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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Macmillan (Fall 2010)

This would mark the second time all the imprints and various furbelows of Macmillan would gather together to create a slambang grand view of everything coming out on the children’s side of thing this coming Fall 2010.  If you’ll recall my recap of the Macmillan Spring 2010 preview season, in its first incarnation librarians were parceled out into groups and then shuttled from editorial office to editorial office.  The result was impressive (how many can boast to seeing the inner cells of both Frances Foster and Neal Porter in a single day?) but exhausting.  This time things were simplified.  The librarians present were fed and watered (chocolate brownies = happy MLIS degree carrying types) and then split once again into groups.  This time, though, we were taken to about four or five conference rooms.  There, the editors sat and explained their upcoming lists.  It was sweet, short, and to the point.  In essence, an ideal situation in which to hear about fantastic upcoming books.  Their timing, each and every time, was impeccable.

So!  On to room #1!  You’ve got your Simon Boughton, your Neil Porter, your Mark Siegel, and your Kate Jacobs.  So, essentially, we’re starting in the superstar room.  Intimidating.

Neal Porter started his talk with a little number by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.  Neal I adore because he keeps doing really nice things for me.  For example, have you seen the latest copy of Sergio Ruzzier’s Hey, Rabbit! ?  Here’s the front:

Here’s the back:

And here’s a close-up on one of the quotes on the back:

Yup.  It might be fuzzy, but it’s me.  That would mark the very first time my blog has ever been blurbed on a hardcover edition of a book.  I get the occasional galley mention, but hardcover copies are an entirely different breed of beast.  And then just the other day I saw that my review of A Sick Day for Amos McGee showed up as a review on the book’s Amazon page!  So basically, Neal’s nice to me.  I’d understand if you now think that I cannot be relied up to offer an unbiased look at his upcoming books.  I’d understand, but after you give them your own glance I suspect you’ll be wiping away a little sting of drool from your own mouth as well.  The simple fact of the matter is, he creates beautiful books.

But I digress.  Let’s talk a little Appalachian Spring.  Specifically, let’s talk about the August 2010 non-fiction picture book Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring.  Written by the aforementioned Greenberg and Jordan, the book is illustrated by none other than the multitalented Brian Floca.  YAY!!  He has another Caldecott contender on his plate then.  Y’all recall how much I liked his Moonshot last year and how robbed I felt when it didn’t get any Caldecott luvin’.  Not that I recognized that this was his book at the start.  The man has range.  Avi’s sole dip of the toe into the graphic novel format, City of Night, City of Dark marked the first time Floca came to Neal’s attention.  He then noticed some loose sketches on Floca’s website and thought that there was something there.

This particular book is about Martha Graham, though at its heart it’s really about collaboration.  The story begins by talking about how sometimes art is made alone while other times it’s made when people work together.  So it is that the book is simultaneously about three great and esteemed collaborators and is by three great and esteemed collaborators.  In order to research it, Brian went to the Library of Congress.  Telling us this, Neal says that his favorite spread consists of the simple 1944 attire worn by the general public when walking outside the theater on opening night.  Looking at it, I can see that this snapshot in time has the same sense of wonder one gets from Moonshot, though Simon drew a more direct comparison to the Jackson Pollack picture book bio of a couple years ago Action Jackson.  And for the librarians amongst you, there’s a lot of backmatter (whoo-hoo!) and a lot of source material too.

I’m a little reluctant to mention the next book on the list because of my father-in-law.  The man is a train fanatic.  Loves him his trains, his train stations, his books about trains, you name it.  And there is a slight, very slight chance that he might be reading this publisher preview.  Not a huge chance, but a slight one.  To this I write in big bold letters: SPOILER ALERT, JIM BIRD!  DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH!

You see, this next book is going to please every last train lover out there, and I’ll be putting it in my Christmas shopping bag for more than one person this upcoming holiday season.  The Last Train by Gordon Titcomb is illustrated by Wendell Minor with a forward by City of New Orleans balladeer Arlo Guthrie himself.  Neal introduced this book by mentioning that he had always wanted to work with Minor in some capacity.  Titcomb’s book provided that opportunity.  The book is about the slow decline of the great trains and train stations around America.  It mixes together both drama and nostalgia, but in a good way, in the ultimate train tribute.  Both Gordon and Wendell grew up in middle American small towns where the train station was eventually boarded up.  As such, it makes sense that they would feel a kind of kinship for this material.  The book has a rhythmic feel to it, which makes sense since it’s apparently from some kind of a song.  There is a possibility that there will be an accompanying CD included with the book, but don’t quote me on that one.  Nothing’s certain.  If you’re running out of train books to hand to the tykes, pair this alongside books like Angela Johnson’s I Dream of Trains for a dreamier, thoughtful interlude.

