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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Librarian Preview: Lerner Books (Fall 2011)

I like a lot of things about Lerner, but probably what I like the most is the fact that they’ve managed to transition from rote titles that are of primary use in schoolrooms to publishing of all kinds of books.  Not that they don’t still create useful books for class use, but this preview should be a pretty exhaustive look at the sheer range of titles they’re capable of putting out in a given season.  Prior to the birth of my young I sat down with some Lernerites and got a glimpse of what’s on the fall menu.

First up, the primary grades.  Lerner includes the Reading Levels on their books, so I may as well follow suit.

Reading Level 1

First up, blogging about a blogger.  How meta.  In this particular case I am blogging about Brit blogger Jane Brocket.  She’s done books for the Millbrook Press imprint of Lerner before, previously about textures.  With Ruby, Violet, Lime: Looking for Color she presents photographs of hues and shades ala Tana Hoban.  Part of the allure of Brocket’s books is that kids can easily apply what they see t their own lives.  The cool photography doesn’t hurt matters much either.

Reading Level 2

Every fall it’s the same.  On my reference computer I have a list of autumnal titles for display.  First come the apple books.  Then the leaf books.  Anything that refers to the season directly comes out, you bet.  About the time I start searching for pumpkin books, you know we’re running out of titles.  Author Martha Rustad sort of figured this out so she created a series where a single topic (fall) is extended over several books.  You have the standard apples, pumpkins, and leaves as well as books about harvests, animals in the fall, and how the weather changes.  It almost makes me wonder if fall is the most popular season to study because it’s so cool or because it comes at the beginning of the school year.  Hmmm…

A different series eschews minor seasonal changes and goes for the big guns.  Planet Protectors will undoubtedly circulate best during the Earth Day season, though I get kids and parents throughout the year that ask for environmental fare.  For the K-2 crowd, these books will fit since they cover pollution, recycling, clean water, and others of this ilk.  I also like the literalism behind Watch Over Our Water‘s cover.  Oh, she’s watching all right.  She’s watching.

Bridget Heos proves that a woman can be an author and a blogger all at once, and do both well.  So while she is the singular voice behind Save Everything! (and the Picture Book) (which had a really nice post on funny picture books recently) she also pens books for kids and teens on the side.  Case in point, last year she penned the highly amusing What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae.  Now she has a follow-up.  The obvious next step after larvae?  Kangaroos.  Naturally.  What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys is also illustrated by the delightful Stephane Jorisch (whose star is finally rising thanks to books like this and Betty Bunny Loves Ch0colate Cake).

Level 3

Early chapter books give me hope for the future of young women everywhere.  Sometimes I feel that that particular age group gets better quality fare for girls than their picture books and middle grade brethren.  Between Franny K. Stein and Clementine (hey, that rhymes!) girls are allowed to be obsessed with something other than princesses and unicorns for a while.  Into the fray comes Agent Amelia, a new series by Michael Broad about a girl who is convinced that she’s actually a secret agent.  It’s hard to argue with her since she keeps solving mysteries.  The books are for those kids who enjoy Encyclopedia Brown and his ilk with three stories per book.  All I know is that I totally dig her camo pants.

And speaking of good female role models, here’s Sasspants.  It’s no secret that I think that Colleen AF Venable’s Guinea PIG series is the neatest thing since sliced bread (and I am a HUGE sliced bread aficionado).  Hard to believe that we’re already up to the fourth book in the series, but it may prove to be one of the most popular.  Why?  Because it’s partly starring those loopy fish.  In Fish You Were Here an assistant to pet shop owner Mr. Venezi arrives.  The problem?  She’s good at her job, and that means someone might actually get sold from the shop one of these days.  Horrors!

Part of the fun of my job is that I like to pair books together.  For example, when I heard of Back-to-School Rules by Laurie Friedman, I instantly thought of this year’s Manners Mash-Up.  In both cases you have rules telling you what to do (and not do) in a public situation.  Friedman’s book is actually a sequel to her previous book Thanksgiving Rules.  In this latest title, Percy Isaac Gifford, our football headed hero, tells us what to do and not to do when you return to school.

I don’t have many hobbies, but one that I do cultivate in my spare time is a continual growl against the universe for making poet Bob Raczka so doggone good.  Recently it’s felt to me as if the man can do no wrong.  First Guyku.  Then Lemonade.  Now we have Fall Mixed Up to contend with as well.  Remember earlier when I was talking about how I’ll pull out different books tangentially related to the autumnal season for display each year?  Well imagine if I took those books, removed their subject matter, and threw the whole kerschmozzle in a blender.  That’s basically what you’ll find with Raczka’s newest.  Ala an old Highlights Magazine, kids will find “mistakes” that they can call out on each and every spread.  Illustrator Chad Cameron is on hand to show squirrels flying south for the winter and leaves falling up.  Looks like fun.

