Librarian Preview: Harper Collins Children’s Books (July-December 2009)
The preview happened a week or two ago in HC’s quarters on 6th Avenue. It’s a nice building. One of those places that has elevators where you need to type in your floor preference before you get in. It has taken me only 5-7 visits to get this system down. Once you’re on the Harper floor you merely bypass the cafeteria and turn right before you get to the gym. That’s right. HC has both a cafeteria and a gym. Read it and weep, other publishing houses.
The HC previews differ from those of other publishers in a couple of ways. First off, galleys are plentiful and abundant right off the bat. You walk in, look to your left, and there is a table stacked high with advanced readers copies of many of the books soon to be discussed. In the back of the room are similar tables with picture book f&gs. My strategy is thus: Find the authors you trust and the concepts that immediately appeal. Then work your way around the room, taking only those books. Once the actual discussions of the books begin you’ll have a chance to go back and grab what you need. This strategy has failed me only once. This particular day, actually. But I’ll get to that.
Food is bagel fare. And HC previews aren’t like the ones where you get to sit back with your orange juice and your pen and have the editors and marketing gurus come to you. You get a set amount of minutes at each table. When the time is up, you pick up your bag/coat/purse and move to the next table. This makes for good exercise, particularly when one’s bag is full. A smart person might think to, I dunno, put it against the wall so as to not keep lugging it, but brains are not usually my forte. Not in that way in any case.
After orange juice and a lively discussion concerning another publisher’s picture book (widely rumored to be the worst of the season and isn’t THAT interesting?) it was time to begin.
A Caveat: Since the last Harper Collins preview I’ve sold two picture books to Greenwillow, one of their imprints. I mention this not because I think that it will bias me in this particular publisher’s favor but because I can’t bloody well write about their most recent librarian preview without letting you know about it beforehand. Wouldn’t be right. So there you go. Out in the open. Not that there are any publishers in town whose previews I attend and don’t write about. But it seemed odd when I went to this one. Like I should come clean or something.
Anywho, I sat meself down at Table #4 right off the bat. Greenwillow.
Steve Geck (my wonderful editor) and Virginia Duncan were there to give us the skinny. Greenwillow tends to be particularly good at presenting original art at these previews. In the past they’ve whipped out art from their Anita Lobels, Ian Schoenherrs, Carin Bergers, etc. With the sheer proliferation of digital art on the marketplace this art was depleted slightly, but they still had a whole host of cool things to display.
First up, the cover of the new Last Apprentice title by Joseph Delaney. My homeschooler bookgroup has recently gone through a Last Apprentice fever. One kid in particular is so obsessed with the books that when I told her I’d seen the cover of the new one (orange and gorgeous) it was all she could do not to rip out my eyes for having seen what she could not. Note to Self: Try to appease livid child with a galley when they become available.
As for art itself, Steve had some pieces by Lynne Avril. Let me tell you a little something about this Lynne Avril character. She’s done 65 children’s books or so but clearly her heart was always with Amelia Bedelia. So when she was given the chance to illustrate some books written by Herman Parish (Peggy’s nephew) reimagining Amelia as a contemporary first grader, she leapt at the chance. Dude, she had the original books memorized. Can you say as much? THAT is dedication, my friends. I think I already mentioned these books last time I wrote up a preview, but I should mention that young Amelia Bedelia books aren’t easy readers. They don’t have a controlled vocabulary or an easy reader size. Nope. They’re picture books through and through. And coming out this December will be Amelia Bedelia’s First Valentine.
It puts me in mind of that recent Jezebel article A Glossary of Terms Inspired by the Ladies of Children’s Literature. One such term: "Pulling An Amelia Bedelia: The act of baking something delicious in order to makeup for a major screw-up at work." Man, ain’t it the truth?
Mystery Vine by Cathryn Falwell has a smart premise and cute idea behind it that may bode well for its future. The plot involves two kids who randomly plant a bunch of seeds, not paying attention to what goes where. They’re able to figure out what most of the vegetation is as it sprouts, but one particular vine has them stumped. It’s long and green, but it also has flowers. By the end of the tale it’s clear that what they are looking at is a pumpkin vine, but I like that the book takes the time to present the usual growing-a-pumpkin-story (one of the odder staples of children’s literature) in a new fashion. Falwell, in case her name is looking familiar to you, is responsible for Turtle Splash and Scoot, which my library has in droves.