There are a lot of books sporting the word “Last” in their titles this year.  So it was that we went from The Last Train to Last Song by Eric Rohmann.  Another similarity between the two books?  They’re both based on old songs or poems.  Rohmann’s is an old Scottish poem, transformed into a story about a squirrel family going about its day.  At this point in the proceedings, Eric was described as “restless”, always trying to find new ways to make art.  Sometimes he relies on old art styles, and sometimes he has to learn a new technique.  I think that the latter situation applies to Last Song here.  For the first time Mr. Rohmann has put away his oils and picked up a watercolor brush.  The result is a teeny tiny little book, called a worthy alternative to Goodnight Moon.  In very few words (very very few, I found when I read it through) it captures a whole range of mood and feeling.  In the story, a family of squirrels wakes up and proceeds to do squirrely things.  I don’t know why, but the feeling I got from it wasn’t too different from the feeling I get from At Night by Jonathan Bean.  And as Simon said of Mr. Rohmann, “I’ve learned more about the creation of picture books from Eric than from anyone else.”

Did you know that there was a documentary about Ed Emberley out there called Ed Emberley’s Make a World: The Film?  Yup.  As of March the production has shut down, but that may mean that it’s now in the post-production stage. Whatever the case, he’s one of the greatest children’s authors/illustrators out there and so it does the old heart good whenever I see that he has a new book coming out.  Now last year, Ed (still working at age 80 plus) and Rebecca (his daughter, I believe) sorta blew my mind with their takes on Chicken Little and There Was an Old Monster.  Those books were the perfect readalouds.  There’s something about the manic off-kilter eyeballs of the characters that just wows me.  So when I heard that the duo was tackling The Red Hen next (a title I always mix up in my brain with the aforementioned Chicken Little) I was pleased as punch. It’s just as sardonic as the first, uses the same kooky collage, and is colored on the computer (which accounts for the bright hues).  But any time I hear that there’s a new Little Red Hen out there, I have to see whether or not the author has gone with the original ending or tacked on some kind of lame “let’s share” message.  I’m not very sympathetic to the other animals in that story (and yes, I understand that this makes me sound like The Little Red Hen in Scieszka’s Stinky Cheese Man book).  Still, no fears with the Emberley crew.  This hen holds her own at the story’s close and there’s even a recipe for the cake in the back (I propose that Tim Jones should make it for us at the next Macmillan preview).

2010 is looking like a good year for horse-minded youngsters.  First you get Holly Hobbie’s Everything But the Horse over at Little, Brown.  Here at Roaring Brook (I came this close to calling it “Roaring Brooklyn”), there’s Stable by Ted Lewin.  Much as The Last Train speaks of the declining trains in the country, Lewin’s book examines the last working stable in New York City.  The book starts with sepia pictures of horses in NYC in the past.  It shows horses going to the beach, pulling trolleys, wagons, other horses, etc.  Then slowly the images change to look more like hand-tinted photographs.  Then, after that, black and white photographs.  As the horses begin to leave the scene the illustrations are infused with more color.  Finally, full color at last, we move into the contemporary stable where kids with disabilities come for classes where they get to work with the horses.  The story ends on a bittersweet note, showing the massive condo going up behind the stable, and you wonder how long these horses will continue to be around.  At the end, Lewin displays portraits of all the horses that still live in the stables.  Pretty cool.

On a very different note: Bad Kitty Vs. Uncle Murray: The Uproar at the Front Door by Nick Bruel.  If you’re a regular Bad Kitty reader like myself (by the way, where do you guys shelve your Bad Kitty books?)  then I’m sure that you’re familiar with Uncle Murray.  He tends to appear in the margins of most of the stories.  Well, at last, he comes into his own as a pet sitter.  Long story short: It doesn’t go well.  I personally know a cat or two that has rejected being babysat just as much as sweet Bad Kitty here.  Said Roaring Brook: “It’s just a smackdown” and there is, “Tremendous chaos, 144 pages worth.”  The ending will then set the stage for the saga Bad Kitty and the Baby.  My money’s on the Kitty.  Kitty’s got some moves.

Remember when I mentioned that Mark Siegel was also at the table?  Well, I haven’t forgotten him.  He was there with First Second in tow.  Mark really only had one book to talk about though, and that’s The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier.  You know Renier, right?  The man came out of the Indie comic scene, and produced one graphic novel that currently resides in my own children’s rooms comic section: Spiral BoundWalker Bean‘s quite a different beast, though.  Sporting blurbs from the likes of Brian Selznick and and Jeff Smith, there’s nothing quite like it in terms of pacing.  In a word: fast.  High adventure, ancient curses, pirates, strange sea witch creatures that will probably give me nightmares for months (oh yeah, I’ve already read this), and a trio of friends running through it all.  The books also work as stand alones but are apparently building to a bigger story arc.

