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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Reporting: Amulet Fall 2009 List

I direct your attention to this: Your average five-year-old.

Five-year-olds are an interesting bunch.  Inquisitive?  Oh yes, quite.  Perky?  Generally speaking, it’s an important developmental stage.  And with the 5th birthday of Amulet Books, it was time for Abrams to throw a publisher preview for their pretty little imprint.  The first of its kind, from this particular publisher, for the local librarati.

Librarian previews tend to be morning affairs.  They happen in the wee hours of the day for those of us who can get out of work for an hour or two and not be missed.  Librarian previews typically serve orange juice and bagels.  Amulet decided to do it different.  Not only was this preview at 5:00 at night but the refreshments included cupcakes.  Cup. Cakes.  Sly dogs.  You can bet I zeroed in on the cupcake table and messily smashed mine into my mouth like Cookie Monster shaved of blue.  It was worth it though.  Cupcakes usually are.

The seating was a tad cramped, but we all found seats (curiously hosting bags that read "Knitting for Peace" on their sides) and then it was off to the races!  First up, a listing of what most five-year-olds can do.  The list was pretty droll.  "The best news is that five-year-olds can carry on a conversation with adults." "Five-year-olds can stand on one foot for short periods of time."  One might have hoped that this would naturally lead to the Amulet presenters doing the rest of the preview on one foot.  Sadly, not the case.

Other library previews roll out a super secret guest at some point during the proceedings.  This being a special occasion, Amulet was far more interested in rolling out FOUR guests for our general consumption.  Michael Buckley, Benedict Carey, and Daniel Kirk, and Aidan Chambers.  These blokes had to wait for the introduction of various books, however.

As with many previews there was an audio visual component.  The Powerpoint aspects of the presentation consisted of a projector resting on several copies of a book called National Gallery of Art and another simply called Wonders of the World.  Good thick tomes every one.

First up, a book I would not have thought to notice were it not for the fact that the cutesy cover has some interesting aspects.  Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle has several pros and cons going for it.  Pro: It’s by Lauren Myracle.  You can trust Ms. Myracle.  Her book may be pink, may have the word "Luv" in the title, and may even featured big-eyed girl cartoons lacking noses, but you can trust her.  Con:  The "v" in the word "Luv" is a little heart.  Pro:  Ms. Myracle was declared to be "one of the most challenged authors in the country."  Con: Pinkness.  Oh, the pinkness.  Pro:  Interracial girls in a middle grade novel (and how many headscarves appear on the covers of girly books anyway?).  And the last time Ms. Myracle went all middle grade on us the results were Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.  So I’ll pick it up.  Some tween girls will flock to it like rats to sugar, and who am I to judge?  Jacket illustration or not, I trust Lauren Myracle.  So we’ll see.

Next up, Michael Buckley was introduced.  And he, in turn, introduced us to his all new series.  You know Michael Buckley’s Sister Grimm tales, perhaps.  Now he’s switching gears.  Instead of fairy tale-based mysteries, it’s all about the spies.  The nerdy nerdy spies.

Donning a trenchcoat, fedora, and sunglasses, Buckley pointed out that this new outfit was quite a relief.  "For Sisters Grimm I had to dress up like a fairy princess!"  He explained that in his newest series, NERDS (National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society) was inspired by a visit to his 20th high school reunion.  He saw how all the popular people from back the day were little sacks of sadness.  And the nerds?  Happy folks.  So in NERDS, six misfits must defeat a series of villains.  Villains like the somewhat Dr. Doom-esque character Dr. Jigsaw.  His evil plan?  To put the continents back together.  This has apparently been done before in the comic book world but not in a children’s book.  And each kid has their own special talent that hinges in a particular nerdy talents.

  • Jackson Jones – His braces turn into tools.  The flaw?  They remain attached to his teeth the entire time.
  • Duncan Dewey – Ate so much paste as a tot that he can now stick to walls.
  • Matilda Chow – Inspired by Mr. Buckley’s wife, she’s an asthmatic with inhalers that can do major damage to foes.
  • Heathcliff Hodges – Teeth so bucky they can literally hypnotize.
  • Ruby Peet – Allergic to everything.  Even lies.
  • Julio Escala – His hyperactivity has turned into superpowers.

