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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Macmillan (Fall 2011)

Saying that one is spoiled in New York City is sort of like saying that water is wet or snow is cold.  There are tradeoffs, of course.  The filth.  The crowds.  The teeny tiny apartments.  But for all of that, you instantly forget your previous discomforts when you get to visit gorgeous landmarks as part of your daily job.  One such example is the Flatiron Building where Macmillan holds its previews and far too tasty treats.  The treats are a bit of a problem, particularly the brownies that are small and delicious and very easy to cram in your mouth with both hands.  Prior to entering the building I had killed some time in a park that lies across the street from the building where I watched, for perhaps too long a period, a squirrel eat a gigantic muffin that was twice the size of its own head.  I took this as a sign that I should partake of the edibles.

In the past the Macmillan previews would consist of small groups of librarians leaping from office to office.  There was a great deal of fun to be had in this, since you got to see where folks like Neal Porter or Frances Foster worked.  The downside is that it meant that sometimes one group would still be speaking while another group waited around outside.  Now they’ve streamlined it a tad.  So while you don’t get to sink into Nancy Mercado’s couch, say, you do get to sit down while the editors and such come to you.

So it was that my group was led to a large and comfy conference room with big framed covers of popular books published by Macmillan (Generation X, All Creatures Great and Small, etc.) loomed above us as we discussed what the hashtag for the day should be (this is the advantage of attending a preview with the #1 preview Twitter-ers Jennifer Hubert-Swan and John Rocco).  Each chair held a bag with some galleys inside and the bags… the bags!  They were canvass and small with these thick ropy straps.  They’re fantastic.  I hope they have them at ALA for you guys this June.  As for the handouts, they were full color and contained (and this is marvelous and perhaps unprecedented) a Table of Contents.  Wow!

Before we begin, I will note that I had to split halfway through the preview to cover the reference desk at work.  As such, you’ll be hearing about what I encountered, albeit briefly.

Farrar Straus & Giroux

We’ve always had minimalist children’s books, though the number increases and decreases depending on the trends of the day.  2011 is shaping up to be a particularly shape-driven year, though.  Look on the New York Times bestseller list and you’ll see that Herve Tullet’s Press Here is selling like hotcakes.  Check out Harper Collins and Perfect Square, that loveliest of the lovelies.  And here at FSG there’s Dot by Patricia Intriago.  The book is not only Intriago’s own debut, but it will be one of the first titles launched with the Margaret Ferguson imprint that’s coming out this fall.  We were told that this was a case where the agent sent the manuscript in the morning and it was acquired that very afternoon.  This is rare.  The book is a mostly black and white offering that uses dots to convey concepts like loud and quiet.  We get a lot of “concept book” requests in the library and it’s difficult to come up with lists sometimes.  This book will be filling all kinds of needs, I suspect.  Interestingly it has blurbs from folks like Lane Smith.

The next title was Brock Cole by way of Margot Zemach.  That was the first thought that popped into my head when I saw The Money We’ll Save coming out this fall.  This is one of two picture books out this year in which a family takes a turkey into their home (the other being Diary of a Pet Turkey by Joannne F. Ingis).  Cole’s story takes place in the past where a poor family’s slightly dingbat father brings home a turkey (which they name Alfred) with the intent of eating it later in the year.  Needless to say, it wrecks great havoc and the father’s perpetual reminder of the “the money we’ll save” does little to alleviate this.  Spoiler Alert: Alfred does not get eaten.  The book feels a little like David Small and a great deal like the aforementioned Margot Zemach (It Could Always Be Worse in particular came to mind).  This is one I definitely want, and it’s a unique take on the usual Thanksgiving/Christmas fare (it straddles both holidays).

It’s all about the elephants at Macmillan this year.  The first hint of this came when I saw debut author Michelle Cuevas and her book The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant.  Illustrator Ed Young has at least two other books coming out this year (Seven Fathers by Ashley Ramsden and The House That Baba Built), but he somehow found time as well to do the interstitial illustrations for this chapter book (his first!) as well. Frances Foster referred to this as “A flight of fancy I could not resist”.  Bought from Brenda Bowen  (shout out!) it follows a boy and the elephant that becomes his guardian.  The quote that came out of this was “Strong streaks of magical realism.”  They summed up by saying it made for a good readaloud as well.  Noted.