Mark also showed a bit of Athena by George O’Connor.  If you liked O’Connor’s take on Zeus: King of the Gods, I suspect you won’t be disappointed by his Athena.  It’s marvelous, dahlink.

Okay, enough of that.  Up up up and over to the Henry Holt side of things.  There Laura Godwin, Reka Simonson, Christy Ottaviano, Sally Doherty, Kate Farrell await us to tell us tales of stories yet to come.

Laura Godwin started us off by showing three of her own.  First up, Ed Vere.  Hm.  Little Big Magazine recently called this man one of the UK’s potential “saviours of children’s picture books”.  And it’s been years since I’ve done a Hot Man of Children’s Literature post.  I’m not about to start in again.  But in that hypothetical reality where I never quit the series, this image would have been a shoo-in:

I mean, seriously.  Who looks like that?  That is not a picture book author/illustrator.  That is a movie star.

In any case, adorable Banana! is by Ed Vere.  It’s got a bit of a limited vocabulary (two to three words, give or take).  And to be frank, they showed us the whole story (it didn’t take long) and I couldn’t help but think that this looks like storytime gold.  The plot concerns a tense situation involving two monkeys and one banana.  In brief, the story is, “Fraught fraught fraught.”  This might also be a good book to consider in terms of how one conveys body language to toddlers in a picture book format.  Ed Vere.  Someone to keep an eye on.  And his books ain’t bad either (ow! ow!  Stop throwing tomatoes at me, I’ll stop!).

Speaking of storytime staples, I don’t ever enter the Toddler Storytime ring without my beloved Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. in tow.  Sing it to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and watch as a kind of mass hypnotism takes possession of the small fry.  Of course, when I read/sing it, there’s the problem of how to move from one page to the next.  Many of you will recall that the book will ask a question and then answer it on a single two-page spread.  For example, you ask “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” and on the opposite page the bear answers, “I see a red bird looking at me.”  You turn the page and there’s the bird.  The problem?  When I’m doing storytime, I can’t prompt the answer without turning the page early.  Now BB has been adapted along with Polar Bear into a kind of easy reader format.  Best of all, the problem I’ve alluded to has been solved.  The question is asked on one page and then you turn the page for the answer.  Interestingly enough, this was the original way the book was supposed to read.  We then heard about how Mr. Bill Martin didn’t learn to read until he was in college.  He had a kind of dyslexia and was able to fake his way through school until he finally learned.  In fact he even wrote Brown Bear as a work for hire title for Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.  A note and a kind of exercise for kids is included in the back.

Kate Farrell was up next.  The book?  Albertine’s Got Talent by debut author Shena Power and debut illustrator Madeline Valentine (winner of my Best Name for a Children’s Illustrator Award).  In this story a girl comes from a family where everyone has a special talent . . . except for her.  So a dedicated effort is made to determine her special thing.  Alas, we were not told in the preview what that final talent actually was.  I’m a fan of the look of this book.  With her bright red overalls and squat nose, Albertine resembles nothing so much as a cheery Chris Ware character.  Jimmy Corrigan’s cheery younger sister, let’s say.  I’ve no picture to show you, though, so you’ll have to trust me on this.

A Wish for Elves by Mark Gonyea falls into the designy category.  This makes sense, as he’s the fellow who created titles like A Book About Design for kids (which I reviewed oh so very long ago) and A Book About Color.  The man is apparently into comics (as his books and website will attest) so this newest book of his is best described as a comic strip style Christmas book.  In the tale a boy is caught up in flurry of the season while his mother is utterly stressed out.  Hoping to help his mom out the boy wishes he had some elves on hand and lo and behold they arrive.  It looks as if it might be one of those “be careful what you wish for” books out there.  Whatever the case, you have to love the colors and shapes at work here.

Now when Kate said that Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess was “His most ambitious novel yet” and potentially his most controversial, she wasn’t saying that lightly.  And anyone familiar with Burgess will know exactly what that means.  In this tale, a boy is caught up in an institutional hell after his mother dies.  Horrifically abused, his story is based on some real cases in England where children of the state system sued the state years later for what they endured.  Kate said that the book was somewhat inspired by Oliver Twist in that it mimics that book’s ability to tell a horrific story of vulnerable characters in a page turning way.  “You can’t stop turning the pages.”  I wish the boy on the cover wasn’t so pretty, of course.  Note that on the cover at the bottom there’s an actual description of the boy.  It says he had a black eye, a busted lip, and loose teeth.  This pretty boy model looks like he might be Justin Bieber’s older brother.  How long, I wonder, until ugly kids start appearing on our teen books?  How long, I say?

