Foof! It’s been a while! At least it feels like it has. For whatever reason I haven’t posted a good Simon & Schuster Preview since . . . um . . . since their Spring 2011 list was premiered. Whoopsie! Let’s make up for lost time then.
First off, Simon & Schuster does their librarian previews much, I suspect, as they do their marketing proposals to bookstores or in-house. They hand out these gorgeous full-color handouts of all the titles they’ll be talking about. They also begin the day with the special guest star. Little Brown and Penguin prefer to leave the guests to the last, but not these guys. Best that you be on time, then.
Our guest? The friendly and fantastic James Howe. As you may know the fella wrote The Misfits lo these many years ago. Since its publication it has been showing up on TONS of New York City summer reading lists (I cannot attest to the state of the rest of the country in this respect) and so it stood to reason he’d continue the series. Since The Misfits followed four kids, a book for each kid seemed par for the course. Totally Joe is probably the best known of the four simply by dint of the fact that it was the one with a gay character and Addie on the Inside was released relatively recently. Also Known as Elvis rounds out the quartet and follows Skeezie Tookis (the author still isn’t sure where that name came from) and his relationship with a dog. James gave us a little background on his process. In the case of this particular book, he nailed Skeezie’s personality down by conducting faux “interviews” with the character. Howe also talked a bit about his own youth and his dog Lily, who turned out to be the model for the dog on the cover of the book.
Then we were off! I’ll just highlight a couple titles here and there that particularly caught my eye. Consider this just a random smattering of what’s to come.
It’s funny to think about, but there’s never really been a Ronald McDonald House picture book before. I suppose much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a mighty tricky topic to write about. To get it down right you’d need someone like Kathi Appelt at the helm. Well, with the release of Mogie: Heart of the House (illustrated by Marc Rosenthal) done and done. The book is based on a real dog who just couldn’t cut it as a service dog. By some bit of miraculous intervention, however, the dog found its true calling as a kind of de facto therapy dog in a Ronald McDonald House. Appelt, as we all well know, has the unique ability to write for almost every age (and if you haven’t read her Bubba & Bo series then you, sir, are missing out). It’s a nice, heartfelt story that never slides sideways into schmaltz. No mean feat.
Next up, a book that’s been baffling me for a while. When S&S started talking about The Numberlys by William Joyce and Christina Ellis I was scratching my head. It looked really well done, a kind of Metropolis meets The Wizard of Oz. Still and all, when I went to search for images of it online I found a baffling array. What gives? I was finally able to determine that Mr. Joyce has completely and utterly embraced the worlds of print and film and apps all at the same time. Little wonder from the fellow who created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (winning an Oscar for the same). In the case of The Numberlys, it appears to have been released as an app back in 2012. I even discovered a whole host of videos about the making of the app on his website here, all skillfully produced. In the case of the picture book, it’s only now seeing the light of day. It has some cool details, though. A transparent cover can turn the book from black and white into color with its removal. Oh, and the story? A bunch of little workers get tired of just making numbers every day and determine to try something different for a change. There’s no real villain in the piece other than the nature of conformity itself.
Here’s a video that serves equally as a trailer for the app and the book:
I’m still kicking myself over the fact that I didn’t review Ashley Bryan’s Can’t Scare Me last year. I mean talk about a fantastic readaloud! The rhythm of that piece alone could have you kicking your feet and dancing a tune. Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Anytime someone wants to create a Church of Ashley Bryan, they’ll find themselves with a million instant converts. He’s the current reigning patron saint of children’s literature, as far as I’m concerned. And coming up this season is the book Ashley Bryan’s Puppets by Ashley Bryan, with photographs edited by Rich Entel. It seems that Ashley has a habit of collecting found objects on the beach to turn into puppets. Everything they’re made of is washed up from the sea. Little wonder from the guy who has stained glass windows made entirely out of sea glass. In this book each puppet is accompanied by a poem discussing what they’re made of and what they might be. Everything has a use is the moral of the story here. I was almost reminded of the Look-Alikes series by Joan Steiner when seeing these. Or Pura Belpre’s old puppets. Mr. Bryan, by the way, will be 91 in four or so months now. As of this preview he was in his Kenyan library. If you’d like to get the sense of visiting him yourself, check out Alison Morris’s old ShelfTalker post Visiting Ashley Bryan. It’ll make you want to take the trek yourself.
