Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Spring 2011)

It’s a bit late in the season for me to keep typing up these librarian previews, but due to the fact that the “Spring” has only just begun, I think I have a little leeway for my two remaining previews before I start hearing about the Summer 2011 books that are right around the corner.

If I’ve not done HMH before it isn’t because I don’t like their books and more because they are based out of Boston whilst I languish here in New York (languish means to carry on and have a fine old time, right?).  Fortunately all that ended with a delightful lunch and a peek at what the future has in store.

First off, an ode to catalogs.  Soon they shall go the way of the dinosaur, which is a pity since as of right now it is still much easier to write notes and stick Post-Its in catalogs than it is to do the same to a website.  The HMH Spring 2011 catalog had a couple distinguishing characteristics that I would like to point out to you now.  Mainly:

– They split their books up by genre rather than imprint, which is a far more manageable form for librarian types when ordering.

– They list their bookstore representatives in the back.

– They also list their authors and illustrators by state and include those people’s websites.  This is a very good idea.  Just the other day in my library I had a parent who informed me that she needed a book by either an author from South Carolina or a chapter book that took place in South Carolina.  A search of the South Carolina SCBWI chapter didn’t yield much and in the end I sent her home happy with a copy of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (which takes place there) instead.  Would that I had known about this catalog!  Why, we could have rustled up books by Gene Fehler instead.  But I digress.

The board book section of the catalog comes first, as is right.  We didn’t talk much about it, though.  I mean, it’s kind of cool to see the new BB version of Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers (illustrated by Marla Frazee) or Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar’s Bubble Trouble, but picture book to board book transformations must be viewed firsthand in order to determine if they’ve successfully edited down the unnecessary.  Fortunately I have a test subject in the works that will help me to determine these facts with me soon.

From there we go on to picture books, and here we find the first surprise of the day.  2010 was the year that folks couldn’t help but get excited about The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska.  It won the Gold at the Society of Illustrators event, but was ineligible for a Caldecott since the illustrator, for all her charms, lives in Canada.  And thus a nation weeps.  But dry your eyes, folks!  This spring we’re going to see The Loud Book come our way!  Yup.  Everything from “Aunt Tillie’s banjo band loud” to “Fire Truck Day at school loud”.  It just makes sense.

Children’s librarians cultivate favorite artists in their spare time.  These consist of the illustrators that you so desperately want the world to discover and appreciate and laud.  But, as with your favorite band, if they become too big then you kind of detach yourself from them and move on to the next up-and-comer.  Tricia Tusa is one of those illustrators I may never detach myself from, though.  Her work on Jim Averbeck’s In a Blue Room and Nancy Coffelt’s Fred Stays With Me just blew me away.  It’s hard to tell but this next title called Follow Me may be the first picture book she’s both written and illustrated herself.  Colors are the name of the game here, so I’ll give it a go.  When it comes to watercolors, after all, no one does ’em quite like Ms. Tusa.

It’s a slow year when you only see four Steve Jenkins books published in tandem.  Fortunately Jenkins and his long time collaborator Robin Page have found a way to break through their usual sloth and deliver three books altogether and all at the same time.  Three small titles mark the beginning of a new series for them (one I pray my catalogers won’t mess up by separating in our nonfiction section).  Time for a Bath, Time to Sleep, and Time to Eat are little books at 8″ X 8″ but you certainly couldn’t call them board books.  They’re sort of intended to cover the usual picture book fare for young kids while satisfying their needs for facts and nature.  So you get to see lots of cute animals eating nuts and seeds, while others eat elephant poop and their own skin.  It’s sweet natural kingdom-type subversion and I love it.

Man.  I can remember when there was a time before Jackie Urbanovic.  Dark days, man.  Dark days.  Of course once she started writing her “Duck” books (Duck at the Door, Duck Soup, Duck and Cover, etc.) all was well and right with the world again.  Now Urbanovic has paired with picture book veteran Karen Beaumont for No Sleep for the Sheep.  Because if you thought Urbanovic could do ducks and dogs and stuff, that ain’t nuthin’ when compared to her sleep-deprived woolmeisters.

All right, children’s librarians.  A show of hands.  How many of you have nice Paul Galdone collections in your picture book or fairy tale sections?  Uh-huh.  And now how many of those books are tattered and torn to shreds because you’ve been unable to find copies on the market but you just CAN’T get rid of his Tailypo?  Uh-huh.  Yeah, I’ve been there.  And while I can’t solve your Tailypo problems, maybe I know a company that can.  This spring we’re gonna see four Galdone books back in print: The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Kittens, and the singular (literally) The Little Red Hen.  They’re all fancy dancy and will satisfy those parents looking for those stories . . . at least for a little while.

Good news on the companion picture book front.  Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus is getting a sibling.  Yup.  The Voyage of Turtle Rex.  Pretty much just like Tadpole Rex, but with some obvious differences.

