Reporting: Little, Brown and Company Fall 2009 / Winter 2010 Librarian Preview
The publishing world isn’t too different from the world of shopping for clothes. Just when you’re getting comfortable with one season, they whip out a whole new one that’s way too far in advance for you to get excited about. While I’m looking at swimsuits, this publisher has nubbly fall sweaters for me to try on.
Little, Brown and Company worked its magic and got a sweet little room in the Yale Club for their Fall 2009 / Winter 2010 Librarian Preview the other day. You read that right. Enough of this Spring nonsense. What we want to know is what will be on our shelves come November. That’s where it’s at, babies!
In brief – Shoe Report: Victoria Stapleton was wearing a class set of light lavender heels, setting off her classy black ensemble. Food Report: Real Coke, none of that diet nuttiness, was present and copious. The other stuff was tasty too, but you can see where my loyalty lies. Art Report: Art from the various picture book on the list was up and viewable. I was particularly pleased to see images of Chris Barton (of Bartography)’s new picture book Shark Vs. Train. It’s very fun art. Silly and strange all at once.
Now each Little, Brown Librarian Preview has one super secret special guest. Last time that was turned into TWO super secret special guests (Sherman Alexie and Peter Brown). And now there was that precedent to follow, naturally it made sense to continue in the same vein. So the first guest to speak right at the start?
This marked the very first Little Brown preview where a guest was announced, a big important FAMOUS guest no less, and I was pulling a blank. Darren Shan . . . Darren Shan. Forgive me but I’m a children’s not a teen librarian and nothing was helping me out. I started to reel in the clues. Let’s see here . . . the guy appears to be wearing a black Beatles t-shirt beneath a khaki green hoodie. He is Irish (though someone next to me claimed it was a South London accent, so clearly opinions differ). Seems to know how to work a crowd. Has just mentioned something about vampires . . . . ah.
Clearly he is Stephenie Meyer.
No, wait! No! Of course, it’s Darren Shan, author of the Cirque du Freak books! The books that they are about to turn into movies, thereby marking Little, Brown as the #1 publisher of all things blood sucking. This is a big important dude, and here I am not quite knowing anything about him. Which was a fine way to see him, as it turned out, since he was pleasant to listen to. He told us that when he was first publishing he expected librarians to really object to his books. So he worked out an eloquent defense that he’d use whenever he got in a tight place . . . and then he discovered that librarians loved his books and he never got a chance to use it. Until today! Naw. I’m kidding you.
Fans of Cirque du Freak will be pleased to know that Mr. Shan is working on a four book series (a prequel? Hard to say) about Mr. Crepsley. According to Shan there is much material there to work with. Shan is also working on a new book which he says is his most positive . . . though it does involve a boy who wants to be an executioner. There will also be two characters in the book based on The Duke and The King from The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn. These two will be named Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush, because subtlety is clearly this man’s middle name.
Best line: "If you want to tell a positive message you have to slip it in behind a wall of blood and guts."
Then it was time for the official preview. I was good this time too. When they handed out the full-color Powerpoint pages I made extra sure to mark each editor and the books they presented. Twenty more presentations like this I may even get it down to a science!
In a rare unprecedented moment never before SEEN at a librarian preview, Victoria Stapleton, marking guru, began the day by presenting a book herself! And amusingly enough, it was a little picture book called Birdie’s Big-Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim. First Victoria mentioned that when she was ten she adored her The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber (approving murmurs from the crowd), James and the Giant Peach, and All the President’s Men. She was that kind of kid. And when she was young and she had a new pair of shoes (sotto voce) "I went to sleep with them." In this book, a girl discovers her mother’s closet to be akin to "the treasure house of King Solomon," proof enough that Birdie does not live in New York City. It looks cute, and the art was up for our perusal.
And then the editor began their movements about the room. First up: The lovely Alvina Ling, who happens to run the blog bloomabilities. Alvina was covering a lot of YA. Now, because Little, Brown has such a small seasonal list I’m willing to cover YA more in this library preview round-up than I might in others. I won’t review them, per say, but I’ll sum the buggers up for you if you like.
One cover worth noting: Happyface by Stephen Emond. In a mix of prose and image, author/artist Emond has created an integrated graphic text for the 12 and up range. They’re selling it as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid for teens." So there you go. While discussing the book Alvina passed out the artist’s sketchbooks where he came up with the characters. These proved to be so interesting that there was some talk about how Little, Brown should really print the sketchbooks as their own separate titles, spiral bound spines and all. As for the book jacket of the actual title, it’s a little misleading. Around this book will be a 1/2 jacket that, when removed, shows a sad face mouth beneath the happy one. Slick. Edmond is the author of the graphic novel Emo Boy as well.
