Reporting: Simon and Schuster Fall 2008 Librarian Preview
Simon & Schuster does things differently. The librarian preview, as it currently exists in New York, is typically a time when a publisher can advertise their upcoming list to a captive audience of local librarians. People from nearby systems are invited, fed, and given free goodies and ARCs. Some publishers tote their upcoming Spring 2009 list at this time of year. S&S diverges from the norm in this way, preferring to promote books that are actually available in the here and now. This is good for me, particularly in terms of typing up these posts. Often I’ll have difficulty posting cover and jacket images if a list is promoted too far in advance. It also means that librarians interested in these titles can get them immediately. Bonus! On the other hand, there’s always the vague sense that if the list is far away then maybe our feedback could influence a poor cover decision or title. Maybe we could help with marketing in some manner? Then again this kind of interaction primarily exists in librarian previews where the editors and marketing department sit down with the librarians at small tables and S&S prefers the Powerpoint approach, so I guess it all works out in the end.
Food Report: I actually, and this is true, spent the week leading up to last Friday’s preview dreaming of the chocolate muffins that would be served in conjunction with the preview. I was not disappointed (chocolate muffins being the cupcakes of breakfast food) but I did not expect such pretty little displays of other enticements. Note the beauteous fruit bowl arrangement.
To say nothing of the sheer variety of differently pulped juices.
The last time S&S had a preview we got to go into the super secret boardroom reserved primarily for marketing types and booksellers. This time it was, alas, in use but that wasn’t a problem. We simply traipsed up to another floor and took our seats for the presentation.
Before I describe any of that, however, I think I’m going to start something new with this librarian preview recap. Normally I write out what I saw and what I liked as I go through the handouts/catalogs given to me. Today I’m going to let you know right off the bat what I saw that I thought looked or sounded particularly neat. Mind you, I haven’t read many of these so this is all based on surface perceptions. That said…
The Number One Book I Want To Get My Grubby Paws On:
Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young People) – Let there be no mistaking me when I say that I am not one of those librarians that finds no flaw in Gravett’s work. I loved Wolves, I was meh on Monkey and Me and I enjoyed (but was mildly baffled by) Orange Pear Apple Bear. This book, however, looks like a kind of return to the mixed-media flair of Wolves once more. First of all, it’s a Kate Greenaway Medal winner, so there you go. With die-cut pages that are expertly nibbled in a variety of exciting ways, the book systematically counts off Little Mouse’s different fears. Everything from knives (farmer’s wives playing a hand in that one) to loud noises (see: mice running up clocks). Design aside, it’s a cute idea in a new format and I waaaaaaaaaaaaant it.
Other Particularly Interesting Titles Discussed:
The Hinky-Pink: An Old Tale by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum) – I’m cheating a little with this one. Had I merely heard it described at this preview I might not have been as enraptured with this title as I am, but I’ve had the good fortune to read the book through already and it is a delight. Delicate with a wonderful storytelling tone and lovely pictures to boot. Aside from all that, it’s a story that kept me guessing as a reader, and how often do you find that in a fairy tale these days? I’d say more but it’s on my To Be Reviewed shelf and I don’t want to give away all the good stuff yet. And for you Floca fans, it sounded as if his next book will be called "Moonshot" or something along those lines.
The Last Invisible Boy by Evan Kuhlman, illustrated by J.P. Coovert (Atheneum) – I don’t suppose I would have paid too much attention to this had it not been for editor Ginee Seo’s rousing recommendation of it. She really pumped this puppy up as a must-read title. It’s a story about a boy who is desperately afraid that he’s turning invisible. It’s not a particularly new idea. I remember reading a vaguely horrific story along these same lines when I was 11 myself, though the title is long lost. Heck, there was even an early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode about this subject in the first season. Even so, it sounds good. Plus with such varied recommendations from Jeff Kinney, Susan Patron, and Hope Larson (plus the artist graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies) I am intrigued. Good title too.
