On to Viking!
This year I have carefully been keeping track of all the books that Kirkus stars. This is partially because Kirkus doesn’t star all that many things and partly because I like their taste. When I get a chance I go out, locate the starred books and read them through. One such starred item will be hitting bookstores this May and goes by the name of Heroes of the Surf by Elisa Carbone (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter). Based on a true story, this work of picture book fiction follows a true incident from May 1882 when a steamship ran aground in New Jersey. The folks were rescued by sailors who came through terrible waves and weather to save them. Sharyn November called this one “the happy Titanic” because it’s one of the rare seaside disasters where everyone was saved. Ms. Carbone was the author of the middle grade historical fiction novel Blood on the Water, a book that was directly responsible for allowing me to serve on the 2007 Newbery committee. True story. I’ll tell you why someday. In any case (that was a bit off-topic) if you have a teacher trying to do an educational unit and needs a picture book of some sort, this would fit the bill.
Children love brats. Book brats, that is. They don’t much care for watching their peers act like hyperactive lemurs, but to see a kid in a book behaving badly is to experience a vicarious thrill. Rebecca Patterson follows in the great tradition of books like I Love You When You Whine by Emily Jenkins and Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott with her first picture book My No, No, No Day. This is essentially a toddler meltdown book where little Bella wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. It puts me in the mind of the line from Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse where Mr. Slinger says “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” I liked that the catalog contains images of Bella rolling on the ground, looking more than a little like the images of Harriet from Harriet the Spy rolling on the ground in her book (not during a tantrum). This one sounds nice. Just be sure you don’t read it before naptime.
I’m quite certain that when David Covell wrote Rat and Roach: Friends to the End he did not mean to make Roach look like a South Park character. Yet that was my first reaction when I saw Roach’s disconnected mouth and head. Fortunately the SP comparisons stop there in this Odd Couple tribute to city critters. Using a graphic approach the story talks about two friends who can’t quite figure out why they’re together since they have nothing in common . . . except the fact that they like one another. It’ll be interesting to see how this one does in New York. New Yorkers enjoy books they can relate to, but pests put them on edge. I know a librarian who was sitting at the reference desk one day when a woman walked over with a huge stack of mouse-related children’s books (Babymouse, Mouse and the Motorcycle, etc.). She informed the librarian that mice were disgusting vermin and that no one should ever write a book about them. “I think she expected me to light the books on fire right then and there” the librarian told me later. Rat and Roach, I pray your fate is different.
The next book is awesome. Awesome awesome awesome. And I’m not saying that because they sold it well, or I heard from a friend of a friend that it was any good. I read it myself, I enjoyed it THOROUGHLY and I highly encourage the rest of you to jump on board and enjoy it as well. The Unfortunate Son is by Constance Leeds, and author who until now is probably best known for The Silver Cup (which, sadly, I missed). I may have misheard but it sounded like the original title of this book was supposed to be The Boy With One Ear, which in my personal opinion might have been the better name. Whatever the case, it’s great. The story takes place between 1485 to 1500 in France and what I believe is Tunisia. It follows a boy born with only one ear who is raised by a father who doesn’t love him, and apprentices himself to a fisherman. Not long after he is captured by pirates and sold into slavery. The story leaps between the boy learning to read and practice medicine in Tunisia on the one hand and the girl he left behind who is unraveling this complex conspiracy theory surrounding his birth. Really top notch all around and the writing is a delight. Win!
I was talking with someone the other day about children’s authors that have names that make them sound like characters. My personal favorites right now are Augusta Scattergood, Sara Pennypacker, Robert Quackenbush, and Mary Quattlebaum. Add Sherwood Smith to the roster too while you’re at it. Her latest book is The Spy Princess about a princess who turns spy (duh) when she discovers that her older brother is planning a revolution to take over the country. They were selling it to us in such a way where my notes read, “Sounds like Breadcrumbs or Brixton Brothers.” Huh. I’ll trust me on that one. In any case, it sounds like it might even be a fun companion to something like The False Prince. Keep an eye on it.
In the vast catalog of roller coaster picture books in my brain I can come up with precisely one. That would be Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee (read it and see if you can spot her husband in the pictures!). Add to that list The Roller Coaster Kid by Mary Ann Rodman, illustrated by Roger Roth. The book was described as touching but not overly sentimental. A grandson loves his grandma and grandpa and whenever they go to the fair the grandpa always rides the roller coaster by himself. When the grandma dies the grandpa gets very depressed, so it’s up to the kid to do something about it. Even if that means riding the roller coaster with him.
