Random House Preview: Notes From the Inside
Last Thursday I hauled my exhausted carcass from my bed at the ungodly hour of 7:15 (on days that I work 12-8 I usually get to sleep in a little) and high-tailed it over to the Random House building on Broadway for their Librarian and Reviewer Presentation: Fall 2007. You know, every publisher's preview has something to recommend it. Little Brown may wipe the floor with everyone else foodwise (and they do) but Random House wins for frequency. Every single season they pull out all the stops for a fabulous production. It's like watching a show. You plunk your tookus down in a seat and stare as imprint after imprint parades onto the stage to present a Powerpoint of upcoming books and titles. I've come to terms with knowing that of the books I think look fabulous I will probably never see them until they come out in stores. Lackaday.
First up was a bit of a surprise. A new imprint called Robin Corey Books presented by a Robin Corey (coincidence, no?). She's starting off nice with a new Sandra Boynton called What's Wrong, Little Pookie? Otherwise she hasn't quite found her core author/illustrators yet. The bulk of good books coming out this year, hands down, goes to good old Schwartz & Wade. Sometimes I'm not entirely taken with the seasonal selection of S&W, but this particular list seemed especially choice. First of all, the author of the book Riding in Cars with Boys has a picture book. I'll rephrase that. The author of Riding in Cars with Boys has a picture book and it looks fabulous. For Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary the illustrator is Barbara McClintock, which was quite a "get" right there. The book parallels the lives of two girls, one human and one a mouse, as they live near one another without knowledge of one another. Their daughters, however, meet near the end and a friendship blooms as a result. Ms. Schwartz (Ms. Wade was elsewhere) compared it to The Borrowers and there's some legitimacy there. Not the least of which is the fact that Ms. McClintock's style is not too different from that of Borrowers illustrators, Beth and Joe Krush. The book also apparently proves that there is a picture book trend this year concerning mice who go to college.
S&W also got their hands on a new Ana Juan. The author's unknown to me (Monique De Varennes, anyone?) but the feel and illustrations of The Jewel Box Ballerinas is typically gorgeous stuff.
There was also a book called Waking Up Wendell by April Stevens that is illustrated by everyone's favorite Tad Hills of Duck and Goose fame. Two points recommend themselves with this book. 1) The endpapers have a dreamy distance to them typical of his other work. 2) There's a scene where (I think) the cat is slamming itself against the family's bedroom door in an effort to get in. You see everyone in bed and as they look around in confusion while the words, "WACK-SLAM! WACK-SLAM! WACK-SLAM!" are punctuated overhead. My old cat used to do this. And I can attest that the sound was exactly the same.
Wendy Lamb then came up to talk about her own imprint's books. The term, "Volcanoes, vampires, and love," summed up her titles this season. First book, Night of the Howling Dogs, almost wins my award for Best Powerpoint Byline: "From a Scott O'Dell Award winning author, it's just another camping trip - until the tsunami." Oh, Graham. Somehow Mr. Salisbury could make you seriously believe that Hawaii was the most dangerous place on earth. If the Japanese aren't bombing you one moment, you're suffering earthquakes AND tsunamis the next.
Good news on the fantasy front. Peter Dickinson (Eva) at the grand old age of eighty has written a sequel to The Ropemaker. It's a 512 page sequel entitled Angel Isle (British cover featured here) and takes place 200 years after the first book.
Moving on, I came to the conclusion that Random House gets 30-some new editors every season. Why else would I not recognize these people? Well the Random House Golden Books division was mighty pleased to present a new Leonard Marcus title, I can tell you. It was described as the third in Leonard's series on the history of picture books. The first was Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon. The second Dear Genius: The Collected Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. And now he's created Golden Legacy which looks at, "How Golden Books won children's hearts, changed publishing forever, and became an American icon along the way." Veeery informative stuff. Mr. Marcus himself came to the podium and explained how the idea behind Golden Books in the midst of the Depression was to create affordable children's books for all. Many of the artists who worked on the books had fled Europe during the war. . . . or they fled Disney studios. Ho ho. Leonard went on to call the clever marketing of the books in drugstores as "democratizing". Businesses today should latch onto that lingo themselves. Some mention was made of the library community "vilifying" the books, though I can attest that NYPL is purchasing collected editions of the titles these days. Sidenote That I Didn't Know: Simon and Schuster were young Jews in the 30s who couldn't get jobs so they started their own company.
I got a bit distracted after this by, of all things, Happy Healthy Monsters: Grover's Guide to Good Eating. On the cover is Grover in his standard waiter gear with the now ubiquitous Elmo at his side. It got me to thinking. The cover just proves that even when a book references a classic Grover sketch, he just can't hold his own without Elmo anymore. What if they were writing The Monster at the End of This Book today? Would someone force the author to smuggle in some horrid red monster at some point? Oog.