Sally Doherty was up next with Bruce Goldstone’s energetic 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days.  The thing I like about Bruce Goldstone is that he’s not afraid to do books for kids that don’t really ascribe to a preexisting model.  Think about Great Estimations or even Why Is Blue Dog Blue? (see them on his website, if you like).  Who does books like that?  No one that I know.  This newest title hitches a ride on the 100 days of school model.  This is one of the more interesting new ideas to come out of the public school system since I was a kid.  Apparently, schools these days like to celebrate when 100 days have passed.  A bunch of picture books have come out over the years to accommodate this idea, and Goldstone’s is no exception.  He provides roundabout 100 ideas to celebrate the 100 days.  100 ways to say hello.  100 hops.  100 pictures. The way he has written it, the book can be read equally by teachers and parents for ideas, and kids themselves for fun.  Smart.

I feel I haven’t seen enough poetry books this year.  Have you?  The other day it was time for me to review one and I found myself stumped.  Probably would have been a good time to locate these two poetry books coming out of Henry Holt then.  Anna Grossnickle Hines is a name that’s familiar to me.  That’s because I tend to use her book 1, 2, Buckle My Shoe in my Toddler Storytimes (the “open the gate” rather than customary “lay them straight” word change always throws me off).  She’s the author of many other books, as it happens, and some of the best of them contained quilted illustrations.  There’s the aforementioned Buckle My Shoe and the holiday themed Winter Lights.  Now a third quilt book joins the ranks in the form of Peacful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace.  The book discusses peace within yourself and some of the peacemakers of the world (Jimmy Carter!!!  Woo-hoo!!).  It looks lovely but I wonder how much work goes into something like this.  I’m reminded of the time author/illustrator Peter Sis said wryly that when he was first began making picture books he wanted to stand out in the field.  So he’d create these illustrations full of tiny dots.  Little did he know that it would make him his name, but he’d be tied to one heckuva time consuming artistic style.

That was poetry book numero uno.  Poetry book numero dos is Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.  In this story a shelter cat is adopted.  However, its preferred method of telling its story is to speak entirely in haiku.  I took a moment to consider this, and now I believe that if cats were capable of speaking aloud, every word they said really would be in haiku.  If you get a chance to see the book, I highly recommend that you seek out the “Let me out” poem in the car.  Anyone who has ever traveled with a feline in a vehicle will be able to relate.

Christy Ottaviano next introduced a book that made me inordinately pleased as punch.  Years and years ago (October 7, 2007, to be exact) I reviewed a fantastic little Simply Read book by one Ryan Heshka called Ryan Heshka’s ABC Spookshow.  It was utterly captivating.  A fantastic combination of 1950s Halloween chic and a very mod/hipster sensibility.  Whatever the case, I was hooked.  Totally hooked.  The only problem with the book, really, was that the naked ladies on the “S is for Spider” page weren’t quite cutting it with the Materials Specialists of the world.  Fast forward in time and Heshka’s back, babies!  In Welcome to Monster Town he retains that same feel from his last book, but there is little question in the execution as to whether or not the product is for kids or not.  They’re kind of selling it as a prequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich for a slightly younger crowd.  The kicker?  The book has already sold its movie rights to Dreamworks!  Wow.

Still in the Halloween vein, Robert San Souci’s Are You Scared Yet? : Haunted Houses contains ten stories take place about haunted domiciles all over the country.  Two illustrators, Kelly Murphy and Antoine Revoy, take on the task of illustrating such a book.  It would be nice to have something to hand to the kids other than just Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark every year, you know.  I’ll look for it.

Girl Stolen by April Henry is a YA novel of less than 200 pages by an author who initially made her name as an adult true crime writer.  In this tale a girl is sleeping in the back of her car.  While she does so, the car is carjacked.  The girl is blind and is taken back to the home of the thief where there is some discussion as to whether to hold her for ransom or not.  To me, this sounds quite a lot like that fantastic stage play (and later an Audrey Hepburn film) Wait Until Dark.  Man, that’s a good show.

At the last BEA convention I had the great good luck to be seated across from Sean Kenney, author of Cool Cars and Trucks, at a lunch.  Kenney’s a character, I tell you.  First off, he’s the kind of guy who can make an entire living out of creating cool things out of Legos.  Talk about the dream job of your average 8-year-old.  Kenney said he was something like one of six people in the world who do such things for a living, so we talked about everything from The Brick Testament and that new Christoph Neimann book to the Empire State Building statue of his that is currently on display inside the real Empire State Building.  His newest book is Cool Robots, which is one of those books that shows kids how to make cool things out of already existing Lego pieces.  Fun idea.  I just wish I’d pumped him more about the Lego VS. Playmobil hostilities.

