Reporting: Penguin Young Readers Group May-August 2009 Librarian Preview
Never doubt the power of the Internet. What other invention can cause the same levels of amnesia as the Web? I say this because I was invited to a nice Penguin librarian preview not long ago. I like Penguin previews. They feed me pesto. And since I had been to their offices before (three or four times, I think) I was fairly certain I knew how to get there.
Poor silly girl.
I go to Google Maps and plug in 375 Hudson Street, just to get a general gist of the cross-streets. Only here, dear reader, I suddenly fall victim to my own wide-eyed trust in Google Maps. For years I’d been using MapQuest, but in New York the Google option lets you see where the subway stations are. So I plug in the address. Go on. Try it sometime. Plug in 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY. You know what you find when you do so? You discover that the address appears roughly nine blocks north of its actual location. So I looked at the map and said to myself, "Hm. It appears to be right by Christopher Street. How strange. I remembered it differently." Then I merrily followed the wrong directions and had to high tail it southward on foot. Not that I wasn’t on time anyway, but curse you Google Maps! I shall never trust your smooth-talking ways again. At least, not until I need to find my way somewhere else in town.
But I digress. And you, for your part, probably want to know more about what’s being published in the Penguin May-August season than my own inability to remember locations (someone else has confirmed to me that this same thing happened to a friend of their’s who had an interview at Penguin… HA!). So let us begin. As per usual the room was filled with tables. Muffins and bagels and fruit and orange juice were provided. Bottles of water at each seat. Little Sharpie pens. Little notepads. Heaven.
I’ll go in order of the catalog since that is what I was taking my notes in at the time. But before I go any further, I should mention that the Prez o’ Penguin Young Readers Group, one Mr. Don Weisberg, opened the day’s festivities. And what did he speak about? The various what-a-great-team aspects one would come to expect in such an atmosphere, of course. But more importantly he gave serious props to former blogger and hugely huge YA novelist Jay Asher. Ah Jay. Your book (Thirteen Reasons Why, for the five of you out there who haven’t seen it) is the best beloved of the Penguin set. They can’t get enough of teens not getting enough of you. FYI.
All right, all right. Enough of the niceties. Down to business. Now I suppose I could write this in the order that the imprints’ representatives entered the room. But as I wasn’t paying particular attention at the time, catalog order it is. And lucky Viking with its Sharyn Novembery type stylings is how I shall begin. And ah one… and ah two…
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. We did not linger on Ms. Anderson. Not for a lack of love, of course, but because everybody loves it. And when everybody loves something, it’s good to go. More time was probably spent on the new cover of Speak. Don’t freak out, people! When I say "new cover" I’m not implying that they’re suddenly going to replace old reliable with the back of the head of a girl walking on a beach or anything. They’ve just made the plant in front of the face shiny. OOoo! Shiny shiny. And speaking of Speak (ing of speak-ing of speak-ing of . . .) it is remarkable that this cover came out 10 years ago and it’s still as good today as it was back then. Talk about a fairly timeless bit of art direction. Applause applause.
There’s a new llama llama in town as well. Actually, if any of you got the Penguin May-August catalog, this will come as no surprise. I actually do get a fair amount of requests in my library for either Llama Llama Mad at Mama or Llama Llama Red Pajama. Now Anna Dewdney cranks up the awwwww factor (dangerous work in her profession) with Llama Llama Misses Mama. Note the heartbroken child llama on the cover staring at falling dead leaves, contemplating his lonely lot in life. If we read even deeper into the cover we might note that the leaves aren’t entirely brown at all, but mostly green, symbolizing a youth and happiness cut short by the cruelty of nature/world. As Hegel might have said on the matter . . . what’s that? It’s time to move on and stop reading too deeply into llama books? *sigh* Fine.
I mentioned that Sharyn November was presenting at my table, yes yes? Well Sharyn has a book that she’s just the teensiest weensiest bit proud/excited/fanatical about. Here’s the long and short of it. You take author Andrew Chaikin, described here as "the Apollo go-to guy". You add in astronaut Alan Bean, otherwise known as the fourth fellow to walk on the moon. Mr. Bean isn’t just the kind of person who just jollies it up in space. No, he also happens to be one heckuva painter, and he has contributed multiple lush full-color paintings to a new book. The name of this creation? Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon. The book talks about ALL the Apollo missions, not just one here or one there. It contains quotes from ten astronauts that went there. There are photos. There are facts. Baby, this is the children’s astronaut book to garner some serious loving. One sniffs about it and acknowledges its lunge at a Siebert Medal, and perhaps other big awards as well. In any case, I loved the photo on the backflap that shows a very young Chaikin meeting Bean for the first time. Great stuff. Those of you who have a Penguin catalog will probably want to ignore the suggestion that the book is for Grades 3-7. I think we’re talking 5th grade and up here. Probably. A great complement to Catherine Thimmesh’s title Team Moon.
