Harper Collins Fall 2008 Librarian Preview
One day you’re in a Flatiron Building scarfing down brownies as fast as you can cram them in your mouth, the next day you’re with the good people of Harper Collins in an entirely different format.
Yes, last Wednesday Harper Collins had their Spring 2008 Librarian Preview for books published Fall 2008. This kind of preview is far more audience participatory. It’s all very simple. You come in. You make a delicate headlong dive onto the table of ARCs, taking only those you really want (they’ll talk you into taking the others soon enough anyway). You have some breakfast and then you sit down. Each table belongs to anywhere between two to five editors and marketing type persons. And when Mimi Kayden rings the shiny red bell they have ten minutes to talk about their list. When they have a lot of books this is a good thing because they won’t linger over dribble, by and large. Now in the case of Little Brown’s previews, you would then remain seated after the bell and the editors would move around. In this case, however, you are the one doing the moving. It is therefore sometimes wise to drop your bags and coat elsewhere, so as to make a full circuit of the room with ease.
To be persnickety I decided to start at Table #1. That actually worked out nicely with my note taking. I felt positively smart . . . until the Powerpoint presentation began behind me and I found that my back was to all the action. The different with this particular preview was that HC decided to talk up the online components of their website before getting to the books. It was actually a pretty smart idea, particularly when you consider that even with all the time I spend online I rarely go trolling about publishers’ websites.
The Online Tools for Librarians and Teachers program began with information on those cool little features that allow blogs and websites to embed Harper Collins information on their sites. I have to admit that one of the joys of doing a review of a HC book is that I can usually assume that there will be some browsable feature on their site that I can use to my own advantage. HC loves it a good widget. Here’s one, for example, that they’ve had on their site in conjunction with the Prince Caspian film:
Weird, eh? And in the case of including the Browse Inside option where people can look inside of books, they’ll sometimes do 20% of a novel online, just to get the kids interested. They’ve also been tinkering with doing "Sneak Peeks" on the site where 20% of a book is available 2 weeks prior to publication and full access is given on select titles. Perhaps other publishers will follow suit soon, though I suspect that they’re waiting to see if any of this has any significant impact on HC’s sales.
Other interesting online content included the First Look Reader Review Program where kids and teens get ARCs and review them before they come out. Cute idea. HC now has their own in-house video studio for filming interviews and the like. They have podcasts with "favorite authors", lots of book trailers, and a HipLit E-newsletter that they say has 70,000 subscribers. The Teacher and Librarians E-newsletter has 20,000 too, it would seem. Of course, some of these things were difficult to locate on my own. Hopefully the search capabilities will prove to be less difficult to get through in the future.
They ended their talk saying that they’re looking into creating MySpace and Facebook pages for their authors, which I thought was interesting. It’s really not all that different from those publishers that create websites for their writers, when you think about it. They call it, "Creating more book environments in social communities." I was intrigued to hear that many of these ideas actually begin in the adult division and shift over to the teen/children’s divisions later on. Hm.
Well, enough of that. Books are what are important anyway and books were in plentitude. As per usual I will not talk about every book that they talked about. Just the ones I thought sounded particularly good/weird at the time. Mimi cranked the timer up and *DING*! I was at the Farrin Jacobs, Tara Weikum table.
First of all, the Coraline graphic novel should be hitting bookstore shelves in July of this year. I was curious to see that the art will be by a P. Craig Russell. I vaguely know him from his work on Gaiman’s Sandman series, so it’s not too surprising that he’d be tapped to do the GN of this novel (though I had kinda hoped that Dave McKean would try his hand). No galleys of this were available, I’m afraid. Galleys were available for The Graveyard Book, another novel by Gaiman for kids rather than teens or adults. It’s one of those kid-raised-by-sweet-weirdoes stories that I’m rather fond of. The cover is positively lovely as well. Yum.
Now one book that I picked up out of a sense of "Eh, whot! Whot, eh?" was Lemony Snicket’s new tiny picture book The Lump of Coal. You may recall that Snicket came out with a bit of Christmastime fare last year through McSweeneys with the terribly marketed The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming. Wasn’t a fan of that one myself, truth be told. Something about the tone and the pictures didn’t gel. Now Snicket has paired with his old partner in crime Brett Helquist and the result is much much better. The Lump of Coal walks a delicate line between modern cynicism and honestly good storytelling. It’s a delicate balancing act that (having read it quickly on my own) works, and I think readers will be very pleased with the outcome.
