A publisher is like a delicate cheese. Each one has their own flavor. Their own specific style and substance. After years of watching one publisher or another, you get a sense of what they do and do not like. In some big publishers like Candlewick or Chronicle you detect a kind of personality. Slightly smaller pubs, however, are generally better known for cultivating their lists with a closer hand. Blue Apple Books, for example, displays this in various ways. If you get your paws on their Fall 2011 catalog you will find a nifty section at the start that discusses how author and publisher and Blue Apple President Harriet Ziefert started the company in 2005. It then highlights various titles on the Blue Apple list for each of the intervening years. Using one’s own catalog as a more than just the usual meet n’ great is unusual. I like it. I wish I saw it more.
I sat down with Harriet and Elliot Kreloff (the Associate Publisher and Art Director) for lunch the other day in the Bryant Park Grill, where I remain convinced that Julie & Julia filmed the “Cobb salad” scene. In this far more intimate setting than the usual librarian previews I attend, I got a firsthand look at what 2011 has been offered, is offering, and is about to offer.
Let’s talk spring first.
When graphic designers are allowed to make children’s books, the hair on the back of my neck starts to rise. A well-designed picture book can either be over the moon gorgeous or so self-involved that no self-respecting child will give it so much as a second glance. Back in 2009 the duo of Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss hedged far further into the former rather than the latter category with Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types. Now they have returned. In Bugs by the Numbers we see an array of insects represented by numbers. These numbers, however, aren’t arbitrary. Each one corresponds to some kind of fascinating fact about the insect in question. For example, images of leaping fleas are composed of the number 150. That’s how many times a flea can jump its own height. These facts have also been vetted by someone in the Harvard University Museum, so no worries there. Boy, it would have come in awfully handy yesterday when fifty first graders descended on my library, desperately seeking any and all bug/insect books we had on hand. Awfully handy.
My sudden interest in board books has felt strange to me. To go from .003% interest to 110% is enough to give a gal whiplash. New as I am to the world of board books, I take what I am given with great interest, and not a little trepidation. That’s when I sort of met the DwellStudio line. Producing books like Good Morning, Toucan and Goodnight, Owl, the books are these strange, beautiful, somewhat iconic but very simple looks at saying good morning and saying goodnight. There are flaps to be lifted and monkeys to find. I shall have to test these out thoroughly when the time comes.
We get a lot of calls for “concept books” in my library. You know, up/down big/little, that sort of thing. They exist. It’s fine. Concept books that cover animals growing exist as well. A piglet becoming a pig or a kid becoming a goat. I think it must be hard to come up with original ways of conveying these ideas, though. There’s really only so much you can do. Full credit to Susan A. Shea and Tom Slaughter then. In their book Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? the two cover real creatures and inanimate objects then draw a correlation between the two. For example, “If an owlet grows and becomes an owl, can a washcloth grow and become . . .” lift the flap, “a towel?” First off, it all rhymes like this, which is difficult in and of itself. And fear not for those easily persuaded children who come to believe that this must be the case. At the end of some sections like this is a “YES” and “NO” section that makes clear what can and cannot grow. Add in the art by Tom Slaughter (who may be behind some of the posters created for the New Victory Theatre here in town) and you’ve got yourself one fine little number.
It is the bain of many a parents’ life to discover that you cannot designate a child’s special stuffed animal/blanket/object of affection. The thing they ask for, cling to, and refuse to go without cannot be predicted. Books about these objects tend to be about losing them, though. Books like Knuffle Bunny or I Must Have Bobo go for the emotional punch inherent in the loss. Bunny’s Lessons by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by the one-namer Barroux, is different. A stuffed bunny learns about concepts like “messy” or “loud” or “ouch” from his boy who is forever teaching him. On the dedication page, Ziefert made sure to include all the objects that have been beloved by her grandchildren over the years. A nice touch.
Lisa Campbell Ernst: A name you can trust. Like that? That’s my submission to the Lisa Campbell Ernst motto competition (which does not exist, but should). Because seriously, Ms. Ernst is reliable. Her books are almost always fantastic. How Things Work in the Yard is her newest at the moment and it’s a great idea. Systematically the book looks at everything from a garden hose to a caterpillar and explains with cool cutaways and indications how that thing “works”. The art is entirely constructed on grids, which means it took a time consuming two weeks each to finish just one picture. The result is a book where the only thing constructed by a computer image-wise are the endpapers, and only then out of necessity. Fans of this book will also find themselves drawn to its sequel How Things Work in the House. Not out yet, of course, but soon.