Now the day’s trippiest book. I learned something at this preview. Something about the poet Edward Lear. You know the guy who wrote The Owl and the Pussycat amongst a million other things? Well apparently the dude had a thing for interspecies romances. I thought he’d relegated it solely to the realm of bird/feline romance, but clearly this is not the case. In The Duck and the Kangaroo, which has just been illustrated by Jane Wattenberg, there’s a bit of a love connection between… well, you know. The Wattenberg title makes the premise even stranger by having gone to Australia to photograph kangaroos (and, possibly, ducks) then photoshops them with big old eyes. It all starts getting a little LSD when you see the socks the duck sports in the story. Apparently Ms. Wattenberg’s friend knit them. Woah, dude. Woah.
Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner appears to be a mighty fine companion piece to Nubs by Kirby Larson & Co. We’ve been seeing quite a few true life stories coming out in picture book form for kids regarding animals overseas. This one is particularly fascinating. It discusses the push that was made to save the animals in this zoo after America invaded. Part of the story looks at how some of the people were sent to Uday Hussein’s palace to retrieve his big cats. Apparently he had a thing for big cats. When the people got there they found that the cats had been raised with dogs. So though they were all starving, at no point did any of the cats go about eating the dogs. Virginia Duncan told us other interesting tales involving the map you will find in the book and the difficulty it took to include one at all. She left us with a great quote from Major William (who, in addition to helping write it provided all the photographs), "God, I love the internet. Both the classified and the unclassified versions."
More art. This time for Sid Fleischman’s newest title The Dream Stealer. I was a little baffled by this book at first because the pictures are by Peter Sis. "How strange," thinketh I. "Who would pair Peter Sis with Sid Fleischman?" Oh, little memory. You trickle further and further away from me with every day. Am I so silly as to have forgotten the legendary Fleishman/Sis NEWBERY-AWARD WINNING pairing on The Whipping Boy? Apparently I am so silly. Just so silly. In this little Whipping Boy redux (I kid.. it has nothing to do with that book) the story is set in Mexico. Coming in at not quite 100 pages we discussed whether or not its page count would be important in terms of assignments. The general consensus seemed to be that non-fiction titles were more frequently held to such standards.
An egg timer gave off a sickly little thrum and I missed Mimi Kayden, who for so long took a strange electric pride in how loudly she could get her egg timers to tick (and, hence, speed up the conversations at the tables).
It was time for the audio-visual component of the day. The pride and joy of this preview, you see, is a new book from Adrianne Lobel, daughter of Arnold and Anita. Her book is also her father’s book. The Frogs and Toads All Sang was once a Christmas gift Mr. Lobel whipped off in 1964 for his friends Crosby Bonsall and George, a full 5-6 years before the publication of any of his Frog & Toad books. It was a delicate little thing, uncolored and placed in a box decorated in handmade paper. To my shock this very book, the sole copy in the entire WORLD in a sense, was passed about for us to handle. I felt the paper. Took note of its delicate little lines. It was rather humbling. I’m not sure that the skin on my hands has quite recovered yet. They still feel a little awed.
Adrianne has taken note of the original and in this new edition she has replicated her father’s method of illustration. She lays down her lines as he did. The colors went through a variety of different variations before the best were selected. Though she would tell you that the book has some of her in it, as well as him, having seen the two I have to say she has done a remarkable job of bringing her father’s work to life once more. In fact, if you have a copy and you remove the dust jacket, you will find that the book’s cover shows an image of the handmade paper that was around the original edition as well as a small print picture from that first little book.
But don’t trust me on any of this. Why not watch a video that says as much anyway?
That’s the stuff.
All right. Enough of that kerfuffle. The movie flipped off and here I was at Table #5 with Maria Modugno and the Katherine Tegan pairing of Anne Hoppe and Sarah Shumway. And what do they lead off with? Crazy alien abduction related snowman storytelling.
Honestly, alien abduction + building snowmen = potential for melted Betsy brains. What we’re talking about here is Heart of a Snowman by Mary Kuryla and Eugene Yelchin. The crazy thing about this book is that from the outside there is NOTHING to indicate the interior. I’ll level with you. When I saw this book sitting on the F&G table I passed on by. Thought it was just another heartwarming snowman tale of some fashion. And sure, snowmen are the ultimate winter holiday symbol. They owe no allegiance to any one religion. Except, perhaps, our alien overlords. Cause basically what we have here is Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman meeting Fire in the Sky (so to speak). Actually it’s not scary at all. Just looks at what it takes to make a good snowman. But you know me. Wacky plots drill their knuckles into my brain and never let it go, so you can imagine what this book did to me.