I mention author Ruth White quite a lot in my children’s room because the muralist of the Children’s Center at 42nd Street is Susy Pilgrim Waters and the only work for children she ever did was the cover of White’s Way Down Deep lo these many years ago.  White sports a very different, and rather lovely, silhouette cover coming out this October on a book called A Month of Sundays.  Set in the 1950s, it centers on a girl who accompanies her aunt to a variety of different church services.  Her aunt is attempting to find God, which allows White to show different unusual religious practices.  It’s a rather good idea, don’t you think?  Set in the 50s, it’s not as if White can look at anything aside from Christianity (and, I suspect, probably Protestantism) but that provides enough fodder for thought right there.  We’ll see if the book does cover a child’s understanding or lack thereof of faith, since we’ve had a couple books talk about this subject in the last year or so, though none have really struck me as getting to the heart of the matter like, say, Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything.

No real need to discuss Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos since I did everything in my power to review that book ASAP when I got my hands on an early galley.  I will say, though, that it occurred to me the course of the conversation that the book would make an excellent play.  A really easy play too.  I mean you’d only have to build three sets, max.  FYI, Broadway.

I’m skipping over the YA here since there was plenty of middle grade and picture books available to mine eyes.  That said, I feel rather compelled to bring up Charlie Price’s Desert Angel partly because he serves as a great antithesis to these college kids we’re seeing publishing YA left and right these days.  Mr. Price began writing when he was sixty, and is responsible for titles like the recent Edgar winner for best mystery Dead Connection.  Now he’s sixty-five and has said on record that writing is, without a doubt, the worst mid-life crises a person could choose.  “I should have bought a convertible.”  In Desert Angel we have a book that sounds (and looks) a little like good old Z for Zachariah.  In this survival story, a girl must escape her mom’s ex-boyfriend who also happens to be an ex-tracker.  Survival!  I wonder if the mild increase survival stories I’ve seen this year is an unexpected offshoot of the Hunger Games popularity.  I hadn’t really thought of it before, but The Hunger Games was sort of an extreme survivalist tale, and I think people really latch onto that.  Might not be a bad way to sell Desert Angel in any case.

Then we get to a weird situation hitherto unknown to me.  I have a writer’s group in my spare time.  So I turn to a two-page spread in the packet Macmillan has given me and there, clear as crystal, are TWO branch new novels that I read and gave feedback on when they were in their manuscript stage.  TWO! So I’m a bit torn when it comes to recommending these, except that I can honestly say that I’ve read them and they’re both brilliant.  Still, bear in mind that I’m not a mere bystander with these.

The first of the two is The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas.  Lovely cover, eh?  In this story a girl’s mother has died and she’s distraught.  And that’s before she goes into her mom’s closet and finds a little bag with her name on it.  It’s a survival kit.  Her mother was a Kindergarten teacher and would make these for her students’ parents when their kids started going to school for the first time.  Inside the bag, our heroine discovers items that mean something to her.  At the same time, she starts to grow closer to the quiet hockey star who comes to work on her mom’s garden.  It’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that gets you seriously invested in the game of hockey.  No small feat.

The other book was The Jewel of the Kalderesh which is the third and final novel in Marie Rutkoski’s fantastic trilogy that began with The Cabinet of Wonders.  If you’ve read the previous two books then I am pleased to report that  you will enjoy this third.  Conclusions are so difficult, but Rutkoski does a beautiful job at tying up loose ends, character moments, and more.  Better yet, Marie has another book coming out in Fall 2012 and it is FANTASTIC.  I shall say no more.

