or doodads to be enjoyable.
The Dianna Hutts Aston/Sylvia Long pairing has been a long and fruitful one. First they slew the masses with An Egg is Quiet. Then they followed that up with the equally loverly A Seed is Sleepy. Now they’re pulling out all the stops with a third in the triumvirate: A Butterfly is Patient. By this point, you should probably know the drill. The endpapers, for example, are a story in and of themselves. You see various larvae on the front endpapers. At the end you see the butterflies those larvae eventually become. It’s been a while since A Seed is Sleepy hit the marketplace, of course (2007 was it?). Still and all I’m sure a fair number of librarians haven’t forgotten the duo’s charms by now. And I agree with Lisa Von Drasek that a fair number of these pictures should be turned into little placemats or something. They’re beautiful ten times over.
Chronicle probably wouldn’t sell The Woods by Paul Hoppe this way, but when I saw the story they were pitching it looked to me like nothing so much as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt meets Where the Wild Things Are. Which is to say, it’s the story of a little boy who has lost his bunny toy. So he plunges into the woods to find it and then meets a strange array of pseudo-scary creatures, each bigger than the next, each easily conquered and befriended. If Hoppe’s name sounds familiar (you pronounce the “e” at the end, I learned) that may be because you saw his book The Hat last year. And, if you’re anything like me, The Hat probably confused you into thinking it was a classic picture book republished for the 21st century age. Hoppe is German born, which raises my knowledge of working German illustrators to a grand total of two (Paul Hoppe and Sebastian Meschenmoser). You are more than welcome to add to my list. Go to it!
Here is what we know about author Kate Messner:
1. She lives on Lake Champlain, an area known for a local sea monster that goes by the name of “Champ”.
2. Kate mentioned Champ by name in her book Sugar & Ice, if only in passing.
3. Kate now has a picture book coming out with Chronicle called Sea Monster’s First Day, illustrated by Andy Rash. Now I know that the name of the sea monster in this book is Ernest. And I know that it never specifically says that he lives in Lake Champlain. But I like to think that the evidence speaks for itself. Champ is finally hitting the big time. Move over Mysterious Tadpole. There’s another oversized sea-loving reptile in town.
Okay, here’s a trio that wouldn’t necessarily trip easily off the brain of the average consumer: Edward Lear plus Daniel Pinkwater plus Calef Brown. And yet, I say unto you, the time is nigh. His Shoes Were Far Too Tight is a collection of Edward Lear poems selected by Pinkwater, illustrated by Brown. We will now raise a fuzzy navel in honor of the creation, and speculate at length as to whether or not the man on the cover of the book is Pinkwater himself, or just a shockingly similar depiction.
Is there any sentence half so thrilling to the unpublished as the term “discovered in the slush pile”? The slush pile, you see, is the gargantuan mass of unsolicited manuscripts that blesses each publisher’s home in some way. I’ve always kind of had this fantasy that one day I would get to take a dive in a slush pile. I know that the likelihood of finding something decent in there can be one in a thousand, but I like those odds! In any case, the upcoming Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld is, itself, a slush pile find. This is Ms. Rinker’s first book and it strikes me as a kind of Goodnight Moon, except instead of sleepy bunnies you have bleary-eyed bulldozers.
Okay. I need you to do me a favor with this next one. First off, look long and hard at this image:
Got it? Good. Now please tell me what the medium at work here is.
Before you do, I should mention that this is the book Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures. It is by none other than our very own current and presiding National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, the Newbery Award winning Katherine Paterson. It’s a reimagining of a hymn of praise written by Saint Francis himself back in (whoo boy!) 1224. Now to get back to the art. The illustrator on this little number is one Pamela Dalton. This is her first book (she was discovered when an editor saw her art in a cafe) and the style you are seeing here is scherenschnitte. Gesundheit. No, actually scherenschnitte is an Amish papercutting technique. These are all papercuts rendered for the book. Oh de lally, right?
