Librarian Preview: Albert Whitman & Company (Spring 2011)
Whew! Boy, am I getting this last one in right under the gun or what? Which is to say, before the end of January has passed. The new round of previews begin in February so I didn’t want to have any loose stragglers waiting about when I saw the new crop of 2011 titles.
A month ago Michelle Bayuk did me the very great favor of sitting down and showing me a couple of the offerings Albert Whitman & Company have on their roster. AW & Co. is a smaller publishing company than most of the folks I cover. Located in what I assume to be the lovely but currently freezing Park Ridge, Illinois (though who am I to talk?) the company is able to indulge in smaller more personal titles that the biggies out there. That’s why I like ’em. This season? No exception.
First up, their logical catalog begins with board books. There’s the usual cluster of previous titles turned into board books, like Alison Formento’s This Tree, 1,2,3 or Rebecca O’Connell’s Done With Diapers!: A Potty ABC. My eyes, however, were fixed on the new batch of books from one Martine Perrin. Already a hit in her native France, Perrin’s board books are entirely splendid from a visual standpoint. AW&Co. is translating and bringing to our shores two of her books for starters. The first is Look Who’s There, with a snazzy die-cut board book cover. The other book, What Do You See?, is reminiscent of the work of Laura Vaccaro Seeger with its visual cut-out puzzles. Very cool. Put ’em on your board book wish list then.
Next up, British author/illustrator Sarah Gibb also makes an appearance on our shores. Her version of Rapunzel should be out in March and it’s perfectly situated to appeal to those . . . fine. Those girls (I’m sure there are boys that like princesses too sometimes, y’know) who incline towards Disney-esque figures. This Rapunzel does bear some similarities, at least on the cover, to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty right off the bat. The title itself tells some of the tale in a series of silhouettes. They’re gorgeous silhouettes, though, showing things I’ve never seen before. Things like a perfect layout of at least four of the floors in Rapunzel’s tower (love the spinning wheel in one of the rooms). We all love our Zelinsky Rapunzel, but this one has some points to recommend it as well. I found some of the interior spreads online. Here’s a taste:
Doodleday by Ross Collins is by one of my favorite, potentially unsung authors. How many of you enjoyed his Medusa Jones? Anyone? Well I did. You may be more familiar with his recent Dear Vampa, which was great in its own way. In Doodleday, Collins follows the Henry and His Purple Crayon-esque adventures of a boy as the doodles he creates on Doodleday (a day when his mother specifically told him NOT to doodle) not only come alive but start to wreck havoc as well. Fascinatingly, Chronicle Press, Running Press, Macmillan, and Gibs Smith are all going to celebrate National Doodle Day on May 12 of this year. The day will be sponsored by NF, Inc., the National non-profit network servicing families and individuals affected by neurofibromatosis. I’ve never really heard of publishers gathering together to celebrate a single day before. Have you?
It’s the Harriet the Spy conundrum. That lesson all kids eventually have to learn about telling the truth and telling it slant. Which is to say, withholding the truth when it may do more harm than good. This is a pretty subtle distinction and one I’ve not seen in a children’s picture book (though surely someone’s tackled it before, right?). In this particular case the book is Princess Kim and the Too Much Truth. It’s by Maryann Cocca-Leffler as a follow up to her previous book Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew. Having learned that lying in bad in her previous book, Kim decides to take this newfound knowledge and apply it to her fellow students and family members. Kim’s the kind of kid I think we’ve all encountered before. The one who feeling morally obligated, nay, compelled to set things right by reestablishing what is true and what is false in the universe. The thing is, there’s truth and then there’s simply being mean. I betcha one thing. The Berenstain Bears never covered THIS little conundrum!
As I mentioned recently in my review of Manners Mash-Up, manners books are a genre in and of themselves. Until now, they’ve remained relatively unfettered. I’ve yet to see “The Princess Book of Manners” or “The Robot Book of Manners” or “The Viking Book of Manners” on my shelves (give it 6 months). What I am seeing, though, is Monsters, Mind Your Manners by Elizabeth Spurr, with illustrations by Simon Scales. The book sort of reminded me of The Cat in the Hat, at least when it comes to plotting. Monsters invade the home of some kids, who are in turn horrified by the bad manners and havoc that ensues. Inevitably the danger of any book like this is that a certain number of kids would much prefer to be monsters to polite well-mannered children, so the ending makes it clear that monsters don’t get the treat of bedtime stories before bed. Kids with manners do. Ah ha!
