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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Albert Whitman and Company (Fall 2011)

Prior to my babyfied state I met with two publishers who gave me the rundown on their upcoming seasons.  Not knowing when I’d get to their previews I had the vague hope that I’d be able to do so before their books came out (Fall 2011).  Fortunately, sometimes life works out just the way you’d hoped it would.  So here now, fresh off the presses, comes the fascinating Fall 2011 season Albert Whitman & Co. have whipped up for us here.

First off, until now Whitman has not typically done a lot in the area of young adult literature.  But as other smaller publishers have made in-roads into courting the YA market (Chronicle, for example, comes to mind) so too has this company.  In this particular case, Whitman has committed to two YA novels for the fall season, both published overseas originally.  The Poisoned House by Michael Ford is the first of these.  Now I took one look at this cover and thought to myself, “A kid would grab that instantly if they saw it.”  So I decided to try a little experiment.  For the final children’s bookgroup meeting of the year, prior to my maternity leave, I pulled out a cart of galleys and new books.  The kids were allowed to take one book each, and we determined their order by pulling their names out of a hat.  As I had suspected, the very first book to go was The Poisoned House.  The kid didn’t even have to look twice.  All she saw was (A) an awesome cover and (B) a description of a story that involved Victorian ghosts, scullery maids, and madness.  I didn’t even have to describe to her the fact that in this story handprints start appearing on windows where handprints cannot go.

A very different title is the other YA novel Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera.  Here, I think Whitman got a little too subtle with the cover.  This, for example, was the German cover:

And here the American:

I know which of the two I’d find more appealing.  That said, this book (shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award in the UK) tells the story of a kid who spends two years in Guantanamo.  Sound unlikely?  Fact of the matter is that 12-year-olds have been held in that particular detention center.  So in a sense, the book is examining why good people do bad things (like build places like Guantanamo Bay).  In September its author will be coming to the U.S. which is awfully good timing.  Also well timed: The timeline in the back of the book will include Bin Laden’s death.

Best Byline: “Innocent until proven guilty?  Not here you’re not.”

I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for picture books that know how to use plasticine.  They’re rare, though.  Over in the Jungle and City Beats are the only two that immediately come to mind (does Jeanne Baker use it ever?) so I was intrigued by Barbara Reid’s upcoming Perfect Snow.  Half of the book is illustrated with plasticine, and half with black and white drawings, as shown here:

There’s a lot to like about the layout and format for this kind of a story.  The art is given a kind of three-dimensional quality that I enjoyed.  Best of all, check out the endpapers.  At the front you’ve a pure unbroken canopy of white snow pre-recess.  At the end, it’s what snow looks like when the feet of children have their way with it.  Cute idea.  I was also able to find a video about the book and an interview with Ms. Reid herself.  Check it out:

Let us now talk Swedes.  Or, to be more precise, Swedish children’s literature.  It’s not all Pippi Longstocking, after all.  Other authors hail from that part of the world too, and have for years.  When the name Maj Lindman and “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka” were bandied about, I had to confess that I’d never heard of any of them.  Apparently back in the 40s and 50s, translations of Ms. Lindman’s characters were brought over to the States.  Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka were girls, and Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr were boys.  Triplet fare.  Well, Whitman & Co. have a lot of their books available for purchase in paperback, and now there’s an updated version of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates is coming out with some fun paper dolls in the back.  Apparently they were able to find the original art for the book (no small feat) which led to its reprinting.  For those of you with patrons who are fans of Grace Lin’s Ling and Ting, this might make for a natural follow-up.

Author Anne Margaret Lewis is from Michigan.  Illustrator Tom Mills is from Michigan.  Together they’ve created the “My Look and See State Book” series. Basically each book examines a state.  Readers see a part of a bird or a flower or an amphibian (amphibian?) and then have to name that state bird/state flower/state amphibian (state amphibian?) before they lift the flap to reveal what it is.  Cute idea.  Of course, since the two creators are Michigan-based (and Mr. Mills lives in Traverse City, no less) I would have thought that the state stone, the Petoskey stone, would have made an excellent inclusion.  Petoskeys ever quite get their due, though.  Ah well.  Lewis and Mills have also created a similar series for holidays.  Christmas and Halloween to start.  More later, I’m sure.