Colbert Report fans will dig this one. The number one threat on the threatdown? Bears who won’t go away. As in Never Ask a Bear by Louise Bonnett-Rampersaud, illustrated by Doris Barrette.
Here’s one that I didn’t initially pick up but that as I took it in looked better and better. You can bet I did a snatch at it when all was said and done. Dear Vampa is by Ross Collins, the clever coot who gave the world one of my favorite early chapter books Medusa Jones. In this picture book, a boy vampire explains to his grandpa in a series of letters the problems that he and his family are having with their new neighbors. The art is particularly eye-catching, with the vampires painted entirely in black lines with red details, while their neighbors are a veritable candy-colored confection. I also appreciated the position the mom holds in the cover, her hand held firmly to her own mouth. And as for the twist at the end… I certainly didn’t see it coming. Maybe a smarter reader than I would, but for me it was a complete surprise. Very cool.
So last year, I think it was, Jonah Winter went and wrote the picture book biography Barack and had it illustrated by one AG Ford. And it was a perfectly nice little book except that (like the similar Nikki Grimes / Bryan Collier title Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope) it had this crazy picture of Obama sitting in church with a single tear coursing down his cheek. I have an immediate and violent reaction against anything that reminds me of a black velvet paintings sporting a big-eyed children, and that was my first thought when I saw that print. Fast forward and now Deborah Hopkinson is coming out with Michelle, also illustrated by AG Ford. This looks far more promising. For one thing, I don’t know my Michelle Obama stories by heart, but I’m fairly certain that there aren’t any where she boo-hoos it in public for any reason. Plus, the book got in that dance she did with Obama when she was wearing a beautiful white dress. Cheers.
The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge. Actual note from the preview: "Woot woot". Woot woot, indeed. I have a copy ah-sitting on my shelf that has, admittedly, been sitting there a little while. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the biggest Frances Hardinge fan this side of the Potomac. You will not find a more stalwart ally and defender. Her Fly By Night? Brilliant! Her Well Witched? Creepy fabulous! But weighing in at a 567 pages… well, let’s just say that there’s a long flight to Chicago on my horizon and some trips before then. I’ll commit when I have the time. Trust me. I mean, to my mind she’s children’s literature’s A.S. Byatt. Who can resist that (and this book’s sentient volcanoes) for long? Fun Fact: It already has a star from Booklist. Well played.
Who likes Septimus Heap? You like him? Excellent. New Septimus Heap book on the horizon then. Book Five: Syren. And there will be two more in the series after this. Nice, eh? I made the mistake of beginning with #4. Don’t do that. Doesn’t make a lick of sense that way. Trust me.
Never Cry Werewolf will be coming out by one Heather Davis. This one had a good description behind it. Girl gets werewolf. Girl loses werewolf. Girl gets werewolf again. Nuff said.
Ding-a-ling! Table’s up. Moving on we meet the newest Harper Collins imprint currently in existence. It’s the double teaming team of Balzer and Bray. And Ms. Alessandra Balzer was indeed present with her partner-in-crime Donna Bray (at least for a little while). As this is their launch list they decided on bringing out a mix of new talent and old established names. And who was headlining this list? A new duo going for the gorgeous vote.
Harry and Horsie is written by first time picture book author Katie Van Camp and illustrated by first time picture book artist (and winner of the day’s Best Name Award) Lincoln Agnew. I’ve seen Harry and Horsie before. I’ve read it through. And it’s kind of ridiculously attractive to the eye. The story behind the book is kind of fun. Apparently Ms. Van Camp was unaware of the old never-pitch-a-picture-book-with-an-illustrator-in-mind rule. Yet as Ms. Bray said, had Katie not gone this route they might have never found Mr. Agnew. And what a find he is. The book works primarily with the colors red, yellow, and blue. It then incorporates a kind of strange Speed Racer-esque style except, y’know, artistic. It’s retro, but not in a cold adult way. Keep an eye on that Agnew fellow. He’s going places.
On the middle grade side of things, author Janice Hardy has a novel that caught my eye by the name of The Healing Wars – Book One: The Shifter. It was introduced with the statement that finding new things these days is difficult in the midst of all the vampires, fairies, and apocalypses. Amen to that. This book is "fast-paced" (their words) and about a girl who can shift pain from one person to another. It’s a kind of morality tale. Interesting.