Another moon book, albeit a hair younger (or hare younger, tee hee) is Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell. I think the cover says it all on this one:
Hat tip to Delia Sherman for her sequel to the remarkable fantasy novel Changeling. Looks like they’ve gone all out cover-wise for The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. No surprise when you consider what the first jacket looked like:
and now this
Note too that they didn’t change the first book’s jacket for the paperback. (wish we could say as much for Savvy . . . sigh). At any rate, Ms. Sherman will be appearing in my library in early May to talk this title up, alongside authors Kirsten Miller and Katherine Marsh. Details to come.
And speaking of remarkable covers, we’re early in the game but one of the best jackets I saw on this particular day was a little something by the name of The Morgue and Me. Great bloody money shot on the jacket there (and for once I’m not whipping out the British slang). It brings to mind the hard-boiled detective novels I enjoy. The sole flaw is that my husband’s been indulging in a lot of Mad Men recently and so when I first saw this jacket I read it as "The Morgue Men". Which, thinking about it, may not be a flaw after all.
I was pleased to see that there’s a new "Up Close" biography in the works. This time it’s Michael Cooper and his Up Close: Theodore Roosevelt, also known as "the hot president". Or am I just weird?
Alrighty, enough of that. Next on the plate, Michael Green and his beloved Philomel list.
Now Patricia Polacco has tackled a whole range of issues, races, religions, etc. That lady has carte blanche on issue books, because she actually knows how to make them work. So I guess the natural next step was happily married gay folks. In Our Mothers’ House will be worth keeping an eye peeled for. I’m hoping that it’ll have more to say than just the usual fare, but I won’t know until I’ve a copy in my hands. At any rate, it’s a story that definitely needs telling (two moms and the kids they adopt) and I’m glad that Ms. Polacco was the one to step up to the plate. A couple of two daddy books exist, but not so much with the moms (Heather aside).
I am fond of author/illustrator John Segal. Ever since his The Lonely Moose I’ve been rather charmed by his gentle watercolors and seemingly effortless style. His newest endeavor Far Far Away! tackles a subject I’ve not really seen in a picture book before; running away from home. How many can you name? Runaway Bunny doesn’t count either. Now Michael Green was, to put it mildly, super enthused about this book. He basically read the whole thing to us, showing us original art from the title, mentioning that Segal was an SCBWI find. Whatever the case, it’s pretty cute. Something to look for.
Slob by Ellen Potter looked appealing. I confess to you that I’ve never read any of her Olivia Kidney titles. Slob has an appealing Rules-esque cover that I took too. And has anyone else noticed that junk food is making a real appearance on middle grade and teen novels these days? I was reminded of Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies (though I’ve always questioned whether or not an Oreo can really be called "chocolate" anyway). To say nothing of the donuts featured on the cover of Lara Zielin’s Donut Days. In any case, Michael made a strong case for this one, so I think I may attempt to read it.
At this point in the catalog we come across the newest Enola Holmes book The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer. I’ve already read it. It’s awesome. Nuff said.
If you’ve a copy of the ARC When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton you may notice that there is a blurb in the front by a saucy children’s librarian I know. Yup. I’m in the blurbing business, folks. That is, if the books deserve it. This one does. It’s a debut novel with a slow, steady feel that I admired.
At this point in the proceedings I must yet again fight an onslaught of guilt for not having read any of the Ranger’s Apprentice novels. Note to self: Alleviate guilt.
Dutton’s next on the list, and Julie Strauss-Gabel is our presenter for the day.
So. Let’s talk Jay. Alison Jay. She of the crinkly illustration. Alongside one Linda Heller she has a book coming out called Today is the Birthday of the World. Interestingly enough this book was offered as a Rosh Hashanah title, though that particular holiday is not mentioned by name anywhere in the text. God certainly is, but no specific religion. You know, I’ve never reviewed an Alison Jay book. I’m not sure why. I do enjoy her style. Julie told us that it is achieved when a layer of "crackle" is applied onto the painting so as to achieve the final look. It’s a kind of varnish that could go horribly horribly wrong if Jay applied it incorrectly. So basically, now I’ll be interpreting her books as dangerous. Awesome.