My thought upon seeing the cover of Back to School Tortoise by Lucy M. George (illustrated by Merel Eyckerman) was something along the lines of “The Pillsbury Doughboy is finally getting his due!”  Not exactly, but Tortoise does bear a bit of a physical similarity to that roly-poly corporate spokesperson.  In this book Tortoise worries about what will happen on the first day of school and . . . well, avert thine eyes if you don’t want the twist ending spoiled for you.  Ready?  Okay.  At the end it is revealed that Tortoise is the teacher of the class, not a student.  I’ve seen this idea done at least two times before. One of the less successful versions starred a human, so the illustrator had to make her look childish and teacherish all at the same time.  Ms. George has a distinct advantage with Tortoise since animal scale is relative.  Belgian illustrator Mered Eyckerman also does a great job with the characters’ minimalist faces.  Cute stuff.

Kevin O’Malley’s books take up a large section of my children’s picture book collection.  Though not exactly a household name, the man has perfected the art of the graphic novel picture book over the years.  I daresay nobody beats him on that account (though I suppose Barbara Lehmann might give him a run for his money).  O’Malley’s a name you can count on.  Now as a companion to his amusing Backpack Stories comes his newest title, Desk Stories. It covers the history of desks (there were beanbag desks in the 1960s?) as well as tales of desks gone wild (the catalog’s phrase, not mine).  Looks like fun.

There was a time when New York Public Library trained all its children’s librarians in the art of storytelling.  And it was good.  I was one of the last to be trained in this manner, before the system decided to do away with this tradition.  As part of my training I had to choose a story and tell it from memory.  My choice?  A Margaret Read MacDonald tale called “The Turkish Sultan and the Little Rooster”.  Great stuff.  Later, of course, MacDonald would turn that tale into its own picture book (Little Rooster’s Diamond Button) as she has done with many of her stories.  Now she has a new title out that appears to be a Japanese folktale.  The Boy from the Dragon Place is illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa and may be better known to some as “The Little Snot Nosed Boy”, which is what MacDonald calls it when she tells it.  I’m a little sad that they changed the name, honestly.  “Snot Nosed Boy” sticks in your head.  “Dragon Palace” less so.  In any case, the art is gorgeous, and who can resist a story about a poor flower seller given the gift of a little snot-nosed boy who grants wishes.  Awesome.

When I think of the Oregon Trail, sometimes I am reminded of this Louis CK bit on Conan about traveling (around 3:55):

Like the man says, you’d start off as one group of people and end up as an entirely new group by the end.  For that reason, I think that Wagons Ho! by George Hallowell and Joan Holub with illustrations by Lynn Avril is one of the smarter ideas for a picture book.  The story follows two girls moving from Missouri to Oregon.  One girl lives in 1846 and one in 2011.  One trip takes five months.  The other trip takes five days.  It is often hard to drill home to kids the sheer scope of such a journey, but if they can understand how long and dull five mere days are, maybe they’ll get a sense of what months would be like. In any case, I’m excited to get my hands on this one.

Is it significant that I don’t remember a single detail about the bathrooms of my elementary, middle, or high schools?  I’m sure some people would kill NOT to remember their own.  For others, school bathrooms are a delightful source of humor and creativity.  A Funeral in the Bathroom and Other School Bathroom Poems is by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Mark Beech by way of Quentin Blake.  The book contains all funny school bathroom poems all the time, with one or two of a serious nature.  Dakos is the author of The Bug in the Teacher’s Coffee which, in New York anyway, shows up on all the summer reading lists toted by our child patrons each and every year.

