Granted we are currently IN the Spring of 2012 so this is probably less of a preview and more of a . . . uh . . . here and now discourse. But by my reckoning Blue Apple Books is one of those smaller pubs that don’t get a lot of airplay next to the big boys. So with this, the last of the spring previews (I’ve a Summer one already ready and waiting) let’s tip our hat to the spate of books you may not hear about here or there, you may not hear about anywhere.
When you open a Blue Apple Books catalog you usually find a letter at the front from its publisher, the author Harriet Ziefert. In this most recent catalog the letter begins with a selection of sentences from various unsolicited manuscripts Blue Apple has received. My favorites included, “I feel this book would be a great fit for Albert Whitman” and “I believe the subject matter and themes of this book fit with the mission and vision of Charlesbridge Books.” I suspect that Albert Whitman and Charlesbridge get similar letters addressed to Blue Apple. Ziefert then turns these into an explanation of what they look for in manuscripts, which would actually make for rather good reading for all up and coming author/illustrators. Ziefert includes twenty different questions like “What will linger after the last page is read and the book is closed?” and “Can it be read on several levels? Does it add up to more than its words?” amongst others. All legitimate questions that are worth considering by everyone from review committees to materials specialists. In this case it’s how Blue Apple is trying to build its brand.
Now the first book on this list has already been explained at length on this site. I reviewed Lucy Rescued by Harriet Ziefert just last month, but I never really gave you the story behind the book. Harriet herself is not a dog person but her brother’s canine companion has a tendency to collect beanie babies. The dog has ten and each night will take all ten upstairs. In the event that one is missing nobody in the family, canine or otherwise, gets any sleep. Using this as an inspiration, Ziefert came up with this book. I should also note that the dog therapy you see in this title was well researched. Easy to do here in town. I suspect that New York has more than its own fair share of doggie psychiatrists.
The Bear Underwear books by Todd H. Doodler are pretty standard fare. You’ve got your bear. He’s got his underwear. End of story. I was amused, though, by Bear’s Underwear Mystery, partly because as you can see by the cover, it’s a touch risqué. I keep hearing that classic stripper tune with the trombones whenever I look at it. The latest has tabs and numbers and counting and a small mystery. It’s also in a 7 X 8 inch board book format. Board books fare very well in my libraries these days, so there you go.
If you were to guess the nationality of this next book, what would you choose?
I was going for Japanese, honestly. Japanese all the way. As it happens, Smiljana Cohis an animator hailing from Zagreb, Croatia. Big Brave Daddy is a simple story of two mice, one father and one son. A mouse and his child (hehe heh). The picture book, I will note, has very big, simple words. I get patrons who ask for that kind of thing all the time, and it’s often difficult to find what they’re looking for. This slots into that need nicely. Plus the ears are reminiscent of Mickey Mouse without violating any copyright laws (one ear is larger than another) so Coh is in the clear.
Before his death Simms Taback was a Blue Apple Books man through and through. You may have seen Ziefert’s obituary for him a couple months ago. Now a couple posthumous releases are on the horizon. Simms Taback’s Dinosaurs is a part of the Giant Fold-Out Book series Blue Apple has toyed with in the past. Sturdy pages open up into large gatefolds with rounded corners. The book is based on an old Taback book from the 70s where the dinos were all done in watercolors. Now the coloring is computerized though an attempt was made to imitate the watercolor look. It’s a wise way to go.
Another Fold-Out Book on the horizon is the truly gorgeous Boat Works. Do you remember Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Like this book that one was by Tom Slaughter and it was gorgeous. Made NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing List 2012. This book, as the title might suggest, shows six different kinds of boats. To see what they are you have to lift the various sections to reveal the answer. As with his other titles, Slaughter’s art really pops and the thick tough pages will stand up to toddler use. I’m thinking of pairing this alongside the upcoming Brian Biggs Everything Goes book about boats which should also be out later this year. A match made in heaven, no?