I like the variety of nerds on display.  Usually you just get one kind in a book.  In this one, a lot of kids are going to be able to identify with one type or another.  Pity there isn’t a girl character with glasses so thick they can see through walls.  As a kid, that would have been my kind of gal.

Next up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4.  No, they didn’t reveal the title.  No, they didn’t reveal the color of the cover (in fact Chad Beckerman was downright coy on that subject).  What they did reveal is that it’s out on October 12th.  Which would be fine if I could get some of my library branch’s copies of #3 back!  I’ve not seen them since they first came in.  Consarn it.

At some point in the proceedings author Benedict Carey stood up to introduce his new book, The Unknowns.  One of the few Spring titles discussed, The Unknowns consists of two kids.  One is named Lady Di.  Her friend is named Tom Jones.  Using math they are able to solve the mystery of what happened to their math tutor who disappeared.  Carey spoke about how limited the middle grade options are for kids who dig math.  Admittedly the only titles I could think of off the top of my head that actively employ it in the text would be things like Eric Berlin’s Winston Breen stories.  That and Chasing Vermeer, I guess.  In describing The Unknowns the words "gradient" and "slope" were given voice.  I dusted off their definitions from that part of my brain that used to have to "find" such terms.  The memories were not happy for me, but perhaps for a math-minded kid such invocations would be bliss.  We shall see.

You probably know Marissa Moss for the Amelia’s Notebook series.  Well apparently that lass has decided to get a little more middle grade fictiony (sans copious amounts of illustration) with The Pharaoh’s Secret.  It’s a mystery with a bit of ancient Egyptian flair.

A little earlier I was bemoaning the big-eyed girls on the cover of Luv Ya Bunches.  Big-eyed elves on the other hand?  Far more palatable.  At this point Daniel Kirk stood up and started talking about his Elf Realm series.  You know Mr. Kirk even if you don’t think you do.  Does the title Library Mouse mean anything to you?  Yup.  That’s his.  And you might have seen the first book in the aforementioned series, The Low Road, back in 2008.  This October we will be seeing the next book, The High Road.  I will give Kirk this… when he sets out to make critters that have human features but are somehow different, he does a good job.  You know that moment in the newest "Star Trek" movie where the woman with the strange eyes helps Kirk’s mom (different Kirk) give birth?  That was sort of the same feeling I got from the huge-eyed but not cutesy elves of this series.  After all, these dudes have tats.  Tats that, I guess, the human child hero of the second book is going to have to get.

Mr. Kirk had brought in a bunch of original art for us to coo over.  Mind you, he began by saying, "if I’d known there was Powerpoint I wouldn’t have brought along original art."  The audience gave a massive, "Aw!" to this.  Original art is always appreciated, oh artists.  Always.  Now the first piece was of the art meant to accompany the original cover.  Kirk had illustrated a ton of little people behind the head of the fellow in the foreground.  The problem?  That was sort of where the words "Elf Realm" ended up.  Over the little people.  So, having learned his lesson, he proceeded to show us the cover for The High Road which made sure to leave lots of room for the title.  Subsequent pieces consisted of charcoal drawings of various characters.

I don’t usually report much on YA titles at these previews, but the list was so short that I might as well make a passing mention.  Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron was introduced by Art Designer Chad Beckerman, who pointed out that the fellow on the cover is a talented musician by the name of Joshua James.  The book contains a playlist at the end (always a good idea).  Chad mentioned that one thing he hates in novels is when the author goes about creating fake names for bands.

Chad:  "Hairy Meatball" is not a band and will never be a band.

Tentative Audience Member: But you kind of want to hear it.

Chad:  Not really.

Apparently Struts and Frets does not suffer from this problem.  So there you go.