Stuck was a hit. This is good news since it was one of those books I meant to review last year and then simply did not get around to. Though he’s known for Lost and Found and the like, Oliver Jeffers isn’t exactly a household name here in the States. I’ve always enjoyed his work (with a few exceptions here and there) and Stuck really was amazing and fantastic. Jeffers returns to Philomel now with a different kind of book and it involves sweaters (a nice tie-in to Extra Yarn, yes?). In what I’m going to call Stephanie’s Ponytail meets The Orange Splot, the book involves small creatures called Hueys. They all look the same and that’s fine until one of them decides to knit a sweater. That’s initially shocking but eventually the other Hueys decide that they want sweaters too. The same one. The book was inspired by Jeffers’s grandfather who simply called all his millions of grandchildren “Huey” indiscriminately. It also reminded me of this old Far Side cartoon:
A Kirkus star was recently bestowed upon Erin E. Moulton’s latest title Tracing Stars (apropos). In a novel described as having a feel like Bridge to Terabithia a younger sister embarrasses an older by bringing her pet lobster to school. The older sister (Bebe) gives the younger a makeover and tries to tell her what to do to be cool but in the end both come to realize that being cool isn’t worth it if you can’t be friends with good people.
I’m not much of a sports person so I’ve not much to say about John H. Ritter’s Fenway Fever . . . except to admit to you that until this preview I confused him with the actor John Ritter. In fact, I was convinced that all his novels were celebrity novels akin to Henry Winkler or Dar Williams. My apologies, Mr. Ritter. You are not dead and you are not an actor. Both good things, I think.
This summer Philomel is hoping to capitalize on a little something they’re naming “Flanagan Frenzy”. Many of you are familiar with John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series. He’s followed that up with the Brother Band Chronicles and #2 (The Invaders) is out this month. This summer however Philomel mentioned wanting to get kids involved in a summer reading challenge. They are willing to provide schools and libraries with free materials for bookclubs. They apparently have these kits they’re excited to hand out. For more information you may wish to contact Ms. Christina McTighe. She’ll set you straight.
Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire: The Homemade Stuffing Caper by John Madormo is an interesting attempt at thechildren’s chapter book mystery genre. Making a good original mystery for kids is a toughie. A lot of the time children go for the long standing series they already know. So they’re fine when they’re younger and have plenty of A to Z Mysteries or Cam Jansens to go through, but when they get older the options fade. You’ve got your Encyclopedia Brown, your Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, and . . . what else? Madormo hopes to fill a gap with this book of mystery stories. Multiple small mysteries fill a single book, a throwback idea that may pay off in the end. It may even make a good companion to The Fourth Stall. It’s on my shelf anyway.
There’s a story that says that the MGM lion that would roar at the beginning of their films back in the day was inspired by NYPL’s stone lions out front. According to the tale, the head of the studio had an office across the street from my digs (why he had an office in NYC is anyone’s guess) and looking out the window was inspired by them. As for the lion who did the actual roaring, that was Leo and now his tale is told with Ralph Helfer’s The World’s Greatest Lion: A True Story of Survival, illustrated by Ted Lewin. In a kind of alternative world version of that Christian the Lion book from a couple years ago, Leo was taken in my humans as a cub. He become very docile, worked in movies, and in a cinematic moment all of its own he actually lead his fellow animals at a ranch to security after a terrible flood. Apparently Ted Lewin’s brother had a pet lion growing up, so you know they got the right man for the job. Plus just look at that cover. Can I get an awwww?
I think it’s well worth noting when an out-of-print gem comes back with a publisher’s blessing. For those of you who remember Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn, I have excellent news. This 1965 publication is back. Seems that editor Jill Santopolo loved this book as a kid and decided to see what its status was today. When I say it was out-of-print that’s not entirely true since Jill located a small publisher who was still churning out copies. She got the rights for Philomel and the rest is history. In fact, the book is kind of returning home. It’s original company was “Coward-McCann” which was an imprint of Putnam. Where’s Putnam today? Part of Penguin. It all comes together.
“If Fancy Nancy got angry. Really really angry.”
Well played, catalog copywriter. Well played indeed.
I was pleased to then see a mention of Lisa Graff’s Double Dog Dare which I finished just the other day. Dares appear periodically in children’s books but they’re rarely the central focus. That’s probably because it’s hard to build a compelling narrative and character arc with dares as the background. Graff figures it out, though. In the story two kids vie for the same position in the school’s media club. To determine the winner they must see who can complete the most dares before midwinter break. It’s a surprisingly touching tale and one that happily includes some discussions of divorce. I feel like divorce was a hot topic in children’s literature a decade or two ago but just doesn’t get mentioned as much anymore. Glad to see it out there. Plus, we got a special heads up that Lisa’s 2013 book will be called A Tangle of Knots and will involve cakes. Yummy yummy cakes.