The Adventures of Granny Clearwater and Little Critter by Kimberly Willis Holt is amusing partly because Ms. Holt got the idea for the book while she was writing her novel The Water Seeker (which I really really need to read soon).  Alas, I don’t remember much about her picture book, but the description reminded me somewhat of Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs.  It too is in a similar tall tale-like vein.  Excellent.

Reka Simonson showed us Frank W. Dormer’s Socksquatch next.  Socksquatch is cute in and of itself (a “socksquatch” searches high and low for a second sock) but the book may have the unintended consequence of rendering a whole generation incapable of saying “Sasquatch” correctly.  Oh fine . . . just me then.  This book marks Mr. Dormer’s debut but he may sound familiar to you.  Where have y0u seen this kind of art before?  Could it have anything to do with . . . THIS?

That would be an image created by Mr. Dormer specifically so that it could be a banner for the fabulous blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  And it was through that blog, ladies and gentlemen, is how Reka Simonson found Mr. Dormer (she saw a mummy he’d done there), leading her to ask him if he had any picture book ideas.

I was talking to an author friend of mine the other day about the Joey Fly Private Eye graphic novels.  You remember Joey Fly, right?  It was the first graphic novel to be nominated for an Edgar Award in any category EVER.  That’s some honor.  My author friend, however, did point out a flaw in the title.  “Shouldn’t it be Joey Fly Private Eyes?”.  Good point.  Well Eye or Eyes aside, Joey Fly Private Eye in Big Hairy Drama, the second Joey Fly book out there, is coming out this fall.  In this story the leading lady of an opera disappears.  I just hope there’s at least one Phantom of the Opera reference in there.  Just one.

Sure, Under the Green Hill by Laura L. Sullivan has a gorgeous cover.  But in my old age I’ve learned not to trust every pretty cover they slap on a title.  That said, if there was one thing Reka could say to get me interested, it would probably be this description.  According to her, the best way to describe this book is to say that it’s what would happen, “if the Penderwicks went to Narnia and brought a few friends along.”  In this tale, some kids find themselves right smack dab in the middle of a fairy war.  This will be the first of two books and has already garnered a blurb from Francisco X. Stork who found the author through Facebook.  So there are just all sort of electronic connections being referenced this day!

My fondness for Clare B. Dunkle is firmly rooted in her book The Hollow Kingdom.  Then I stopped reading YA as she continued to produce it.  In The House of Dead Maids you have “A chilling prelude to Wuthering Heights“.  This slim little novella will contain some interior art that is based on the illustrated edition of Wuthering Heights.  Not a bad idea for a novel, considering the possibility of ghosts in the original.  My only question is, when are we getting the Turn of the Screw prequel or sequel?  It’s bound to happen sooner rather than later, is it not?

Much as I blame The Socksquatch for squelching my ability to say the word “Sasquatch”, I blame Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer, Necromancer even more for getting the song Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer caught in my head on a virtual loop.  That said, I love that title.  I love that cover too.  And with a Sherman Alexie blurb, “This is a scary funny book or a funny scary book.  In either case, it is a great book.  I love it,” I’m interested.  You’ll hear a lot of editors tell you that their humor/horror title is the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  A very strong case was made for this book as the real deal, though.  In it, a slacker kid works in a burger joint and gets on the bad side of a necromancer.  Sometimes my favorite books are the ones that distill into a single sentence.

Jean Feiwel and Friends.

Jean’s cute.  She introduced herself as we came in and then merely followed that up with, “These are my friends.”  Let us jump in, then!

You know what I love?  I love me some Jake.  There’s just something about Michael Wright’s weak-chinned protagonist that floats my boat.  Jake Stays Awake and Jake Starts School are lessons in subtle computer illustration and design.  However, when I heard the title Jake Goes Peanuts I could be forgiven for thinking right off the bat that the book was about how Jake wrestles with a peanut allergy.  Not at all!  Quite the opposite, in fact.  In this book Jake will only eat peanuts.  His parents fight this for a while, then decide to stick it out.  They then proceed to make everything out of peanuts.  Peanut pancakes, turkey, you name it.  By the end Jake becomes sick of peanuts, and agrees to try other things.  But he still won’t eat his tuna fish casserole.  Nuh-uh. No way.