I see now from my notes that I’ve put a little star next to I’m Getting a Checkup by Marilyn Singer.  Not because it’s a new book.  It is, in fact, particularly old, but my library is a bit lacking in basic going-to-the-doctor books right now and I want to give it a looksee.  The title is located on a page for a different Singer book, Tallulah’s Tutu, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.  This title is a bit more pink and girly.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Floyd Cooper’s one of those illustrators that you just know is going to get seriously recognized by the award committees the minute he gets paired with the right author.  Maybe that author will be Margaret H. Mason.  In their newest book, These Hands, it touches on a historical moment that I’ve never heard of and have certainly never seen in a picture book before.  In the 1950s and 60s the Detroit Wonder Bread factory refused to hire African-Americans to make the bread because “white people would not want to eat bread touched by the hands of the African Americans who worked there”.  This story is about a little boy’s grandfather who helps to fight this policy.  And if anyone can draw hands, you know it’s Mr. Cooper.

Good news!  Barbara Lehman is back back back!  The queen of the wordless (you may know her best for her Caldecott Honor title The Red Book) is coming out with The Secret Box.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all that I can tell you because we didn’t really discuss it, and the catalog copy is teasingly vague.

Now we come to a book that I am very much looking forward to.  I intend to review it soon, so I’m reluctant to give away too much about it here, but I’ll at least give you a bit of a taste.  Chris Van Allsburg has a new book out and high time.  I admit to you that I was a bit taken aback by his last book Probuditi!, and I fretted over what it meant for his work.  So what does Van Allsburg do?  Does he produce more of the same?  Not even.  For the very first time he has penned and illustrated a work of nonfiction called Queen of the Falls.  Better than that, it’s a story that I’ve heard told before, but never thought to encounter for kids.  To wit, it’s the tale of the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  You’ll hear more about it soon.

The shortest road to writing a picture book these days isn’t having an agent or any of that useful gobbledygook.  No, my friend, what you should really do is go out, find yourself a story about two entirely different animals that are now bestest buddies, and write a book about them.  It’s a pretty common formula that I was beginning to get a little sick of.  Credit Catherine Thimmesh then.  Her book Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships has the advantage of flooding the market, in a sense, with these tales.  It’s only 32-pages but it’s covering everything from camels that befriend pigs to a sled dog with polar bear and everything in between.  This then guarantees that the stories will be of interest to both kids and adults AND have the added benefit of (hopefully) denying other authors the chance to cash in.  Well played, Ms. Thimmesh.  Well played.

There is a growing consensus amongst a small section of children’s librarians about Tim Egan.  Mainly, that he is a hidden jewel.  The kind of fellow who produces such sublime little picture books that he goes virtually unnoticed by the award committees of the world, entering almost into a kind of cult status.  Once an Egan fan, always an Egan fan.  Those of you out there who enjoy the recent series he started with Dodsworth and his crazy duck will be pleased to hear that Dodsworth in Rome should be hitting shelves soon.

Speaking of the talented and under-appreciated, next up is Robbin Gourley.  A couple years ago she wrote and illustrated the fantastic Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie.  Continuing her theme of writing picture books based on true life events and individuals comes First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew.  Like her previous title, there will be recipes in the book (cool . . . though if that recent New Yorker article is to be believed, I hope she’ll be particular about the ones garnered from the Roosevelt White House).  It’s a cool idea of looking at a single place throughout history.  Smart.

This past year a lot of people discovered the artist Aaron Renier because of his graphic novel The Unsinkable Walker Bean.  Long before he came to prominence with that little number, though, he was providing the illustrations for Gerald Morris’s highly amusing early chapter book takes on the knights of the round table.  I was a big fan of The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great and I heard great things of The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short.  Now Morris is tackling The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True, and if you can read that title without thinking of Michael Palin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail then you are made of stronger stuff than I.

I always get these parents in my library asking for books on finance for their kids.  Hey, I live in New York City!  It’s practically required by city law to encourage your kids into cultivating a dream of becoming hedge fund managers someday.  When they ask for fiction I have my go-to books like The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill and, of course, The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies.  I’ve always been a big-time fan of that book, so I was pleased as punch to hear about the sequel, The Lemonade Crime.  Now instead of business acumen, Davies and her characters are tackling questions of law and order.  Think of The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney but for the 9 to 12 set.

It’s interesting to watch Lois Lowry these days.  She’s taken a fancy to writing early chapter books and, it now seems, to pair with already established and fabulous illustrators.  Not so much The Willoughbys, but certainly that was the case with The Birthday Ball (illustrated by Jules Feiffer) and her latest, Bless This Mouse as illustrated by Eric Rohmann.  Better still, I heard a rumor (just a rumor you understand) that a fourth book in The Giver cannon is slated for 2012.  F.Y.I.

Happy times await those who are hoping for a new Theodosia book.  R.L. LaFevers (she of the Shrinking Violets blog) has penned Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh.  Fear not.  Though the title uses the word “last” there is nothing to indicate that this will be the end of her series in any way, shape, or form.  Word on the street also has it that the author recently signed a YA novel involving rogue nuns.  You heard it here first, folks.