There are monkeys and then there are monkeys with tool belts.  I know which I prefer.  Chris Monroe burst on the children’s literary scene years ago with her delightful Monkey With a Tool Belt.  And though she did follow up with subsequent monkey titles, she has also taken the time to come up with books like Sneaky Sheep.  Now she returns yet again to her monkey roots with Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans.  In this adventure Chico Bon-Bon and Clark the elephant (does anyone do names as well as Monroe?) must face as seaside saboteur.

Certain animals find themselves shouldering distinct roles in children’s books.  Polar bears, for example, are now the de facto animal representatives of global warming.  Strange but true.  Green parrots, I have found, tend to be the Spanish language speaking birds of the picture book world.  Don’t believe me?  Well, I’ve certainly noticed them in books like Beautiful Yetta, and now I’ve encountered yet another one in Say Something, Perico.  In this book a Spanish speaking parrot is adopted by a variety of English speaking dunces.  None of them realize that he’s speaking in another language.  All seems lost for the bird, until he is adopted by a bilingual boy.  The book is written by one Trudy Harris, a Kindergarten teacher from Idaho who noticed that she was getting more and more kids in her class who knew only Spanish.

Okey dokey.  Now back to the factual part of our program.  Lerner’s got a couple titles in the whole social studies and science concept area of expertise.  Case in point, the How Do Simple Machines Work? series.  This is actually a topic I’ve been asked for in the past and we had very little to hand over.  I mean, when a kid says to you “I need a book on wedges” or “inclined planes” or (heaven help us) “wheels and axles” you can’t really pawn them off onto anything else.  Lerner’s got the goods, then, and they’re written by folks like Sally Walker (she of Sibert Award winning Secrets of a Civil War Submarine).  Walker, for the record, also happens to be behind the How Does Energy Work? series, which covers topics like Matter, Electricity, and Sound.

These are all “Searchlight Books” titles, by the way.  Concepts done en masse.  You can see a bit of that in their What’s Amazing About Space? books.  Here you have titles that cover things like “Space Robots” (a pretty good description of the Mars rovers), the International Space Station, and Exoplanets (oooo).  Personally, I think I’m going to want the one on Space Travel.  Sadly, I’ve never had a kid ask for that topic.  They have asked for “rockets” though.  It’s a start but this lack of interest in visiting space probably accounts for the diminished interest kids have in space-related science fiction.  And yet the Clone Wars are so very very popular . . .

Someday I know my daughter will ask me explain a scientific concept and I will be up a tree.  I have a vague notion to look up the answers to her questions before they occur, of course.  I think I can answer “why is the sky blue?” satisfactorily and maybe even “where do the stars go during the day?” but let’s face it.  I’m an English major.  My husband and I have a running gag in our home where one of us will try to come up with a scientific answer for something and the other will reply, “Science with the English majors!”  We intend to make it a sitcom someday.  Anyway, I do have an advantage with answering my child’s future questions because I am a children’s librarian.  Therefore I have access to titles like Not a Buzz to Be Found: Insects in Winter by Linda Glaser.  “What do insects do in the winter?”  I have no idea!  This book shows twelve different kinds of insects and uses them to answer that question.

Okay.  This next book series is cool.  Imagine taking three distinct concepts and combining them to create something wholly and entirely new.  That’s what you get with the Tricky Journeys books.  Here’s the deal: Chris Schweizer has combined the Choose Your Own Adventure format with trickster folktales AND graphic novels.  Basically you can follow the adventures of coyote, fox, monkey, rabbit, raven, or spider and direct them in what they do.  Very interesting stuff.  We’ll see if it plays in Peoria.

Level 4

The name of the game with the On the Radar: Dance books is “browsable high interest topics”.  With the proliferation of dance-related television shows, this is one topic that makes sense to have in a library collection.  So far the series is covering Capoeira, Latin Dance, Ice Dancing (really?), and Street Dance.

Where there is dance there is also sport.  So there are also some On the Radar: Sports books making an appearance.  Board Sports, Free Running, Freestyle BMX, and Street Soccer include record breaking stunt facts along with the usual fare.  Free Running, by the way, is that bizarre sport where folks run up and down buildings lightning fast.  Do you remember that sequence at the beginning of Casino Royale?  There you go.

Some of you may be familiar with Pamela Service’s Alien Agent series.  It’s illustrated by Mike Gorman, so I think I can be forgiven for thinking that Escape from Planet Yastol, created by the same duo, was part of that series.  Not the case!  It is, in fact, part of the new Way-Too-Real Aliens series.  In these books a boy named Josh likes to write stories about alien worlds. Which would be all well and good were it not for the fact that the things he’s been writing have started to come true.  Worse still, the aliens come and capture him and he and his sister Maggie have to navigate brand new worlds.  Sounds like Galaxy Quest to me.  That is the highest praise I am capable of giving (love that film).

Picture book biography time!  I confess that I’d not heard of author, musician, and activist Zitkala-Sa.  A Native American in the early 19th century she was initially born in a South Dakota reservation.  Like many American Indian kids of the time she was sent to boarding school and was miserable.  To combat that misery she discovered music and found some consolation there.  Red Bird Sings is by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce and uses original text from her own writings where applicable.  Looks good.

