Did you get the new Simon & Schuster catalog the other day in the mail? If you did, did you feel the cover? It’s a strange thing to ask, I know, but I did. I felt that cover. I felt it because there was something new going on there. It has a thick comfortable texture very different from the slick and shiny covers we’ve grown so accustomed to.
Why all the cover luvin’? Because it’s bloody hard to find a new way to introduce a librarian preview these days. When a Simon & Schuster preview rolls around there are certain elements I know I will be able to count on. (1) Orange juice. Orange juice with a variety of pulp-preferences, I should add. (2) Muffins, preferably those of the chocolate variety (no bagels, thank you). (3) A special guest.
The S&S special guests appear to alternate between guests for the children’s book side of things and guests for the YA folks. On this particular day we were looking at a newbie YA author by the name of Lauren Destefano. She’s the author of a new dystopian YA series beginning with a title by the name of Wither. We were given little test tubes full of chocolate covered sunflower seeds as part of our goody bags with the name Wither on the side, which is a rather novel notion. The test tubes made sense too since the series is about a society in which boys and girls don’t live past their twenties anymore. Which, when you consider the average age of your debut YA authors these days, probably means that in this society you’d still have a nice number of YA writers alive and kicking (not as many children’s authors, I’m afraid).
All right. So for this preview I’m pretty much going to skip the YA side of things again, unless there’s something particularly strange or attractive to my weird little eyes. With that in mind let’s dive right into the picture books. It’s a very good place to start . . . . even if it’s with a celebrity picture book (oh my).
Spike Lee. He’s back. He’s back with Tonya Lewis Lee and a whole new bright n’ shiny illustrator, Sean Qualls. Qualls I like, though it’s interesting to see Lee with someone other than Kadir Nelson. Giant Steps to Change the World falls squarely in the graduation book category. More interesting perhaps was the fact that Justin Chandra explained how Mr. Qualls got his start with S&S. Apparently seven years ago Justin saw Sean displaying some of his art at a street fair. Impressed, Justin suggested that perhaps Sean should consider making some picture books, to which Sean replied that he already had two books under contract. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
The story behind the republication of The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon will undoubtedly interest you Newbery fans out there. Let’s travel back in time some sixty years or so. Around that time a little book called The Secret River with tiny woodblock illustrations won itself a Newbery Honor. Fast forward to the future and this book, once as forgotten as my beloved The Winged Girl of Knossos, has a new lease on life! S&S has taken a chance on it, and when they wanted new pictures they contacted the Dillons . . . who were booked for a couple decades. Five years ago S&S tried them again and this time the stars were in the correct alignment. The result is a story about a girl during the Great Depression. After her father fails to get enough fish to sell at market she approaches the local soothsayer and is led to a river chock full of fish. As the catalog copy says, “But when she returns the next day for more, she learns there is an important distinction between need and greed.” With its African-American heroine and swampy setting, this may be a good book for those kids still enamored of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. Whatever the case, the Dillons have done a lovely job with the art here. It’s a real stunner.
Okay. About this cover:
Totally unfair. Because that’s kind of all I needed to see. The title. The art. Done. I will read that book now please. The insane conception behind this one is that Eula the cat (Eula!) is square. The other cats are round. What to do? This is a debut of a book and I predict great things for its author/illustrator. Partly because of the book itself and partly because her name is Elizabeth Schoonmaker. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, a great picture book author name.
It’s official. 2011 is officially the year when picture book authors start trying their hands at illustration . . . and darned if they aren’t half bad! First there was Margie Palatini (I’ll explain momentarily) and now Jim Averbeck’s getting in on the act. A couple years ago you might remember he wrote the Caldecott buzzworthy In a Blue Room, with art by Tricia Tusa. This time around he has come out with Except If. Interestingly, they compared the book to Not a Box, which is a title I’ve not heard invoked in such a way before. The story sort of covers modifiers for kids. Might make for a good readaloud. We shall see.
