And the hits just keep on coming! Ain’t no party like a Macmillan party, cause a Macmillan party has superior brownies. So there I was, HUGELY pregnant with some major back pain attending my penultimate librarian preview in a publisher’s home base (I actually have three more to write up after this, so no worries about me running out anytime soon). As you may know, Macmillan is based out of the Flatiron Building here in NYC and a nicer little ancient structure with teeny tiny elevators you will never meet.
Now a Macmillan Librarian Preview is a bit different from any other publisher’s preview. First off, superior desserts. So superior, in fact, that it takes an act of will not to eat large quantities of them. Second, they hold their previews in the afternoon, post-lunch, and end at the end of the work day (5ish or so). This allows you the chance to arrive on time, not particularly bleary-eyed, feeling guiltless when you go home afterwards. Third, they assign each attendee a group and then the groups go off into separate rooms.
I have been to (rough guess here) ten or so Macmillan previews over the years. I’ve seen them change and evolve over time into the clever current layout. And not once, NOT ONCE, had I ever been allowed to be a part of the group that stays in the first meeting room. Which is to say, the group that has access to those previously mentioned delicious snacks. But now I must credit the magical powers of my pregnant stomach. I got the first room! I got it!! Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay! Pardon me while I chortle in my joy.
And so it was that I sat in on the preview, finding that now I had to concentrate my willpower on NOT eating the delicious snacks, one after another. I tell ya, man. I ain’t never satisfied.
Onto the preview!
Farrar Straus Giroux
If You Were a Dog by Jamie A. Swenson, ill. Chris Raschka
It’s not as if Chris Raschka has to prove that he’s capable of drawing dogs or anything. I mean, he bloody won a Caldecott Award with one such book not too long ago. In the case of this particular title, we’re seeing a slightly squared off Raschka at work. The author is Jamie Swenson, whom I am delighted to report is a children’s librarian from Wisconsin. In the book a kiddo imagines being a dog, cat, fish, frog, and dinosaur. I particularly liked the line about being a “dino-eyed, perching-raptor sort of bird.” Extra Added Plus: In the vein of The Hello Goodbye Window (another Raschka award winner) the kid is mixed-race with a light mom and dark dad.
Rupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer
You can never predict a Feiffer. For a couple years now he’s been pairing his art to his daughter Kate’s writing, yielding such lovely titles as My Side of the Car (which I personally am really quite fond of). From time to time he’ll still strike out on his own, though. I consider some of his solo picture book efforts true classics (see: Bark, George and The Daddy Mountain as two examples). Now we meet Rupert, the dancing cat. Since Feiffer’s picture books often have interesting back stories, one can only hope the tale behind this tale will come out someday. In this book a cat that likes to dance en seul is discovered by his human owner. Unfortunately, her attempts to “help” result in him pulling away and quitting his high-stepping altogether. Things eventually reach a happy conclusion, and I couldn’t but think that the story was an excellent metaphor for when parental “help” offered to children is rebuffed in much the same way that Rupert rebuffs his mistress. Consider pairing this with Flora and the Flamingo or Penguin Cha-Cha.
And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, ill. Sophie Blackall
I’m all about helping kids deal with disappointment and failure. Seems to me a healthy thing to do. Recently I reviewed The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, which shows kids that getting things wrong over and over again can actually be a good thing. Along much the same lines comes the latest from the author that brought us Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. So basically, we’re talking about a woman with some experience with disappointed boys. In this tale there is a small classroom talent show going on and our hero is going to sing. Trouble is, there are a LOT of kids before him and he really has to wait before his singing happens. Told with rhythmic text and some really nice little flaps that you lift, it doesn’t hurt matters any that the art is by Sophie Blackall, one of my favorite illustrators of regular everyday kids. When our hero does finally get his chance, most everyone applauds though two boys do boo him. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt him one jot. And brother, if you can survive being booed as a kid then you are emotionally and mentally set for LIFE! What a cool idea for a book.
Little Humans by Brandon Stanton
So I’m walking down the street with my husband the other day and he says to me, “You know what the Humans of New York guy should do? He should make a book for kids.” I was mighty pleased to be able to say, “It’s out this October.” So there you go, folks.