Everyone’s favorite Jennifer Hunt joined us next. And right off the bad she brought up Assistant Editor T. S. Ferguson (who writes on the blog Must Love Books) and his new baby of a book, The Hate List by Jennifer Brown (also debuting). This is a 15 & up (an interesting distinction) tale of a school shooting from the shooter’s girlfriend’s point of view. She’s the one who comes up with the list that eventually becomes his targets, but when she saves one of the people on the list (and gets shot in the process) she becomes both victim and villain. It sounds good, but I particularly like that cover. The stark photograph lines evoke an almost early 70s feel (could be the Godspell-like teardrop), but with that blue font against the gray, it’s memorable. It stands out from the crowd, and I appreciate that. I do wonder at the proliferation of school shooting books coming out right now. The only thing I can figure is that we’re looking at the 10th anniversary of Columbine this year. Maybe that’s the connection.
Sara Zarr fans rejoice: Her new book Once Was Lost is due out October 1st. There were even unbound galleys available. Now let’s take a close look at this cover:
Help me out here, people; what kind of flower is that? Is that an anenome? I didn’t think so. Whatever it is, it’s cool.
This was described as a more plot-driven book than Zarr’s previous titles. In it a preacher’s daughter lives in a small town, and then a small girl goes missing. Basic themes include loss of faith, what is family, etc. It’s yet another book involving church, one of the many titles with this focus I’ve been seeing on the market lately. However, this appears to be less about religion itself and more about the culture surrounding religion. Youth groups and the like. Interesting.
It seemed strange to present The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand right after Zarr’s book because while one is about a girl in a small town where a young girl disappears, this other book is about a girl in a small town where a young girl disappears and then is found dead. Note to self: If I one day have a young girl, do not move to a small town with her.
Editor Kate Sullivan was next and this was her very first preview. She moved to Little, Brown from Walker/Bloomsbury two years ago and the first book on her list was one I’d heard about earlier this year and was very intrigued by. Now I generally don’t pick up YA novels, but Ash by Malinda Lo was one of the few exceptions I made this day. As Kate described it it’s a, "Robin McKinley-esque retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist." But rather than making the central conceit whether or not the main character can come out, the choice here is whether or not the main character can choose love. The ARC is one of the classier little constructions I’ve seen. It actually feels good to the touch. Substantial. Thick and intriguing. Malinda Lo has previous worked for the website afterellen.com.
And I see from my notes that I never said who was talking up this book, but if memory serves it was Kate who also mentioned this title. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl has a cover to die for (love the font) and a massive 628 pages to its name. In it, this debut writing team duo has produced a book that we were told will have you seeing "the spanish moss growing on your bookshelves." The South isn’t just the setting here. It’s practically its own character. As she described the plot (at 16 the main character will be "chosen" for good or evil, plus there’s a pre-destined love) it sounded like nothing so much as the Little Big of the south. There’s some making out but no sex or drugs. Hence the 12 & up age designation.
Next up, editor Liza Baker. Word on the street is that they’ve made a picture book version of the book Dewey by Vicki Myron. I was unaware that the original title wasn’t a children’s book to begin with. It’s your basic cat dropped in a book return slot-type deal. Interesting Note: Meryl Streep will be playing Ms. Myron in the movie. Lucky girl. Ms. Baker also discussed the Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. The paintings are by James McMullan a.k.a Jim McMullan a.k.a. the man who brought you I Stink, I’m Strong, I’m Dirty, etc. Apparently "James" is his grown up name, though, since the pictures here veer between Wyeth-esque landscapes and your basic cute watercolors. Apparently McMullan created the theater posters for Lincoln Center and so he and Ms. Andrews (is she not going by Andrews Edwards anymore?) had much in common. This is the first title that Little, Brown and Co. are bringing out by Ms. Andrews. It’s strange that I’ve never run into her. I’d like to. It’s not as if she isn’t around.. I mean she shows up at Books of Wonder and ALA Conferences all the time. Clearly I’m just lazy.
Oh. Ms. Baker also presented a little unprepossessing book by the name of Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace. This may also someday be known as The Only Tolerable Picture Book About World Peace Ever Made. I mean that truly. Combine world peace and picture books and usually you end up with something dripping with sun-filter shot photographs and sentences like "Peace is giving a friend a kiss." Oop aack. Proimos seems to have come up with something that is actually useful, and (more importantly) actually really funny. I’ll need to give it a thorough reading later, but anything that’s describes as having a "Calvin and Hobbes aesthetic" is definitely on the right track.
Andrea Spooner, sporting on heckuva awesome necklace, then showed us Jane Simmons’ first middle grade novel Beryl: A Pig’s Tale. You remember Simmons, right? She does those Come Along, Daisy type books. Cute stuff. In any case, it appears that she’s going the Kevin Henkes route and making the crossover to full fiction (though Henkes, for whatever reason, never seems to do his own covers). Described as "The Bambi of pig books" (murmurs at the table queried whether or not there’d be a dead mom at some point) this is the story of an escaped farm pig who befriends a wild pig. It looks like it might be a good Charlotte’s Web aged tale, and certainly I haven’t seen many animal books for kids this year. Have you? I’ve seen We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes and . . . um. . . . does Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon count? Seriously, where are all the books from an animal’s point of view for 2009? Can you guys think of any? Cause I’m coming up blank. And truth be told, Beryl doesn’t really count either since it’s slated for (get this) March of 2010. I kid you not. They like their long lead times, them Little Brown & Co. folks.
