Smell that? That’s the smell of Fall 2014, my friends. Yes yes, I know you thought we’ve only just turned the corner into spring, but we’ve no time for that now. The future is where it’s at, babies! And right now the future is all about the fall/winter/spring books. Such was my thinking when sitting down at the latest Little, Brown & Co. librarian preview. After informing my unfortunate table that my pregnant self was going to drink ALL the water placed there so they should be warned (and I would’ve gotten away with it too had it not been for those meddling / remarkably attentive waiters too) we got ready for a day of books, editors, and super secret special guests. Oh, and peanut butter cookies. For some reason they were serving the best peanut butter cookies I’ve ever eaten in my life. No idea what was in those things. Crack cocaine would be my best bet.
By the way, before I begin with my recap, a word to the wise. If you are an author or illustrator and you ever say something nice about your publishing company or editor, be warned that it is entirely possible that this information will be recited loud and wide at a librarian preview in New York City for the various assembled librarians to hear and digest. Just FYI.
And we’re off!
Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar by Keith Richards, illustrated by Theodora Richards
First off, a celebrity picture book that by all rights shouldn’t work. And yet . . . okay, let’s face facts. Nine times out of ten when a celebrity suddenly decides to write a picture book for children it’s awful. That’s just how the universe works. The subpar words are paired alongside a decent illustrator who needs to make some quick cash and then loads and loads of the doggone books sell. We’ve seen it a million times before. And even worse? When the celebrity walks in with a friend and wants THEM to do the art (see: I Am a Rainbow by Dolly Parton). So what are we supposed to do when the enterprise actually works?
Here’s what happened. Keith Richards wanted to write a picture book. Sounds ludicrous, right? And worse, he wanted his own daughter to do the art. So you’re thinking about the train wreck this will be and then you see the book. Editor Megan Tingley pointed out that Little, Brown isn’t exactly a celebrity picture book publisher but that this book actually appealed to them for a number of reasons. As Theodora (the daughter) has “the inside track on all things Keith” she was uniquely positioned to work with him. The book itself is actually just based on his own life and story, so it’s not one of those didactic slogs through “lessons” and “morality”. Just a small, still story about a boy and his grandfather and finding something he loved. And the craziest thing is that the art is good. I mean really good. Like this Theodora Richards person should be doing other books without her father involved good. Whodathunkit?
Diamond Boy by Michael Williams
Generally speaking I sort of eschew YA recaps in this previews, since that’s not really my bag. I will make the occasional exception here and there, however, and this book fits the bill. Much of that has to do with the book jacket itself. With art from illustrator Edel Rodriguez, it reminds me of nothing so much as one of those old timey paperback mystery novels where innocuous objects form skulls. This particular book was written by the Managing Director of the Capetown Opera. Williams, however, is also a human rights activist, and this book looks closely at the blood diamond industry. Keep an eye peeled for it, then.
The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin, illustrated by Scott Magoon
Switching gears possibly as far as those gears can conceivably be switched, we come across a familiar name. Which is to say, the name “Eric Litwin” will certainly be ringing bells for a few of you out there. Does the name “Pete the Cat” mean anything to you? Well, then you know Litwin. Having moved on from the sneakered kitty (the illustrator seems to be the one behind the books these days) rhymesmith Litwin finds himself at a brand new publishing house with a brand new series under his belt. Apparently selling 1.8 millions copies of Pete can’t keep a good man down. Much like Pete, this book has an accompanying song that you can download. In the tale Mama Nut wants to get the little nuts off to bed. Their thoughts on the matter are not all that positive, though. As editor Connie Hsu put it at one point, “Nuts are the new legume.” I’m not entirely certain what that means but I liked it as a capper. Multitalented Scott Magoon is behind the art as well, so that’s nice. He’s good people.
Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was getting the world to regularly pronounce the name Psudonymous Bosch. So I don’t have a book jacket for this particular title, and that is because the one that you’ll find online right now isn’t the final. In fact, with its 9/16/14 release date, I don’t think it has a final jacket at all. Ah well. The important thing to know is that Bosch, the fellow behind that massively successful Secret Series, has started a new series entirely. In this book 13-year-old Clay is given an assignment to fill a journal with information on Shakespeare’s classic play The Tempest. Clay’s magician brother disappeared years ago, causing Clay to hate the stuff. Then, somewhere in the course of his adventures, he’s sent to a discipline camp on an island with an active volcano, an abandoned mansion, and multiple llamas (each kid gets his or her own). Add in the fact that one kid’s a kleptomaniac, another an anarchist, and another a gambler and you get a sense of the book. The meets? “A middle grade LOST meets The Tempest with some Lord of the Flies.” Nice.
The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
First of all, just take in that cover for a moment. That is a pie made entirely out of Twinkies. And depending on how you view the immortal apocalyptic-defying food (question: Is there a YA dystopian novel out there anywhere where they devour Twinkies?) that’s either a good or a bad thing. The image, for the record, is by the author herself. This little book actually isn’t due onto shelves until February 10, 2015, but no harm in letting you know about it a touch early. In this story two sisters live together in a trailer park. When one of them wins a million dollar recipe contest it’s time for them to reinvent themselves. I think editor Alvina Ling described this book as being about “food that pretends it’s something it’s not,” which is a great line in and of itself.
A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
Anyone who saw my recent review of The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires knows that I’ve a weakness for books that acknowledge the beauty of clutter, mess, and messing up. Well, Patrick McDonnell is back and he’s tackling the same dang thing it seems, though his focus is a bit more on helping kids move beyond mere frustration. After having wowed the world with Me . . . Jane he scales back his seriousness with something a little more along the lines of his Krazy Kat influences. With mixed-media (!) we watch as a jelly and peanut butter sandwich’s remains start to “destroy” a character’s story. Think “Duck Amuck”. The trick to the book is of course the fact that by the end the character has learned that it’s okay if your story is a bit messed up. For my part, I’m pretty sure this book is going to be embraced by librarians doing introductory welcome to the library readings for kids on how to treat their books. McDonnell may be talking about ideas like the use of frustration, but for we the librarians the lesson is clear: Don’t Eat When You Read!
Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman
So, y’know. Right there. Awesome. The premise of this little picture book is so charming that one is inclined to just love it on sight. Drawn in a kind of Brian Biggs-type style (or Hanna-Barbera, if you prefer) the plot follows a little boy scientist and his two best buddies. One is a pirate and one is a viking. You would think the three would be besties for all time, but it turns out that the viking LOATHES the pirate and the pirate simply cannot STAND the viking. The scientist, true to his nature, sets up a series of scientific experiences to prove that these two can become friends. So, basically, this is a book about utilizing the scientific method. A lot of hypotheses go down in the course of this story and there’s even a little Venn diagram on the title page and graph paper used in the backgrounds. We’re always looking for fictional scientific tie-ins in our picture books. Seems to me like this is an excellent case of problem solved!
Kenny Wright, Superhero by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Cory Thomas
Promoting a James Patterson book is sort of a moot point. It’s like watching a Coca-Cola commercial. You half wonder why anyone bothers since the product is so ubiquitous. But since we’ve just seen the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign take off like wildfire, I can’t help but think it’s a good thing when hugely popular authors write books starring African-American boys like Kenny here. Filled with comic panel sequences, the book concerns young Kenny Wright and his dreams of transforming himself into the superhero Stainless Steel. Patterson, for the record, has another work of fiction coming out just prior to Kenny (who isn’t on shelves until March 16, 2015) called House of Robots: My Brother the Robot. That book stars a boy who appears to have the name Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez. A Latino boy character? Could be the case.