Feiwel and Friends

I’m sure a fair number of you were familiar with The Tushy Book by Fran Manushkin when it originally came out.  It was one of about four butt-related picture books that all published at about the same time (Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, Chicken Butt, and Chicken Cheeks).  I don’t think the same thing will necessarily happen with bellies.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and you know of another pubbing in 2011.  The Belly Book is also by Fran, but this time the illustrator is Dan Yaccarino.  Dan’s sort of tearing up the Best Book lists with his family story All the Way to America while this book harkens back to his minimalist illustration style that folks take to so well.  Graphically, it’s a real beaut.  When illustrators are handed a book that doesn’t involve a story or a single character that you follow they’re sort of given free rein to do whatever they like.  I can’t help but think they’d be drawn to such books.  And with this one Yaccarino gets to break out the bright colors.

While I don’t think that girls today are reading any more ballet books than they ever did before, publishers are at least producing more fare for us to hand to them above and beyond the usual Tanya titles by Patti Lee Gauch and Rachel Isadora’s books.  Miss Lina’s Ballerinas and the Prince by Grace Maccarone (illustrated by Christine Davenier) is the sequel to the Madeline homage Miss Lina’s Ballerinas. In this book a boy is introduced to the girls’ class, which kind of harkens back to the gypsy boy in the Madeline books.  If a dog is introduced in the next title then we’ll know that something is up.

I was inclined not to mention Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane Evans.  I mean, celebrity picture books don’t need my attention particularly.  However, the difference here is the fact that weirdly enough Taye Diggs and Shane Evans were buddies in college.  Seriously.  One went on to become a big time Broadway and screen star.  The author became a children’s book illustrator.  And while it may be a celebrity book, it doesn’t cover the usually fluffy ground.  It talks about a kid who wants different colored skin.

Now there are two reasons why I’m pleased to see Killer Koalas from Outer Space by Andy Griffiths.  Reason #1: It’s illustrated by Terry Denton.  That name may not mean much to you, but a couple years ago Kane/Miller came out with a fantastic early chapter book by Denton called Wombat and Fox: Tales of the City.  If you haven’t read that title, seek it out.  I suspect that since it was an Australian import that there are other Wombat and Fox titles out there in Oz, but determining if this is true would require the time-consuming activity of, y’know, searching for the other books.  The second reason I was thrilled to see this book was that as they talked it up they revealed what has to be the world’s creepiest koala stuffed animal of all time.  Well… creepy cute.  Bloodshot eyes and blood soaked nails but oh so cuddly.  I think I kind of have to show you this photograph of Mr. Griffiths with said koala.

Jean Feiwel notes that “This is based on a true story” with a wry smile.  It’s also an early chapter book (much in the Wombat and Fox style)

Here’s what I meant about the abundance of elephants.  Some are calling this the year of Chris Van Allsburg.  Others are saying it’s Ed Young’s year.*   Michael Morpurgo, however, may be the one to truly lay claim to the title.  First off, he’s been doing all that work on the London Olympics (but is that this year or next?).  Second, his book War Horse hasn’t JUST been turned into a play but also a Steven Spielberg directed film.  Now he has a new title out this October as well.  An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo takes place in WWII Dresden.  Uh-oh.  Following a brother, a sister, and their mom who is a zookeeper, when the bombings of Dresden are threatened (instantly I think of Slaughterhouse Five) the family has to evacuate.  So they convince the zoo (which is killing off all the animals out of mercy) to allow them to keep the elephant.  And when they much flee with an elephant in tow.  Says Liz Szabla, it contains “the wisdom and elegance of elephants”.

I love the cover of that book after doing some searching found that there were others from other printed versions overseas.  So feel free to compare and contrast:

Body of Water has a mildly YA cover to it but it appears to be strictly middle grade.  Recently the ccbc-net listserv has been discussing poverty in children’s literature.  When I think of homelessness my go to book tends to be How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor.  Body of Water by Sarah Dooley may be the next one I think of since the tagline they brought up with this book was “homeless but not hopeless”.  The book takes its cues from Sarah Dooley’s own experiences with homelessness, and follows a girl starting 7th grade, living out of a tent in a campground.