Nobody puts Dave Horowitz in a corner. For that matter nobody slots Dave Horowitz into a predetermined category either. I’ve a special kind of respect for authors that do their own thing and nobody can match that. Horowitz has been sort of upending expectations since The Five Little Gefiltes and now his Chico the Brave does the same. In this book a little chick is scared of everything in the known world and wishes to seek out the legendary (and very brave) Golden Chicken for advice. Why should you read this book? I’ll tell you in two words: Evil Llamas. Nuff said.
Remember Home and Other Big Fat Lies by Jill Wolfson? Doggone it, I liked that book but I swear no one mentions it anymore. It was certain on the top of my mind, though, when I heard the description of One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Not because they have the same plot (they most certainly do not) but because I think it would make a nice companion novel. That and the fact that we need foster books other than The Great Gilly Hopkins to compare new books to. In this book a foster kid moves in with a pretty perfect and stable family. She resists them but starts to finally feel comfortable . . . and then her mom wants her back. They compared this to The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes which was mighty clever since that book actually circulates quite nicely in my system.
Author Ellen Airgood is known on the adult publishing side of the world but not so much on the children’s side of the equation. Her story is a bit like the Pioneer Woman’s. Apparently twenty years ago she went camping with her sister and the two went to a nearby diner. There she fell in love with the owner, moved there, and has helped to run that same diner ever since. With Prairie Evers she dips a toe into the middle grade novel world. The book follows Prairie as she deals with the fact that though she has been homeschooled until now, she must enter the public school system. There she makes her first real friend but has to deal with the fact that the girl’s home life isn’t exactly healthy. They said that Calpurnia Tate would be friends with Prairie. A nice way to put it.
Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan was one of the lovelier covers this season and sounds as if it might pair nicely with this year’s Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. The story follows Cassie, with a brother who has shipped off to fight in Iraq. In her loneliness she connects online with an Iraqi girl named Blue Sky and gets an in-depth look into the war firsthand. We were assured that the book does not sugarcoat war and would be excellent for kids with family members in the military. Sullivan you may remember from her two previous novels. She wrote them and then took ten years off to raise four kids. Whoof! Ship Sooner, her previous novel, also ended up with David Mamet and Jodi Picoult blurbs. Not too shabby.
Just a couple things to bring up with Puffin. In brief:
Were you aware that Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is 40-years-old this year? And talk about a classic that never won a Newbery Award. That book has legs! The blurbs for the book in the catalog were fascinating too. They decided to get quotes from Jeff Kinney, David Adler, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Carolyn Mackler. Huh.
Meanwhile in the world of Puffin Classics, there are a couple new releases coming out but I am particularly pleased to see the cover release of The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit. The Introduction will be by Robin McKinley too. Awesome.
In other cover related news there are new jackets for Eva Ibbotson’s books. I guess The Ogre of Oglefort must have gotten good attention because they’re rejacketing The Secret of Platform 13, Which Witch?, and Island of the Aunts.
Finally it was time for the special guest. Now the rules surrounding special guests at Penguin previews is that they tend to be new authors or illustrators (or new to the Penguin list in some way). So you have to flip through your catalog to figure out who the most likely candidates might be. This season’s answer? Geoff Rodkey of The Chronicles of Egg, Book One: Deadweather and Sunrise. I read it thanks in large part to Rodkey’s speech and can attest that the book is, thankfully, very good and very well done. Rodkey himself is new to the children’s book world, having come to it via screenwriting. Since my husband is a screenwriter I was already well and truly familiar with the lifestyle. Rodkey told us his entire story too. Here are the highlights as I saw them:
- He wrote text for one of the Carmen Sandiego CD-ROM games. Apparently this was very difficult to do. My only question is, where the HECK is the Carmen Sandiego middle grade book series? Seriously!
- He worked with Al Franken on Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and is mentioned many times in the book as “Geoff the Intern”.
- He has written the screenplays for Daddy Day Care, The Shaggy Dog, RV, and Daddy Day Camp.
- He also told me the greatest G.K. Chesterton quote I’ve ever heard. “The enemy of all art is the pram in the hallway.” Amen, brother. Amen.
And that was it! Preview finished! But before we go, the best part awaits.
“Life As We Knew It meets Lord of the Flies” – No Safety in Numbers by Dayna Lorentz
“X-Men meets The Breakfast Club” – The Vindico by Wesley King
“Jason Bourne meets The Sopranos” – Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein
“Hatchet meets Lost” – Survive by Alex Morel
“Juno meets Under the Tuscan Sun” – Small Damages by Beth Kephart