One thing I noticed about HC is that they’re not afraid to compare the books on their list to popular books with other publishers. So when Magic Trixie, a graphic novel series by Jill Thompson, came up they said that they were going for the Babymouse readers. Smart move, actually, since Babymouse fans don’t have much to choose from. Of course, when I think of young witches like this Trixie type character, I think of the old Harvey comics about Wendy the Good Little Witch. Where’s her book series, eh?
I already have my copy (next on my list) but in case you haven’t heard, Louise Erdrich’s newest book in her Birchbark House series is coming out and it’s called The Porcupine Year. These books serve as a kind of alternative to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, and I love ’em. Finding good children’s fiction with Native American is near impossible some years. Best of all, I’ve learned that Erdrich plans to write three more after this book, chronicling the life of Omakayas’s son and then another three for her grandchild. Epic, eh?
At the Henry Holt preview the day before there had been some mention of a Thanksgiving book coming out called Thanksgiving: The True Story. On the younger end of the scale was a book that appears to be called This is the Feast. It also looks pretty Thanksgivingy. Why the trend, I wonder?
Table number two and the star of the show was Kevin Henkes (naturally). No, Mr. Henkes himself wasn’t there personally but his upcoming book Old Bear proved to be just one of those books you love on sight. Virginia Duncan and Steve Geck actually had on hand the physical dummy that Henkes turned in of the book, which was fun to page through. The story is of a bear dreaming of different seasons as it hibernates, only to eventually wake up and find that Spring has arrived. Very sweet and more than a touch lovely to boot. I should mention that the books at this table consisted of a lot of Greenwillow fare, so there was much original art to enjoy.
Ian Schoenherr’s Cat and Mouse is an interesting one to keep an eye on too. With the teeniest brushstrokes imaginable, Schoenherr brings to life a cat and a mouse alongside three classic nursery rhymes. What’s more, he’s somehow able to make a coherent story out of the lot. I’m a cat person myself, so I was particularly partial to the kitty in this book, delicate stripes and all.
The problem with attending Greenwillow previews periodically is that you find yourself waiting for a really long period of time for cool books to come out. One book that I’ve been anticipating since last fall is Carin Berger’s The Little Yellow Leaf. Berger did the art for Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky, but I hope she won’t mind my saying that I liked this bit of autumnal fare better. Using the bright colors cut from magazines (apparently J. Crew and Martha Stewart provide particularly nice shades and tones) the book is this amazing bit of meticulous collage-work above and beyond the usual slapdash fare. Keep eyes peeled please.
Newbery Award winning author Lynne Rae Perkins has never really conformed to the usual rote roles her position might incline her to slot into. Consider her newest picture book, The Cardboard Piano. First of all, it stars Debbie. Do you remember Debbie? Debbie is the main character in All Alone in the Universe and Criss Cross. That’s right. Perkins has taken a character from a middle grade/YA novel, gone back in time, turned her into a kid, and put her into a picture book. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an author do this to their own character before. What’s more, the book will come accompanied by a DVD. The DVD will then consist of real live kids reenacting the picture book’s story, to the accompaniment of Ms. Perkins’ own musical score. How on earth do you characterize this kind of thing? It’s just so interesting and odd that I guess I’ll just have to see the end product to judge how well it works.
Brandon Dorman is a god. I mean you knew that, right? He’s the kind of artist a publishing house is lucky to stumble onto once in a clear blue moon. His next project, however, sounds like it will be hugely popular with the masses and perhaps make his name better known. Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face and Other Poems consists of a massive collection of Jack Prelutsky poetry, some 200+ pages long. It encompasses Prelutsky’s entire career and Dorman (who illustrated the man’s The Wizard to much public acclaim last year) has gone crazy with the art. He somehow manages to bring to life critters and creatures that insist upon multiple takes and double takes. At one point Steve Geck pointed out that with some illustrators you have to learn to trust them. Because Mr. Dorman does much of his work on computers, he’ll send in these pretty rough sketches of what the final product will resemble, and his editors have to take it on faith that it’ll be brilliant. Just the same, this looks like one of those books that’ll be requested by kids (and, more to the point, elementary school reading lists) for years and years. Now could someone talk Dorman into doing the same with Shel Silverstein? Just for kicks?
The newest Last Apprentice book (by Joseph Delaney) is on the horizon. Alert your Apprentice fans that Wrath of the Bloodeye has a sufficiently gory cover and looks like it’ll be yet another hit. Now when’s that movie coming out of the first one again?
