Librarian Preview: Albert Whitman & Company (Spring 2012)
Yeah, remember when I had that baby and everything looked like things were going to stay exactly the same, like nothing had changed a jot? Well, I’ve found at least one aspect of the blog that’s taken a serious hit since the arrive of the small Bird. Librarian previews. For some reason I just don’t seem to have the copious hours and hours of freedom to type them up that once I had. Mysterious. Now with five (I kid you not) staring me in the face I’m going to strive to get Spring done before Spring officially ends. Ho ho. Hee hee. Ha ha. And so on and such.
In conversing with the publisher of a different small press earlier this week, the topic of pubs that aren’t biggies like Random House or Harper Collins came up. And the general consensus seems to be that across the board small publishers are getting better and better these days. Take a look at Whitman. Twenty years ago would you have expected the sheer number of starred reviews they’ve been acquiring in the last few years? They’re not alone in their new success, but since they’re the little guys (not even based out of New York) I like to give ’em a cheer.
So to start off we’re going to take a quick peek at AW’s new YA line-up. I say a quick peek because that’s pretty much the only peek you can take. AW is new to the teen world, so their offerings are small to start. As you can see, though, they picked right up on what’s important in YA lit:
The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal is just your average everyday sexy lifeguard story. A beach read for teens, if you will. It gets even more fun when you discover that the boy in question has magical life guarding powers. I never knew that I wanted a book with magical life guarding powers in it before. Now I do and I am a better person for it. In the story a girl stays with her “free-spirited aunt” on the beach in Rhode Island and meets the fellow on the cover here. Oh, and apparently that boy on the jacket had to adhere closely to the look of the boy in the book. Otherwise it was a no go. Noted.
The other new YA of the season is a British import from the author who brought us Guantanamo Boy last year. Anna Perera’s The Glass Collector looks at the Zabbaleen people of contemporary Egypt. Our hero Aaron sorts through garbage waste. And when he’s kicked out by his family there’s only one job left to him. As the catalog puts it it’s “the most nightmarish garbage-collecting job of all.” You might not guess that from the cover, of course, which is rather lovely in its harshness:
Compare and contrast that with other jackets of this book published in other countries:
The difference is in the details.
Now let’s switch gears entirely and go as low age-wise as possible, short of going in utero. On the board book front there are two picture books that have been converted into a new format. The first is one that I’m sure you children’s librarians out there pull from the shelves for your displays every Valentine’s Day when the obvious pickings hath been picked. That would be Will You Still love Me? by Carol Roth. The other new board book is the book formerly known as A Wild Father’s Day. Worried that this would limit the book’s sales to a single day of the year, the title has now been renamed and is going by the board book moniker of A Wild Day with Dad. Both are by Sean Callahan. Both have the same pictures, though undoubtedly some have probably hit the chopping block between original and board book. Such is the nature of the world.
I’m sure I’ve probably shown you pictures of my little Bird going crazy for the board books by Martine Perrin, but just in case you haven’t seen a recent one:
Not staged. The kid knows what she likes. And what she is likes are the patterns you’ll find in this French lady’s work. Now Ms. Perrin’s Cock-a-Doodle Who? is coming out to accompany the previous titles Look Who’s There! and What Do You See? I was given a lovely French version of this latest title and it truly is a stunner, as the cover will attest. Known previously as Meli-Melo a la Ferme, this yet again displays the hardest working die-cuts in show business. Seriously, I don’t know how they cut out all the little bits and pieces in this book, and I don’t wanna know.
Senorita Gordita by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by Will Terry, pleases me in two distinct ways. First, I am delighted to see a folktale, particularly one based on The Gingerbread Man. Second, I love that the Gordita in question is a delicious lady with a wicked streak. Nicely done. All that would make this entirely perfect would be if there were a jackalope character in the book somewhere. Alas, I do not believe this to be the case. A pity. This would have been a good year to include one.
Following close on the heels of the success of This Tree Counts, Alison Formento and Sarah Snow come together yet again for the classroom curriculum-friendly These Bees Count! The book covers how bees make honey and help flowers, showing them at work on a variety of blooms. To keep the book as accurate as possible all non-seasonal flowers were excised from the narrative. They even employed fact checkers to make sure there wasn’t so much as a wayward mum. The book even mentions the current bee troubles, making it one of the more timely pieces. So there you have it. From trees to bees, as it were. Apparently Formento and Snow will be tackling the seas after this. Trees, bees, seas. If they do wintertime they could do “freeze”. And if they did Las Vegas they could do “sleaze”. Think about it, guys.
Speaking of classroom use (I was speaking about it at one point, wasn’t I?) check out First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden. Written by Susan Grigsby (with art by Nicole Tadgell) the title sort of says it all. Kids compete to plant the best peas. So right there you’ve got a picture book that involves a historical figure (though it’ll be a while before I can think of him without thinking of Jefferson’s Sons as well), a class project, and gardening. Lots of stuff to pick at there. Might be fun to pair this one with Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain.