Want.  Want want want want want.  Want want.  I want Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.  There are a million reasons for this.  First off, it’s by the friggin’ The Dogs of Babel author!  How cool is that?  Second, Dan Yaccarino is doing the art, so you know it’s gonna be one sweet ride.  Third, the plot’s fantastic.  Two kids (an older brother and a younger sister) pretend they have their very own TV cooking show.  The girl is not really big enough to help, however, and she has a tendency to get in the way (as when they sing the theme song).  From what little I saw, it appeared to provide a really good example of how kids actually sound when they work together.  Alas, F&Gs were not available, having been plucked up earlier in the preview by other folks as greedy as I.  Still.  Want.

Tumble is the newest in the Maria Van Lieshout line of one-namer picture book titles.  I love me my Van Lieshout (Bloom is my favorite of her books) and she was just delightful to work with when she and Jim Averbeck did the red carpet interviews for the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet two years ago.   Her newest book is about the concept of sharing and wanting everything for yourself.  Which, if you just read my previous comment about the Carolyn Parkhust book, is a concept I have yet to fully learn.  In this book a polar bear finds a scarf and keeps it but his friends want to play with it too.  Fun Fact: This title was designed by Lane Smith’s wife.

Miss Lina’s Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone is illustrated by the omnipresent and ever talented Christine Davenier.  It is also one of the rare homages to Madeleine.  A kind of Madeleine meets ballet, if you will. In it, eight ballerinas learn their chops, led by Miss Lina.  Regina is the newest, and upsets the order since now they’ve an odd number of girls rather than an even one.  They all have to reconfigure themselves to accommodate her.  Eventually, though, they learn to dance in three groups of three.  That’s a nice little metaphor at work there.

There are covers, and then there are covers.  But no jacket I’ve seen this year quite compares with that of The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter.  First off, I’m not sure who the cover artist was but they could not have done a better job with these characters.  I’ve read the book and that is EXACTLY how they should look, dead on.  Inspect the cover even more closely and stranger things occur.  Is that a pair of legs in the tree behind them?  How many legs does that cat have?  How many toes?  Truth be told, this is the second book coming out this year featuring a cat with too many toes on the cover.  You’ll find the other book here.  I hereby declare this my favorite 2010 Children’s Literature Trend.  In any case, in this book the three Hardscrabble children wake up to find their father is sending them away once more while he goes on a trip.  On top of that is the mystery of what happened to their mother.  So they go to London, then end up in a faraway place with a kid who may or may not be the missing link.  And really, do you have to know any more than that?

I’ve not read my Lewis Buzbee.  Somehow I missed his Steinbeck’s Ghost back when it came out in 2008.  In any case, evoking great authors of the past yet again is Buzbee’s newest, The Haunting of Charles Dickens.  In this tale the little brother of a girl living in Victorian England is kidnapped.  So the girl does what any other enterprising young woman might.  She joins up with Charles Dickens himself to help her solve the mystery.  I was a big fan of The Mystery of Edwin Drood back in the day, so I can’t help but hope that maybe there’s an allusion or two to that book somewhere in the text.  Or am I just dreaming at this point?

Grounded by Kate Klise was the book that got to say that it was “Putting the fun back in funeral”.  To my mind, it sounds like a combination of Each Little Bird That Sings and Love, Aubrey.  In this story a girls’ family dies and she survives because she was home, grounded that day.  Her Mom then gets a job as a hair stylist in a funeral home.  Said Jean, the book is a combination of what is profound and good with what is sad and horrible.  This being Ms. Klise we’re talking about, she makes it fun somehow.

You know what’s hot these days?  Buster Keaton.  I tell you, the man’s gonna become big in children’s books, I can smell it.  Selling Hope by Kristen O’Donnell Tubb is just the second example of what I mean (the first being Keep Your Eye On the Kid by Catherine Brighton). In a year when Halley’s Comet is due and people are worried that it will come to earth and destroy it, enterprising 13-year-old Hope McDaniel sells anti-comet pills.  Along the way she meets Buster Keaton and they become buds.  I would read that book.

Sometimes find books when they see blog banners.  Sometimes they find books through Facebook.  And other times they find books when their children won’t put the titles down for even a minute.  Such was the case of the U.K. title Spray by Harry Edge.  The Director of Sales at Macmillan found it when her son wouldn’t put it down after she brought it home from a conference.  In this story kids play an extreme form of war with super soakers.  As the stakes rise, the question is who will be victorious.  Sounds to me like we finally have something to hand kids who’ve fallen in love with Hunger Games at long last.  We were also assured that this book is good for middle grade even though the characters are older.  Ka-ching!