Andrea also brought up the picture book that is, to my mind, Little, Brown’s best bet at an upcoming Caldecott. Behold the glory that is the cover of The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney!
The cover makes even more sense when you open it up and see what the lion’s looking at on the back. Based on the Aesop fable, this is a mostly wordless picture book (in terms of a narrative anyway) retelling of the old tale. Lion catches mouse, lion frees mouse, lion is caught in trap, mouse frees lion, the end. Pinkney has taken the liberty of setting this in the plains of Africa where, y’know, lions actually live. Usually this story takes place in the jungle, so it’s kind of shocking to see it in an accurate setting. This may be Pinkney’s best work yet. Dunno. I need to review it sometime. I also need to figure out if there are owls in Africa. Research to be done, people.
And last, but by no means least, editor Nancy Conescue sat down and proceeded to regale us with tales of earless dogs. One earless dog, actually. Apparently authors Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery couldn’t get enough of real life dog tales after they finished that picture book Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina last year. Now they’ve come back with Major Brian Dennis to present Nubs: A Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle. Why is the dog called Nubs? Because that’s all he has left of his ears. Nubs. It’s just your basic saving a dog in Iraq tale. Apparently Major Dennis was offered the chance to appear on Oprah or Ellen and he went with Ellen (she just keeps coming up today, doesn’t she?) because he felt she was more of a dog person.
Nancy also introduced The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow by Tim Kehoe, an actual inventor turned middle grade author. I’m a little worried about its brown cover, though. In my experience, no matter how cool the text inside (ex: Here Be Monsters) kids do not like to pick up brown books. This is a fun boy inventor tale, however, with a 4-color invention notebook inside (bound in such a way that it will be "library friendly") so I hope my fears turn out to be founded on nothing.
Oh. And by the way, there’s a sequel to Fanny by Holly Hobbie coming out soon called Fanny and Annabelle. It didn’t make the Powerpoint list but I just love Fanny so much that I had to tell you about it. On the subway the other day I saw a little girl reading Fanny to her mother. In New York I sometimes see kids with books on the subway, but they’re rarely picture books. This was a rare exception, and I found it memorable.
Now we come to the second super secret guest part of the day. I should probably confess something. At this point I was thinking I was seven kinds of slick. You see, I turned to the end of my Powerpoint sheet and saw that there were little mentions of This Book is Not Good for You by Pseudonymous Bosch and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (the third!) by Trenton Lee Stewart. "Gee," think I, "why are these here? Could it be that Pseudonymous Bosch and Trenton Lee Stewart are one and the same? Could it be that he is our super secret second guest and he’s going to waltz in the door any moment?" Gleefully I rubbed my hands together (I actually do this sometimes) and downed the rest of my real Coke in anticipation. I even wrote in my margins notes to myself asking if I could reveal the identity of Pseudonymous Bosch or if that would be considered a no-no. I was that cocky.
Yeah. It wasn’t Trenton Lee Stewart. That’s the sad news. The happy news was that it was none other than our very own, and very local, Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman! Megan Tingley introduced her, saying that they’d been working together for the last twenty years. That ain’t nuthin’ though. Apparently Ms. Hobertman has been publishing with Little, Brown for fifty (count ’em) 5-0 plus years. Her first book was with with LB&Co. back in 1957. That is what they call in the business "company loyalty". These days you usually only run across sit with Greenwillow and the like. Impressive.
Ms. Hoberman is actually coming out with her very first middle grade novel this year, you know. It’s called Strawberry Hill and Tingley compared it to Ursula Nordstrom’s novel The Secret Language, which I thought was a pretty smart comparison to make. Ms. Hoberman then took the podium, and after calling Megan her "little gopher" she talked about one of the things she learned about galleys. You see, she’d never had a middle grade galley before, so when she saw the all-pink cover on the VERY early ARC of her book she was baffled. It looks like nothing so much as strawberry ice cream, and if you were to look at it in a bookstore I’m sure it would strike you as very nice, but not the kind of cover you’d actually want. She didn’t realize it was a working cover, a problem rectified swiftly once she stated her complaint. Originally the book was started as an adult memoir, but it gradually morphed younger. Then she told us some stories about making dice out of tar during the Great Depression and it was time to have our books and posters signed. I was due on my reference desk at 3:00 and it was already 2:45 (my workplace is about three blocks from the Yale Club) so I bee-lined it towards the front of the room, and Ms. Hoberman signed a book for me. She also asked if I had ever read Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield which I have (I’ll tell you about it someday) and she was pleased. Understood Betsy, in the hiz-ouse!
All in all, a lovely preview. I await the next one (if not the long recap… oy!) eagerly.
Best Meets: "Libba Bray meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." – Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
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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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