I never read Beyond the Mango Tree, but I’m sure some of you did. Perhaps you’ve been waiting lo these ten years or so for Amy Bronwen Zemser to come out with another novel. Well, if so I’ve good news for you then. Dear Julia is a YA novel that looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. In spite of the TERRIBLE blurb on the cover ("High school – it’s a recipe for disaster" ack ack) the cover is quite fetching (they hired a food stylist to put it together though I can’t find an image of it right now) and the concept intriguing. Besides, who can resist a book where a character in it is named after a font?
Table Three. That would be Barbara Lalicki and Katherine Tegen then. So I’m not a Mary Engelbreit fan myself. Is that a kind of cardinal sin? I almost think it is. In any case the upcoming Mary Engelbreit’s Nursery Tales doesn’t lure me much, but I was intrigued to see that Leonard Marcus had written the Introduction. The book is a collection of classic fairy tales and that’s fine. I guess we haven’t seen one of these done by a big name in a while, and I was relieved to see that even in Engelbreit’s world the wolf still eats granny. There was much said about the balance of scary images with funny images and the whole kerschmozzle is weighing in at 128 pages. Interesting stuff, anyway.
With the book The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong I want you to help me come up with a term to describe this kind of jacket. The name of the game these days is having covers where a character’s eyes have been cut out of the picture. I blame The Gossip Girls for this particular trend, but how shall we name it? The Half-Head Decapitation? The Eyeless Wonder? The latter has my vote, but feel free to chime in with terms of your own. Once you start noticing them, you’ll never be able to escape.
Speaking of jackets, this one is baffling. I didn’t get a chance to read Dean Lorey’s Nightmare Academy book last year in spite of his connection to the greatest television show of all time. Well they’re reissuing his books with different covers because the first one was deemed "too scary". Now, level with me here. Is this particularly scary?
Apparently it’s so harrowing to look at, that they’ve rejiggered the entire structure. Interestingly, I found the newer cover to be more frightening by what it doesn’t show, compared to this somewhat jovial monster-type fellow.
In the new Margie Palatini middle grade novel Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone (she’s moved beyond her picture book fare) I noticed a trend. The book is written with illustrations by Palatini. Much like the Katie Davis book The Curse of Addy McMahon. And both remind me in turn of the Ellie McDoodle books by Ruth McNally Bradshaw. What is going on? Are girls suddenly as keen for diaries with pictures as everyone thinks? It’s an interesting trend, but I wonder how far it’ll go (or if girl readers, in turn, will pick up on it). Then again, the Amelia’s Notebooks books do very well in my library, so maybe it all makes sense. And since I’m clearly in a mood to give things form and function, this kind of book definitely needs a name.
Once I learned that The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw was a children’s book, I plucked it up right quick. Before that, however, I thought it was for teens. Older teens. Older mature teens. Why did I feel this way? Because somebody put a V.C. Andrews font on the cover of a children’s book. Sadly I can’t find an imagine of the book to show you, but when it comes out in a couple months see if you agree. I’m expecting siblings to be indulging in incestuous relationships after viewing that cover. The plot sounds neat, though. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as that great Gothic book of weirdness The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden by Mary Chase (renamed in its reissue The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House). It would be fun to compare the tone of the two.
Here’s a fun question. How many female pop-up book artists can you name off the top of your head? Go on. As many as you like. Not so easy, is it? Well, a Ms. Patricia Fry is a student of Sabuda’s and she’s coming out with a Nutcracker this holiday season that I suspect will do very well for itself. You know how you sometimes get those reference desk requests for "all" of one book series or another? I’ve had girls come in wanting "all" our Nutcracker books. If I had this one on hand, I’d definitely offer it up first.
And yesterday you might have heard me refer to Bryan Collier’s picture book biography of Obama. Well he is definitely not the only one cashing in. Jonah Winter, picture book biographer extraordinaire, is also throwing his hat in the ring and the result will hit bookstore shelves in October. Barack will be illustrated by an AG Ford, and it looks very very promising. Ford has really captured the man’s style and features. Apparently he’s just out of school, but you wouldn’t know it from his style. Of course when I mentioned this book to my husband he couldn’t help but think of this recent Onion article.
Ah. Good table this. Brenda Bowen, Molly O’Neill, Anne Hoppe, and Ruth Katcher were present. Actually, before we sat at this table we had a break and I sorta sidled up to Brenda’s pile of books to get a better look at a graphic novel I saw sitting there. Marking this as the Lincoln Book #1 of the day, there sat The Graphic Gettysburg by C.M. Butzer (you can see one of his images of Lincoln on his website). I got very excited. I mean, all the speech bubbles are from direct quotes of the day. The primary colors used throughout the story are blue and gray. Altogether it looked neat and original and like nothing I’ve ever really seen before. Non-fiction meets the graphic format. Of course it won’t be out until 2009 (boo, hiss) but there’s nothing to be done about that.