If you had asked five-year-old me what my favorite fairy tale was, I’d have been hard pressed to answer. It’s possible that I would have cited The Twelve Dancing Princesses, though. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was raised on Errol Le Cain’s magnificent version (visible here, if you’re curious) and I would just meditate over the images of the gold world and the silver world at length. Brigette Barrager has a new version of her own coming out that does not lack in lush, though it does remove some of the tang. In this tale the princesses aren’t spiteful dance-a-holics but rather girls enchanted to dance in their magical world each night. The man who outs them isn’t a soldier either but rather a cobbler who must make them shoes to replace the ones worn to pieces. Still, the silver and gold worlds I believe remain, and the illustrations look like something out of one of the more classic Little Golden Books. A pretty thing.
The Worst-Case Scenario handbooks are extrapolating a little more these days. Not content to relegate themselves solely to the world of handbooks, they’re introducing The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Everest. It’s worst-case scenarios meeting the old Choose Your Own Adventure methodology. Of course, most of the fun of Choose Your Own Adventure was the frequency with which you died. I can only hope that the same is true here.
Happily, looking at the upcoming season marked the return of Carolyn Conahan. I met Carolyn for the first time at a Kidlitosphere Conference in Portland about three years ago or so. She illustrated that delightful Bubble Homes and Fish Farts book by Fiona Bayrock not long thereafter. Now she has a title of just her own out with Chronicle called The Big Wish. It has a lot to do with making wishes by blowing dandelion seeds. At work I have a lot of lists of picture books at the ready in case a parent asks for them. One of the more popular lists is one that I call Communities Coming Together (Mama, I’ll Give You the World, A Chair for My Mother, etc.) The Big Wish will fit right in with all the others on that list, I can already see it.
I know that at BookExpo folks like to talk about how self-published authors are the new goldmine. I wasn’t necessarily willing to believe it, though, until these last two years when a whole slew of self-published children’s book authors were snapped up by hungry publishers. Harper Collins may still win for the sheer number of self-published in a given season, but even Chronicle isn’t immune. Corinne Humphrey was a flight attendant for twenty-five years before she wrote and illustrated Shoot for the Moon: Lessons on Life from a Dog Named Rudy. By herself she sold a bajillion copies to dog lovers, and now Chronicle has dubbed the book their graduation gift pick. For me, the real lure here is in the art. The graphics are very bold and eye-popping. She gets the outlines of a dog in a variety of poses down just right. I figure that even if the graduation grads don’t get it, the dog lovers probably will.
This one has a good title: How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend. On the one hand, I worry that it’ll age the book in ten years. On the other hand, Johnny Depp has been around for a long time and he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Author Gary Ghislain doesn’t seem to be worried anyway (and he’s a definite candidate for the old HMOCL nominations, by the way). The plot of this YA novel is pretty cute too. A boy living in France meets a girl who is convinced that she’s a 150-year-old alien who is meant to return Johnny Depp to her planet. The book itself is French, which I kinda love since our French YA is (to the best of my knowledge) paltry at best.
Apparently Man of La Mancha is the musical to be these days. Whether it’s alluded to in Going Bovine or The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, it’s there, man. Now Spinning Out by David Stahler Jr. takes it one step further. Two friends try out for Man of La Mancha at school. Then one of them begins to take the part too seriously displaying (amongst other things) “an incessant hatred of the high-tech windmills outside of town.” I’m gonna stop right there because I think David Stahler Jr. has just hit on an idea that is so obvious I don’t know how we missed it before. Why have I NEVER heard of a version of Don Quixote where a modern day equivalent attacks wind turbines rather than windmills? It makes perfect sense!! Well played, Mr. Stahler, sir. Now expect to be ripped off in a variety of different ways for the next seventy years or so.
And that about wraps it up! Many thanks to Cathleen Brady for sharing this magnificent little list and for showing us some of the art. Here’s to a banner 2011!