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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Little Brown and Company (Spring 2011)

“I’m feeling very refreshed because I just washed my hands with the mouthwash in the bathroom.”

When one finds oneself invited to a librarian preview at the Yale Club for the Little Brown Spring/Summer 2011 season, it is useful to remember the following:

– Do not appear in jeans. I know it is your day off. They make you feel more relaxed, sure. But you will find that you are, in fact, quite scruffy when the fellow at the front desk calls you on them and you have to explain that you are a guest of Little Brown, thereby possibly casting aspersions on that venerable institution. I confess, I got a small thrill out of it anyway. Jeans in the Yale Club! Woo-hoo!

– Do not mistake the mouthwash in the ladies room (yes, it really is mouthwash) for the hand soap. Fortunately, the Yale Club does not outfit that room with an attendant. Otherwise you might have some ‘splaining to do.

Instead, Megan Tingley, the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Little Brown Books explained how she had herself mistaken one item for another, thereby allowing her guests the opportunity to avoid the same mistake (which, in the past, I too have made). And as we were feted with brie/ham/apple sandwiches and coffee baked desserts, we got to hear about a new season with a real twist on the expected.

By the way, rather than end this round-up with the usual info, I’m going to play with fire and tell you right off the bat that if you would like a galley of anything you see here today, you need only contact Victoria Stapleton at with the title(s) you desire.  Be sure to include your full contact info.  Sadly, if you have a P.O. Box you are out of the running.  Little Brown isn’t allowed to ship to them.

Now the first, and maybe most unexpected, book of the day comes to us via Patrick McDonnell. See, I’ve always like McDonnell’s look. I like how his artistic style (the one he uses to make that Mutts comic strip) mimics that of Krazy Kat. However, I’ve never taken to his picture books. They tend to be pet-centric, or the kinds of books that go for the warm fuzzy feeling crowd. I am not a member of the fuzzy feeling crowd. That said, McDonnell has made a recent departure with his book Me…Jane that will interest non-Mutts reading folks like myself as well as his stalwart fans. The book is based on the childhood of Jane Goodall, and adapts rather beautifully to the old 40-page picture book format. As a child, Jane was given a stuffed chimpanzee (not a real one) as a toy. She kept extensive notes about the great outdoors (which are reproduced in the book). Mostly, though, the story just shows Jane climbing trees and hanging out in nature. The fact that she read Tarzan as a child is almost too perfect for words. And when you get to the end . . . I’m not a member of the fuzzy feeling crowd at all, but even just looking at the galley for this book for the first time, I admit . . . I welled up a little. I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll just have to find this little biography for yourself. And apparently a significant portion of the proceeds of this book goes to Jane’s foundation. Nicely done.

We go from one kind of picture book to another one entirely with Along a Long Road by Frank Viva. Viva’s a debut Canadian with an award winning graphic design background to his name. He’s done his own share of New Yorker covers in the past (I sense a theme), so really it was just a matter of time before he tried his hand at children’s literature. They all come to us eventually. In this book we just watch a guy on a bike as he goes down a very long road. It contains a simple text and few words, but has a nice design major feel to it that will appeal to a certain crowd. Only five colors are ever in use at any given time, which is always interesting. The real kicker, however, is that for all its 40 pages, apparently Viva created this art as one long continual piece. Which is to say, somewhere in the world the art for this book is out there, a long long road of its own.

I think Karma Wilson and I think Jane Chapman. Not my fault. They just go together so well. When you get used to a pairing like Wilson/Chapman, it’s hard not to feel a weird sense of betrayal when that author is paired with someone else. Here at Little Brown, that someone else would be Jim McMullan, an awesome illustrator in his own right. Together the two have created Hogwash. In it a bespectacled farmer decides that everyone on the farm is filthy and needs to be cleaned up. This works for the most part, until the pigs decide to rebel. It’s kind of a Click, Clack, Moo anti-bath book. In the end, the plot reminded me of the similar smart-pig title Oink? by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Henry Cole. The two might make for a particularly good storytime pairing, when the time comes.

