Let’s try something a little different this time around. My usual previews contain all kinds of fun details, and certainly the Little Brown previews are the cream of the publishing crop. I’m talking Yale Club. I’m talking white tablecloths. I’m talking little sandwiches with salmon and capers inside.
But before I get to anything else, let’s talk original art. Your average LB preview will spot the room with original art hither and thither, thither and yon. Actually a fair number of previews do this, but with one important difference. LB takes pleasure in showing you the future. I’m talking sometimes years and years into the future. Here is a smattering of what the most recent preview consisted of. If I must suffer, so must you.
- Should You Be a River by Ed Young (Spring 2015).
- My Teacher is a Monster (No I Am Not) by Peter Brown (Spring 2014)
- My Washington D.C. by Kathy Jakobsen (Fall 2015) – This may be one of the most gorgeous things coming up. When you see how she painted every single teeny tiny apple blossom . . . and the National Library, man! That library!
- Radiant Child illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Spring 2015) – When asked what art piece I would pilfer if given half a chance to do so, my answer was unequivocal. Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, this is not the first time I’ve laid eyes on the art from this book, but it was certainly the first time I’d seen such large, gorgeous selections. It is a picture book biography of Basquiat, and while I may not be the world’s biggest Basquiat fan, I AM the world’s biggest fan of this book. For one thing, it appears that Steptoe has merged his style with his subject’s. The end result are these HUGE set pieces illustrating sections from the man’s life. I already know precisely where in my home I’ll put it so any day, LB. Any day. I accept both Fed Ex and UPS.
As we take our seats, the lulling . . . no. Wrong word entirely. Competent? In charge? It’ll come to me. The VOICE of Victoria Stapleton informs us that we’re about to start since, as she put it, our persons have been “edified”.
And so we begin. LB, as you may recall, is the sweetest of all the pubs, in part because you sit and the editors come to you. Let’s begin with Pam Gruber then. She started off with the book Odin’s Ravens (ISBN: 9780316204989) by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr. And yes, those two are in fact Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr. I love easy pseudonyms. This is a middle grade present day sequel to Loki’s Wolves. Gruber mentioned in passing that fantasies for kids these days are getting darker but that this series still has a whole lot of “humor and heart”. It’s for those fans of Percy Jackson albeit with Norse myths galore (word on the street has it that Riordan is penning his own Norse series soonish). And goats. Lots o’ goats. In this installment, two kids have to go into the Underworld to find Thor’s hammer. Keep a sharp eye out for rivers of acid, kickass goat companions, etc. Apparently it’s very faithful to the original myths. More fun, Melissa commissioned a shield to go with the book since she’s such a stickler for accuracy. We got to see photos of its creation, and I was distracted for a time by the fellow constructing the shields. Think peasant shirts and long hair. Awesome.
Next up (I’m skipping the YA this year – sorry teen book fans) we have Connie Hsu presenting Dan Santat’s first written and illustrated picture book since The Guild of Geniuses. It’s called The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (ISBN: 9780316184052) and clocking in at 40 pages it’s the tale of an imaginary friend in search of a kid of his own. It is also clearly what you get when Santat is influenced by Shaun Tan, because this is a very Tan-like world, but with a distinctly Santatian twist on things. Beekle (his name was Santat’s son’s word for bicycle when he was very young) looks a bit like that old cartoon character Kirby, albeit with limbs and a small crown. The librarians were happy because part of his journey involves going to New York City (as all good journeys must). The endpapers consist of nice glimpses of various kids and their very different imaginary friends. Word on the street has it that Dreamworks has optioned it already. As for Santat himself, he’s is on the record as saying that the story is a metaphor for the picture book process, and you get a hint of that when Alice, the girl Beekle finds, is shown in one scene in front of papers showing the whole story up until that point. And happily there is a wordless spread or two, which always makes me happy.
This Is a Moose by Richard T. Morris is illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (ISBN 978-0316213608) and continues the current trend of funny moose (meese? Mooses?). Your Z is for Moose. Your Duck Duck Moose. I think they just look funny. Something about their noses. In this book a director keeps trying to shoot a straightforward nature documentary, but his subject is a moose with other ideas. He, you see, knows a camera when he sees one and he wants to be an astronaut. The director Billy Wadler (arr arr) gets fed up with animals that don’t play the right parts (making this a perfect companion to What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson) but it soon becomes clear that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. As Connie points out, kids these days know what it’s like to have cameras stuck in their faces at all times. There’s a glossary of photography terms at the back, and we were assured that everything in the book is “scatalogically correct”. Research was done.
I’m not mentioning YA but I will say that as editor Farrin Jacobs discussed the YA memoir I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (ISBN: 9780316327930 – not to be confused with the adult title of the same name) I saw that the comedian Patton Oswalt had tweeted the following: “So, you know how scary the Taliban is? Think about this: Malala Yousafzai scares the SHIT out of them. @MalalaFund #awesome “.
Next up, Alvina Ling. It’s funny to think that I can remember a time when author Wendy Mass wasn’t sufficiently appreciated. It seems crazy now, particularly when you meet her rabid fans. In Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight (ISBN: 9780316243209) she pairs with author Michael Brawer and illustrator Elise Gravel. Apparently after writing Pi in the Sky, Mass got hooked on science (though I would argue that we saw more than a hint of that in Every Soul a Star). This is an early chapter book series about 8-year-old Archie Morningstar it’s Take Your Kid to Work Day and Archie’s pop? Oh, it just turns out he’s just a space taxi driver, that’s all. They called this “Dr. Who for kids” with educational backmatter (“3 Science Facts to Impress Your Friends and Teachers”). And yes. There is a space cat.