Stargirl began it. Eggs continued it. Now Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks takes it to its natural extreme. Yes, ladies and germs, it’s the return of the symbolic cover. Literally:
I think there may be a fair amount of people out there that misread this as Peace, Love, and Rubber Ducks. But it is by Lauren Myracle who we all love desperately. So that’s all right then.
Jean Craighead George is 88 years old and still cranking out the books. Note to self: Attempt to relive life of Jean Craighead George when you have a spare minute. Her new book The Cats of Roxville Station led to an extensive discussion at my table as to whether or not the real Roxville Station would have a much greenery as is visible on the cover. The jury is still out.
Here’s a request that I have actually received in the past. Once in a while I get a kid at my reference desk who wants something, for themself and not school, on the Goths. Or maybe the Huns. And try as I might, I’ve never really been able to find the right kind of book to please them. In the libraries of the world, if you’re a barbarian you’re either a Viking or you’re nuthin’. So really, Steven Kroll’s book Barbarians!, as illustrated by Robert Byrd, is going to be a bit of a relief. Inside are the Goths, Huns, Vikings, and Mongols. It also contains what I am going to declare (and you may challenge me on this if you dare) the year’s best timeline in a children’s book. So keep an eye peeled for that. No image available online, sadly.
A quick tip of the hat to whoever it is that designs the covers for Heather Brewer’s Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. They look so hardcore and badass, but inside they’re utterly "clean", so to speak, and good for kids not quite ready for gross vampire lore.
Dial here. Kate Harrison at the helm. And I need you guys to help me out with something here. Am I the only librarian in the country who’s getting constant Tedd Arnold requests? Maybe they’re just on the New York public school book lists, but Parts, More Parts, and Green Wilma are constantly flitting from my shelves these days. Now I see that Green Wilma is getting a sequel called Green Wilma, Frog in Space. Guess Arnold is jumping on the old spacey bandwagon.
YA alert: I don’t report on this kind of stuff recently but something about the author’s name stuck with me. Nick Burd has created a novel called The Vast Fields of Ordinary that YA guru Jack Martin called "Awesome". Mr. Martin says to that it feels real and that’s good enough for me. It’s about being a gay teen in "suburban Iowa" (to which one of my tablemates and a former Iowan asked bemused, "What is suburban Iowa?").
Who knew Babymouse would prove to be such a influential title, eh? I’ve heard a couple gn series called "the new Babymouse" but it wasn’t until I saw Ursula Vernon’s green and blue Dragonbreath series that I saw something that deserved the moniker (to say nothing of the mutual use of squids). The size is comparable and the pictures doggone adorable. Cute stuff. I’ll need to check it out.
Thoughts on Bridget Fidget and the Most Perfect Pet! by Joe Berger : Mary Tyler Moore as a young picture book character. There. That was easy.
My homeschooler bookgroup doesn’t like how your average homeschooler is portrayed in fiction. Either you’re talking to the trees like in Ida B or you’re living with insane people like in Surviving the Applewhites. So when I got a galley of The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank I passed it on to them for consideration. They are reading it right now, but after perusing the back one of my smart girls said, "I like the description. It doesn’t sound like she’s crazy." And the bar goes up another notch.
Did you know that it was a Chicago Public Library librarian that suggested to the Obamas that they read Dianna Hutts Aston’s The Moon Over Star to some kids in that photo op? Well done, oh unknown librarian. Making a recommendation like that is akin to catching a mythical large mouth bass on a fishing trip. It’s the recommendation we dream of making. Kudos to you, my anonymous fellow in the field.
Uh-oh. Razorbill (presented by Jessica Rothenberg). I don’t do YA so let’s just hit the points here quickly:
Prada & Prejudice by Many Hubbard = Great concept, fun situation (time travel to Jane Austen-era England? Brilliant), terrible cover.
Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow = I’m a little upset that my own name isn’t Lili St. Crow, now that I see it. I like the cover model on this one. Good cheekbones. She’ll age well someday.
The Secret Language of Birthdays: Teen Edition by Alicia Thompson = Baffling. I read the original as a teen constantly. With that in mind, I’m going to say that this book is (in spite of the word "teen" on the cover) for tweens instead. We should purchase.
Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley = Written by an optometrist. Which, obviously, is awesome.
Audrey, Wait = Clearly I’m far pickier about teen covers that middle grade ones. That said, I like the old Audrey, Wait cover. This new one looks like every other YA girl novel out there. Boo.