Y’all know that MTV remade Teen Wolf right?  Only instead of nerdy Michael J. Fox playing furry basketball, it’s a hunky Taylor Lautner-esque lookalike who plays football (which, let’s face it, makes a weird amount of sense).  I thought of all this when I saw the new Peter Bentley and Chris Harrison series “Vampire School” and its first title Casketball Capers.  It’s an early chapter book series about kid monsters.  The best part?  The hero, who is a vampire, sports the name “Lee Price”.  And any author who thinks to combine the names Christopher Lee and Vincent Price has my instant adoration.

Paired alongside the Vampire School books are the Mermaid Mysteries by Katy Kit.  Early chapter book mermaid fare is not as common as you might think, considering the demand and all.  I brought home a copy of Rosa and the Water Pony (the first in the series) and my husband did a double take.  “Sorry,” he said.  “For a second that looked like a cuter version of The Scorpio Races.”  Which, suffice it to say, is an awesome way of putting it.

New Cover Alerts!  Whitman has been getting mighty good at re-covering some of their past . . . mistakes isn’t quite the word I’m looking for.  Gaffs, maybe.  Take Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith.  It’s probably a fun book but it looked like this:

Oog.  Now that’s a problem.  Fortunately, it has been alleviated like so:

Much better.  A similar case could be found with Catherine Stier’s The Terrible Secrets of the Tell-All Club.  Old cover:

New cover:

Of course the pride and joy of Albert Whitman & Co. are their Boxcar Children tales.  I’ve been amused by the ways in which the books have tapped into current trends in children’s literature.  So last year we got a vampire mystery, and this year we’ll be seeing The Zombie Project.  Of course this coming spring marks the 70th anniversary of the Boxcar Children.  How to celebrate?  How about with a prequel?  Or rather, how about with a prequel written by Patricia MacLachlan?  That’s the plan (its release is slated for Fall 2012) and will look at the kids and their parents.  Add to it all a rerelease of the books 1-4 in the spring and 5-8 in the fall and you’ve got yourself a veritable Boxcar year.

And that is that.  New covers.  New titles.  New YA.  A new year.  Thanks to Michelle Bayuk for the sneak peek and thanks to all of you for reading.

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 sharing the Barbara Reid video. I’ve been reading about Barbara Reid and getting excited about a few other international authors that I have not previously paid attention to as I write a World Cup-inspired post.

  2. Susan Miles says:

    Yay for Tom Mills! Yay for Traverse City! Yay for endpapers!

    Susan Miles
    Eastern ELementary Library
    Traverse City, MI

  3. I loved Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka growing up! Nice to see them being reprinted.

  4. It felt SO good to be able to give TURKEY MONSTER THANKSGIVING a new cover. So glad you noticed!

    Need to correct you on a few things in what is otherwise a wonderful round-up.

    1.) The cover we used for GUANTANAMO BOY is also the same cover as the original UK edition (Penguin). The cover with the boy’s face is from a German edition.

    2.) Patricia MacLachlan is writing the Boxcar Children prequel!

    3.) The prequel and released Boxcar Children books will have covers by Tim Jessell, not Mary Grandpre.

    Thanks for the preview and glad you like the list!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Zut! That’s a lot of mistakes for one little round-up. Allow me to correct post haste!

  5. Michelle Bayuk says:

    Thanks Betsy@ Always good to see you. Baby Bird is adoranle!

  6. Elizabeth Thornley says:

    Hi Betsy – congratulations on your new arrival from your Ottawa (Canada) Public Library readers! We love “Perfect Snow”, published in Canada in 2009. Barb won the 2010 Canadian Library Association’s Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award for this title. Long name – great award – here’s the link:

  7. Back to School Tortoise looks like fun. When I can, I like to order a small batch of “back to school/all about school” books for the new school year, and I’m always on the lookout for unique reads on this timeless topic . Thank you!

  8. Ooh, I’m posting from the future, apparently.

  9. I read and loved all of those Maj Lindman books when I was a child. I am ridiculously excited about the paper dolls!