The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Dan Santat (Atheneum) – This book was half a hair away from becoming My Number One Book of the day. The sole point against it, and this is minor, is the amount of text it contains for a picture book. That said, this marks the return of Anne Isaacs, author of the magnificent Swamp Angel of so many years before. I haven’t seen this book personally which chaps my hide since it looks delightful. And a tip of the hat to whoever figured out that pairing Isaacs with Santat would be inspired. They’re not a natural mix, but when you put the two together they’re immensely fun.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) – Do I even need to talk this up? Seems to me y’all should have been putting this on your To Read shelf the minute you heard it was even coming out. I was sent a copy not too long ago and am currently tearing through it every chance I get. The minute this book appeared on the wall as part of the Powerpoint the room literally moaned in pleasure. Best of all, it’s middle grade fiction so I can definitely review it. Whoop! The cover is gorgeous, which doesn’t hurt matters any. Editor Kevin talked it up so well that it was all I could do not to tear out of the preview right then and there. Said Kevin about the massive number of vetters working on the project, it was because the book, "covers so many places in history." Someone else suggested that schools should replace the requisite Johnny Tremain readings with this. A must read if ever there was one and a Newbery contender, perhaps?
Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) – Vice-President Editorial Director Paula Wiseman personally talked up this book, which pleased me considerably. Those of you who attended my Kidlit Drink Night at the Library Hotel will recall that this book made its premier at that party, and we were all allowed to page through it and coo over the pretty pictures. Personally, I would have liked the catalog to shower a little more publicity on Meghan, but it is clear that they are doing right by her. It’s a beautiful edition, a great book, and I can’t wait to read it personally.
Trading Faces by Julia DeVillers & Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Alison Smith (Aladdin Mix) – Actually I’m not sure whether or not this is still a "Mix" title or not. Sometimes the catalogs would be a bit out of date in these matters. In any case, I love the premise of this book. Real life twin sisters write a book about twins switching places. Betters still, the real-life twins Julia and Jennifer are both authors in their own right with magnificently different backgrounds. Julia, for example, wrote How My Private Personal Journal Became a Bestseller which was made into a Disney Channel movie. Jennifer, on the other hand, wrote that gritty and stirring five times five starred Yellow Star that I enjoyed so very much back in 2006. And while I’ve emailed Jennifer quite a lot, it’s Julie that I’ve run into at parties. Wild. This appears to be on the hardcover list, so look for it there.
The Curse of Cuddles McGee by Emily Ecton (Aladdin Paperbacks) – I finished reading the first book in Ecton’s series Boots and Pieces and loved it. To be reviewed. This is the sequel and if it’s anywhere near as fun as the original then I’ll be snapping it up right quick. Plus I give extra points to any book that uses the name "McGee" or "McGill" in its title. I just find those names funny.
Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey (Simon Pulse) – Here’s what they look like now:
They’re reissuing this fabulous McCaffrey series in paperback once again! That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re only reissuing them for teens. I’ve hooked more kids between the ages of 10-12 on this series (particularly girls) and it would just make my day if they could reissue them for that age range right now. I mean, I’m glad that teens will discover them, don’t get me wrong! But can’t we get some covers with Menolly looking all cool with her fire lizards swooping around her again? I’d dig that. As it stands we have to settle for these two:
Yellow Square: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter (Little Simon) – Yay! After Blue 2 and One Red Dot (and 600 Black Spots too, I suppose) I was missing Carter’s kooky creations. Do you know that I still get people emailing me for hints on how to find all the blue twos in his previous book? Well this one looks loverly, and I did get to play with it for a while. Amusingly we were told a story where the Little Simon people looked through an early version and couldn’t find the square on the last page. Fortunately, when they called Carter he told them that he’d forgotten to include it. Whoopsie!
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon (Aladdin) – I am very very excited about this one. A complaint I’ve lobbed against anyone who’ll listen is that there are simply not enough books for kids that discuss The Black Panthers in any way shape or form. Now Magoon has written one. The plot sounds as if it’s about a boy whose father works with Dr. Martin Luther King while his older brother has joined the Panthers. As a librarian whose husband works for a former Panther, I’ll be interested to see whether or not Magoon gives them adequate complexity.
All right, enough of that. Those are just the books that stood out in my brain more than others. For the full bulk of the books coming out we sat like good little puppies and watched the action.
Most librarian previews have special guest stars and most special guest stars make the rounds between different publishers. For example, I once saw Jon Scieszka speak at both a Simon & Schuster and a Penguin preview. Similarly I’ve now seen illustrator Bryan Collier speak at a Henry Holt preview and at this most recent Simon & Schuster one as well. Collier was there to promote his most recent Barack Obama picture book as penned by Nikki Giovanni. Heck, the whole day was pretty Obama-centric what with the cool Obama buttons they were handing out with the picture of the book’s cover on them. This came close on the heels of my trip to Columbia the day before where I wasn’t allowed to get near the university because McCain and Obama would be speaking there.