Tall tales are not the sole property of the better known folks like Pecos Bill and John Henry. There are obscure sorts out there, like Hal Halson, a tall fellow much like Paul Bunyan. In Teresa Bateman’s Paul Bunyan Vs. Hals Halson: The Giant Lumberjack Challenge (illustrated by C.B. Canga) appears to have some similarities to the epic of Gilgamesh in its plotting. High comparisons, eh? Best of all, it’s a tall picture book but at 11 inches it should still fit on most library shelves.
Will Terry. Who is this Will Terry type person? He’s apparently illustrated seventeen children’s books including The Three Little Gators and Armadilly Chili, but I know him not. I speculate on this because I’ve seen some of the art he’s done for Leslie Kimmelman’s new take on an old classic in The Three Bully Goats and I like his style. Kimmelman for her part has pulled a Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig on Abjorsen’s old classic. In this story, the goats going over the bridge are big time bullies, and it’s up to the purple mohawked little ogre to find a way to teach them a lesson. This I’d like to see.
I make a lot of lists at work on topics that folks ask about. If someone wants a train book then I print them out our list of train books. Ditto dinosaurs. Ditto princesses (I think you’d like how subversive my lists are). There’s one list in the mix that’s a little difficult to name, though. We call it the “Disabilities” list, though that’s not strictly accurate since it covers diseases as well. That might be one of the places where I’d put a book like The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies, illustrated by Kristi Valiant. In this story a mom has cancer at the beginning of the growing season and when the kids ask when she’ll be better the answer is that her treatment will be done when it’s “pumpkin time”. So it would be selling this book short to just relegate it to one list. I’ll probably add it to our Gardening list (the one that gets a lot of requests in the springtime) as well as my Autumnal list (specifically in the pumpkin section). It has, as you can see, multiple uses.
Kristyn Crow and Christina Forshay pair to create a rhyming (the catalog describes it as “hip-hopping”) take on The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The use of the term “groovy” makes me think the rhyming may have closer antecedents to beatnik culture, though the tortoise’s shell is far more late 60s, covered as it is in peace symbols. One point I really really liked about the book: At one moment animal fans are seen holding signs that say “Team Tortoise” or “Team Hare”. Topical. Funny.
Bully picture books are rarely as specific as You’re Mean, Lily Jean! They’re rarely as dead-on accurate too. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, the story is familiar to anyone who’s been in this situation (read: 50% of the siblings out there). Carly and Sandy are sisters that enjoy playing together. When Lily Jean (who is the age of Sandy) starts playing with them, she routinely relegates the younger Carly to demeaning and unimportant roles. Carly has to learn to stand up for herself if she’s to get a chance to play fairly with the bigger girls. This was so realistic a premise it practically hurt to read about it. Fun Additional Fact: Frieda Wishinsky is the aunt of Rebecca O’Connell, author of such books as The Baby Goes Beep. Small world, eh?
Here’s a request I got in my library the other day: Books about library reader/therapy dogs. Which is to say, those dogs that come in the library so that kids can read to them. We have a program for this in my system and it’s overwhelmingly popular. Kids that aren’t comfortable reading to judgmental adults will relax and really read better when alongside a canine. Well the latest edition in The Buddy Files by Dori Hillestad Butler (illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau and Dan Crisp) is coming out soon. In book five Buddy’s now a therapy dog and manages to locate a mystery in the school library. Some animal is wrecking havoc but it’s not one Buddy has ever encountered before. Indeed, it’s a strange creature that might raise the interest of someone like Gussie Fink-Nottle. Consider that a hint.
And that, for all intents and purposes, is that. A nice list and some books I wouldn’t mind taking a closer gander at. Thanks again to Michelle for taking the time to show them to me!
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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