Happy news for the Emily Gravett fans of the world: She’s got a new one. With Blue Chameleon I’ve come to realize what it is I like so much about Ms. Gravett. When she draws an animal, she may give it human qualities, but at least she won’t replaced its stranger physical aspects with benign ones. Take your average everyday chameleon’s eyes. They’re not cute. Not even a little bit. They bug out and go in different directions and if it weren’t for the whole changing color aspect I doubt we’d pay very much attention to them at all. In this book a chameleon, weirdo eyes and all, is lonely. Think of the chameleon in Leo Lionni’s A Color of His Own (a good example of cutesy eyes) and you’d get the picture. He tries imitating a variety of household items but nothing will do. For those of you familiar with Gravett’s unique novelty aspects to her books (die cuts, split pages, pop-ups, etc.) you won’t be disappointed. There’s a doozy near the end of this book. The sole flaw? Like her wonderful The Odd Egg there’s an important detail hidden under the flap at the back of the book! Naughty naughty bad, Ms. Gravett! Librarians paste down that flap routinely, don’t you know? I know of some systems that didn’t even buy your wonderful The Odd Egg because you put some art there and they knew it would end up lost. I have the utmost respect for artistic integrity, but it would not pain anyone to move that element just a hint to the left next time. *sigh*
I’ve never thought to pair Emily Gravett and Sophie Blackall together before, but seeing Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler (and illustrated by the aforementioned Ms. Blackall) next in the catalog, suddenly the idea has great merit. Of course, you’re probably most familiar with Ms. Wheeler for the truly original children’s books she has made with Mark Siegel like Boogie Knights and Seadogs. In this book Mother Goose’s sister Spinster Goose (20 points for taking the word “spinster” out of the attic and giving it a good dusting) takes on the naughtiest of children. These aren’t fractured fairy tales. They’re fractured nursery rhymes. Can’t wait!
It is my personal opinion, as it has been for years, that blue jays are a seriously unappreciated species of bird. Seriously, name me all the famous blue jay picture book characters you can. No hurry. I can wait. Considering how cool they look and the fact that their calls act as warnings for other animals, I was a little surprised that it took until Noodle & Lou by Liz Scanlon (illustrated by the always wonderful Arthur Howard) to make such a creature. The story follows two friends: a bird and a worm. Sort of reminds me of the Fashion Kitty sequence where she explains that her pet mouse is the equivalent of a human being having a chocolate cake as a pet. “I love you, but I’d like to eat you.”
It would take a stronger woman than I to resist any picture book with the title I Must Have Bobo. Penned by Eileen Rosenthal (in her debut!) and illustrated by her husband Marc Rosenthal, the story follows a war between a child and a cat. Both of them love the sock monkey Bobo and both will do whatever it takes to have him. First off, Rosenthal’s a genius. A mere glimpse at Archie and the Pirates or Phooey will convince you of as much. Better still, in this book the cat is not anthropomorphized in the least. This is a very realistic cat. And it wants Bobo (who looks suspiciously a lot like Archie from the aforementioned pirate book). Add in the fact that the boy is named Willy and the cat is named Earl and well . . . need I say more?
Does anyone remember How to Eat Like a Child? As it happens, the book was written by Delia Ephron of all people (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail). That’s a touch unnerving since I’ve always been fond of that book (or maybe the just the children’s musical that was based on it). I got to thinking about that old chestnut when I saw Oh, How Sylvester Can Pester! And Other Poems More or Less About Manners by Robert Kinerk and illustrated by Drazen Kozjan. I do like the style of Kozjan (he did Don’t Call Me Pruneface, amongst other things) but Kinerk is unknown to me. We shall see how the book stacks up to Ephron’s. For my part, I’m now going to watch old How To Eat Like a Child videos on YouTube.
Carter Goodrich is one of those animators turned children’s illustrators who hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. He came out with Stirring and The Hermit Crab before but they were both a little bit storyboardish. I have bigger hopes for Say Hello to Zorro! then. S&S called it “A Hondo and Fabian with a little bit of an edge”, and it’s interesting to see this twist on an old standard. I think we’ve all seen the books where the family dog has to welcome a new puppy or the family cat has to make room for a new kitten. Generally these tend to be metaphors for a new baby and they all follow the same pattern. This book is a little different since our original dog, Mister Bud (great name) has a nice structured life until a new dog enters the home. It’s not just a new dog though. It’s a bossy, greedy new dog. There’s the usual moral at the end, but I like that new take on the title, and the art also looks appealing. Mister Bud seems to be a close relative of Pixar’s Dug from the film Up.
Now remember how I alluded to the fact that folks like Jim Averbeck are drawing their own picture books? Well along comes Margie Palatini to add to the trend. Hogg, Hogg, & Hog is her newest and it’s a big city title. Three pigs run a successful business in the Big City with their catchy phrase, “Oink”. Unfortunately, every trend tends to run out and when they try a new phrase from their past, their past confronts them personally. It’s interesting to see Ms. Palatini stretch her talents a little. We’ll see how it does in the end.