Ah, but lest you believe that S&S is a one-man show, let me remind you that these people are also publishing biographical picture books on Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain. Oh, and they mentioned that the Hillary book was a Richie Pick. THEY LOVE YOU, RICHIE! Of course, of all the election books coming out for kids right now, I think that my personal favorite is Jim Benton’s newest Franny K. Stein title The Frandidate. It was mentioned that Franny is one of the few girl characters that boys aren’t the least bit ashamed to read. Add in the cover of Franny wearing a frankenstein-like sewn Statue of Liberty outfit… well that’s just awesome all over.
Anywho, Collier showed us three original prints from the Obama book. There was the picture of him in Kenya, the picture of him covered in pixie dust, and the three panel montage that felt like a return to Collier’s Uptown-roots. S&S informed us that they got Bryan and Nikki to do the book by telling one, "Well Bryan’s going to do it" and the other "Well Nikki’s going to do it". During the question and answer session, Bryan was asked a very interesting question on how he makes his collages. The answer is that he takes pictures of a kid that he has "cast" from a nearby school. In this case the boy was a troubled kid spending a lot of his nights on the streets. Now he’s appeared in a book as Barack Obama, making this a literal tale of a child transformed by literature.
A quick note on the two Obama picture books that have recently come out, by the way. You may have seen this one and you may have seen the Jonah Winter book that’s being published with Harper Collins. I don’t tend to review political books of this sort, but one thing did strike me as overwhelmingly odd about both of these titles. Open the two of them up, page through them, and you will find that both books feature a page in which Barack Obama is sitting in a church with a single tear falling down his cheek. Both books. Not one. Both. I’m sure that this whole "Barack Weeps" moment is mentioned in his autobiography, but is it the best idea to put that kind of picture in a book? It reminds me of nothing so much as that moment in the D’Aulaire’s version of Abraham Lincoln’s life where little Abe stands in the woods holding his sister’s hand with tears running down their cheeks ala a painting of a big-eyed child on black velvet. It’s almost impossible to make a single tear trickling down a cheek look like anything other than a Hallmark moment. Downright odd that both books would do it.
Okay, rant over. Moving on. Here are some fun quickie notes on the rest of the books featured.
First up, here’s what the Atheneum crew is coming up with (now that they’ve already wowed us with this year’s The Underneath):
There will be a new Duck adventure from the team of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. Called Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure, it involves Duck being refused his "special-order organic duck feed." Awesome.
Is this a case for BACA or a brilliant pairing of song and image? You see, ladies and gentlemen, it appears that they have turned Bob Dylan’s song "Forever Young" into a picture book. It’s a book that was very cleverly paired with one Paul Rogers as illustrator. At first glance I mistook Mr. Rogers (teehee) for David Merveille, which is not the most ridiculous thing I could have done. Rogers has a retro clean-lined look the reminds you of Jim Flora mixed with Al Hirschfeld. They kept the references to war in the book, which I approve of, and since Bob technically didn’t sit down and write this one could you even really call it a celebrity picture book? I suppose so. Filled with details and references that will keep parents amused, the only real question with this book is whether or not kids will like it as much as adults. Definitely a good choice to hand to hip new parents, though.
I liked the premise of author D. James Smith’s It Was September When We Ran Away for the First Time, but the cover gave me pause. I’m not a particular fan of historical novels with jackets that try to hide the fact that the book takes place in the past. The boy on this cover has particularly modern hair that seemingly has gel in it. Hm. Compare that to this next cover of Oscar Hijuelos’s Dark Dude down below. Both are historical but Dark Dude‘s cover reflects that beautifully. Look at that gorgeous puppy. Not only does it look authentic, it feels as if this is a book that could be put on a bookshelf in the 60s and no one would bat an eye at its design. Very awesome.
You might ask why the world needs another Goldilocks book, but I was impressed with author Margaret Willey’s new take on the story in The 3 Bears and Goldilocks. The premise is that while she’s still nosey, Goldilocks is one of those people who thinks that they are "helping" when indeed they are wreaking havoc. So she systematically plucks the bugs and lumps out of the bears’ porridge (even though they’ve mixed them in to perfection) and sweeps the dirty floors (even though they prefer the floor that way). It’s nice. True to the story but with enough of a twist to distinguish it from the rest. The next time someone comes into my library looking for Goldilocks (and it’s amazing how often that happens) this’ll be the one I take from the shelf first. And maybe Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley.