We looked at some of the standard series titles, including a new Magic Tree House Research Guide called Polar Bears & the Arctic. After mentioning that polar bears eat more humans than any other animal, one of the editors said offhand, "The perfect book for your collection if you want to see an 8-year-old cry". Good sense of humor, those editors.
A big deal was made about a new fantasy series in town, and at first I wasn't interested. Read the byline: "When Max has a cryptic vision he learns that destiny has great plans for him." *yawn* Oh, and the name is The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry Trilogy #1). *double yawn* Then they started to describe it and it got kind of interesting. Author Henry H. Neff quit his high-powered job to become a high school teacher (!?) and wrote this book on top of all that. He also illustrated it and his illustrations actually look cool. But then I got thrown back to my yawns when I heard that it was set in a school like Harry Potter and worked in Celtic mythology. BUT, and here's the kicker, this is a book where the hero is not "The Chosen One". That would be his roommate. Our hero is, in fact, a kind of bodyguard instead. And that is why I may actually wish to read this book.
About this time editor Alice Jonaitis mistook The Awful Truth for Ball of Fire but allayed the error by talking up Dinosaurs by Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. Why should you care about yet another dinosaur book? Well I don't suppose you're hoping to find the penultimate dinosaur title for your collection, are you? This book has the most up-to-date information and covers (according to them) every conceivable topics regarding dinos. I was actually kind of excited to hear about this one.
No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer was another title I didn't much care to read at first (byline: "The story of a boy, a book, and believing . . .") but was described nicely in person. Set in Camden, N.J. (which according to the main character is the armpit of the nation), this is a title for the 9 to 13-year-old crowd in which a kid gets a Big Brother. A gay Big Brother, who the kid really likes but is worried that the bullies at school will find out about. No Castles Here looks as if it might have a lot to say about race and sexuality. We'll see if that's actually the case. I was pleased to discover later that A.C.E. Bauer is a Class of Y2Ker. Well done there.
Alongside The Wednesday Wars we've another Shakespeare-inspired boy book coming out this year. Jake Wizner's, Spanking Shakespeare was described to us as written by an author who could be, "the love child of Judy Blume and Woody Allen". Chew on that image in your mind for a while and then get back to me.
I was delighted to see The Listening Library folks troop up to the stage next. This is what separates Random House from other publishers. Because they let Listening Library do the spiel you get to hear about books from a wide wide array of other publishers. So check out what's coming out soon!
- I Am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. I simply couldn't be more excited.
- Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke. Looks like The Princess Knight gone novel-length.
- Garden of Eve by K.L. Going. A dead mom, but I like the author a lot and this one sounds really good.
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - Yay, hometown hero!
- Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine
- Who Discovered America? by Russell Freedman
Delightfully enough, Judy Blume as a new early chapter book out. A sequel to The Pain and the Great One, we now have Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One. This book has been paired with James Stevenson for the illustrations which is both a simple idea and a great one. And the gift bag, to my delight, actually had a copy of this in it. Score! Lucy Rose: Working Myself to Pieces and Bits by Katy Kelly is also coming out soon. So why the heck isn't Adam Rex doing the illustrations? He did the first two Lucy Rose books and then, suddenly and without warning, they've hired Peter Ferguson. I got nothing against Mr. F, but it seems a very odd switcheroo.
Bantam next had a hard time convincing the dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers that a book about rats was viable kiddie fare. For my part, Vasco, Leader of the Tribe by Anne-Laure Bondoux looked good if a bit familiar. Vasco = Rasco anyone? I was also a little surprised at the speed with which Kiss My Book by Jamie Michaels has come out. The premise is basically the Kaavya Viswanathan Story from her point of view. Actually, it makes for a fabulous YA novel. I can't blame Michaels for going there. I'm just a little awed at how quickly it's coming out, that's all.
And I'm actually kind of tentatively excited, against my will no less, by Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Abalos. The Templar Knights have never really appeared in a big-time fantasy novel. Surprising, when you think about it. I liked the idea of tying them into the Philosopher's Stone and I had high hopes for this book. Then the editor introducing it invoked the name of Eragon not once but TWICE. The kicker? When she said it was, "Part DaVinci Code and part Eragon". These sweet editors need to start adjusting their descriptions of these books for their librarian audiences. That kind of talk probably gets corporate bookstores and fellow publishers all hot and bothered, but you could actually see the audience cringe as they heard the dreaded "E" word invoked repeatedly.
