There’s a special thrill that fills me when I get to do a librarian preview of a publisher I’ve never done before. It does me good. Though I like what the big guys produce, it’s the little guys that truly have my heart. Case in point, NorthSouth Books. If they’re a bit unfamiliar to you, don’t worry about it. Turns out they’re the U.S. arm of Zurich-based NordSüd Verlag. They were mostly doing imports but now they’ve started acquiring original titles here in the U.S. Oo de lally. For more info on the company I suggest you read the recent PW article A New Chapter for NorthSouth Books, which gives a mighty thorough and in-depth look at the company.
So it was that Heather Lennon sat down with me to show me “the goods”, as it were, for the upcoming season. And sister, some of these are real doozies.
First up, we’re hitting you straight in the jugular. Leonce and Lena: A Comedy isn’t your average everyday book for kids. Written by Georg Buchner, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger and ultimately retold by Jurg Amann, the book is actually a German play. Reading it feels like nothing so much as a reading of The Fantastiks, which is an odd thing to say but I have my reasons. The story involves a prince and a princess engaged to be wed through an arranged marriage. Neither is particularly thrilled with the notion and through a series of misadventures they happen to flee, meet, and fall in love without realizing who the other is. The play was adapted here by “one of Switzerland’s most respected writers” and then Zwerger (who is famous in her own right) provided the gorgeous art. Since I live in New York and my young patrons often come in demanding plays and monologues for auditions and school shows, this certainly fits the bill.
The ABC of Fabulous Princesses by Willy Puchner would, if you just said the name and did not see the cover, give you the impression that the book is one of those catalogs of princesses. We see these from time to time, usually European in origin, containing various flights of fancy where the likes of variegated royalty are concerned. The difference in the case of Puchner’s book (first published in Switzerland under the title ABC der fabelhaften Prinzessinnen) and those others may be the fact that everyone in this book is an anthropomorphized bird. But as Heather put it, “There’s no point in being a small publisher without stepping out sometimes.” So it is that we read the story of Prince William and his quest to find the princess that will make the best match. Each of the 26 is an alliterative lass. Here, for example, is what you find when you get to Princess Beatriz.
“Princess Beatriz comes from Bogota. She is bashful, bright, and at times badly behaved. She likes bacon, blueberries, and banana bread. Beatriz is a bibliophile and spends her time reading best sellers while her beagle barks in the bookstore. She brings Prince William blueprints of the brilliant Baron Bluebeak and his band of brothers.”
This is accompanied with lovely illustrations where everyone is a bird, one way or another. The child reader is then charged with determining William’s best match at the end. It’s oddly enticing.
Call Me Jacob by Marie Hubner, illustrated by Iris Wolfermann is also originally of Switzerland but I can’t write out its original title because my computer doesn’t contain the correct characters. Now I don’t know about you, but in my library system there are a couple folks who have a distinct distaste for books with that distinctive European illustrative style. Jacob is obviously European when you first look at it, but inside the pictures have a very American flair (whatever that might be). The story concerns a boy named Matthew who wants to be called Jacob, a name which just happens to belong to his brave skateboarding cousin. As his week continues he appropriates the names of the boys who have talents and skills he desires. That is, until the moment he comes back around to good old Matthew. It’s sort of a My Name Is Yoon concept, but without the cross-cultural differences. Names have power, and part of what I like about the book is that it makes use of that understanding in a kid-friendly way.
At the moment the book I’m reading is the third Adam Gidwitz title that was released this past October, The Grimm Conclusion. So it’s all the more fitting to find myself learning about the upcoming picture book The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Gerda Raidt. Those of you who know the original story might shirk away a bit since there’s definitely a section or two in which an evil queen fingers a mute girl with the crime of cannibalism and infanticide. Fun! But actually, this version really lightens the story without coming across as inauthentic. You are probably familiar with the story of the girl with the brothers turned into swans and how she must never say a word as she knits them sweaters. In some versions she’s making the sweaters out of nettles. In this one it’s starflowers. At any rate, the art is great and the story really well told. I can say with certainty that we’ve never had a really good Six Swans picture book. Time to start!
The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water is by Gemma Merino is adorable, but not in the treacly, sickly sweet sense. It follows a family of crocodiles and the one who simply does not care much for aquatic . . . . anything. He can’t play with his brothers and sisters or swim well or anything. When he gives it all he has and fails he’s left with a little cold. A little fire-breathing cold. Turns out, he’s not a crocodile at all but a dragon. “And this little dragon wasn’t meant to swim. He was born to fly.” Human nature naturally inclines towards stories of outcasts that come into their own. This one is perfect. It sort of reminded me of Guji Guji but it’s a bit better in terms of telling a story about embracing your own differences, no matter what they might be.
Two Parrots by Rashin Kheiriyeh is inspired by a story by Rumi. If that sounds vaguely familiar (parrots… Rumi…) it may be because a couple of years ago Disney/Hyperion published The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin, which is based on the same story. The advantage Rashin has here is the art. Because there are certain madcap books that just earn my love in the strangest of ways. Here’s a good example. Check out the cover of this book:
Now check out the very first image we receive of the wealthy merchant (I apologize for the quality, which will be much higher in the final product):
Jon Scieszka once explained that the genius of David Shannon’s work on Robot Zot lay in part in the fact that he made the pupils in the eyes of his hero two different sizes. Nothing conveys wackiness better than that. In this story a parrot and his kin must trick a greedy merchant using their wits. It’s charming.
I think it’s always a good idea to wrap-up a preview with something jaw-dropping. Problem is, most previews don’t provide you with that particular thrill. Fortunately, this time around NorthSouth came through with flying colors. This book trailer is your required watching of the day.
It’s An American Tail meets The Arrival.
Lindbergh by Torben Kuhlmann is German originally and it is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous little books I’ve seen in a very long time. As you could see from the trailer, a single mouse wishes to escape across the ocean. Cats and owls attempt to stop him but through trial and error he finally hits on the ideal mouse-sized flying machine. The art brings to mind illustrators like Bagram Ibatoulline or Robert Ingpen. Always great to have a new name to play around with. And a new book, for that matter. Here’s the cover:
Thanks again to Heather for sitting down with me and showing me these lovely wares! Spring cannot come fast enough.