Here’s a life lesson for you: Listen to your co-workers. You never know when they might provide the catch phrase that enables you to write your first picture book. Jerry Davis has worked in film production for years. Well apparently he once had this co-worker who tended to say, “I hear you cluckin’, Big Chicken” when told to do something by a superior. You gotta admit, that phrase is gold. And lo and behold whom is Jerry married to? None other than our very own Katie Davis, she of the Brain Burps About Books podcast! So Katie illustrated Little Chicken’s Big Day which does indeed contain the phrase, “I hear you cluckin’, Big Chicken”. Prepare for catchphrase liftoff.
Okay. Enough with the picture books. Let’s move on to middle grade chapter book territory. There’s some good stuff here as well. Now I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Jo Nesbo is the most famous Norwegian children’s illustrator in America since Peter Christian Abjorsen. I know. Pretty controversial right? Particularly since a whole slew of you just read both the names I wrote and blinked uncomprehendingly. Such is the lot of the average Norwegian children’s author (I’m descended from Norwegians, so you have my sympathy, Mr. Nesbo). You may be more familiar with Nesbo’s first book a year or two ago called Doctor Proctor’s Far Powder. Well, a sequel, Bubble in the Bathtub, is coming out and I can guarantee it’ll be read. You see, I run this bookgroup for New York kids. Some of the lads and lasses are particularly advanced, as in the case of Fred. Fred is eleven now, but when he was ten he was prone to asking me if I read David Sedaris. He’s that kind of kid. But what I love about Fred is that he also is just a kid, and when he saw the first Nesbo book he got a serious case of the giggles. What I always suspected.
Any of you ever notice that Hollywood has never made an Underground Railroad movie? Does that strike any of you as strange? Sure strikes me that way. I mean, talk about innate drama every step of the way. We don’t lack for children’s books on the subject, but that doesn’t mean the area has been thoroughly covered. Take Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad, for example. First off, it’s by Jerdine Nolen in what appears to be her FIRST middle grade novel. The fact that she’s never written for the MG crowd before baffles me. You probably know Ms. Nolen because she wrote those fabulous picture books like Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm or Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life. I read Nolen’s Thunder Rose to a Boy Scout troop the other day (they wanted tall tales) and it occurred to me midway through that what Ms. Nolen really should be doing is writing chapter fare. By the way, this particular book has already gotten blurbs from Alma Powell, Pat Cummings, Nikki Grimes, and Nikki Giovanni. That’s some pedigree it is. Pity they gave it a brown cover. Someday I’ll conduct a scientific survey as to why it is that kids avoid the color brown when they are looking at book jackets. Must seem too adult to them or something.
I was delighted to discover this day that Kekla Magoon has a new novel out. And it’s middle grade! Even better. Camo Girl is about a gal in Las Vegas who, until recently, has been the only biracial kid in her school. A new guy moves to town who is black and suddenly her loyalties to her best friend are tested. Kekla once told me that a student she met told her that they had named oatmeal chocolate chip cookies after her. They are now known as Kekla Magoons. Noted. I’m a fan of those cookies and the author they stand for. And good news for The Rock and the River fans. The sequel looks as if it’ll be due out in 2012.
Glance too quickly at the jacket for our next book and you may find yourself thinking that it’s named Amazing Courage of Gloria Whelan. Which would be pretty fun in and of itself. As it happens, the actual title is Small Acts of Amazing Courage BY Gloria Whelan (a former Harper Collins author). It’s a coming of age novel at the close of WWI. In it, a British girl is not allowed to go to boarding school like her friends, but instead attends school in India. One day she sneaks out of the house and finds a baby. And really, that’s a pretty good place to stop right there. The book takes place during the rise of Gandhi (something I haven’t seen much in children’s fiction). I’ll be looking out for this one.
A show of hands: Who wants a sequel to Jennifer Holm’s Our Only May Amelia? Well, pardners, you are in luck. The Trouble With May Amelia is slated to come out a mere twelve years after its predecessor. I’ll say no more. Only to keep your eyes peeled for it.
Whoa. Ruby Lu got a makeover. Not sure what I think of that. Sort of makes her look like every other early chapter book about a girl out there. Compare:
Well, at least they got the “She’s just like an Asian Judy Moody” off of the cover of Empress of Everything. That always made me uncomfortable. The reason for these changes, in part, is because there is a new Ruby Lu on the horizon. Ruby Lu, Star of the Show is now illustrated by Stef Choi.
Readers, help me out with this next one. Is it just me, or did we see a couple stories combining Edwardian era England and magic (ala The Enchanted Chocolate Pot) but for middle grade and young YA readers in the past few years? Maybe I’m just making things up, but I feel that this was a tiny trend for a second or two there.