Okay, enough of that. Now we look at good old G.P. Putnam’s Sons. and who’s that sitting there? Why it’s Nancy Paulsen, of course.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons marks the only time that day I snatched at an item they were talking about. The item? Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. I like Mr. Christie fine, but his books do not usually cause me to snatch at them with the viciousness I exhibited on this day. No that honor is due entirely to Ms. Grimes. She has written an early chapter book with an African-American girl heroine. And now that I think about it, I had a woman in my library just the other day desperate desperate for another Nikki Grimes book. Her daughter had read The Road to Paris and wanted everything else in the Grimes oeuvre. This book would have been too young, but that’s proof positive of the woman’s charm. I’ll be reading it presently.
Good old Winston Breen. I mightily enjoyed The Puzzling World of Winston Breen and right now, as of this blog post, I am reading the book presented here: The Potato Chip Puzzle by Eric Berlin. It is very good. Sort of has a Gollywhopper Games feel to it. And since I’ll be part of Mr. Berlin’s blog tour, I am relieved to find it good. Be awful awkward if I didn’t, you know.
I just want to say here that Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom by Tim Byrd looks awesome. Coverwise, at the very least. And Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle by John Nez is a non-fiction retelling of the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who created an actual honest-to-god "Sky-Cycle".
Fact learned during the discussion of Tomie dePaola’s newest pint-sized 26 Fairmount Avenue autobiography For the Duration: The War Years: The man is a fabulous cook. Oh yeah? Well I’ll believe when I eat it (hint hint, Mr. dePaola, hint hint).
G. Neri, best known at this point in time for his book Chess Rumble, makes an interesting switch and has now written a YA novel called Surf Mules that involves contraband and Nazi surfers. From what I could gather from the catalog description anyway.
Fun compare and contrast. Here is Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford:
And here is Mascot to the Rescue:
Sufficiently different? Of course. But it’s interesting that a wall would be invoked twice when it comes to pint-sized heroes.
Following the huge success of the parody Goodnight Goon, Michael Rex continues this brilliant new series with, you guessed it, Runaway Mummy. Basic premise: Small mummy attempts to escape mommy mummy. We had a very interesting discussion about this book concerning parody law and the extent to which this story had to differ from the original. A lot of work with Penguin’s legal department goes into these little books (and I will be particularly excited to see Furious George when it comes out in the far future). Of course, my table had to start brainstorming future books Rex might do. Our best efforts ended up with Rainbow Flush, a play on Rainbow Fish. Mr. Rex, you’re welcome.
Around the time Puffin walked into the room I found myself writing notes like "I wish Scottie would say ‘Puffin in the HIZ-OUSE!’ just once". As that did not happen, I found myself at a peaceable table with Jennifer Bonnell.
We all like those lovely Puffin Classic with their authorial introductions and cool covers. This season we’ll be seeing Bram Stoker’s Dracula as introduced by Holly Black, with cover art by Tony DiTerlizzi. Also on the menu is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped with intro by Alexander McCall Smith. No word on who did the cover, though. And I’m a little confused on this announcement, so don’t quote me, but it sounded like they said that the next Puffin Classic would be a version of Wilde’s The Happy Prince (and other Wilde stories, I assume) with an introduction by Marcus Zusak. That could just be the vile mutterings of my balanced brain, however, so don’t quote me.
One of the more interesting rereleases involves Jean Fritz’s great historical series of unanswerable questions. You know the ones I mean. What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? Those books. Well at least four of them are being produced with brand new David Small covers. This is good considering how often these books still appear on school reading lists and, for that matter, how useful many of them remain. I’m sort of glad I don’t have to see a new cover on Fritz’s Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? title, though. I love me my Trina Schart Hyman. Then again, the interior art for all these books will remain the same, so that’s nice.
When the Speak/Sleuth titles were discusses I didn’t really perk up my ears until I saw some discussion of a cool sounding mystery called Rat Life. A cool sounding mystery by . . . wait a minute. Is that Tedd Arnold again? Geez marie, he does YA mysteries now? Trying to accept that the author of Hi, Fly Guy can switch gears and produce corpses that float in rivers and Vietnam vets is difficult, to say the least. I guess this came out before and is now in paperback, but I remain mildly baffled just the same.
And that takes us, last of all, to Grosset and Dunlap with presenter Francisco Sedita.
Things I learned in the course of this presentation:
#1: There is apparently a show out there called Super Why! that is very popular with kids. Huh.