There were lots of happy surprises at this preview but the happiest of the surprises for me had to be File Under Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Seth (ISBN: 9780316248035). Now LB does a nice job of promoting their best beloved Snicketman. Did you see that back page of that recent issue of Kirkus? Laws. This title may look like the next book in the “All the Wrong Questions” series, and indeed it is set in that world, but this is actually more aligned to those 3-Minute Mystery stories I loved so dearly when I was a kiddo. 13 mysteries are presented with the answers in the back of the book (old-school style!). Some clues are in the stories. Some are in Seth’s art. One mystery involves blueberry pies. Another a very rare newt. I rather liked the temporary cover as well. Behold:
With the arrival of Andrea Spooner we were presented with Dog Vs. Cat by Chris Gall (ISBN: 9780316238014). If you best associate Gall with books like There’s Nothing to do On Mars and Dinotrux, the art here is a bit of a departure. It did remind me of the Scholastic book Cats Vs. Dogs, but does what that book’s cover only seemed to promise. Two beloved pets must share a room together, a fact that rankles to say the least. The dog, for example, cannot figure out how the cat got “indoor privileges” (if you know what I mean). Yet their petty squabble is nothing compared to what happens when they must confront a truly terrifying third roommate. Babies can be scary but Gall really ramps up the terror factor on this sweet wee bairn. One of the rare cases where, as Spooner put it, “it’s safe and fun to play on stereotypes”. By the way, if any of these images strike you as too tiny, just click on them and I believe they’ll enlarge in some fashion.
When Bethany Strout introduced Karen Harrington’s Courage for Beginners (ISBN: 9780316210485), that was the moment I decided that I should probably read her current title, Sure Signs of Crazy which, to be fair, has racked up a whopping four starred reviews. In this particular novel, a girl lives in a small Texan town with her agoraphobic mother. Interesting Note: Ms Harrington’s own mother was agoraphobic, so she knows from whence she writes. In fact, her actual mother also belly danced inside the home for fun, but Ms. Harrington knew that even though that fact was true, no one was going go buy it in a middle grade novel. The book also incorporates a downed hot air balloon on a street, which is such a good idea, I’m surprised no one thought of it before.
Finally it was super secret guest time. Each LB preview features a guest of some sort. It’s all shrouded in mystery and you never really know who you’re going to get. In the past it’s been everyone from Stephenie Meyer to Daniel Handler to Marc Brown. In this particular case I thought that there was an off-chance that we’d get Malala herself since she was promoting her adult book in town, even if it didn’t seem all that likely. I’m just awful at predicting guests anyway. As it turned out, the guest was hometown hero Peter Brown, presenting his upcoming picture book My Teacher Is a Monster (No I Am Not) seen here.
Now Brown has grown over the years into an effortless and artful speaker. He relies not on PowerPoints and other trickery. For him, storytelling is as much a product of the mouth as the pen (that sounded terrible but for some reason I’m not deleting it). The last time Peter spoke at a Little, Brown preview was 2008. Back then he was just a scrappy pup. Now he’s a Caldecott Honor winner and two time E.B. White Readaloud recipient . How time do fly.
The impetus for this latest picture book came from a childhood memory. Peter then proceeded to tell us the tale of Mrs. Sparkman (could have been “Mrs. Sporkman” as my handwriting is a bit hard to read today). Mrs. Sparkman was like Viola Swamp incarnate. A crusty, old, bony lady that taught Peter in the third grade. “She looked like a skeleton”. Years later Peter returned to his childhood school to do some picture book presentations. And then he feels this tap tap tap on his shoulder. He turns around. There is Mrs. Sparkman. “And let me tell you . . . this was the sweetest old lady.” Boy, it got him to thinking. If he was wrong about her, then other kids are probably wrong about their teachers too. So it was he created a book about a book who dislikes his teacher so much that he sees her as a kind of monster. Then he bumps into her in the park and as you turn the pages and the two get to know one another a bit better, she becomes more and more human. “I like to make a book where you have to read the pictures,” Brown said. The transformation is exquisitely subtle, so that the reader might be trolling along without noticing at first. As for the the teacher and student themselves, “They’re both flawed characters.” Love it. I’ll certainly be looking forward to that one in the future.
And that, as they say, wrapped up that. Many thanks to Victoria Stapleton, Jenny Choy, and the rest of the illustrious crew for hosting us. And now, my favorite part. The Meets!
Best Meets: “The Killing meets Game of Thrones (without the sex)” – Allies & Assassins by Justin Somper. All this makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing folks promoting “Breaking Bad for teens” in the future . . . You know, even as I say it, I know it’s already happening somewhere.
“Lord of the Flies set in New York City” – The Young World by Chris Weitz (ISBN: 9780316226295). And yes, I will actually be reading this, because one of the plot points involves stealing Winnie-the-Pooh from NYPL. Seriously.
For another take on the preview, be sure you read Rocco Staino’s write-up as well here.