Now Eric Velasquez, that there’s a great guy. I saw him speak at an Abrams preview once and the man’s just got a style about him that can’t be beat. Great speaker. Great art. I’d love for his art to get a little more notice too. This year he’s illustrated Ann Malaspina’s new verse picture book biography Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper. Just in time for Black History Month, the book follows the tale of the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal way back in 1948. Might be fun to pair this with Wilma Unlimited or my own personal favorite Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson. I’m all about the pairings today.
Folktale alert! One is never enough, after all. If Senorita Gordita wasn’t enough for you why not try The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan. This is the tale of a rich man who chooses to test the faith of a poor man. Written by Ann Redisch Stampler with art by Carol Liddiment, this is one of the reasons I like Albert Whitman so much. They’re not afraid to highlight folktales that aren’t known to everyone. Probably why Margaret Read MacDonald likes to publish with them as much as she does.
Valeri Gorbachev is a pretty recognizable name. Though not a household one he’s probably the best known Ukrainian working in the field of picture books in the U.S. today (go on . . . prove me wrong!). He’s also local to me (Brooklyn), a fact I had not known. Now in his first book with AW we have his How to be Friends with a Dragon. In this book a boy asks his big sister for some practical dragon befriending advice. There’s another book out this year about how to act with dragons, but I like the friendship idea behind this one. Plus it’s interesting to watch Gorbachev draw a human child for once.
The funny thing about Albert Whitman & Co. is that they aren’t exactly a new company. They’ve been around a while. And when you’ve been publishing children’s books for a couple decades you’re going to end up with some pretty funky file cabinets. So it was that the original art for the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books was unearthed. Last year we saw the return of Flicka, Ricka, Dicka (some books published with paper dolls inside, some library-friendly versions without) and the boy version, Snipp, Snapp, Snurr (ya gotta pity any kid stuck being called “Snurr”). This year Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Go to Market and the setting is oddly contemporary. After all, the girls are going to the farmer’s market after having grown vegetables to sell. Apparently there are plans for an exhibit in the Swedish American Museum in Chicago to show off some of the art as well, though nothing on the museum’s site as of yet.
When I conjure up the image of bears getting in trouble, two things come immediately to mind: Yogi Bear (NOT the gawdawful CGI film, thank you very much) and Daniel Pinkwater’s bad bears. Well Kay Winters (The Teeny Tiny Ghost!!) and Katherine Kirkland have paired up to create some stories in a Mercy Watson style. Pete and Gabby: The Bears Go to Town stars two bear cubs who wreck unintentional havoc in a small town. Less malicious than Pinkwater’s bears, these two are a pretty good approximation of what could have happened in Blueberries for Sal if Sal had also been a bear cub.
Buddy fans rejoice. Dori Hillestad Butler’s crime-solving reading therapy dog is back and it’s time to solve a mystery that’s been haunting the school for quite some time. Literally. The Buddy Files: The Case of the School Ghost answers a question that has been launched at Ms. Butler for quite some time by her eager fans.
In 2011 I was pleased to see a marked upstick in the number of early chapter book series starring African-American boys. It was a vast improvement. Unfortunately there’s still a lot of work to be done. For instance, how many early chapter book series can you name starring boys (or girls for that matter) of Hispanic heritage? Right now the closest I can come up with is the Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benitez. The fourth one, Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash, is coming out and in it Freddie loses his amazing shoes that give him his superpowers. I’ve always seen this series as a kind of Greatest American Hero series for kids (“Believe it or not I’m walking on air . . .”) And children’s literary bloggers should be very pleased to note that the catalog lists this book and makes special mention of the fact that Freddie Ramos #1 won a Cybils award for best short chapter book.
An Albert A. Whitman preview is never complete without a little Boxcar Children action. Undoubtedly their most popular product, many is the children’s librarian who has had to deal with kid completists complaining wildly about the fact that some of the earliest books in the series are hard to get. That’s because they’ve sorta been out of print for a while. No longer, though! Now the earliest books in the Boxcar series are slated to come out in both hardcover and paperback simultaneously. They’ve even got some fancy new covers going on. Here’s #1:
Awwwwww, yeah. It’s all coming out in May of this year. That’s when the first four come out. In the fall we’ll see numbers five and six PLUS a brand new, bright and shiny PREQUEL by none other than the esteemed Patricia MacLachlan. Fun Fact: In writing the new book (a daunting task for any writer) MacLachlan referred to herself as “a co-conspirator with Gertrude [Chandler Warner]”.
Finally, we haven’t had a funny series about a kid with divorced parents since the dawn of Amber Brown (when is that series going to get a revamp, by the way?). It’s nice that AW is continued to republish the old Anne Warren Smith series starring Katie Jordan. This is fun, watch this.
I love that she’s clutching her forehead in both. The universal sign of exasperation.
It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes those old jackets get a serious revamping. Best of all, Smith has been willing to publish new books in the series as well. Hence the appearance of Bittersweet Summer:
Oh, it’ll go out. You bet.
And that’s the long and short of it folks! Many thanks to Michelle Bayuk for taking the time to sit down with us and show the wares.
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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