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Librarian Preview: Lerner Publishing (Spring 2011)

Just a day or two ago, children’s literature bloggers converged upon Minneapolis, Minnesota to celebrate the Kidlitcon.  And this year they got a bit of organizing help from the local folks over at Lerner Publishing Group.  Yet before any of this happened, a couple lovely Lerner lasses met with me in NYC in a Belgian restaurant where the portraits of long dead Belgian kings glare down upon your Kwak glasses (I’ll take you there sometime, if you like).  As the dead glowered, we discussed Lerner’s upcoming season.  Here then are the Spring 2011 books Lerner has coming out for you and yours.

In my head, a lot of what I associate Lerner with is photography.  Though pubs like National Geographic and TIME Magazine are able to dive deep down into their files to make children’s books with gorgeous images in them, Lerner concocts their own to make much needed concept books.  In this first case you’ve got your Spiky, Slimy, Smooth: What Is Texture? It’s written by one Jane Brocket, a woman known in some circles best as the creator of the yarnstorm blog.  And so it begins.  Yarn bloggers are beginning to write children’s books.  I knew it was only a matter of time.  After all, when I had dinner with Lerner in Minnesota back in summer, they told me that they recognized my mother’s signature on my own blog as a heavy duty commenter on the knitting sites (like Ravelry).  Clearly, Lerner knows its knitters.  In this case of this particular book, the images cover everything from good gooey jam to wet sticky mud.  It’s kind of intense, actually.  A pity photography never gets any respect.  I mean, aside from Knuffle Bunny, it’s never gotten so much as a Caldecott Honor (note to self: Make that a future Children’s Literary Salon topic).

I had a ten-year-old kid in my library the other day looking for joke books, of which we have shockingly few.  Undeterred she asked for some good tongue twister titles.  I naturally plucked up Jon Agee’s jaw-dropping Orangutan Tongs (the best in the biz) but nothing else really came to mind.  Now Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner, is putting out a couple books of their own from one Brian P. Cleary and Saskatchewanian illustrator Steve Mack.  Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes and Other Tricky Tongue Twisters has the distinction of not only creating new twisters, but it also includes instructions for kids on how to make their own.  That’s something I’ve not seen before!  Well played.

As a children’s librarian, I often feel like that hipster who’s into obscure awesome bands.  Then once in a while my favorite band becomes wildly successful and have to suffer the indignity of saying, “No, really!  I was into them first.”  Such may someday be the case with Stephane Jorisch.  Speaking of all things Belgian, Jorisch was born in Brussels and currently resides in Montreal.  He first came to my attention with Kids Can Press put out that gorgeous edition of The Owl and the Pussycat back in 2007 with Jorisch’s illustrations.  Since then he’s won the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award for New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland but by and large he isn’t yet a household name here in the States.  His newest is the Expecting Animal Babies series, written by Bridget Heos.  Heos has come up with a rather clever concept for non-fiction picture books.  Each one shows how different animals and insects raise babies.  One title in the series is, What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Parenting Guide for Insects.  Sometimes parental in-jokes make for the best jokes.

No one really knows what to do with biographies.  Why are they there?  Are they meant to inculcate the kids with a sense of the ten to fifteen important people they should know to get through their adult lives (Einstein, Tubman, Edison, Carver, etc.)?  Or are they meant to inspire by showing us a group of folks who deserve our admiration, in spite of whether or not we’ve heard of them (or WILL hear of them again)?  Or are they just about neat people?  I wonder this after seeing some info for Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy by Carrie Jones, illustrated by Mark Oldroyd.  Until now there haven’t been any children’s books about Edmonds, which is strange in its way.  Here you have a book about a master of disguise (which, let’s admit it, would have made a great subtitle too).  She was a woman during the Civil War who successfully disguised herself as a man in a variety of different ways, until at last she was bit by a horse.  I think there’s a bit more to the story than that, but I see that I wrote in my notes “bit by a horse” and honestly that’s what has stuck with me the best.  However, she was seriously considered the only female member of the Civil War veterans (though we know now that other women disguised themselves with equal aplomb).

Oil Spill!: Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico comes to us via that classic nonfiction writer Elaine Landau and it isn’t a moment too soon.  First off, Landau lives in Florida, so this story of the April 20, 2010 oil spill hit nice and close to home.  Second, the book (with its fabulous cover) includes a section on how kids can help.  Good times.

I’m going to give Ann Downer, science editor at Harvard University Press, some props for coming up with the idea for Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication.  The book covers everything from how elephants flash mob locations to the ten sounds that humans can’t hear.  But they definitely have sounds that they use for communication, and that is fascinating.

Slowly I’ve been trying to find books for my library to buy on collections of dog breeds.  Unfortunately, even when I find some, that leaves the cat breeds out in the cold.  Now Lerner is putting out “The Best Cats Ever” series, which takes about eight different species of cats and gives each one their own book.  As a former owner of a maine coon cat, I was very pleased to see them included.  And though each title of the series proclaims that its cat is the best, I maintain that when it says that Maine Coons Are the Best! it’s not lying.  They really are.