In 2010 there were four Scientist in the Field titles (including Sibert winner Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Syd Montgomery).  This year there will, at the very least, be The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lurie (not to be confused with Peter Lorre, which would be awesome but weird) and The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson. Keep your eyes peeled, nonfiction lovers.

I promised myself I wouldn’t cover any YA in this round-up, but it seems a shame not to at least mention that a biography of Jane Austen is coming out for the YA set.  Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef is probably the only Jane Austen book out there for teens in mind.  One naturally wonders if Charlotte Bronte is next on Reef’s list.

When I read books in the new year I tend to leap back and forth between books published in the current month and books that will be published soon.  I may have to leap ahead in time and read this next book, though, because there’s something about it (particularly the cover) that haunts me.  Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest by Amos Oz has all the markings of an allegory or a fairy tale.  Or both.  It’s not like the two are mutually exclusive, after all.  I won’t say any more about it except that it’s about a boy and a girl who must find out why all the animals, even the snails, disappeared years ago.

Gary Schmidt fans your long wait is over!  The multiple award winning author is back in the game, so you know you’re going to have to get your hands on Okay for Now which, let’s face it, has a dead on perfect cover.

It’s the subtlety of the unraveling baseball that gets me most of all, I think.  The story takes place in the 70s and involves everything from Audubon to Broadway.  Oh.  This is getting read real soon.  You bet.

To my vast relief they have put a new cover on The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks:

I only know this because when I saw the cover of The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group I was impressed with the change.

Jinks may be my favorite Australian novelist.  And I love a lot of Aussies, so that’s seriously saying something.  She’s neck and neck with D.M. Cornish right now.

And that, as they say, is that.  Not much more to mention except of course a glimpse at this awesome looking new jackets for paperback of books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond:

It’ll even have a cool Introduction by Karen Cushman.  Excellent choice.  And check out this one for A Single Shard:

Wow.  Now that is something else.  Just gorgeous.  I’m curious now.  What do you folks think of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s new Dairy Queen cover?:

It makes a little more sense when you see what they did to The Off Season:

Heh heh.  I think I like ’em.  But then, I’m a fan of consistency.  When the paperback of Front and Center gets released you’ll see that it involves a cowprint skirt, just to wrap it all up.

Many thanks to HMH for the preview!  Eye-opening to say the least.

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. Thanks for the drool inducing round up. Very excited to hear there’ll be a new book out from Lehman.

  2. Angela K. says:

    Good morning – you did make a little mix-up. Joyce Sidman was the author of Dark Emperor, which won the Newbery Honor and Marilyn Singer was the author of Mirror, Mirror (which I was also hoping won a Newbery Honor, but alas). Thanks for another great preview.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Yup. My brain is frazzled and fuzzled and pretty much in a loop. Thanks for the correction!

  3. I saw Catherine Murdock speak recently and I think she said those covers were designed for the German edition. Then the publisher liked them and decided to use them for the next American edition.

  4. Oh, I’m excited about the new Gary Schmidt book!

  5. Thank you for this preview and all of the others you do – I read them all the time to help me choose new books to read for my blog.

  6. Thanks for the preview – I’ve always looked forward to these, and now they’re very helpful in my collection development!

  7. I adore the new covers for the Catherine Murdock books. Very fun. (And much better than the original hardcover cover). And a new Gary Schmidt book? Very cool! Can’t wait!

  8. Count me a Tim Egan fan! Ever since SERIOUS FARM. It makes me laugh and laugh.

    Catherine Gilbert Murdock revealed these covers at a talk in October. They were originally pictured on the German editions.

  9. Soooo excited about THE LOUD BOOK! And everything here, honestly. I love that Gary D. Schmidt cover. Thanks for sharing, Betsy!

  10. Genevieve says:

    Cannot WAIT for the new Gary D. Schmidt book. It’s about Doug Swieteck, and Eric Carpenter said he likes it even better than Wednesday Wars, which I’m not sure I can imagine.

  11. We are HUGE Dodsworth fans over here. Can’t wait for Rome.

  12. Jennifer Greene says:

    As a matter of fact, Catherine Reef’s next book will indeed be about the Bronte sisters. Stay tuned!

  13. Thank you so much for mentioning JANE AUSTEN: A LIFE REVEALED. It was great fun to write, and I hope it will be equally enjoyable to read. And your intuition is spot on–a book on the Brontes is in the works!

  14. Thanks for mentioning Peter Lourie’s new book, The Manatee Scientists. I saw a color proof a month or so ago. You will fall in love with manatees!

  15. Thanks so much for the preview of FRIENDS. (So it turns out you were right; it was a monkey and something . . . sort of.) Hopefully, in addition to my well-played hand of flooding the market, your readers will find quite a different approach than what’s been done in the past. And I can’t WAIT to get my hands on the new Gary Schmidt book. Always love your previews — thanks for including me in this one.

  16. I love kids books about interspecies friendships, so I am really, really looking forward to reading Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships. And Deborah Underwood’s The Quiet Book was wonderful, so I’ve got high hopes for The Loud Book too.