Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature
It’s that time again! Because my day job actually consists of buying adult books, not children’s, I am privy to a whole different slant on how children’s literature is perceived by the wider publishing world. What assumptions do adult authors make of our profession? How do books for children affect the cultural conversation? I don’t know if the titles featured here today will give you any answers. At the very least, they’ll tweak your curiosity.
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
Oh, this June 2017 release is getting a very strong push. The author wrote Three Junes, a book that remains well and truly beloved. There are a lot of folks out there saying it’s going to be a huge hit, so you better hear the plotline from me first. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From the beloved author of the National Book Award–winning Three Junes: The unusual bond between a world-famous children’s author and his assistant sets the stage for a richly plotted novel of friendship and love, artistic ambition, and the power of an unexpected legacy
When the revered children’s author Mort Lear dies accidentally at the Connecticut home he shares with Tomasina Daulair, his trusted assistant, she is stunned to be left the house and all its contents, as well as being named his literary executor. Though not quite his daughter or his wife, Tommy was nearly everything to the increasingly reclusive Lear, whom she knew for over forty years since meeting him as a child in a city playground where Lear was making sketches for Colorquake, a book that would become an instant classic. Overwhelmed by the responsibility for Lear’s bequest, she must face the demands of all those affected by the sudden loss, including the lonely, outraged museum curator to whom Lear once promised his artistic estate; the beguiling British actor recently cast to play Lear in a movie; and her own estranged brother. She must also face the demons of Morty’s painful past—the subject of that movie—and a future that will no longer include him. A visit from the actor leads to revelations and confrontations that challenge much of what Tommy believed she knew about her boss’s life and work—and, ultimately, about her own.
I’m going to give Glass this one: Colorquake is a good name for a picture book. And you can’t copyright a title so if any of you out there want to write a book by that name, go for it. In the meantime, keep an eye peeled in case someone tries to adapt this to the big screen.
Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created by Laura Miller
I feel a little bad only telling you about this book now. Had I mentioned it before the holiday season, I bet a number of you could have given it to those hard-to-buy-for relatives and friends. It apparently covers the usual (Middle-earth, Oz, Narnia, etc.) and the new. As Kirkus put it, “for every Nineteen Eighty-Four or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, there is an Egalia’s Daughters, a feminist satire by Norwegian Gerd Mjoen Brantenberg, or a Lagoon, a work of science fiction by Nnedi Okorafor set in Nigeria”. A show of hands; who wants to read Lagoon now? To the library!! And extra points to the book for including Abigail Nussbaum’s tribute to Tove Jansson’s The Moomins and the Great Flood.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016, edited by Rachel Kushner
The Story People by Heather Kaufman
Pair this one with A House Among the Trees for its set-up. A children’s book illustrator visits a used bookstore beloved in her youth and falls for its lonely proprietor.
Demon by Jason Shiga
Ah. Okay. More of a word of warning to the wise on this one. Many of you, like myself, probably fell head-over-heels in love with Shiga’s children’s book Meanwhile. And this book really really looks like it has the same drawing style. Because it does. Completely. But this ain’t a book for kids. It’s wonderful, but NOT for the younger set. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Power of Mercury: Understanding Mercury Retrograde and Unlocking the Astrological Secrets of Communication by Leslie McGuirk
Children’s author McGuirk is probably best known for her cute books about a little white dog named Tucker. Were you aware that she was an astrologer as well? The more you know.
The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost by Donna Freitas
Hey, Donna! That’s my girl! Sure she was more YA than children’s, but she had at least one middle grade to her name. When she wasn’t publishing utterly fascinating adult titles like this one, of course. I miss her. Happy to see she’s keeping it interesting. This book looks so good.
The Natural History of Edward Lear by Robert McCracken Peck
Okay. Just color me blindsided. I had no idea that Edward Lear was particularly good at not just coming up with kooky limericks and poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat” but scientifically accurate renderings of the natural world as well. And there are 200 of his illustrations included in this book! Wow. Just . . . wow.
Amiable with Big Teeth by Claude McKay
After too long a time, McKay’s manuscript (discovered in 2009) is finally being published. Check out that cover too. I may be wrong, but that looks like a Sean Qualls cover to me, if ever I saw one. Brilliant choice.
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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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