Dog books. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. Preferably, leave ‘em. It’s kind of nice. I don’t feel susceptible to a book just because it features an adorable panting canine on the cover. Or, in the case of Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, an adorable well-behaved, charming canine. However, in this particular case I was charmed. This is one of those being-different-is-okay books, but don’t be put off by the message. DiPucchio works very hard to keep Gaston as far from didacticism as humanly possible. The book follows a little pup who looks nothing like his siblings. When his mother finds a fellow dog with a strange pup of her own, the two decide to make a switch. However, just because you look like someone, that doesn’t mean you have anything in common with them. It’s got a good strong ending and one cannot help but notice that artist Christian Robinson is having a banner year. This AND Josephine all at the same time? Well done, man! Tis the year of the Robinson.
Some books suggest quite a bit with their covers. More than they give away, certainly. Found Things by Marilyn Hilton won the SCBWI award for best novel in progress a year or so ago. In this tale, a girl wakes up speaking oddly, discovers that her older brother has disappeared, and when she sleeps she dreams of an oddly familiar house. It isn’t long thereafter that she’s met another girl, started sending wishes down the stream, and finds that her mother is acting strangely. That description doesn’t give away much, and indeed I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m sufficiently intrigued to give it a shot. “Lyrical and strange” S&S calls it. Well sold.
So back in the day I loved the old Three Investigators series. Ostensibly rip-offs of The Hardy Boys, the books had their own particular flavor and swing. And in the early novels each one ended with the boys meeting with Alfred Hitchcock to explain how they solved the crime. Why Hitchcock? Absolutely no idea. I guess his estate had some hand in the books or something. Whatever the case, when I was a kid I always felt like Hitchcock was this understandable and utterly relatable guy. Now kids in the 21st century will have a chance to relive that aspect of my youth with Jim Averbeck’s debut novel A Hitch at the Fairmont, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi. You know Jim from his picture books like In a Blue Room and Except If (amongst others). In this book, a madcap mix of graphic novel and prose, a boy lives with is evil Aunt Edith and her chinchilla. When that same aunt disappears and a ransom note appears, written in chocolate, there’s a clear mystery to solve. Each chapter opens with a storyboard (the hat tip to Hitchcok) and the book is chock full of references to the man’s films. It has a good cover and you’ll recognize Bertozzi’s work from stuff like Houdini: The Handcuff King and Lewis & Clark.
The nice thing about Simon & Schuster is that sometimes they’ll send out their galleys and F&Gs awfully early. Such was the case with Five Trucks by Brian Floca. When my family took a plane ride to Atlanta this past Christmas there was more than one occasional where I was kicking myself for not bringing the book along to amuse my kiddo in the airport. Originally released in 1999 and now returning thanks to the man’s recent Caldecott win for Locomotive, the book follows five different trucks you might see on the tarmac of an airport. With a multicultural cast (to say nothing of multi-gender) it’s simple and elegant. Really gets to the point. I’m sorry I missed it the first time around, but very happy that I’ll have a chance to get it for my library system now.
The recent Walter Dean Myers piece in The New York Times probably was a godsend to publicists everywhere. I complain that there are few African-American boys on middle grade covers, but what about YA novels? There are hardly any you can name. And so while I almost never mention YA fare in my librarian preview round-ups, I couldn’t resist showing you the cover to Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley. Check it out.