But first, an admission. I neglected to mention the Spring title Bear in Pink Underwear because I knew that there were more Bear/Underwear books coming out in the fall and I figured I’d just bundle the lot together. I sort of missed the rise of Bear in Underwear by Todd H. Doodler (better known to some as Todd Goldman). Blue Apple released the book a year or so ago. Apparently Doodler hit on a magic combination of bear + underwear with the series, though. In Bear in Pink Underwear, our hero finds that a laundry mishap has turned his lucky soccer underwear pink. Worse still, all the kids find out about this (Bear has some difficulty keeping his pants on in these books). This title will be swiftly followed up in the fall by Bear in Long Underwear (complete with 1930s-esque flap in the back) and What Color is Bear’s Underwear? (spoiler alert: not pink). I had to give the copy of What Color is Bear’s Underwear? credit when it used the phrase “DYN-O-MITE”. At long last, Good Times gets some proper credit in the children’s literary sphere. That’s almost as good as finding the Scooby-Doo phrase “Ruh-Roh” in Hallie Durand’s Mitchell’s License out this season from Candlewick. But I digress.
I was a big ole fan of Jessie Hartland’s eclectic and wholly unique How the Sphinx Got to the Museum last year. I knew that its follow-up would involve a dinosaur, but I was unaware of which dinosaur in particular it would be. I had heard that Hartland went on a real dino dig to get a sense of the layout, so I guess I figured she’d be doing something relatively contemporary. No way, José! This follows the 1923 discovery and transport of a dino from Utah to the Smithsonian. Better still, I think I heard that this is the dino that had the wrong head for a number of years. Which is to say, the Brontosaurus. I could be incorrect on that point, but that was my impression. Whatever the case, it’s a great concept.
The advantage of running your own company is that if you’d like to write and publish two different books about boys and their dogs in a single season, nobody’s gonna come close to stopping you. So it is that Harriet Ziefert is bringing out her Puppy is Lost, illustrated by Noah Woods, and her My Dog Thinks I’m a Genius, illustrated by Barroux, basically at the same time. The Puppy is Lost title is cute, with its folk art style. I really liked what I saw of the Barroux book though, I won’t lie to you. Barroux (Stephane Barroux if you want to be formal about it) brings the right attitude to a story where a dog worships his master’s skills with paint, then attempts to try for a painted masterpiece of his own.
I haven’t seen firsthand Blue Apple’s preliminary foray into the world of early chapter books, but after considering some spreads from Susan Pearson and Amanda Shepherd’s Mouse and Company, I think the book is probably closer in terms of chapter book length to something like Frog and Toad rather than Clementine. The art and the style is very cool and it looks to be one of the lovelier new offering on the table this time around.
I don’t tend to cover workbooks in these round-ups since a workbook in a library it is a short lived object. That said, Deborah Zemke’s 101 Doodle Definitions is worth noting, not just because of the concept, but also because it ties into an already existing book like a hand in a glove. The book contains words like “loquacious” or “clandestine” and then challenges kids to draw doodles that illustrate that word. It’s a good idea (could help kill time on a long car trip even) and would pair rather beautifully with Janet and Jake Tashjian’s book My Life as a Book. If you recall, that was a title released last year where a kid learns his vocabulary words by doodling their definitions in the margins. A match made in heaven?
Broadway time! Remember the show Do Re Mi? A bit before my time, that one (1960, to be precise). Anyway, its music was created by the songwriting team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden who I know far better for The Will Rogers Follies of ’91. Well anyway, their song What’s New at the Zoo? has been plucked from the old Do Re Mi files and set into book form with the art of Travis Foster at its side. It’s a lively little offering. Got me to thinking about other songwriter duos and their zoo-related fare. Alas the Simon & Garfunkle song At the Zoo was turned into a pretty crude picture book in 1991 (“the zookeeper is very fond of rum” was changed so that it was now a raccoon with the name of “Rum” on his cage). Far better would be something like the Flanders and Swann The Gnu Song. Which, for no particular reason aside from my own amusement, I place here for your consideration:
In other news, I’ve detected a fun 2011 picture book trend: Raising turkeys. I noticed it at a recent Macmillan librarian preview when they introduced Brock Cole’s upcoming The Money We’ll Save (more on that later). Diary of a Pet Turkey by Joannne F. Ingis, illustrated by yet another one namer called Binny, is based on a true story. A family raises a turkey within their home and no, it does not get eaten com Thanksgiving. Keep your eyes peeled for more this year! I’ve no doubt that we’ve a full-blown trend on our hands.
I would mention The Book that Zack Wrote by Ethan Long. I really would. But it’s
awesome and I want to save my best stuff for the review. Sorry, dudes.
And that’s the long and the short of the matter! Many thanks to Harriet and Elliot for showing me the roster. Here’s to a fabulous year!