Darker.  Much darker is The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith.  It’s based on the true story of what happened to the author when he was kidnapped at the age of seventeen.  At the time, he never told anyone in his family what happened to him (no one really noticed he was gone anyway)  However, now that those family members are dead, he can sort of tell his tale in a fiction story about two boys.  Liz Szabla was quoted as saying about this book, “This is literary scrapnal that goes into your head and you won’t forget it anytime soon.”  It’s about how you work through the madness to get to the healing on the other side.

Squarefish time!

Love me some Squarefish.  Generally speaking they tend to re-release out-of-print titles deserving of a second life.  This season, however, they’re going to try their hand at producing their first original tale.  Radiance is by Alyson Noel, author of the Immortals series.  Actually, if you’re a fan of the Immortals books then you might want to prick up your ears.  A younger sister from that series is the star of this book, where she acts as a ghost catcher.  Noted.

Three books are getting all new looks, so stock up libraries!  Remember The Goats by Brock Cole?  You might not.  It was a dark but great book that came out a while ago about two kids abandoned by their fellow campers, naked on an island.  I’ve always remembered it since it appears on New York Public Library’s 100 Favorite Children’s Books list.  That list was NYPL’s version of the Top 100 Children’s Novels PollThe Goats never even got a nomination on my poll, you know.  Clearly it’s time to re-educate the masses and this is a great new cover.  I guess part of the problem with replacing the old one was that Brock Cole painted the original himself.  It was fortunate to hear that he agreed to a new jacket, though.

Two other new covers making their way to bookstore shelves are Whirligig by Paul Fleischman and Smack by Melvin Burgess is new too.

And, of course, all the Moomintroll books are being republished as we speak.  So lovely.  We must purchase them all in my library.  Now some brief mention was made of new Karen Hesse jackets for her books like Phoneix Rising, Wish on a Unicorn, and Letters from Rifka.  I’ll be interested in seeing how those turn out when all is said and done.

Oh!  And one last piece of fantastic news. Cynthia DeFelice (a 2010 Empire State award winner, doncha know) has always had TERRIBLE covers.  Covers that sort of look like they were approved in 1992, even if their publication date reads “2008”.  Finally, some of her ghost story mysteries are going to get an all new look.  I simply couldn’t be more pleased.  This is a treat!

Finally, when all is said and done, we come to the Farrar Straus Giroux portion of the day.

Frances Foster stars us off.  The author?  Barbara O’Connor.  The book? The Fantastic Secret of Owen Juster.  Here’s the thing about Barbara O’Connor.  She’s got this slow burn that’s slowly making her indispensible.  Keep your eye focus and trained on her, people.  Sooner or later, the pretty shiny awards will begin to fall.  And when that happens . . . BAM!  Now this newest book has tender moments but it was made infinitely clear to us that it was not a tear jerker.  As per the usual O’Connor standards, it’s funny.  It also contains the standard O’Connor children.  Her kids don’t exactly run wild, but they do break the rules.  As Frances said, they have consciences, but they’re kept at somewhat of a distance. In the story, a boy named Owen has a secret.  A secret that sort of reminds me of Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, actually.  One day, he finds that a miniature submarine that has fallen off a passing freight train.  And then there’s the bullfrog that Owen is dedicated to capturing someday.  Its name?  Tooley Graham.  An excellent bullfrog name if I do say so myself.

Anne Diebel, the Creative Director for FSG, spoke up as well.  I liked that she went into a great deal of detail discussing the cover of the book.  Their first instinct was to bring Richard Egielski on board to do the cover.  After some consideration, however, they found the fellow who does the Peter and the Starcatchers covers (his name escapes me).  The final result looks a little Selznick-y, which is a good thing.  There was also some mention of how they’ll be doing a new paperback of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.  I’ve always harbored a fondness for the original cover, but the new paperback will make the title a kind of companion cover to this new Owen Juster book.  And I do have a fondness to continuity.  So that’s all right.

Emily Arnold McCully.  That woman just keeps going and going and going.  Here’s a fun game for you children’s librarians out there.  Find an original edition of Thomas Rockwell’s How to Eat Fried Worms.  Flip to the title page.  Now check out the original illustrator.  Yes indeed, that book may have come out in 1973, but Emily Arnold McCully was on hand to provide the thin ink illustrations every step of the way.  Still churning them out, she has produced a new non-fiction picture book for the masses: The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux.  It’s a great premise.  In the 1940s four French boys were spelunking in the hopes of finding gold.  Instead, they discovered a big hole that lead them to a cave with ancient paintings.  This is a good one in terms of nice wordless two-page spreads.  And, of course, an Author’s Note, Map, Bibliography and photo of the real boys at the end will fill in the rest of the details.  Cool.