When the big big publishers do previews I tend to skip the YA, but since Little Brown limits the number of books they do for their own previews I’ll include a young adult book or two for spice. Spice isn’t exactly the term you’d necessarily use with the book We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction by Nic Sheff, though. When you start noticing the “Age 15 & Up” designation on books these days, you know the content is going to be a little more hardcore than the usual sparkly vampires n’ such. In this case, the book is a true life memoir of the author who back in 2008 wrote Tweak, a look at his own meth addiction. Then his father wrote Beautiful Boy on the same subject (his son’s addiction). This book continues Nic’s story at a rehab clinic in Arizona, continuing through his sad relapse later in Georgia. Based out of L.A. he’s apparently great when talking to kids (so heads up YA L.A. librarians). To my mind, if we could replace all the faux drug memoir books out there ( Go Ask Alice I am SO looking at you) with books like Sheff’s, we’d be doing kids a service. Sheff’s father is currently writing The Thirteenth Step , his own follow-up, as we speak.

By the cover of Sweetly you might recognize some similar elements to the author Jackson Pearce’s previous book Sisters Red. For reasons unknown to anyone but me, I have a hard time seeing a woman’s face in this cover. My brain wants to turn it into a man with a moustache. Ah well. Thought it’s not a continuation of Sisters Red, this book is set in the same world and yes, there are werewolves involved. Much like the hugely popular A Tale Dark and Grimm (and the black cut out covers aren’t too dissimilar, are they?) this book follows a Hansel and Gretel pair, here known as Greten (my spelling could be entirely off on that) and Ansel. The two are 18 and end up in a small Southern town that harbors a fantastic candy shop run by a hot 19-year-old girl. Things heat up from there, as you might expect.

The cover on this one isn’t final, so don’t set your heart on it.  Another debut comes via one Cat Patrick and her book Forgotten. The line meant to describe it: “I remember my future but my past is a blank.” Think of this one as a teen version of Memento or maybe even When You Reach Me. A girl writes notes to herself to figure out what’s going on. Then she starts having forward memories of a coming and disturbing crime. Fans of Lauren Oliver and Neal Schusterman will apparently be the ones to zero in on this one. At the moment Ms. Patrick is working on a second book about a drug that brings folks back from the dead.

If you’d told me before the preview that I would actually want a book called . . . called . . . The Time-Traveling Fashionista, I’d have told you you were crazy. And that you didn’t know me. That you were an insane stranger type person. But as they described the darn book by Bianca Turetsky I got curious. First off, it’s about a 7th grade 12-year-old with content that’s appropriate for my children’s section (ignore the 12 & up designation they slapped all over it). In this story a girl in suburban CT dreams of glamour. The closest she can get to it, however, is to buy vintage clothes and pretend. One day she receives an invite to a vintage fashion sale. While there, she tries on a gown that smells of seawater and next thing you know she’s on a cruise ship from 100 years ago. Folks mistake her for a famous silent film actress and everything appears to be just ducky . . . until she figures out she’s on the Titanic. Whoopsie! Full-color fashion illustrations of the period costumes will appear in the book (nice touch) though not in the galley (boo-urns). This is the first in a series, by the way, and I was amused to hear that the editor had even researched teen fashion bloggers, so as to give them a taste of the novel early. Clever duck.

No cover for this next one.  Too bad since the unfinished one included in our handouts was my favorite of the day (figures).  Little Brown, unafraid of the Southern novel (Sweetly and their previous hit Beautiful Creatures already established the south as a great place to set a fantasy), gives us The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch in which a rebellious teen girl moves to Savannah and discovers that she’s part of a group of Southern debutantes. That’s before she discovers the voodoo as well. Sounds good to me!

This is also not the final cover, so don’t be flustered about the girl’s amazingly short short short short skirt.  Now it’s not that Hamlet hasn’t been updated before. I think a lot of us remember Alan Gratz’s Something Rotten, yes? But generally speaking, when people do base novels off of Hamlet it’s either historical or from a boy’s point of view. Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray is a contemporary retelling from Ophelia’s point of view. And from what I hear, it’s significantly less tragic than the original story ever was.