My husband, the resident screenwriter, is always saying how weird it is that there’s never been a movie about the creation of The Daytona 500.  In lieu of that, we have The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race by Nancy Roe Pimm.  Married to a race car driver of her own, Ms. Pimm covers contemporary Daytona, which is fun.  Race cars are always popular, though in New York City what the kids really want are books on professional wrestlers.  Of which none currently exist.  *cough cough*

With its Totally Joe-esque cover in place, Twenty-First Century Books (an imprint of Lerner) is coming out with an interesting new history.  From Jazz Babies to Generation Next: The History of the American Teenager covers the very concept of the idea of teenagerhood from an American historical perspective.  It’s a smart idea, and makes me think that it would make an excellent companion piece to Laban Carrick Hill’s America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the ’60s.

Due to my dislike of that most dastardly of picture books, Love You Forever, sometimes it’s difficult to remember that the author was Robert Munsch, creator of such classics as The Paper Bag Princess n’ such.  One of my favorite books of his, as it happens, is Stephanie’s Ponytail about a girl who finds herself in a classroom of copycats and takes extreme measures to stand out.  Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown is on a similar route, but I like its alternate take.  In this book, a girl wants to stand apart from the pack and settles on going to school with her hair in a beehive worthy of Marge Simpson.  But when the kids at school start imitating her, something must be done.

Here’s the crazy thing about illustrator Stephen Gammell (no, not that other thing).  Though he’s been around for decades, illustrating everything from Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Gammell is personally responsible for that series’ success, by the way) to his Caldecott winning Song & Dance Man he has never, and I mean never, written his own book.  How could he resist the lure?  We may never know but now he’s just begun with a little picture book called Mudkin.  This book is Gammell to the hilt, with the little Mudkin’s words appearing at first as mere splotches of mud, then eventually morphing into words.  I’ll be interested in getting my fingertips on this one.

UPDATE: Pfui!  I have been misinformed.  According to my smart commenters (and others via email) Mr. Gammell has at least two other picture books to his author/illustrator name.  See what you get for trusting a blogger, people?

I’m always interested in which early chapter series get particularly noticed by our patrons.  And Mallory, I have to say, is one such series.  Written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Jennifer Kalis, those of you who haven’t heard of the books might be shocked to find that we are now onto Mallory #15: Mallory’s Guide to Boys, Brothers, Dads, and Dogs.  In that order, one must assume.

The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky (illustrated by Josee Bisaillon) gets a number of points right off the bat for the title.  I don’t care where you live or what you do . . . “Hoax” is a fantastic word.  Just grabs the reader’s attention right off the bat, and you almost never see it used in the titles of children’s books.  Subtitles, maybe, but not enough titles proper.  In this particular case, the book is based on the true event that occurred in 1835.  When a South African researched reported the crazy stuff he saw on the moon, The New York Sun decided it was time to regale folks with stories of aliens and more.  Told through a fictional newsboy at the time, this sounds like it would be an ideal companion to Meghan McCarthy’s own great alien hoax book, Aliens Are Coming: The True Account of the War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast.

Speaking of non-fiction, this next one’s a doozy.  The face of the father of our country adorns everything from dollar bills to statues in Washington Square Park.  But when it comes to his actual facial features, portraits seem to vary.  Recently, life-sized statues of Washington at three different points in his life were created by scientists, and captured in the book The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon by Carla McClafferty.  McClafferty worked closely with Mount Vernon on this book (as did the scientists) and with computers they regenerated what he looked like.  The statues will actually be part of a traveling exhibit soon, along with rare items like one of the very few full sets of dentures owned by the man.  Cool.

And finally, a bit of Lerner’s answer to Twilight.  It’s the My Boyfriend Is a Monster graphic novel series which, I am grateful to report, is not done in a faux manga style.  I don’t know if that matters to anyone else, but I’m just a little tired of faux manga at the moment.  It’s in black and white, so we’ll see what the audience thinks of it, but I’ve little doubt they’ll go over like gangbusters.

That, as they say, is that.  Thanks to Lindsay and Terri for coming on out to New York and speaking with me.

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. If I may do a little nerding out, Stephen Gammell wrote and illustrated two of my favorite books- Is That You, Winter? and Once Upon MacDonald’s Farm.

  2. Good grief, that Mudkin is headed straight for my nightmares. Stephen Gammel, why are your drawings so, so terrifying.

  3. I have a Maine Coon and completely agree, they are the best! 🙂

  4. Yay for Bridget Heos and her What To Expect series!

  5. The title What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae actually made me laugh out loud. Thanks, Betsy!

  6. I have to second that comment about What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae! I will definitely be looking forward to that one hitting shelves-the students in my class loves anything to do with bugs!
    Also,Maine Coons ARE best 🙂

  7. What is a faux manga style?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Well, true manga is when you imitate the Japanese form of comics by creating a very specific look, combined with art that has to be read backwards. Faux manga is when you just slap a couple of big manga-esque eyes on characters in the hopes that kids can’t tell the difference.

  8. Love Gammel’s Monster Mama.