There is a certain element of mystery that accompanies each and every librarian preview here in New York City. When the larger publishers gather the librarians to their proverbial bosom, those same librarians walk in with just one question in your mind: How long is this going to take? If you’re lucky you’ll be out by lunchtime. But with Penguin beginning their preview by providing lunch, the day was rendered simply more mysterious. Fortunately the answer to the puzzle lay on our seats. Each librarian was given a 48-page collection of PowerPoint slides for the event. 48 pages! The length of a slightly long picture book. That’s entirely doable! And indeed, for this particular preview I was pleased to discover that we’d only be covering a sampling of the books from each imprint. Bonus!
During the course of the event a photo was taken of the librarians and posted to Twitter that day. See if you can spot me in this shot:
If you said, “Why Betsy is the woman in white imitating a small ocean liner” you would have earned yourself a cookie. There is very little photographic evidence of my pregnancy this second time around. As such, this is one of the very rare shots in existence. Credit due to @VikingChildrens.
But enough of this silliness. Onward to the previews! As per usual I’ll just be reporting on the children’s fare, with the exception of the rare YA novel here and there. And, naturally, we begin with . . .
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
To be slightly more specific, we begin with Lisa Graff. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff has, as of this blog post, earned itself four starred reviews thus far, unless I am much mistaken. Like all her other books out there, it’s a standalone. There’s something infinitely comforting about authors that aren’t afraid to write standalone novels. Heck, in this era of ubiquitous sequels it’s a downright relief, it is. In Absolutely Almost our main character goes by the name of Albie. He’s a good kid but he thinks of himself as an “almost”. You know. He does a lot of things . . . almost well. So what do you do when you’re just almost everything? Aye. There’s the rub. Set in NYC the book is apparently for fans of Wonder, Rules, Joey Pigza books, and Liar & Spy. An interesting assortment of connections, to say the least!
Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton
Next up? A little Moulton. Editor Jill Santopolo called her a “gorgeous under the radar” author. One must assume she is referring to her books, though I’m sure she’s quite cute. In this particular title two sisters try to take care of their mentally ill mom. A common theme this year, what with the near simultaneous release of books like Under the Egg. Lucy the eldest, however, can’t keep everyone safe. Ms. Moulton’s own mother is a social worker and took her daughter along on the job often enough that it made a significant impression. Authors Moulton was compared to included Jerry Spinelli, Katherine Paterson, and Sharon Creech. But no pressure or anything!
Brotherband: Slaves of Socorro by John Flanagan
If your library system is anything like mine then you have a devil of a time figuring out where to catalog John Flanagan. Is he Juv? YA? Well don’t expect the answers to come any easier. Penguin is planning on repackaging the first four books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series as well as the Brotherband books. Speaking of which, in this latest little novel, the Slaves of Socorro, editor Michael Green called it a “crossover episode” of sorts. Characters from the Rangers books and the Brotherband books are now banding together. It’s a fictional literary character supergroup! Expect already existing fans to be pretty stoked over the idea.
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
Ah. The first of the true YA novels to be mentioned here today. I might not have even mentioned it except that Jill, its editor, got so existed. “This is THE most important book I’ve ever edited”, said she. Hard to ignore enthusiasm like that. A love story set in the time of the Taliban, the book is by NBC Bureau Chief, Atia Abawi. Raised in Germany and the American south after her mother escaped Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, Ms. Abawi’s book has been getting blurbs from authors (Daphne Benedis-Grab, Trent Reedy, etc.) as well as folks in her own business (Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondant of NBC Andrea Mitchell, for example).
Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
Now to switch gears as far as those gears will go. Oliver Jeffers is a tricky fellow to judge. I’ve loved some of his stuff (I maintain that Stuck is a modern classic for our times) and loathed others. I think it’s fair to say that Once Upon an Alphabet is going to fall a little more squarely on the love side of the equation. Jeffers tackles the alphabet on his own this time and isn’t afraid to break out the fancy words. Calling this, “Oliver’s magnum opus” the book contains little stories for each storyline. Here’s one example: “C: Cup in the cupboard. Cup lived in the cupboard. It was dark and cold in there when the door was closed. He dreamed of living over by the window so he’d have a clear view. One afternoon he decided to go for it.” I won’t spoil the ending of that one for you. Regardless, think of this as a lighter companion to books like The Gashlycrumb Tinies and the like.
Nancy Paulsen Books
The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall
Then we’re off to the Nancy Paulsen Books side of the equation. And can I tell you how goofy crazy my librarians are about The Baby Tree right now? I tell you, the cover of this book came up onto the screen and there were universal coos from the librarians in attendance. And why not? The whole where-do-babies-come-from niche is still fairly wide open. In this story a boy asks for some straightforward explanations of where babies come from, only to be met with a flurry of ridiculous answers from a variety of elders. It’s a pretty darn good second sibling book for the older set (the 4, 5, and 6-year-olds) out there. Definitely a keeper and one to watch.
Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear by Monica Carnesi
And speaking of keepers covering well-worn topics, let us now discuss hibernation. Or not. Totally up to you. Now you may think every possible hibernation book out there has already been published but that’s just because you didn’t realize that Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear was on the horizon. Carnesi was best known to me as the woman behind that rather lovely early chapter book Little Dog Lost a year or two ago. Nancy Paulsen calls her “our librarian author” so, y’know, right there. Occupational pride. In this story a bear and rabbit are buddies but soon it’s time for the bear to hibernate. Beatrice, the aforementioned bunny, decides she will hibernate too, though she’s not entirely certain what that would entail. As it turns out, bunnies are no good at hibernation but rather than turn this into one of those books where the bear wakes up in the winter and has a spiffing good time (those storylines always bug me for some reason) the solution to Beatrice’s problem is far more charming. Good stuff.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Onward to Putnam and a book that I’m just going to have to read for myself if I’m going to figure it out at all. As you can see, it has one of those non-covers and poetic titles that publishers give books when they’re super excited about their literary award possibilities. And when they start bandying about the phrase “lyrical”, you know something’s up. In very brief terms it’s a girl with a dead mom story. Elaborated upon a bit, the girl in question is ripped from what she knows and is placed with a grandma she never knew well. In time she goes on a treasure hunt, believing that her mother, in whatever form, is behind it in some way. Basically, all she wants is for her mom to be the treasure at the end. Rife with clues, it reminded me of Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. I’ll give it a go!
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey
This year carnivorous trees are quite hot. We’ve seen four different middle grade novels thus far with trees that have dark desires/appetites, and Dreamwood falls into that category. Don’t write it off as a mere example of hungry wood, though. No no, this one’s supposed to be pretty good. Set during the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest, a girl’s father goes missing in the forest. So what else can she do but set off with a boy to find her missing father and maybe along the way find a cure for tree blight? One of my librarians who loves fantasy read it and gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up. For my part, I was just grateful that the words “eco-fantasy” were never used when describing it. Oo, I dislike that term!
Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
I got name checked with this next book, which had me just knocking my brain try to remember the context. Perhaps it was another librarian preview in the recent past? Could have been. In any case, apparently when I saw the version of The Three Little Pigs by duo Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat I wondered out loud for all to hear why no one had ever done the same for Little Red Riding Hood. Enter the answer to my prayers (though I’ve no doubt they had the idea long before I did). Basically, this is the book for you if you ever wanted to see the wolf get the ever-loving-crap kicked out of him by a girl in a red cape.
Oh, and here’s a non-workplace safe fun activity for you: Google Image the term “ninja red riding hood” sometime and see what comes up. I was looking for a copy of the jacket of this book. What I initially found . . . wasn’t that.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Finally, something light and frothy and VERY New York. I have witnessed firsthand the existence of the foodie child. They exist, often raised by foodie adults, so that they know the difference between flavors and can go so far as to distinguish between them for you. This, however, is not the life our heroine leads. She’s a foodie kid, sure, but her parents are fast food lovers. Still, the kiddo has prodigious talents so she gets hired to review a restaurant professionally. The catch? Her new bosses don’t know that she’s a kid, so she basically has to sneak to NYC and the restaurant in question on her own. Ms. Dairman is a bit of a foodie herself, though alas the book will not include any recipes. Ah well. The sequel is due out in 2015.
Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney
There was a time when I wouldn’t have understood the lure of the Llama Llama Red Pajama world. But have a small child and your view of things changes. Say what you will about Anna Dewdney, the woman scans. Consistently and without fail. You can read a book of hers cold and come out looking like a pro every time. Since Llama Llama is the unofficial poster child of the single mama household, it was only a matter of time before the masses demanded a book along similar lines with but a daddy. Llama Llama’s best friend Nelly Gnu now gets her chance to shine in the sun with this latest title. Daddy Gnu, I should note, is a pretty darn good feller. He takes care of his kiddo and makes dinner to boot. This is hardly a novel idea, but it’s not like we see it in picture books as often as we might. Well played.
Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock
It’s a toss-up as to what I like more: The title of the book, or the name of the author? On the one hand, “Starbird Murphy” just feels right. On the other hand, who can resist a last name like “Finneyfrock”? The plot of the actual book is nice too. It stars a commune kid who lives entirely off the grid. This world is entirely normal to her, but eventually she must leave normal and travel into the city. Think of it as a girl version of Alabama Moon.
Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd
Now here’s a real beauty that deserves some of your time and attention. For the most part, big publishers eschew folk and fairytales. You want the latest version of Snow White and Rose Red? Get thee to a smaller company! But once in a great while a biggie will take a chance. Mind you, after reading this book I don’t think there’s anything the least bit chancey about Robert Byrd’s work. The ultimate cautionary fable gets a leg up in this updated look at the chick that went for the most extreme of explanations. It follows the usual storyline to a point, then diverges and allows the hero to come out triumphant. The moral of the old story was probably something along the lines of “don’t believe everything you hear”. The moral of the new story? “Don’t get eaten. Get even.” [This phrase, by the way, when you Google it appears to be the tagline of a popular Bear Pepper Spray. Just thought you'd like to know.]
Follow Your Heart: Summer Love by Jill Santopolo
One of these days, my children, my prayers will be answered and someone will republish those old Sunfire Romances where the historical girl had to choose between two hunky men. Them’s my youth! Until then, however, we have the next best thing. Something that sounds so obvious when I say it that I’m shocked SHOCKED that no one until now came up with the idea. Meet the Follow Your Heart series by Jill Santopolo (she edits AND writes because she is a Renaissance woman). Basically we’re talking Choose Your Own A Romance here. A girl has to choose between two boys and you help make that choice. I wonder if they’ll allow you to plug your fingers into the pages where you make the choices so that you can backtrack when things don’t start going your way (anyone else do that back in the day?). “The Bachelorette in book form” someone said. There you go.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (50th Anniversary Edition) by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Sweepstakes time. And really, was there ever a book better suited to a sweepstakes than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Because it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary, you’ve probably heard the rumors about the current Golden Ticket Sweepstakes. Well, it’s all pretty standard stuff. Before August 8th kids ages 6 and up can apply for this pretty cool prize. According to the site:
FIVE lucky winners will receive a Golden Ticket trip of a lifetime to New York City that includes:
- A VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar
- Tickets to Matilda the Musical
- A year’s supply of chocolate
- A visit to the Empire State building
- A library of Roald Dahl books
- And MORE!
I love that they get to work in Dylan’s Candy Bar for a day. But how does one determine what a “year’s supply of chocolate” really consists of, I wonder. Hm.
In other Dahlian news, copies of Charlie are about to be published with golden tickets in the back of the paperbacks. Aw. There was also some mention made of the Miss Honey Social Justice Award which, “recognizes collaboration between school librarians and teachers in the instruction of social justice using school library resources.” Awesome. In my own life, I recently finished reading Danny, the Champion of the World for the first time in my life. I’m feeling pretty good about filling that gap in my knowledge now.
Grosset & Dunlap
The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Diamond Mystery by Martin Widmark, illustrated by Helena Willis
A good early chapter book is hard to find. And a good early chapter book from Sweden? Much easier to find now that Martin Widmark is being brought over to the States in book form. As a librarian of my acquaintance put it recently, this book apparently contains “A snappy little narrative that will have young readers saying, ‘I know who did it!’ right out loud.” Little wonder since the original books sold two million copies worldwide and the author is sometimes referred to as the “Children’s Agatha Christie”. Are you curious yet?
Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George
There are some authors that pass away and their posthumous novels go on and on and on until you begin to doubt that they ever died in the first place. Tupac Syndrome would be a good description of this. It tends to hit children’s authors quite often (see: Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones, etc.) and was even mocked in a rather brilliant College Humor piece called I Think They’re Running Out of Material for New Shel Silverstein Books back in 2011. All that aside, we were assured that this final Jean Craighead George novel really will be her last. Two of her children finished it and I like that it has a kind of a Heart of a Samurai book jacket going on. Set in Northern Alaska (the same location as Julie of the Wolves, for the record) the book follows an Inuit boy who learns to bond with a whale. From the description it sounded like it would pair particularly well with Rosanne Parry’s Written in Stone from last year. And as Travis Jonker pointed out in his recent post 2014: The Year of the Whale, this book is just a drop in the ocean of a much larger trend.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
Speaking of whales, here’s a book that gives them some full credit. I was so blown away by this title when I first read it that I immediately had to rush out and review it without considering how long it would be before it actually reached publication. Really, this is the book of the year for me. If you read no other picture book, read this one. It’s a stunner in the purest sense of the word. Really remarkable.
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Raul Colon
And finally, a book that I would like right now please. Please. Right now. What’s that you say? It’s not coming out until August?! Well who made up THAT crazy rule? Look, I don’t care when it’s coming out, I would like to see this book in my lap pronto. I mean, first of all, it’s art by Raul Colon. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but the man’s been on fire this year. Have you seen his work on Baseball Is . . . by Louise Borden? Or how about the pictures in Abuelo by Arthur Dorros? Now we have 24 of his portraits in, what Penguin described as, “tawny golden tones”. Penned by 2012 California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, it covers the well known folks and the lesser know folks in equal degrees. Admit it. You haven’t seen anything like this before that came close to this level of quality. It’s going to be for the middle grade crowd too, so bonus!
And that, as they say, is that. There were plenty of other YA titles mentioned and even a guest or too, but I’ll quite while I’m ahead. Thanks to Penguin for the preview. Thanks to all of you for reading!