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos
Sometimes a book jacket artist is so obvious you feel as if they’ve always been the artist on a series. Lane Smith’s covers of the Joey Pigza books? Yes, obviously. He did those years ago, right? Nope. And why no one thought to pair Smith and Gantos together before now is baffling. I mean, talk about a match made in heaven! These guys complete one another. As for the fact that there’s another Joey Pigza on the horizon, woohoo! Do you remember how angry some folks got when the last one came out? I remember some librarians complaining because at the end of #3 Joey really seemed like his life was coming together. Then it all fell apart in #4 (I Am Not Joey Pigza). In #5 he’s still dealing with some major problems and if I were a betting woman I’d say it’s likely that there are no easy answers. One thought about the title, it’s going to make keyword searches for the first book just the teensiest bit more difficult now.
Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn
More keys. I have to remember how they were describing this one. If I’m remembering correctly then they said this was “Savvy meets Because of Winn-Dixie” (a “meets” I have certainly never seen before). I heard their description of this book but for some reason I just wasn’t able to get my fingers to write down the information correctly. Here’s the official summary then: “By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess devil spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, everyone blames the dogs–except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears. His help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.”
Feiwel and Friends
Frankenstein’s Fright Before Christmas by Nathan Hale and Rick Walton
I never really noticed it before but Frankenstein sort of looks like a shorter, more undead version of Hale’s Hangman from the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series. See?
Sorry. That was random. I just love the Hazardous Tales series so much I’ll use any excuse to talk about ’em. Anywho, here we have the sequel to Hale and Walton’s rather successful Frankenstein which, as you may recall, was a parody of Madeline. Looking at the book I was definitely reminded of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not the worst thing to think of when looking at a new book, wouldn’t you say?
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Right now this is the book I feel guiltiest for not having read yet. To give us a taste, five pages of this book were read aloud. And yup. That was pretty much all it took to get us all very very VERY interested. Yes, you could say that it looks rather familiar since it is yet again an Ann M. Martin dog book. But the individual voices of the characters, in particular the father and the daughter, are amazingly well delineated. With a heroine with Asperger’s who finds numbers and homonyms comforting, this was the take away line from the preview: “You may not like her, but you’ll love her.” Oooo. Well played, Feiwel and Friends.
Zorgoochi Intergalactic Pizza: Delivery of Doom by Dan Yaccarino
What does it say about a publisher when they have not one but TWO books for kids coming out the same year featuring outer space heroes that deliver pizzas? Over at the First Second imprint they’ve already published James Kochalka’s The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza. Now Feiwel and Friends are coming out with a middle grade novel about an independent space pizza company (never buy your space pizza from corporate sellouts, sweethearts). Copiously illustrated by Yaccarino and nicely designed, there is a moral to this tale: “Aliens aren’t good tippers.” It’s an interesting size for a middle grade, coming in at a slightly larger than usual 6″ X 9″. And since the story does, at some point, involve talking garlic, I officially approve. Insofar as I’m concerned, all books should involve talking garlic in some way. It just makes sense.
Coming Home by Greg Ruth
Okay. Fess up. How many of you have watched those YouTube videos of soldiers returning home, being greeted by their loved ones and haven’t teared up? Here, I’ll give you a challenge. Watch this and don’t cry.
Now admit that this is a great idea for a picture book. Greg Ruth was last seen creating the creepy as all get out graphic novel The Lost Boy. Switching gears entirely, he’s now penned a picture book that will be out just in time for Veteran’s Day. In this tale, a boy waits for his mom in an airport. As he does we see family after family greeting returning soldiers home.
The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
I’m the kind of parent who always makes a big show of reading the author’s name when I read a book aloud to my kiddos. As a result, the name “Benji Davies” is VERY familiar to me. That’s because here in the States we primarily know him through his Nosy Crow imports like the Bizzy Bear series. Turns out, the man has loads of other books under his belt, and they do not all happen to involve wide-eyed board book bears. This book sort of looks like a combination of One Morning in Maine meets modern Japanese prints. With beautiful saturated color the story follows a boy, his fisherman father, and their cats. One day the boy finds a small whale on the beach and brings it home. Imagine this to be a companion to Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Then head on over to the 100 Scope Notes post on the proliferation of whales in children’s books this year.