Gary Golio appears to be making a systematic run through of various 60s icons.  You may be familiar with his picture book bio of Jimi Hendrix Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe earlier this year.  Well in 2011 Gary will be rolling out the Bob Dylan and the Woodie Guthrie.  When Bob Met Woody is illustrated by Marc Burckhardt and contains images that, if you exchanged Bob for Arlo Guthrie, could be straight out of the film Alice’s Restaurant.  You know, the other day a woman asked for a book for kids on music from the 1960s for her 10-year-old and I was stumped.  There’s nothing out there yet.  For now, we have to be content with these individual biographies, and yet I can’t think of another Bob Dylan bio yet.  Surely his life story is easier to handle than folks like Jimi Hendrix.  For my part, the art sort of reminded me of an different Little Brown music book The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music by Bret Bertholf.  Love that title.

Here’s a surprise!  Andrea Davis Pinkney has completely switched genres on us.  With Bird in a Box (lovely title, though I may be biased) she returns to the world of the novel (a format she hasn’t indulged in since 1999).  And Sean Qualls is the man behind not only the cover but also the silhouettes inside this book.  A piece of historical fiction, the story takes place at the end of the Great Depression and was inspired by Ms. Pinkney’s great-grandfather: Cyclone Williams.  First off, if I had a great-grandfather with a name as powerful as “Cyclone” then you can bet I’d be writing some novels based on him as well.  And fear not, historical fiction fans.  We are assured that this title was fact checked within an inch of its life, and even includes endnotes with facts on the people and places of that time period.

Dark Parties by Sarah Grant swerves deeply into the YA center of things.  By debut author Sara Grant we have a dark little title that came out of Grant’s move to the UK with her British husband.  The result of this switchover was a sudden interest in the world of immigration.  In Dark Parties a country closes its borders to the world.  They may have described more of the plot to me than that, but I was distracted by the awesome cover.  It’s sort of gender neutral.  The kind of cover that might appeal to both boys and girls ala The Hunger Games.  That’s the way to go sometimes, folks.  A pity they added in that face, though.  The snowflake is plenty powerful on its own.

Ah, Julie Ann Peters.  Sister of my former boss at the library.  Now there’s an author for you.  The kind of gal that makes a point to read all her fans’ messages to her.  Apparently Little Brown (who called her “one of our favorite house authors) requested that Ms. Peters write them a story with a happy ending.  The result is She Loves You, She Loves You Not… The book utilizes two different perspectives and two different tenses too.  The first person is written in the present tense and memories are written in the second person.  The story is about a girl who moves in with her mother, a parental figure that until now has been pretty much unknown to her.  Turns out, mom’s an exotic dancer and now she’s know as “the stripper’s daughter” around town.  Our heroine left a girl back at home, but meets a new girl who helps her out with some of her memories.  For fans of Keeping You a Secret, this may be worth seeking out.

Apparently editor Jennifer Hunt was so enthralled by I’ll Be There (no cover yet) by Holly Goldberg Sloan that when she first received it she read it line by line off of her Blackberry screen.  It was just that good.  Unfortunately, the book was immediately compared to that gawdawful movie Crash (not the cool James Spader film) which I think is unfair.  What they probably meant was that it involves a lot of different perspectives that all come together in the end.  In the book two brothers are on the run with their dad.  Pop’s a thief and so the three move whenever the law happens to catch up to them.  In a new town Sam enjoys the local music and befriends a girl named Emily in a church.  Looking at her life he gets to see what a “normal” family is actually like.  Unfortunately after a terrible thing happens he has to fight for the home he hopes to have.  Sloan apparently wrote the screenplay for Angels in the Outfield.  All well and good, but when I looked at her IMDB page I saw much more interesting stuff on there.  Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course?  As a big time Steve Irwin fan, that’s two thumbs up right there.  In any case, due to her connections, Sloan was able (and this is nothing short of amazing) to get full permission to use ALL the lyrics from the song I’ll Be There in the text.