You know, I’m beginning to get the feeling that That Book Woman by Heather Henson and David Small has Caldecott potential. I’m sniffing it. There’s the whole holy librarian angle, of course, but this isn’t one of those books that blatantly panders to the profession without another redeeming value. The writing is very good. Subtle and sweet. And Small’s illustrations, vistas, and colors are intriguing. I’ve heard Mr. Small talk about the pain he went through to make just the right cover for this book, and honestly I think that the one they settled on is perfect. Just perfect.
Speaking of Caldecotts, what book do you tend to hand kids when they inform you that they love The Invention of Hugo Cabret and they want another book exactly like it? Nine times out of ten that’s when I reach for The Houdini Box. I reach for it so often that I was surprised to learn that the book went out of print a while ago. Well, that’s a problem no longer since Selznick is reintroducing the book with all new sketches and extras. There will also be little tidbits of information, like the fact that Houdini’s head is always stolen from his statue. Always.
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers came next. Poetry lovers will be intrigued by the Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry which will feature thirteen different illustrators, 200 poems, and an intro by Eric Carle. Thing I learned from this: You pronounce Lois Ehert’s last name aye-lert. Who knew?
Zut alors! I feel a little ashamed admitting that I had forgotten that Stephen T. Johnson, creator of Alphabet City, also was the same guy who made that cool My Little Yellow Taxi book all those years ago. A pity that book circulated itself to death. Inevitable, I suppose, what with all the removable bits and pieces. Well, Stephen’s newest book is a return to the alphabet with A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet and it took him seven years to write. Seven. Years. 2,555 days. When describing his near disappearance from the world of children’s literature veep Paula Wiseman said, "It’s like whatever happened to Stephen Johnson and Carmen Sandiego?" Yeah! What did ever happen to Carmen Sandiego? When’s her book series coming out?
I read My So-Called Family by first timer Courtney Sheinmel not long ago and enjoyed it quite a lot. Courtney, you will be pleased to hear that they talked your title up very nicely indeed. Now the book is finally coming out, though the cover has gone through some interesting changes. On the original cover it’s Leah, her mom, and a cut out representing her sperm donor father. The final cover, however, makes the mom a cut out as well which… I’m not quite certain what that means exactly. Are moms on covers too uncool for school? Am I too uncool for school for using the very phrase "too uncool for school"? Don’t answer that.
The funny thing about that Trucktown series created by Jon Scieszka is that my library system really prefers to purchase the hardcover copies of the books. I know that there are a million versions of the books out there, from paperbacks to board books, but we only like the hardcovers. If your system is the same then you’ll perhaps be pleased to hear that hardcover title #2 is on its way out. Melvin Might? is the next one out. Further evidence that S&S loves this series? The grill of a truck that was installed in the boardroom two years ago or so for a Trucktown party is still there. That’s amore.
Margaret K. McElderry Books were quick to remind us that Ms. McElderry is still very much alive and kicking at the grand old age of 96. They then introduced the very YA and disturbing book Identical by Ellen Hopkins with all its incest and drug use and followed it up with Where is Home, Little Pip? That’s the kind of dichotomy I dig.
I am very fond of author Sheila P. Moses. It is my opinion that she doesn’t get enough attention yet. The Legend of Buddy Bush was a great debut, but since that time books like The Baptism haven’t caught the public eye. Now Moses is going a little more YA and contemporary with the book Joseph. It’s teen, but I may have to give it a glance anyway, considering how much I like her writing. Keep an eye out for this one.
The word on Demi is precisely what you would expect. "Demi is at her best when we give her all the gold that she wants… and all the red that she wants… and all the silver that she wants…" Her newest title is The Girl Who Drew a Phoenix and I expect it may be one of her more popular titles. I’ve had kids in my library ask for phoenix books, and it’s always heartbreaking if I can’t come up with that many. This one will certainly fill a need.