If You Find This by Matthew Baker
“Goonies meets Holes” (which I briefly misheard as “Grease meets Holes” so somebody get on THAT book stat). With the recent announcement that there really and truly is going to be a Goonies 2 there’s really never been a better time to invoke its name in the cause of children’s literature. Basically what we’re looking at here is a big adventure story without any magic but plenty of smuggler’s tunnels to make up for the fact. Nicolas’s dad has lost his job so the family must leave their current house. Which wouldn’t be a huge problem except that Nicholas’s dead brother’s tree, planted in his memory, is currently in the backyard. Meanwhile, the boy’s now senile grandfather is saying he buried some priceless heirlooms and made a map of where to find them. So really, when you think about it, what choice does Nicholas have except to break his grandpa out of a nursing home with his two best friends? In an interesting twist, musical dynamic notations appear throughout the text above certain words, reflecting how Nicholas sees the world. These may or may not prove distracting to readers. It’ll be interesting to see the kid reactions to this, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. This book isn’t slated for release until March 17, 2015.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
And now the book that I am most excited to read next. Because, quite frankly, Sudanese children’s literature isn’t exactly cropping up on my shelves every day. In this book our heroine, Amira, is growing up in Darfur. She loves her sheep and her dad but when she and the family are forced to flee she ends up in a refugee champ. The trauma of the event causes her to lose her voice, but with the help of some paper and a pencil she’s improves. Inspired by true stories, Ms. Pinkney interviewed countless Sudanese refugees to get Amira’s voice right. It’s a verse novel well. As for the art by Shane W. Evans, it’s mostly spot illustrations, which is a form that’s new to him. The greatest selling point in some ways is the fact that the book is capable of making the horrors of war accessible to young readers. And as editor Kate Sullivan said of the art, Shane was her first, second, and third choice.
The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
You must forgive me for not recognizing Ms. Ryan’s name at first. When you work almost exclusively in the world of children’s literature, the big YA names sort of pass you by at times. When folks started mentioning that this book was by a married team where we’ve all heard of the wife but maybe not so much the husband, I just assumed she was a celebrity of some sort. Took me a while to realize we were talking about the woman behind The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Now I was initially very excited to see this book because the art is clearly by one of my favorite new illustrators, one Mr. Todd Harris. Those of you who have seen his work on The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and its subsequent sequels will understand my cheer. In this dual perspective book, a girl gets caught up in something called The Pirate Stream. Meeting an orphan by the name of Finn, the two form a bond. You see, usually no one can remember meeting Finn five minutes after they’ve done so. The girl, it seems, is an exception. On the ship The Enterprising Kraken (which is a GREAT name right there) all the girl wants is to get home and all Finn wants is his mom. So really, it’s just natural that they’d pair with a crazy wizard and a sailor. They described it as Terry Pratchettesque and future installments are indeed in the works.
Love, Lucy by April Lindner
I won’t say much about this YA novel except for this fact: It’s an update of E.M. Forester’s A Room With a View. What more do you need to know?
Finally, all that was left was to reveal the super secret guest of the day. You never really know with a Little, Brown preview whom you might get at any given time. Sometimes it’s someone local like a Peter Brown and sometimes it’s someone from overseas like Darren Shan. In this case, we had a guest who was not local in the least. One that turned down a Creative Director job at Google to continue doing what he loves most – making children’s books. You hear that and you suddenly realize who it might be. I’ve only ever known one person to turn down Google and that was none other than the inestimable Dan Santat. And sure as shooting, twas he! In town, he was, to celebrate his latest picture book Beekle. From him we heard that the book is almost a kind of metaphor for the birth of Santat’s own son. At the same time, the book really would work well for those kids going to a new school, wondering if they’ll find the right person to be their friend. I hadn’t looked at the book in that way before, but it made a lot of sense when I did.
In other news, it appears that Mr. Santat is working on a book right now called Are We There Yet? about a kid so bored on a road trip that he actually manages to make time go backwards. Love that idea.
And in case you missed Beekle’s trailer, here it is for your viewing pleasure:
That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks to the good folks of Little, Brown for hosting us.