And now the YA title that I’m going to say is rather inspired.  We keep seeing all these classic works of literature reinterpreted for teen audiences.  There was Gordon Korman’s Jake Reinvented, which was a YA Great Gatsby, Rodman Philbrick’s The Young Man and the Sea (you get three guesses what that was referring to, and the first two don’t count), The Heights by Brian James (an update of Wuthering Heights), and who knows what all.  Consider then, Troy High by Shana Norris.  It’s The Iliad.  Set in a high school.  And it’s so crazy it just might work.  Consider the following:

You have two rival high schools.  One team is the Spartans.  One team is the Trojans.
Elena, captain of the Spartan cheerleader team, transfers to Troy High and falls for the narrator (Cassie)’s brother Perry.
The Spartan "wildcard football star" is Ackley.

There’s more, but that’s a taste.  Anyone who has ever lived in a small town where football is king will recognize that when it comes to that particular game, "epic" is not too strong a word to use.  I was impressed with the idea.  Nicely high concept.  It’s due out in August.

A glancing mention of the occasional Spring 2009 title was made throughout these presentations.  One book mentioned was Lisa Greenwald’s debut novel My Life in Pink and Green.  A Longstocking, Lisa’s book was described as being particularly well poised in the current economy.  After all, it’s all about a family’s money woes and the possibility of having to sell their store.  And since it’ll be another year or two until we see more of THOSE stories coming out, Ms. Greenwald proves to be ahead of the curve.

All right.  At long last the final speaker of the day was poised to talk.  I’d not heard Aidan Chambers address a room before.  As he began I found myself jotting down little sentences of his.

  • He used the word "holiday" repeatedly, which is a word I particularly enjoy hearing Brits say (blame Chicken Run if you must).
  • "Five-year-olds can’t do everything."
  • "How dare a 75-year-old man write about a 19-year-old girl and her sex life."

Huzzy wha?  Yes, in the midst of some very funny stories about aging and chocolate ice cream-related mishaps, we got to the nut of the matter.  Abrams is rereleasing Mr. Chambers’ multi-book series "Dance Sequence" with gorgeous new covers.  You can see Dance on My Grave, Breaktime, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (starring the aforementioned 19-year-old girl), Now I Know, and The Toll Bridge.  That is undoubtedly out of order, but you get the gist.  Mr. Chambers explained the roll of women as characters in his novels at some length, saying that it all plays into the role of women in history itself.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t also mention:

The World’s Greatest Swag

Generally I’m not a swag hag.  I can live without the countless bookbags/stickers/pencils/what have you publishers create to sell their books.  However.  There are exceptions.  And the Michael Buckley super secret and supremely awesome blacklight pen was one of them.

Here is the pen:

Due to my lamentable photography skills you probably can’t see the plus and minus signs on the side.  That’s okay.  All you need to know is that on the top of the pen is a blacklight.

And here is the white tipped pen.  Now merely write on something like a hand or a wall (writing on panes of glass is not recommended).

Then press a button on the pen . . . .

Laura, if you’re reading this, I saved you one.  Dunno if they had these at BEA, but if there are any at ALA in Chicago, get ’em!  Get ’em right quick.

For actual photos of the preview itself, I didn’t have the guts to steal them, but you can find copious shots on Amulet’s Flickr page

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. It was such a pleasure to meet you on Wednesday! As soon as I find my camera cable, I will send you the picture we took.

    Troy High does look nicely high concept. Going on my wish list!

  2. Rasco from RIF says:

    Oh, my, the PEN!!!!!! I can highlight things in books I read and still give them to colleagues and family to enjoy without them having to “blank out” CHR’s copious notes. I must find one…….

    P.S. Thank you for the review as always, I was prepared to comment on the books, but now I am momentarily obsessed with the PEN.

  3. Tarie (Into the Wardrobe) says:

    Thanks so much, Betsy! Reading about these previews is so informative and entertaining. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. art lover says:

    I cannot distinguish which house does what. All these book covers are looking like the same cookie cutter formula that pervades each list. Especially the bad cartoon art. Saturday morning cartoons meet splashes and splatters. Anime Wrong.