This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but after the publication of Herve Tullet’s Press Here, its overwhelming success led to a string of copycat picture books. And they all basically did the same darn thing, but with a mild twist here and there. *snore* If you’re going to make an interactive picture book where the format is key to the storytelling, at least put a little originality in there, people. Originality is the name of the game with Byrne’s latest. This is a book that uses the gutter (in layman’s terms, the middle of the book between the pages) as part of the plot. It’s funny and quirky and really rather clever. It would also make a GREAT readaloud picture book. Just sayin’.
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
I consider this one a love letter to New York City. It reminded me in equal turns of Gus Gordon’s Herman & Rosie and Dan Santat’s Beekle. In this story a small polka dotted elephant (the polka dots are awfully light) finds that he is just too small in this way too big city. Fortunately, he soon finds a friend who makes the experience of NYC a little more manageable.
Classic Comics: Pinocchio by Kate McMullan, ill. Pascal LeMaitre
Fun Fact: Did you know that in the original tale of Pinocchio it wasn’t a whale that swallowed everybody’s favorite wooden boy but a shark? You can thank Disney for mucking up your memories in that respect. McMulland and LeMaitre (who may sound familiar to you because he illustrated Andrea Beaty’s Ted books) have created an early chapter book hybrid graphic novel series in two-colors based on classics. First up (working off the original text) is Pinocchio. Next: Robin Hood.
Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen
In some ways, Jane Yolen is the queen of the hybrid humans. I can’t tell you how easy it has been over the years to hear the pleas of mermaid loving girls and then hand them Yolen’s Neptune Rising (check out the cover and you’ll see what I mean). Her latest is a bit of historical fiction with a title very similar to that old merman tale. Here’s the official publisher plot: “One night during the Perseid meteor shower, Arianne thinks she sees a shooting star land in the fields surrounding her family’s horse farm. About a year later, one of their horses gives birth to a baby centaur. The family has enough attention already as Arianne’s six-year-old brother was born with birth defects caused by an experimental drug—the last thing they need is more scrutiny. But their clients soon start growing suspicious. Just how long is it possible to keep a secret? And what will happen if the world finds out?”
Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Yona Zeldis McDonough,
ill. Jennifer Thermes
The most interesting thing about this is that the cover and interior illustrations evoke most clearly (and we have to assume, deliberately) the original illustrations of the Little House books by Helen Sewell. Knowing, as they do, that the Little House books are most accessible to slightly older children, this book makes Laura & Co. applicable to younger folks. Recipes and crafts are also included.
And Away We Go by Migy
Balloons are very big with Macmillan this year (as you will soon see with an upcoming Philip Stead book). In this cumulative story a fox gets a hot air balloon. As he travels, more and more animals join for a ride, bringing something with them. That’s when things get a little crazy. Think of a book like The Mitten only set in a hot air balloon and you’ll have the right notion. Plus, you’ve gotta love the retro look that one-namer Migy has cultivated here. Sweet.
Strongheart: The World’s First Movie Star Dog by Emily Arnold McCully
There is something deeply askew in the universe this year. I like dog books. Books. Plural. I keep bloody running into dog books that I enjoy and I am NOT a dog person. If it’s not Stubby the War Dog by Ann Bausum then it’s Tuesday Tucks Me In by Luis Carlos Montalvan or Kathi Appelt’s Mogie: The Heart of the House. Know what these all have in common? They’re all based on real dogs. McCully’s is no different. Before Lassie, before RinTinTin, there was Strongheart. A former soldier dog from Germany, Strongheart could march and obey orders but he didn’t know how to play. That meant he was an ideal actor (and don’t worry, the man who got him taught him to play as well). He became a real sensation of the 1920s, and his on-screen exploits even inspired the owners of RinTinTin. Pair this book with the aforementioned Stubby as well as Meghan McCarthy’s Balto for other books about dogs-turned-Vaudeville and onscreen stars.
Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
If I were to list my favorite picture books of all time, I would be ashamed not to mention Chickens to the Rescue and Katie Loves the Kittens, two of my favorite books. In the same vein as such series as Usagi Yojimbo comes an early chapter book series about a martial art that is entirely for bunnies. Short little stories and a single color (red), John himself has long studied martial arts so he knows from whence he writes when he includes such elements as bunchucks (they’re made of carrots).
Three Pickled Herrings by Sally Gardner, ill. David Roberts
To a certain extent I’m including this because I enjoyed the first book in the series so very much. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all how charming Operation Bunny: The Fairy Detective Agency’s First Case by Sally Gardner (which came out earlier this year) is. If you haven’t read it yet then tsk tsk tsk. It’s a pure delight. Very much in the Dahl vein, only slightly more refined. In any case, to know that there’s a second book coming out is just icing on the cake. I will be reading this.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
As per usual I have a tendency to skip mentioning all the YA in a given preview and as per usual I make exceptions here and there. Kekla Magoon will always be such an exception as she is exceptional. What we have here is a kind of Trayvon Martin storyline. A black boy has been shot by a white man. Done in a Monster style (there are multiple voices and conflicting viewpoints) the crime has already happened. Lots of people feel conflicted about the crime. A politician who honestly feels this was a horrible thing to happen discovers that it does wonders for his poll numbers. A person who honestly didn’t like the victim now has to deal with his death. Great cover (love the hoodie). A must read.
The Book of Three (50th Anniversary Edition) by Lloyd Alexander
It’s been fifty years since Lloyd Alexander introduced the world to Prydain. That’s long enough for people to have forgotten the lamentable Disney film based on them and to remember only Alexander’s wit and wisdom. In this lovely new celebratory cloth-bound edition they’ve amped up the original cover and included an introduction from Shannon Hale. The foundling stories are now included in the back, which is a clever idea. Other books in the series will be coming soon too.
Roaring Brook Press
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Are you excited? You should be. But you should also not rush to conclusions. If you’re looking for a straight picture book bio of Frida Kahlo then this is not the book for you. Written in both English and Spanish, Morales utilizes her impressive artistic skills to create this utterly beautiful mixture of illustration and models. With extremely simple text the book is less about Frida’s life and more about her inspiration as an artist. Biographical information is included at the end, but this is a book to hand to budding artists. It reminded me of Yuyi’s previous, fantastic, experiment with models with Tony Johnston’s My Abuelita. And speaking of Tony Johnston . . .
Sequoia by Tony Johnston, ill. Wendell Minor
Looks like we finally have a companion book for Jason Chin’s Redwoods. The difference is in the complete and utter absence of humans. In this book the tree is the true protagonist. Using poetic language, the book examines a single sequoia. Readers are encouraged to occasionally turn the book on its side from time to time to read it. Very cool stuff.
Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting With the Great White Sharks of California’s Farallon Islands, by Katherine Roy
Great cover, right? There are a number of reasons to be excited about this particular book. I heard about it a year or so ago and have been anxiously awaiting its appearance ever since. This is the first book in the brand spanking new David Macaulay imprint at Macmillan. As the editors put it this is, “the most up-to-date book on sharks you will find.” Consider Ms. Roy a debut to watch. Gotta love that title too.
Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead
The other balloon book of note. Here we have a new Stead, coming out at the same time as his interview site Number Five Bus Presents. To hear his editors speak of it, it’s a book about loneliness, friendship, quests, “and realizing your heart’s desire.” I found it to have a distinctly “classic” picture book feel to it. Plus, the man does a good bear. That’s important too, right?
Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, ill. Lane Smith
Look, I’ll level with you. I love Bob Shea and I have great fondness for the work of Lane Smith, but neither of them guarantee a slam dunk of a book every time. And yes, putting them together is fun but even that wasn’t enough to sway me. I had to read this puppy before I’d write it off as brilliant. And fortunately, it stood up to the test. Maybe that’s because it’s so bloody odd. Travis Jonker will tell you that the biggest trend in children’s books this year is whales, and he’s right. But if I were to pick a very strange sub-trend, I’d go with Westerns Featuring People Riding Tortoises. Don’t believe me? Well, we have this and we also have the new Anne Issacs title Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch. Sure, it’s only two but it’s two in the same year. That’s gotta mean something.