Author Chris Lynch, by the way, says that it’s the best football book he’s ever read. Considering that I just read a great middle grade football book (Boys of Blur, but more on that later) that’s interesting to me. It’s set in historical Louisiana. Says Justin Chandra, “Teen boys will read this book.” Hope so.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Grumpy Bird is in for some competition. Aviary born with short fuses aren’t really a trope but if more books like Pardon Me! by Daniel Miyares come out then they may inadvertently spawn their own subgenre. Though I would have pegged him as an animator thanks to the style, that does not seem to be a part of the Miyares oeuvre. In this book an easily ruffled little yellow bird finds himself put upon as more and more animals deign to join his perch. Part manners book, part cautionary tale (perches just ain’t what they used to be) it’ll be interesting to watch the reception to this. From my own experience, New York readers have a hard time with the circle of life (so to speak) in books for kids. You’ll see what I mean when you read it for yourself.
The thing about steampunk as a genre is that since it never really spawned any kind of massive hit, it can continue to exist unabated without wearing out its welcome. It’s not like sparkly vampires or dystopian futures. The market was never glutted with steampunk, thereby allowing books like Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne to continue unabated. Set in an alternate world of Londonia, replete with gears and fairies galore, a bored 10-year-old from our world accidentally crosses over. It seems the Queen is in need of a real boy and our lad fits the bill precisely.
Name the last good Juneteenth children’s book you encountered. Because if we’re going to face facts, Juneteenth is sort of falling the way of Kwanzaa when it comes to children’s books. The number of titles that speak to the holiday are slim at best. With that in mind, All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis fills a very specific need. Based ostensibly on Ms. Johnson’s own ancestors, the book is a work of historical fiction be dint of lack of information. In it, a Texan slave girl wakes up to what seems like a normal day, only to find it’s the most important day in her life. The Kirkus star it just earned bodes well.
Margaret K. McElderry
Simon & Schuster hadn’t been chintzy with the galleys of Mouseheart by Lisa Fielder, illustrated by Vivienne To. Mind you, I never know if that’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing. Publicists and librarians don’t always see eye-to-eye on the books that must receive the most information. But I’ve shopped this one around with some librarians of my acquaintance and the responses have been positive. Basically what we’re looking at here are battling rat tribes in Brooklyn. Said one of my test case librarians, “I think both boys and girls will enjoy this new series and New Yorkers will perhaps enjoy waiting for the train more if they believe that nasty rat is actually Zucker fighting for his little rodent colony…maybe.” Comparisons to Redwall and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH were made. Not a bad pedigree by half.
Aw, pfui. I’m not going to remember now. You see, at the time that I heard about the YA novel Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine I realized that it was part of a funny little 2014 trend. This year there are two books that are roughly based on Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately I can’t remember what the other one is (50 points for anyone who knows). Fine’s novel is a bit more oblique in its references, but sounds mighty interesting just the same. Recommended for fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the book follows a girl whose wishes are granted by a ghost. Sometimes brutally. Lovely cover, no?
You know I’ve a real love and appreciation for graphic novels of any sort. So when I saw Through the Woods by Emily Carroll I had high hopes that it would fall into my range. Nope. Not by half. Straight up YA, this book sports five short stories, one of which was already published on the web. The stories may indeed be good, but it’s the art that really sucks you in. As Buzzfeed put it, it’s “The most inventively claustrophobic comic online.” The interior images they included in our PowerPoint packet were enticing but honestly this was the one that sold the book to me right there. I may have to crib from this line in the future. Beautifully put:
(Switching gears entirely) simple picture books with simple words that are actually well put together, interesting, and visually stimulating are as rare as figs in December. Enter Big Bug by Henry Cole. If nothing else this book is probably going to be a true contender for the ALA Geisel Award for simple text. The book telegraphs backwards from a bug onward. It starts out saying “Big bug” and it’s not wrong. This ladybug looks huge. But then we pan back and the text says “Little bug / Big leaf”. Another turn of the page and it’s “Little leaf / Big flower.” This continues in this fashion until we’ve zoomed out enough to zoom back in. And, along the way, a kind of story is being told. So basically this is a tale to teach perspective to the very young. Do you now how hard that is to do? Give this book a closer look. It’s simplicity is just the tip of the iceberg.
In other news, Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre is coming out as a board book. And the people rejoiced en masse.