  5. Chip Kidd says:

    Hi art lover, I think you’re wrong. Take a closer look.

  6. your neighborhood librarian says:

    Chip Kidd?! Man, I think ‘art lover’ is a troll, but Chip Kidd, you are not qualified to respond to a comment about less-than-inspired book covers. However nice you want to be about everyone else’s work, you’ve never designed a cover that could be described as ‘cookie cutter’ in your life.

    Betsy, my 7-year-old leapt to his feet in joy when I told him about the new Michael Buckley series. Thanks for that, and for the rest!

  7. Maryville Library says:

    Interesting topic here. I am not sure these covers are in fact ‘cookie cutter’ as art lover says they are. However, I respect your ideas. I am a big fan of and I have never seen these covers up there. They don’t follow the lead of any other style or technique. Also bad cartoon art, seriously? Am I wrong?

  8. Maryville Library says:

    I meant sorry.

  9. As the owner of a small bookstore, I must say that with my 20 years of experience these covers appear to be anything but cookie cutter. The colorful cartoons of action packed titles like Nerds, the adorable indie-rock cover of Struts & Frets, and the amazingly effective simplicity of the Wimpy Kid series make for a great selection- especially for my boys, who I find to sometimes be reluctant readers. These covers are quite unique, and as far as I can tell all bound to be gems. Thanks for the gems!

  10. PJ Hoover says:

    I’m just so tickled that I read this blog post yesterday morning, oogled over the awesome pen, and then guess what my son got as one of his presents at his birthday party last night from a friend?
    Spy pen. So cool!
    He did not find it amusing when I grabbed the pen, drew a heart on his hand and shined the light on it.

  11. Jill Hardy says:

    A math mystery! What a great idea.

  12. Laura (?) says:

    Were you referring to me, Bets? Because I COVET that pen! And I’m going to hug you for saving it for me. I might even kiss you on the cheek too. You’re a peach, dah-lin’. A peach! (For the record, I also disagree with art lover. Now, I can understand having issues w/ particular design elements…or having a cover be incongruous with the intended audience…but I wouldn’t use “cookie cutter”. But that’s me. Huzzah to art lover for getting a conversation going.)

  13. Fuse #8 says:

    I was indeed referring to you, Laura. Since you weren’t able to make the preview the pen is yours. Now I’m off to ponder if that was the real Chip Kidd who just commented on my blog or not. I’m doubtful since he is like unto a god to me, but hopeful anyway.

  14. AmuletTwitter says:

    Thanks for coming, Betsy! We had a great time and glad to hear the cupcakes were appreciated. I just had to comment about the pen because I actually gave one away via twitter recently (… if your readers are on twitter you can pester me and maybe I’ll be convinced to send out more ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. You forgot the awesome graphic novel for kids by the FIONA ROBINSON. 3-2-3 Detective Agency in the Disappearance of Dave Warthog. Sorry, its one of my favs!

  16. Michael Buckley says:

    Thanks – Betsy! As for a character with thick glasses – I assure you Four Eyes (an agent from the 70’s) will eventually find her way into the books. There’s a lot of nerds out there saving the world!

  17. lauren myracle says:

    Betsy!!! What fun this was. You are hilarious, and as an Abrams author WHO WASN’T THERE (ahem! Jason!), it was *awesome* to get an inside peek.

    Jason? I expect full pen & cupcake remuneration! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    P.S. Man, I feel so honored that you trust me despite my pinkness! And yes, you see, it is all a subversive tricky ploy, said pinkness… Mwahahahaha…

  18. Thankee kindly, Ms. Myracle (note: consider having an advice column somewhere called Ask Ms. Myracle, because I love the sound of that phrase). Subversive pinkness is my favorite pinkness of all. Wish you’d been there (yeah, JASON).

    And Michael, Four Eyes would be delightful. Though probably more a product of the 80’s, eh?