Every year two books will come out at the same time on the same topic or using the same idea, totally independent of one another. It’s the universe’s way of keeping us on our toes. For example, there are two biographies of Alice Coachman out this year. Why now? No idea. It’s just how these things fall out. Similarly, this year two picture books came up with the idea of using the game of Telephone to tell a story. Over at Harper Collins this spring you’ll find Jef Czekaj’s Oink-a-Doodle-Moo. Over here at Blue Apple Books there’s a different barnyard-centric tale, this time called Pass It On! Written by Marylyn Sadler and illustrated by Michael Slack, folks will be amused by the reference to Norman Rockwell on the book’s endpapers even before they get to the story. In this tale a cow is stuck in a fence and tells a bee to get help. The need changes in the telling, however, and before the day is out the simple phrase of “Cow is stuck in the fence” has gotten garbled in new and eclectic ways.
I was very excited to see this next book, partly because it marks the return of an author/illustrator who fell off the map for a little while. Back in 2007, long before the viral YouTube video of the same name, Front Street produced a sweet and strange little picture book called Honey Badgers. Written by Jamison Odone I was charmed by it but sad to find that he didn’t write anything else for a while. Fast forward five years later and Odone has reemerged at Blue Apple Books with his sweet Mole Had Everything. Described as “bibliotherapy for publishers” (to say nothing of messy librarians like myself) the book follows a little mole who becomes convinced that he needs a bit more stuff. You can probably see where this ends up. This book pairs particularly well with I.C. Springman’s More, illustrated by Brian Lies.
Poop. Universal equalizer. Subject of many a nonfiction children’s title. This year I’ve seen a couple titles out there, but the most light-hearted has gotta be Artie Bennett’s Poopendous!: The Inside Scoop on Every Type and Use of Poop, illustrated by Mike Moran. It’s a younger informational title for the PreK-K set. Bennett will have another book out after this that concentrates on feet. Very interesting since I do not see an abundance of foot books in my library these days.
Last year Lisa Campbell Ernst created the truly gorgeous early nonfiction title How Things Work in the Yard. Following in the same vein she brings us How Things Work in the House, a book that also utilizes Ernst’s amazing cut paper technique. I swear, I have no idea how she creates such an impression of depth with this style. You will find no computer wizardry in this book either. Just plain old everyday cut and pasting. I also hear that a third book is in the works, possibly involving the woods. Noted.
I’ve heard of apps based on books but you rarely find that many books that come from apps. That’s precisely what happened when A Present for Milo got enough attention, though. Blue Apple has given Milo into two books of his own, including Where is Milo’s Circle and Countdown! with Milo. The Countdown one was of particular interest to me since it has this nice retro 50s look to it, appropriate considering the subject matter. Tabs on the side provide the countdown to lift-off which going into the concept of counting backwards.
Next up: Noah Woods. Noah . . . Woods. Wracking my brain to come up with why I knew that name. It may be because of his book Tom Cat, which I’ve hear mentioned by various fans over the years. In Robin, Where Are You? Woods illustrates Harriet Ziefert’s story of birds and bird watching. Twenty years ago Ms. Ziefert had the idea for this book and she wrote down the text. Much later Simms Taback was offered the chance to illustrate it, but he passed. He did, however, suggest Mr. Woods as a potential illustrator and so we have a book where a girl and her grandfather search for a robin. The back of the book names the various birds seen throughout the story for easy reference.
And speaking of birds, let’s hear it for the return of Janet Halfmann. Janet’s one of those authors I’ve reviewed over the years (Little Skink’s Tail, Seven Miles to Freedom, etc.) but never with any consistency on my part. In Eggs 1,2,3 she’s been paired with the multi-talented Betsy Thompson making her picture book debut. And what a debut it is! Using collage the book reads like a counting version of Dianna Hutts Aston’s An Egg is Quiet. In the text itself we see everything from penguins to butterflies, examining where they lay their eggs and what they turn into. A fine, beautiful book.
Finally, how can you resist a book that describes itself as “Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Itchy and Scratchy”. Not a bad description, though I’d throw in a reference to David Wiesner’s Art & Max as well. The book originated as an app proposal but eventually morphed into something a little more literary. Shaking up his usual style, Long tells the tale of a cat and a mouse who work in two entirely different artistic mediums. There is friction. There is creation. And in the end of the book you get to see a variety of different paintings in the styles of various famous authors. An ideal teaching tool, the book sort of reminded me of that Babar museum book from a couple years back, except that here Long is faithfully following other artist’s styles. I like it because it feels like Krazy Kat to me. But then, everything feels like Krazy Kat to me sometimes.
Here are some additional images from the book:
That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks to Harriet and Elliot Krelof for taking the time to show me what’s up.
On to Summer 2012!