Oh! Wait! I understand my confusion. I think I heard of this book under two different names. The old name was A Most Improper Magick:
The new title is Kat, Incorrigible (clearly the MaryRose Wood series about The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place has made the term acceptable on book jackets). Stephanie Burgis tells the tale of Katherine Ann Stephenson (or just Kat) who has inherited her mother’s magical tendencies. This is a good thing. After all, her older siblings are in various messes (gambling debts, romantic entanglements, etc.) and then there’s that darn highwayman . . . well, I mean. How can you resist? I love the full cover too:
Dead mom alert! The Summer of May by Cecilia Galante has a dead mom, a disappearing dad, and one seriously pissed off kid by the name of May. Forced to live with grandma in low-income housing, May graffiti’s and gets in serious trouble. She’s given a kind of Wednesday Wars-type punishment of spending the summer with her least favorite teacher in school. We shall see what we shall see.
Wild Wings by Gill Lewis sounded like it had possibilities. Set in Scotland where the osprey was poached, a girl named Iona lives as a feral child with her grandfather. When a new boy sees her taking salmon from the water, she shows him a single osprey nest. Apparently there are a couple left after all. The story later takes a turn for Gambia, where the osprey migrate, and sounded a bit to me like good old Operation Redwood from a year or two ago.
A quick note to author Sheila Moses before we move on. Ahem: STOP WRITING YA! I know that you’re good at it, but I like your middle grade fiction. The Baptism, for example, was fabulous. I understand your temptation to write older (Joseph’s Grace is the next) but cut the children’s librarians of the world some slack. We need your voice again. Come back to us! Come back! And don’t you go getting tempted by the YA side of things either, Frances O’Roark Dowell. I see your Ten Miles Past Normal, and it looks very nice but we like you here in middle grade fiction land and we’re not losing you to the teen side of things without a fight.
In the catalog it looks like Cassandra Clare’s next Mortal Instruments book will be called “Who Will Be Tempted By Darkness?” Alas, that’s apparently not the title but just a tempting lure they placed on the faux jacket. Pity. I bet there’s more than one teen out there that would buy a book bearing that moniker.
Just a sec. Check this out:
Faces! Of different races! On a single cover!!!! Does the heart good.
Considering the very controversial history of Dr. Beatrice Sparks and her propensity for “discovering” diaries, I find it rather baffling that S&S is republishing Jay’s Journal. In its history, the parents of the boy in the book claimed that Sparks used only 25 of the boy’s actual journal entries and then added her own 60, including a whole Satanism aspect. The book originally came out in 1979 when that crazy Satanism cult fear spread throughout the States (remember that?) so it’s not surprising that Sparks added that element to her book. What’s strange is that S&S is republishing it now. I’m not sure the rise in vampire novels out there means that kids are going to gravitate to something quite as dated as cults. At least it’s cataloged it as “Fiction” though. Clearly this is one of the stranger republications this season. Maybe more along the lines of Flowers in the Attic more than anything else.
Let us contrast that republication with an AWESOME one. Lookee lookee!
Yep. That’s The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts. One of my favorite books as a kid, no doubt. It’s been out-of-print for years, and I hope this teen looking cover attracts the right kind of middle grade reader (it’s definitely for the 9-12 set). The last time I saw a girl wearing glasses this prominently on a cover it was the paperback issues of Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (an image that shall forever be burned into my retinas). I still have my own battered Apple paperback on my shelf at home. Hopefully I’ll be able to add this shiny new book to my library’s collection (particularly since, if you believe the number of holds that title gets, it is well remembered by my generation). Also, I take a strange pleasure in the fact that The Girl With the Silver Eyes is coming out again during the height of the popularity for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Cool new House of the Scorpion cover too! Check it:
Switching gears entirely, they’re categorizing this Chris Raschka illustrated book Fortune Cookies (written by Albert Bitterman) as “novelty”. I guess that it is, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a looksee. It’s a tabbook at heart where the fortunes a girl reads can be pulled out of their cookies. Raschka reigns himself in a little for this one, becoming a little more representational. As for Mr. Bitterman, his real name is Pete Cowdin, and you may know him best as the co-owner of The Reading Reptile in Kansas City, Missouri.
Now while I’ll admit freely that My First Ballet Class by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (photos by the one-namer Tilde) is adorable, could we PLEASE follow it up with a gymnastics class book? Little kids ask me for gymnastic titles all the time and we are bone dry. Help!
And that, as they say, is that. I could mention the Snookie book or Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, but I think everyone would be better off if I ended with my favorite meets instead. Only one today!
Best Meets: “Dexter meets Alice in Wonderland.” – Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
Many thanks to S&S for inviting me to see your stash! And thanks to you guys for reading!