Beach Lane Books
It was just my bad luck that I had to take a phone call for the bulk of the Beach Lane Books presentation. Doggone modern technology. A real pity too since there were at least two books here that had certainly caught my eye. The first was I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy. Rudy, I later had to learn, is an artist who has created these elaborate little mouse-related dioramas over the years (which you can see here). Really, it was only a matter of time before someone offered her a book contract. I recently did a Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL on the increase of photography in children’s books, and at one point there was some discussion made of artists who create models and photograph them. Following in the near footsteps of Rebecca Dudley and her much lauded Hank Finds an Egg, Rudy gives the notion of pet ownership a very realistic feel, particularly when you consider the various pets that mice would have access to. It’s a rather clever little piece. Unique, to say the least.
Another book I had really wanted to know more about was the latest from Jeanette Winter, Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes. It just looks so cool. Taking its cues from the life of Queens, NY resident Joseph Cornell, it’s a fun look at a self-taught artist who used found objects in his works. This book focuses in particular on an exhibition he held in 1972 for the neighborhood children of his works. It’s very simple, but a nice look at how everyday objects can become art. A rather good complement to her previous book Henri’s Scissors, actually. And it made me really hungry for some good brownies.
I’ve spoken at length about how 2014 has been doing somewhat better in the realm of getting kids of color on the covers of books. Another trend I’ve noticed? A distinct increase in math and science loving girls. There’s Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea on the one hand and Annika Riz, Math Whiz, as well as a couple others that I’m not thinking of right now. Eliza Boom: My Explosive Diary by Emily Gale, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy follows in the same path. You know what’s also interesting? All these books are on the lower reading level of chapter books. Very interesting indeed, eh?
Then we get to the very interesting rereleases. When they presented Christopher Pike’s middle grade series Spooksville, I just assumed it was something new. Thank goodness for the internet, eh? Instead, I find that this is a delightful case of a publisher really and seriously giving some book jackets a serious upgrade. Behold the befores and the afters.
Clearly the old series had a thing for floating female heads.
Then, in some very happy news, I can report to you that the White Mountains series by John Christopher is also getting a book jacket update. Best of all, they’ve renamed the series entirely. I know it was originally called “The White Mountains series” but all anyone ever calls it is “The Tripods series” anyway. Here are some of the new covers:
And for those of you in the ordering books business, the ISBNs are 9781481414821, 9781481414784, 9781481414807, and 9781481414760 (in that order).
Back in the day, the May Bird trilogy was critically acclaimed but never got sufficient attention from the kiddos. Happily S&S is giving it a new lease on life with some lovely little book re-covers. Like so:
I suspect Katniss Everdeen may have had something to do with cover #3 (not that the original skimped on the bow and arrow aspects at all). ISBNs 9781442495777, 9781442495791, and 9780689869259 for those of you playing at home.
Finally, we come to Bruce Coville’s delightful My Teacher Is an Alien series. I will spare those amongst you a great deal of pain by not mentioning how long ago the original series came out. Indeed, the original covers speak for themselves:
That’s the old cover that got me to read the series when I was a kid. No lie. Now, once again, it’s seeing an update:
Those are the only ones I could find online so far. Presumably the other two in the series (My Teacher Glows in the Dark and My Teacher Flunked the Planet) are just a half step away.
Magnolia by Kristi Cook has many things to recommend it, I am certain. I don’t pay too much attention to YA, I’ll admit. But one thing I did pay attention to was this:
This hereby marks the very first time that a dress in my possession has appeared on a book jacket. That red dress? Yeah, I bought that about 8 years ago at H&M. Only one piece of proof exists that I know of and it’s this teeny tiny picture of me, Jen Robinson, Jay Asher (before he was big), and Gregory K. at a blogger meet-up at ALA in Anahein years and years and years ago. It’s tiny, but as you can see . . . same dress.
And on that name droppy note, that would be that. Should you wish to peruse the Simon & Schuster catalog for those items I have failed to mention here, you may do so at this link: http://catalog.
Many thanks to S&S for inviting me. Happy reading!