And the debuts just keep on rolling in!  This time it’s a middle grade novel by the name of The Mostly True Story of Jack and it’s by one Kelly Barnhill.  Having previously done adult short stories, science fiction, and poetry, Barnhill tries her hand at a younger audience.  Jack is essentially unmemorable.  No one can keep him in their brain for more than three seconds.  Not his parents.  Not the school bullies.  So when he takes a trip to Hazelwood, Iowa and discovers that the people there remember him, something is definitely up.  Heck, not only do they remember him, they were “expecting” him.  With its magical realism this book was described as a bit like Savvy, a bit like Peter Pan.  The cover also is yet another Little Brown jacket that uses silhouettes.  Whence the trend, I wonder?  In any case, this cover is not really final either.

Ah.  At last.  The return of Chris Gall.  Now there’s a fellow I’ve been faithfully following the career of for years and years and years.  Beginning with Dear Fish, moving on to There’s Nothing to do on Mars, making a detour with Dinotrux, and finally ending up with his latest picture book Substitute Creacher.  The success of Dinotrux was deeply satisfying to me, so it’s nice to see this very shiny new book following a similar route.  If you’re freaked out by garden gnomes (in a good way), is this the book for you!  Basically what we’re looking at here is a story that reads like Miss Nelson is Missing meets Struwwelpeter.  One day a rotten class of kids gets a substitute teacher that’s clearly more monster than man.  As the kids transgress he relates the often awful fates of various children that misbehaved in much the same way.  Gall not only has the substitute speak in rhyme and the children with normal speech (it works) but his artistic style becomes far more cartoony when you view the children of the past verses the ones today.  And that doesn’t even touch on the hidden gnome element.  Looks like it’s going to be a fun one for the kids.

South African author Michael Williams originally published Now Is the Time for Running in his own country.  Little Brown brought it here, and it highlights the refugee experience.  Written like a survival story, the book follows a 14-year-old Zimbabwe kid who loves to play soccer.  When soldiers slaughter his village he and his mentally handicapped older brother decide to try and make it to South Africa.  Along the way the boy carries his own homemade soccer ball (not the one on the cover, we’ll assume) and eventually is able to join the Homeless World Cup, which is a real organization.  Looks good for the YA crowd.

That just left the special guest at the end, and whattaya know it?  It was none other than Patrick McDonnell, the fellow behind that upcoming Jane Goodall book.  Nice guy that he is, he spoke to us at length as twelve editors watched from the back of the room.  Afterwards he signed posters and all well home with a sense of well-being.

Naturally, this leads us to the final part of the day. . . . the meets!

Best Meets:Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets Gossip Girl” – The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch

Runner-Up: “A Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984” – Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Thanks to Victoria Stapleton for the images and for the invite in the first place.

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. I think Victoria had better prepare for a very full inbox! Thanks for the heads up.

  2. I had the great pleasure of reading an advance copy of BIRD IN A BOX and it is truly wonderful — lively, memorable, complex chaarcters, involving story lines, lots of humor, and beautifully written. Get ready for a great read!

  3. Jessica Young says

    What great offerings! Can’t wait to see them in person…

  4. Chris in NY says

    I think Victoria may indeed be surprised, too. “Me Jane” looks adorable.

  5. Victoria Stapleton says

    Victoria is only ever pleasantly surprised and is always willing to share what she can. We have galleys galore, but picture book materials are severely limited. Sadly, she is super not kidding about the PO Box thing. Sorry.

  6. Looks like some good stuff there! I always appreciate your previews; thanks so much for writing them. And thanks to Victoria for being so generous.

    The Time Traveling Fashionista sounds like it would be a hit in our YA collection (I asked for an ARC-sounds intriguing!). Can’t wait to read The Magnolia League. Southern debs and voodoo…reminds me of my days as a Catholic school girl in New Orleans. Well, sort of.

  7. I like every single thing about that SUBSTITUTE CREATURE cover.

  8. Betsy, thank you for posting this preview!

  9. Thanks for the post (and email address!)

    There’s a typo (or rather missing word) in the I’ll Be There paragraph that made me laugh out loud – ” As a big time Steve Irwin, that’s two thumbs up right there.” I imagine you tromping around your children’s room in khakis and an Australian accent…

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Wrassling crocs too! Thanks for the catch, though. There are worse fates than to be a “big time Steve Irwin” but I’ll probably correct the post anyway.