Level 5

I just finished that fabulous Martin Jenkins title Can We Save the Tiger? If you haven’t read it yet, do.  It provides a marvelous overview of a variety of different endangered species.  I enjoyed it partly because I could pick out other children’s books on one animal or another.  For example, Jenkins highlights the existence of the kakapo, the subject of last year’s marvelous Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery.  Another animal highlighted was the golden frog.  I’d never heard of the golden frog before I ran across the upcoming Sandra Markle title The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery.  Why call this a mystery?  Well, golden frogs can be found in lots of countries all over the world.  So when they started dying at the same time, yet seemingly with no contact with one another, scientists had to crack the mystery of what was killing them off.  Golden frogs are the national frog of Panama, by the way.  Makes you wonder what America’s national frog might be.

Well, yes . . . .

I wonder if there were similar books on Charles and Di for kids back in the day.  Ten points to the first library system that can drum one up.

My husband is mighty knowledgeable in the ways of comics and graphic novels.  As such, I posed to him the following question: Had he ever heard of a comic book called Senorita Rio?  He most certainly had.  She was a Hispanic superspy who fought Nazis back in the day.  Here she is:

It’s probably not all that well known that the artist behind the comic was Lily Renee.  Even less well known is Renee’s own story.  Now Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer is coming out to tell the true story behind the woman herself.  At the age of fourteen Lily was a Jewish girl of Vienna sent as part of the Kindertransport to England.  From there she managed to make it to the U.S. where, amazingly, she was able to reunite with her parents.  Looking for work, Lily had a talent for drawing and answered an ad for a comic book artist.  In spite of the fact that not a lot of women held such jobs she was hired.  She continued to create comic book covers (again very rare) for The Lost World and Werewolf Hunters (a series that would do well today).  Now in her 90s she has worked with author Trina Robbins on this book.  Many of the images are also based on photographs as well.  I’m intrigued.

Level 6

You see enough children’s book covers with pink Converse during the WWII and pink bra straps in 1900 and you despair that kids will ever see accurate historical clothing.  The Dressing a Nation series seeks to combat this fear with different books covering different fashion time periods.  Looking at what started each national clothing trend and how fashions spread, the book covers clothing in all its forms.  “Vogue for history buffs” they call it.  Might make a nice complement to books like Wheels of Change, which cover the rise of bloomers and the like.

Level 8

April 15, 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Prepare for a resurgence of Leonardo diCaprio memorabilia at that time.  I actually get a fair number of kids in my library looking for good Titanic books, so maybe Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the Titanic by Stephanie McPherson would be right up their alley.  And at 112 pages, it doesn’t seem to skimp on the details.

Another presumed event in 2012?  Oh, just THE END OF THE WORLD!!  That’s all.  What better time for Lerner to be putting out a book on all the different ways for the world to end then?  Is the End of the World Near: From Crackpot Predictions to Scientific Scenarios may be the book on this list I want to see the most.  It’s by Ron Miller and covers everything from Mayan prophecies to real scientific ways in which we could face “cosmic disaster”.  I predict that this one will be flying off the shelves.  A smart publisher might also consider putting out a short story collection where different authors write stories based on different doomsday scenarios.  Just sayin’.

Finally, wasting no time whatsoever, Elaine Landau has come out with Osama bin Laden: The Life and Death of the 9/11 al-Qaeda Mastermind.  The catch?  Well doggone it if the facts about him and his death don’t keep changing.  The solution?  Lerner will be producing this book as an eBook this August, allowing for last minute changes as needed.  The book comes out in time for the ten year anniversary of 9/11 as well.

And though I probably could have found a cheerier title to end with (Osama AND the end of the world?) that’s all she wrote, folks.  Many thanks to the Lerner folks for the preview.

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. Lovely preview! Small correction–the author of Say Something, Perico is Trudy Harris and she is a kindergarten teacher in Idaho. (But perhaps she ought to give Iowa a try.)

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Thanks for the correction, Carol! It’s not an official librarian preview until I mangle one fact horribly and beyond recognition. It has been corrected!

  2. Excellent wrap up-thank you! I think fall units are popular because you can end with a fun field trip to a pumpkin patch. That’s what many of our preschool and elementary classes do. Fauquier County is still largely agricultural, although we have many commuters to the exurban parts of northern VA and Washington DC, so pumpkin patches abound in the fall.

  3. Great preview, Betsy! Thank you. I don’t have fancy red shoes to flaunt this year, but I can point you and your readers to Page 31 of “Buckskin Dresses and Pumpkin Breeches: Colonial Fashions from the 1580s to the 1760s” in the Dressing a Nation series from Lerner’s TFCB imprint.

    Guess who stitched the sampler that’s featured in the photograph accompanying the sidebar on that page? None other than Yours Truly! 🙂