Terry Pratchett’s new novel Nation arrived in my mail the other day but I haven’t picked it up yet. By all accounts, it is brilliant. They call it Terry’s masterpiece. He himself has said something along the lines of "I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on a book." With that in mind, you would think that they would stop shackling the man with terrible CGI covers. First Wintersmith, now Nation. So in a fit of pique I’m putting up the UK cover instead, which I like very much indeed.
I know very little about Spirit by J.P. Hightman. By all accounts it’s just fun ghost-fighting fluff. But the concept sounded so cool that I couldn’t help but extrapolate it in my mind. It’s apparently about 17-year-old married ghost hunters in the past. I envision them as the Nick and Nora of ghost hunting, though that’s probably too much to ask. Still, how cool would that be, eh?
And now it’s the Margaret Anastas and Phoebe Yeh table. Some interesting goodies here. Jane Yolen has an upcoming biography of Johnny Appleseed with illustrations by Jim Burke. The book illuminates a short ballad about the man with facts about the time period. Sounds fun. We actually haven’t had a new Appleseed book for our biography section lately. Usually people just grab the Steven Kellogg one and go with that. It’ll be nice to have something a little newer on the shelf.
I was very excited by this next item, though. From the woman who gave us Not a Box and Not a Stick comes an entirely new entity in the form of A Penguin Story. It looks so cool. I guess that this was the number one book I was excited about at this preview. Apparently Ms. Antoinette Portis is meticulous in her book creation, and since the actual title won’t be on shelves until January 2009 (boo!) there weren’t any galleys available at this time. Pity. Special word on her next book though: It’s going to be called Kindergarten Diaries. It’s nice to see her branching out.
In my library there is a Little Book Section. This section contains those picture books that are made for small hands and get lost easily amongst the larger picture books. One such book is a little lovely wonder called Come Back, Cat by Joan L. Nodset and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. In 1973 it was even dedicated to Mimi Kayden, which is kind of cool. Well, Kellogg has taken it upon himself to reillustrate the book into a larger format. The illustrations are now done in a kind of homage to Ezra Jack Keats, which I thought was interesting. Looks like it’ll make for a nice Fall title.
I don’t tend to read a lot of Julius Lester simply because he writes for a YA only crowd. The concept of his book Guardian was interesting to me, though. Someone asked Mr. Lester to write a book about a lynching from a black kid’s point of view. The author didn’t find that concept particularly thrilling, though. So instead, he wrote a book about a white kid who witnesses a lynching. The cover is, without a doubt, gorgeous. The use of color and image works beautifully. I’m a big fan of the look of this one. Keep an eye peeled for it.
We’re in the final stretch and the presenters don’t even look tired. Table Six, the final table of the day, contained Laura Geringer, Jill Santopolo, Karen Nagel, and Alyson Day. And first on the menu? If You Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff. Aw yeah, Numeroff’s back, baby! Of course, I don’t have to say much about this one. The concept is pretty self-explanatory.
I have at least one, probably two copies of Mascot to the Rescue! by Peter David, illustrated by Colleen Doran in my home that I need to read. The combination of graphic novel with prose novel isn’t that original, but how about graphic novel elements plus middle grade realistic fiction? Definitely rarer. With a professional comic book artist illustrating it the book sounds funny. And if you’ve been following the Oz and Ends series on Robin from the Batman strips, you’ll probably get some of the in-jokes in this book.
I’ll mention Wind Rider by Susan Williams which is new in paperback if only because I liked how it was sold to me. "Julie of the Wolves meets Clan of the Cave Bear without the sex." I can dig it.
Lisa Graff’s The Thing About Georgie is now new in paperback, and I must say that the new cover is a big improvement. The old one just didn’t quite feel right to me. Admittedly, putting feet on a cover is not exactly a new idea. But because the untied shoelaces actually do apply to the plot, I’m going to allow them here on a technicality.
Francesca Lia Block – You can say a lot of things about her, but boring she is not. Her upcoming book of poetry How to (Un)cage a Girl features a gal on the cover who happens to be one of her MySpace friends/fans. In fact, some of the poems in the book even talk about Ms. Block’s MySpace community. Did I just blow . . . your . . . mind?
Other than that, all that was left for the day was lunch which was tasty indeed. After writing all this up my head is kinda close to exploding, so I can’t imagine how hard it is to present the same books six times in a row for ten minutes apiece. Glad I’m on the receiving end. And now, dear readers, so are you.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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