The Everafter by Amy Huntley was one of the books I took back to my homeschooler bookgroup after the preview finished. And on the basis of the cover alone the kids went pretty nuts over it. It’s by an English teacher from Michigan (woo-hoo! Hometown team!) and involves a girl who wakes up to find herself dead. More to the point, she finds objects that she lost during her life, and those objects give her glimpses into her life. Slowly she comes to realize when it was that she died and that it was probably not due to natural causes. Sounds a little Our Town-ish to me. Jay Asher gave it a blurb, and I trust the man’s opinion, so it’s probably pretty good. We’ll see.
Gordon Korman fans will have something to rejoice this upcoming fall season. Pop is due out September or so and was inspired by Korman’s grandmother’s death by Alzheimer’s. He was also influenced by stories that have recently come out about football players who are encouraged to play through their concussions, which sometimes results in early Alzheimer’s. The story (which is YA) sounded like something Jerry Spinelli fans might dig. All I know is that I need to get back to my library and order in some more copies of No More Dead Dogs. I think we’re running low, and that book is always super popular in the summer.
Now the special news. If you’ve made it this far through this publisher recap I’ve been writing then you deserve a bit of a treat. Here’s some exciting 2010 news for you patient little cats and kittens. You know Mo Willems (course you do). You know how he’s been writing all those fun early reader Elephant and Piggie books that have done so well (course you do). I have news regarding Mr. Mo then. He’s gone younger, YES, younger. Starting in 2010 will be an all new toddler series, his youngest yet. Keep your eyes peeled for Cat the Cat, Who Is That? and Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly. I’ve read them. They are up to par. You will want to see them when they are available.
Other 2010 news, Peter McCarty has a new book that will be coming out then called Henry in Love. It is cute. That is all.
Balzer and Bray done, we move on to Farrin Jacobs and Phoebe Yeh. A couple books of note for you here. First up, I picked up the title Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps by Linda Chapman and Steve Cole because I liked the cover (yes, covers really are the mitigating factors half the time). But when describing the book, we were told that it’s a story that was either inspired by / seems like E. Nesbit. I found that interesting since Nesbit is not usually invoked these days. Edward Eager, sure. But Nesbit? Very interesting.
If The Amanda Project by Stella Lennon were not A) for teens and B) for teens I would be inclined to read it with the bookgroup I run out of my library. It’s one of those interactive texts, where there’s a cool online component just waiting for teens to log-in and play. Ah well. From what I’ve heard the site is still only in its beta form right now anyway.
Okay. So here’s my thing about DupliKate by Cherry Cheva. Seems to me that if a teen novel is written by one of the writers of Family Guy, this is a huge selling point. There should be big honking words on the cover that say, "BY A FRIGGIN’ WRITER OF FAMILY GUY!!!!" You should make it a big sticker on the side, and then make sure that the image seen there is ostensibly awesome. However, at the moment the jacket of this book (the story of which involves a girl falling asleep on her computer and waking up to find she has a computer generated double) looks like every other teen girl title out there. Wasted opportunity, I think. With some tweaking, it could have gotten an equal boy/girl readership. Just my two cents.
Book I Was Most Disappointed To Not Find a Galley Of: I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine. This makes sense to me. There are lots of those six-word memoir books out there, and they’re cute enough. I feel like this kind of idea fits the YA market far better, though. I alluded at the beginning of this post to the fact that on this day one of the galleys was gone by the time I got interested in it. Behold that very title. Behold too the sad little me.
Snap is written by Carol Snow, which means that when I glance at the cover I (like most native midwesterners) instantly see the "snow" and the "snap" and think the title is "Cold Snap". Funny how the mind works.
Archie and the Pirates by Marc Rosenthal is a return of a master picture book author/illustrator whose work I admire. And this particular book appears to be a kind of Curious George meets My Father’s Dragon with a handful of pirates thrown in for spice. Looks very fun. Phooey was one of my favorites back in 2007. It’s nice to see Mr. Rosenthal’s return.
Points to Ned Crowley and Larry Day. Since Sandra Boynton made the crossover, we haven’t seen many other Hallmark and gift card illustrators take the plunge into children’s book illustration. Larry Day appears to be the newest bloke to take the plunge and the result is Nanook & Pryce about two fellows ice fishing amidst terrible odds. It’s unlike most of the stuff I’ve seen out there. A kind of Far Side appeal surrounds it.