#2: In some library systems the Who Was? series (Who Was Walt Disney? and Who Was Claude Monet? are the new ones) is huge and circulate like mad. Mr. Sedita didn’t say this. The other librarians at my table did. I wouldn’t mind purchasing them for my system if they’re fun and informative. Might be worth considering.
#3: The Camp Confidential series of kids has nice covers. Miriam suggested a recession-related version for the times in which we live called "Day Camp Confidential". Touche).
#4: I am still weirdly obsessed by the Magic Kitten series. There’s a Magic Puppy version as well, but the kittens are soooooo much stranger. Hypnotic even. When I go mad I shall wallpaper my rooms in Magic Kitten covers from ceiling to floor. Then just stare at them and sway.
Do not make Magic Kitten mad. She knows all about those thoughts you have at night and she isn’t pleased.
And then came a book that I need to read pronto. If I were a better prepared person I would read this book and produce a review of it in time for April Fool’s Day. Would that I were so quick on my feet. The title is Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual. Here are the reasons I am pleased with this book. First, it doesn’t say FOR BOYS all over the cover, which is key. Second, it’s all about pranks and how to do them. And I’m not talking about the old put-saran-wrap-the-toilet stuff. I mean replacing the water in the tank with vinegar and working in a baking soda mix so that when you flush the toilet the two mix and explode. THAT’s brilliant! It’s like The Anarchists’ Cookbook for kids (Penguin you are welcome to use that to describe the book in all your promotions… consider it on the house). On top of that, it would make for brilliant booktalking in the library, don’t you think? Best of all, the ad campaign will be in Mad Magazine. So smart. I was also amused by the fact that Sir John Hargrave says that he is the editor of "the world’s oldest humor website". Have we really gotten to the point where we can claim a website as "oldest"?
At this point in the catalog I like to look at the Costumes From Penguin Young Readers that you can apparently rent in some fashion. I look at all the characters and then think to myself, "I totally want to be at the birthday party of the kid who wanted The Stinky Cheese Man to be there." Oh the boggling of the mind.
Of course, there’s always a special guest at these events. Sometimes you know ahead of time who they’re going to be. Sometimes you don’t. And unless they’re Jon Scieszka and they’re sporting a shiny pate I’m not going to recognize them. Before the guest was announced, however, there is food. Wonderful pesto-laden food that I pounced upon in an unseemly fashion. I regret nothing. As I munched and crunched I happened to notice a woman wearing . . . . I’m at a loss with this one. I think they were sailor pants. I’m not sure because they had these awesome buttons and side fabric connections to the pockets that rocked. I admired them from afar.
Now those of you who read a previous Penguin Preview of mine should be experiencing a little deja vu. When Gayle Forman spoke at the last Penguin Preview I spent much of my time standing behind her in the food line admiring her Oscar the Grouch green furry vest, resisting the urge to pet it. Now, lo and behold, Ms. Lauren Tarshis was our guest and here I was admiring her clothes as well. Swear to howdy folks I am not a clothes horse. One quick glance at my lamentable closets with prove that much to you. But how can I help but note the stylings of the writer ladies?
In any case, Ms. Tarshis was the author of the charming Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree and her sequel Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love is coming out this May. It includes such details as having a crush on George Washington (and keeping a dollar bill to look at and sigh over in one’s pocket). And Ms. Tarshis told us about her learning disability she had while growing up and how she hid it effectively for so long. So she didn’t really read much in the way of children’s literature as a kid. As an adult, however, Ms. Tarshis went on a self-described kids book "bender". Best quote from her speech: "I speak in hyperbole." Whatever she speaks in, she was charming and I’ll try to read her newest when I get a chance.
And now I am pleased to announce the Book I Am Most Looking Forward To In The Coming Season:
Uncle Andy’s Cats by his nephew James Warhola
A strange choice? Not a bit of it. I’ve always felt that Uncle Andy’s is one of the more underrated picture books out there. Because when it comes to stories from your childhood, what could be better than tales drawn from your Uncle Andy Warhol? What I love about Warhola’s books so much, in part, is that he really humanizes an icon. It’s strange hearing that Andy Warhol had family that cared about him and visited regularly. It doesn’t jell with our perception of the man’s world. And then, on top of everything else, I like Warhola’s artistic style. I can’t wait to see this one. Guaranteed.
Best "Meets" of the Day: About Blade – Book One: Playing Dead by Tim Bowler: "The Outsiders meets A Clockwork Orange."
Runner-Up: About Nelly the Monster Sitter by Kes Gray: "Monsters Inc. meets The Babysitter’s Club."
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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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