Square Fish

I became an unabashed Square Fish fan when I saw the cover they made for the Jack Gantos title The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs.  Gantos comes up in a very different way with new covers for the Joey Pigza books.  They’ve already had two different cover artists but these colorful takes are fascinating.  They kind of look like they’re appealing to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd.    Amusingly, with all my talk of whose year it is, Jean Feiwel said with a definitive “This is the year of Jack Gantos”.  Dead End in Norvelt may be proof enough of that.  Here is one of the new Pigzas:

Re: The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter– They’re keeping the original cover for the paperback.  Good move guys.  It’s not the only one, though.  The Sheban cover for Karen Hesse’s Brooklyn Bridge is staying the same, and they’re cleaning up but not really changing the cover for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt.  They’re calling it a “refreshed” cover.  So there’s your new term of the day.  The final cover they’re not really changing is Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.  I found this interesting move.  I suppose the reasoning is that if folks are looking for it, they’ll find it.  Still, I would have liked a slightly different take, just to see what they’d come up with.

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

The new cover on Marcus Sedgwick’s Revolver has this kind of True Grit feel to it.    That’s neat.  And it inspired me to look up other versions as well:

When Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg (illustrated by Christopher Bing) first came up, everyone agreed it was one of the most gorgeous little old book anyone had seen.  Maybe “little” is the wrong term.  The sole problem with the book was that it didn’t fit.  I mean physically it did not fit in anywhere.  It was too tall to stand up on a shelf, and sometimes it was too big to sit on its side.  Now it’s coming out in a smaller size, a mere 8 ½” by 11 ½”.  Woot!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all I was able to hear.  However, while I didn’t stay for the rest of the presentation, I do feel inclined to highlight some of the covers that look interesting.  For example:

I love Wendy Orr.  That’s probably this cover makes me want to cry.  It’s like they plucked it from a catalog circa 1992.  Oog.

I read and enjoyed this one.  Smith’s a bit more on track with this book.  It contains a kind of cool Drummer Hoff moment in its pages as well.

From the man who brought you Redwoods.  I don’t mind pointing out that the whole book takes place in my library as well.  So I’m a bit biased.

Don’t know much about this one.  I just like the title.

And speaking of kickin’ titles, how’s this one?  Awesome, that’s what I say.

Don’t know much about this, but  nonfiction is always a bit of a draw.

For more info on this book you might want to check out the MacKids blog post on the subject.

Proimos is best known for his picture books (Todd’s TV, etc.).  Now he’s all YA-ish.  Looks hilarious.  I wish it wasn’t YA.

HIGHLY anticipated.  Must have.  I have Robot Dreams fans in my children’s room for whom Varon’s picture books will not do.  Cupcake is a graphic novel I need.

And finally, the star of the show.  I figured I’d end on a high note.  Goal accomplished!

Thanks for reading!

*I am the only one saying these things..

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. Looking forward to reading The Jewel of the Kalderesh. I loved the first two. Bad Kitty makes me smile. One Farrar, Straus and Giroux Spring title I am looking forward to is Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones.

  2. Thanks so much for another great preview roundup! I’ve had Breaking Stalin’s Nose in a future order cart for some time, hoping that I would hear more about it soon. Darn! All I know is that it takes place in the former USSR during Stalin’s era, and the boy accidentally breaks a bust of Stalin. His father is a Communist, but gets arrested for something. I have it in a cart because we just don’t have that much historical fiction set during that era for young readers, so I have hopes for it!

  3. ANd thank you for linking to the MacKids post about the September 11 book. I had it marked for a future order because of the 10th year anniversary and because we needed an updated book about the attacks, but I had not seen any samples. Thank you.

  4. “An elephant in the garden” is a lovely book, and made all the better by being based on a true story. Morpurgo heard about the baby elephant who was adopted by a keeper from Belast zoo during the Blitz. She would walk the elephant, called Sheila, down the road to her home every evening.

    Zoo staff didn’t know anything about it until the elephant chased a dog into a neighbour’s garden!

  5. Um… that should be Belfast!

  6. Once again, thanks for a great preview!