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, ill. Hadley Hooper
The way editor Neal Porter describes getting the pitch of this book, he was an event with Ms. MacLachlan and asked what she was working on. She told him it was a book that would never get published. Gotta watch yourself around Neal Porter though. Them’s fighting words. Challenge accepted! So basically what you have here is a book consisting entirely of two sentences. Two long run-on sentences, but still. Just two. Meant to be read aloud, this pairs well with the aforementioned Frida book because like Frida it has less to do with being a strict biography and more about what it means to be an artist. Illustrator Hadley Hooper may look somewhat familiar to you, by the way, since his last book was that cool bio Here Come the Girl Scouts.
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
A new Lita Judge is always cause for celebration. Going a little bit more cuddly than her previous forays into birds and dinos, this book talks about the different things that babies need from their parents. The book follows the current trend of including a younger readaloud text alongside nonfiction background information for older readers. It’s a clever way of making a single book accessible to a range of ages. Clever, yes?
Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass
As a mother who attempts to break the cycle of picky eating with her own children (and the universe says, “Yeah. Good luck with aallllll that”) I instinctively gravitate towards any book that includes photographs of healthy food. The first thing I thought when I saw Jennifer Vogel Bass’s latest nonfiction picture book was of April Pulley Sayre’s Rah Rah Radishes and Go Go Grapes. In the same vein as Eating the Alphabet, the book consists of different colors and the fruits and veggies that are those colors. I’m very curious to see how Bass tackles blue. For the photos, Bass actually grew most of the foods here, going to her local markets for the rest.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
With the new Cosmos television show I’ve been saying for quite some time that somebody needed to do a Neil deGrasse Tyson picture book bio. Well . . . this ain’t it. Ain’t it, but it’s the next best thing. Carl Sagan for the kiddos! Considering that in my own youth my sole understanding of who Sagan was consisted of a Bloom County cartoon (points to anyone who can name which one) this is a step in the right direction. This story tells how Carl got into science and ends with the Voyager project, golden records and all. So now at long last we’ve something to hand the Cosmos watchers! Woohoo!
The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas
Thanks to Greg Pizzoli I now know that this cover is by Zachariah Ohora. I would have asked about it at the time except I was distracted by (A) The cool title and (B) the fun sounding plot. In this tale by debut author Shelley Tougas, Daisy and Graham decide the time has come to bust her dad out of jail and escape to Canada. The entire book is told in the form of a letter to a judge about the events as they occurred. As you might be able to tell, not everything goes according to plan.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Clearly somebody has been making blood sacrifices to the gods of good cover design. That somebody must be Julie Berry. In this Victorian farce seven girls in a boarding school make an unusual choice when their headmistress drops dead at tea. Rather than report the fact, they decide to pull a Summer of the Gypsy Moths and bury the body themselves, telling no one. Of course, that does still mean that her killer is out there. Now tell me you’re not intrigued.
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
I know that you already love his Zita the Spacegirl graphic novels, but that series just wrapped up. So what’s the next step for Mr. Hatke? How about picture books? Because this book has been available through Netgalley, some of my librarians have already read it and they are BIG time fans. In this story Julia opens up her house to a range of odd creatures, and then must domesticate them (read: Get them to do their chores). For some reason, this felt like a good companion to this year’s The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara. And it definitely reminded me of that old Cartoon Network show Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy
A far cry from Nursery Rhyme Comics, eh Duffy? So this would be the second YA title to grace my round-up. I wouldn’t necessarily mention it except that I love all the books that Duffy edits and this ties in so well with all the WWI units we’re hearing about this year. Taking real poetry written by WWI soldiers in the trenches (called “trench poetry”) each poem is accompanied by a different cartoonist’s work. A quick warning that this is being marketing for adults, but it has definite YA crossover potential. FYI.
And that is that! Many thanks to Macmillan for the lovely preview. And thanks to you all for reading.