Now I'm not usually lured by teen novels but when an editor described Before I Die by Jenny Downham as, "one of the most accurate views of what it feels like to fall in love as a teen," I was hooked. It's a dead heroine book (terminal disease, no less) but I couldn't quite tear myself away from that description. Next, without ever invoking the name of Rainbow Fish (branch #2 on the Triumvirate of Mediocrity), Leo Lionni's, Tico and the Golden Wings sounds at the outset like Pfister's original inspiration. Bird gets golden wings. Bird give away golden feathers. The difference is that when Tico gives away his feathers (ala Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince more than anything else) the ending makes it very clear that though he now looks the same as everyone else, his experiences have made him different on the inside. Reprints of this book have made Tico's wings look a dull yellow. Random House, then, is going to use golden foil to make the books as shiny and enticing as it was when it was first published. And since the word of the day in the marketing departments is "Shiny Shiny!" this manages to be both a good publicity stunt and entirely faithful to the original publication of this classic work. Janet Schulman's a smartie.
A Song in Bethlehem by Marni McGee is another nativity story, albeit a whitey white white one. The next Max & Pinky book is coming out (The Adventures of Max & Pinky: Superheroes by Maxwell Eaton) and I am horribly excited about it. I love those books! I was happy to see a mention of Sue Stauffacher's Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson. Unfortunately, since I've already reviewed the book, I could tell that they somehow failed to put the coolest paintings from its pages (illustrated by Greg Couch) in the Powerpoint slideshow. Tsk tsk tsk.
The upcoming reprint of Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree was just a delight to me. Look at that cover. They don't hardly make 'em like that no more. Some mention was made of the fact that Ray Bradbury was once friends with Chuck Jones and that they made a movie together. If anyone has any additional information on this, I'd like to hear it.
Edward Bloor has a new novel coming out called Taken. It does the idea of a "near future" right by placing its events squarely in 2035. That's the way you do it. None of this silly 2011 crap. The future should be within our lifetime but far enough away that when child readers reach it they are no longer children.
Finally, to round out the presentations, author Jerry Spinelli came up to the podium to speak. He called everyone "Bookies" and spoke about his Love, Stargirl, which is due on shelves this coming August. Spinelli, it soon became clear, is a natural born public speaker. He seems so laid back, but give him a question with a little bite to it and watch him tuck in. It was odd seeing him so soon after reviewing his other book out this year with Little Brown, Eggs. Still, he's was a good "get". Everyone, I think it is fair to say, had a remarkable time. So! Awards!
Some Good Covers: My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick - The byline read like a zombie novel but the title is just another vampire book. Why are there not any great YA zombie books? I'd show you the American cover but they haven't posted it online yet. Bother.
No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer. Actually, this is unfair. You really have to see the full cover, front and back, to appreciate it.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac - Listening Library introduced this one.
Worst Covers: A Bridge to the Stars by Henning Mankell. One of the editors loved it too. The problem is that it's sporting an adult font for the author and title and if it's "A magical mystery that leaves readers spellbound," then why not make it look less dreamy and more exciting? The American cover is not yet available for viewing online. Hopefully there is time to change their minds about it.
Most Familiar Cover: Wow. This here is a Lisa Yee lookalike. I didn't even know they made Lisa Yee lookalikes. Let's play a fun game now. Which one of these covers isn't a book by Lisa Yee. Look carefully now...
Did you find it?
Best Celebrity Lookalike On a Cover: With One Trick Pony by Daniella Brodsky (it's, oddly enough, Chocolat for teens via coffee) we have an Anne Hathaway impersonator.
They were selling this book by telling us that 75% of teens report daily coffee consumption. Really? Really really?
Best Phrase: Of illustrator Greg Newbold it was said that the artist, "Gives good Santa".
Worst Phrase: Ironically it was for the same book (The Barnyard Night Before Christmas) which some ill-advised editor mentioned had equal doses of, "hilarity and heart". *shudder*
Most Enjoyable Powerpoint By-line: I can't help it. I loved the one for Louise Plummer's Finding Daddy: "Mira opens a Pandora's box from the past and unleashes a horror of a daddy." So wrong it's right? Or just wrong?
Best Use of the Term [Blank] Meets [Blank]: I was a little disappointed this season. Last time I went to a RH preview they were pulling out the "meets" like it was nobody's business. They closest they got this time was a half-hearted "The Devil Wears Prada meets Ugly Betty". Which is to say... Ugly Betty. It was meant to describe Susanna Sees Stars by Mary Hogan. FYI.
Best Description of a Book: I'm not biased. Karen Breen herself said he was a remarkable speaker. Yes, Jack Linkey (or whatever his name is) described When Randolph Turned Rotten by Charise Mericle Harper so well that if they'd been selling copies before us I think every person there would have bought themselves a few. It looks great, sounds great, reads great, and is great. I. Want. This. Book.
Labels: Random House Previews