That’s my girl!  Once upon a time there was an editor at FSG named Lisa Graff.  She wrote quite a few nice books on the side.  Things like The Thing About Georgie and Umbrella Summer.  Then she decided to quit her job and write full time.  Gutsy, eh?  Well what goes around comes around.  Wesley Adams (who used to work with her) presented Lisa’s first book with her old employer: Sophie Simon Solves Them All.  Periodically librarians are asked to recommend books where girls like math or science.  Science is actually pretty easy (Green Glass Sea, A Wrinkle in Time, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, etc.).  Math?  A little harder.  There’s The Unknowns by Benedict Carey and . . . that’s all I can think of.  Well in our heroine in this story loves to sneak a look at her Calculus book whenever she gets a chance.  She’s the kind of gal who would love nothing quite as much as a graphing calculator.  Unfortunately, her parents think that’s a weird desire.  Wesley described it as a kind of Great Brain story for girls.

I have a kid in my children’s bookgroup who’s about ten now, but reads like a 45-year-old.  The kind of kid who asks if you’ve read any good David Sedaris lately.  Well, this kid’s on a Walter Dean Myers kick right now (when he’s not devouring David Levithan) but the other day he started talking about how much he loved Madlenka’s Dog by Peter Sis.  He’d been read it when he was young, and there was something about the format and the story that really stuck with him.  I haven’t seen him in my bookgroup lately, which is too bad, but if he comes back I’ll be sure to hand him a copy of the third Madlenka title, Madlenka, Soccer Star.  Consider it a bit of picture book magical realism.  Madlenka wants to play soccer, so the mailbox and the dog and the parking meter and the garbage can all become players.  She even checks to see if there are enough neighborhood cats to make a team.  Then she meets another little girl, and they get the whole neighborhood together to have their own great game of soccer.  The book will be coming out almost in time for the World Cup.

Author Monika Schroder  is an elementary School Librarian in New Delhi who will be leaving India at the end of this year.  Her first book with FSG, Saraswati’s Way, draws on some of that experience.  The book is about a 12-year-old rural India boy with a head for math.  His family is poor and doesn’t want to send him to a tutor or to the city to qualify for the examination that will allow him to proceed with his education.  For help, he prays to Ganesh and his obstacles grow worse.  Then he prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, but that doesn’t work either.  So he decides he can’t leave his fate in the hands of his gods, runs away, and joins the street boys in the train stations.  While there, temptations show him that there are other ways to make money, but he doesn’t want to ruin his chances in life.  FSG informed us that this book balances the rawness of the situation with the reality to give us an unsentimental picture of contemporary life in an Indian city.

And that was it.  But wait!  There’s more!

Well, not really.  But we were invited to go to the top of the Flatiron Building (where this preview was held) to go out on the balcony and take pictures, if we wanted to.  I wanted to.  It was delightful.

Last but not least . . . The Meets!

Best Meets: “Because of Winn-Dixie meets Six Feet Under” – Grounded by Kate Klise

Runner-Up: “Rashomon meets 24.” – Spray by Harry Edge

Thanks for reading and thanks to the Macmillan crew for such a lovely afternoon.

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. Lewis Buzbee is great! “Steinbeck’s Ghost” is the book that actually got me to care about Steinbeck again which I did not think was possible after high school. I have his new book and plan to review it for my October column. Give him a shot though – “Steinbeck” was quirky, brainy, slightly creepy MG fiction and very overlooked, I think.

    Oh – and “The Marbury Lens” looks terrifying. I’m going to try and get the courage up to read that one…..

  2. You probably already know this, but Clare Dunkle is also a (former?) librarian…I used one of her articles in a recent research paper. Oh, the awesomeness.

  3. Is Gordon Titcomb a good author. The Last train seems to be a good one. Thanks…I have added most of them to my shopping cart

  4. Thanks for the story, Betsy. Just to let you know, it was an illustration of a mummy that caught Reka’s attention. The Alice piece came after Jules was kind enough to post a Q and A with me. It was my way of saying thank you.



  5. “Various furbelows” — very nice! Sent me to the dictionary.


    • Elizabeth Bird says

      My spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word “furbelows” though, so I was second guessing myself all the while.

      And thanks for the correction, Frank! I’ll update that when I get a chance.

  6. Liz Szabla says

    Betsy, thanks for your wonderful comments — I’m sending you an F&G for the so-cute-you’ll-want-to-eat-it-up COOKING WITH HENRY AND ELLIEBELLY. Parkhurst! Yaccarino! I know, right??

  7. Poetry this year? My new favorite is Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman. Lovely if you haven’t seen it.

    Also, the new Bad Kitty is already making me drool…

  8. Jaime Temairik says

    I might print this post out and roll in it. So lush! Thanks, lady. Greg Call did the Peter covers — that Owen J. one is luminous!


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