Brenda Bowen found Tess’s Tree by Jess M. Brallier (illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds) before she left Harper Collins. Apparently the story originally appeared on FunBrain (original home of such cartoons turned books as Diary of a Wimpy Kid). But even more than the origin, I like the story itself. It concerns a little girl who finds that her favorite tree has been cut down. We get a lot of requests for death books in the library, but none concern plants of any sort. This might be a nice all around title to suggest to people when they ask for something death-related but they want something other than Good-bye Mousie.
It seems strange that a picture book would have the "Grades 4 and up" designation attached to it. We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Rod Brown has its reasons, though. The book works to show the history of civil rights without whitewashing or glossing over some of the harsher facts. So the lynching section involves the action hanging of men. The KKK is pictured. These harsh but necessary images work to create a truer depiction of history. It’s not the easy way of making a book, but it might end up stronger in the end as a result.
Gear switch. The Shel Silverstein poetry collection A Light in the Attic has been due for a republication for some time. Now we’ll be seeing a Special Edition coming out with 12 all new poems included. HC has been working with Shel’s sister and nephew on this book, and there are even Silverstein pictures to accompany the new poetry. Rather exciting, particularly for those of us who grew up with his poems and still consider him the best of the best.
Finally, we come to the last table. Barbara Lalicki and Tara Weikum had a book or two to show us. First off, Faceless Ones by Derek Landy. As I looked at this title and author on my Powerpoint I got a little confused. Derek Landy… Derek Landy… why the heck was that name so familiar? Turns out, this new book is a Skulduggery Pleasant title. The third, if you want to get precise. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of a flameball tossing skeleton on the cover, so I got a bit confused. Still, Skulduggery fans should be pleasantly (ho ho!) surprised by this new release. It comes out Septemberish.
Finish the following sentence: Mike Lupica is to middle grade baseball as [blank] is to middle grade football. If you wrote in "Tim Green" then you probably got a higher SAT score than I did back in the day. Mr. Green’s newest football offering is Football Champ, a companion (as opposed to "sequel") to his previous novel Football Genius. And since we’ve surprisingly little in my collection for kids looking for football novels (yuh reads yer Matt Christopher or yuh’s outta luck), maybe I should look into reading this one and checking it out.
Sometimes I feel like monsters really haven’t gotten that firm a grip on the middle grade readership. There’s Monster Blood Tattoo, of course, but aside from that what other monster fare comes readily to mind for the older types? The Nightmare Academy books by Dean Lorey seem to be one such answer. And now that they have new covers they look a little older and a little more badass than their previous incarnations.
This next book shall simply be thrown at you entirely in bold exclamation marked statements. Ahem. Gloria Whelan! The Locked Garden! America! Turn of the century! Mental asylum! Cool cover!
Joseph Bruchac just doesn’t quite get enough credit for his horror fiction fantasy. Those of you who enjoyed his Skeleton Man will be pleased to hear that Night Wings looks to be very much in the same vein (though not related at all). I was kind of hoping, after looking at the cover, that the story might involve the wendigo. I find the wendigo to be a particularly scary creature. This is because back in the day I read one of those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and didn’t find any of them scary except for one. The Wendigo. I found the pictures on ALL of them scary, by the way, so don’t go thinking I was some pint-sized tough kid. Shoot. I totally got off track. There is no wendigo that I find in Night Wings. Back to the preview . . .
It’s the final Louise Rennison (which is to say, Georgia Nicholson) book and it’s coming out in October 2009. The title . . . the title actually wins that day’s Best Title Winner. Here it goes . . . .
Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?
Apparently they figured that since this was the last book they could put the word "basoomas" on the cover. In this title Georgia picks the boy once and for all. But weep not, Rennison fans. Your favorite author will be working on a new series soon. Such was the promise we heard that day. FYI, how weird is it that the online cover of this book doesn’t have the title on it? Weeeeird.
And finally, the wrap-up.
Best Meets: "Men in Black meets Monsters, Inc. meets Harry Potter" – The Nightmare Academy books by Dean Lorey.
Meets Runner-Up: "Mean Girls meets Tim Burton" – The Blonde of the Joke by Bennett Madison
Best Cover: I have a weakness for Bad Apple by Laura Ruby. Something about the color of the apple and the color of the lipstick. Dunno what it is, but I like it.
Filed under: Librarian Previews
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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