Sometimes the books mentioned at the preview wouldn’t have made it to the catalog yet and so I would write them down without paying attention to who the imprint was a given time. That was sort of the case with a section dedicated to some celebrity books and presidential topics. Librarians by and large aren’t huge fans of celebrity books, so I’ll just skip that section. As for presidents, I enjoyed very much the Powerpoint slide that showed the book Our Forty-Fourth President by Beatrice Gormley with two possible covers. One with McCain and one with Obama. It was actually rather scary to see up there; to consider that one of those two will soon be president. Mind boggling.
Anywho, I believe this was the Aladdin Paperback section of the day. A lot of MIX books were discussed, and one of them was called Lip Gloss Jungle. I got an inordinate amount of pleasure out of this title, probably because it reminds me of the film title Asphalt Jungle. Which may be giving someone somewhere too much credit, I dunno.
Here’s another example of me reading too much into a cover. When you look at the The Books of Umber: Happenstance Found, doesn’t the villain on the horse look a lot like Doctor Doom?
Latveria would be proud. And I approve of any book that names a character "Happenstance". Good naming.
The Slave Dancer is getting a new look. They’ve also apparently redone the interior so that it’s no longer filled with tiny type.
The book Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (a Goodreads friend of mine, I discovered!) was described at one point as "the most disturbing book I’ve read in my entire life." So there you go! Not my thing.. not my thing at all but for the lovers of The Lovely Bonesish type stuff this will come as a must read. And you know how authors will say that they had a dream and wrote a book because of that? Well, Ms. Scott did not have one, did not have two, but had THREE dreams that caused her to write this book. Sounds good and I’ll just huddle over here by my picture books and read them instead, if that’s okay.
Skinned by Robin Wasserman was originally going to be called Skinjacked but then Neal Shusterman went and wrote a book with a "skinjacker" in it, necessitating the change. The book itself sounds good, though I couldn’t help but think of it as Eva with robots. Which is fine. There appears to be big buzz surrounding this one, if the murmurs and whispers of the librarians around me were to be any indication. Speaking of Eva, have you seen that cool newish cover they made for it? Love it!
When Wicked by Nancy Holder and Debbit Viguie came up on the screen it got me to thinking. Here they are republishing books of the Twilight-bent in the wake of supernatural popularity and why is no one republishing The Changeover by Margaret Mahy? I mean, when I think of teen romances with witches and magic and stuff, that’s practically the first thought to pop into my head. Hey, Penguin!!! Bring it back!
Angels on Sunset Boulevard by Melissa de la Cruz, after all, has just gotten its own gritty cover upgrade. Observe:
Which naturally moves on into Little Simon, where the polar bear has truly become the icon of the environmental movement. The Polar Bears’ Home by Lara Bergen is one "Little Green" book, part of a new environmentally safe series. Little Monkey and Little Panda by Kimberly Ainsworth even more so since they are printed as cloth books and not paper.
The pop-up book Predators by Lucio and Meera Santoro uses what they are calling "revolutionary pop-up technology". What that basically means is that the pop-ups interact with you a bit more than others would. For example, a pop-up of a polar bear uses something called "Santoro Swing Cards" to jiggle and move various parts of its polar beary body about. Jiggle it a little and it moves in all kinds of different ways. Neat! Here’s their tiger:
Lest we’ve forgotten him, however, Robert Sabuda has a new title on the horizon. This time he’s adapted Peter Pan and yes, as per usual, it’s gorgeous. Sabuda hasn’t done anything on his own alone for a while. In this case he’s managed to get a lot of depth into his views. At one point you get a gorgeous view of the kids flying above London where there are several level of clouds to look down through and then the tiny buildings of the city below.
And that’s as good a place to stop as any.
I suppose the big news of the day is that Simon & Schuster intends to reduce the number of books published in the coming years and concentrate on quality rather than quantity. At any rate, there were other things discussed but these were the titles that stuck in my mind particularly. Towards the end I admittedly became much like a petulant child, shifting in my seat, doodling, and generally being a nuisance. Basically if a preview goes from 9-1, I get skittish. My apologies to anyone who saw me, or was seated near me. And now, my favorite sentences said during the presentations!
Favorite [blank] meets [blank] quotes:
- "You’ve Got Mail meets a tea shop in North Wisconsin" – The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer
- "Buffy meets 90210" – Nightworld #2 by L.J. Smith
- "The Nanny meets The Addams Family" – Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer (author of my favorite book title The Salem Witch Tryouts).
"There’s a pocket of great writing coming out of Utah."
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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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