Fuse #8

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Little Brown & Co. Fall/Winter '07 Preview

A deeply depressing affair. Not due to the food, of course. Nor the drink. Nor the books, the editors, or the special surprise guest. No, this was a deeply depressing affair because Little, Brown & Co. are scheduled to pick up and move away from their beloved Time/Life building on 6th Avenue (right across the street from Radio City Music Hall) and no longer will I be able to hop on over some 3 blocks from my place of work to attend. So as I took a turn about the hallways spotted with awesome framed photos and articles from Life Magazine, I couldn't help but find my spirits sinking. I mean, they're toilets are pure black. How many of you have ever sat on a jet black toilet? Huh?

You know what raises spirits faster than anything, though? Thick, chewy, delicious cookies of at least six different persuasions. That and Victoria Stapleton's shoes. Those of you familiar with Ms. Stapleton know that her footwear is 50% of the reason to attend Little Brown's previews in the first place. In the past she has indulged in gleaming red eye-poppers, but today she went more of a tortoiseshell route. So while what she was wearing wasn't exactly this:

(more shoe and less sandal) this is as close an approximation as I am able to conjure up.

So there was that. Back to the food. Like it or lump it, no publisher in the history of the world has ever treated its visiting librarians sustenance-wise as well as Little Brown. The menu, as I saw it, consisted of delicately flaky vegetarian options, shrimp wrapped into small pastries alongside something beany and delicious, other healthy foods and dips that I gave a passing glance to, and desserts. Deeply chocolate brownies (that SOME of us had to turn down due to Lent and all), chocolate chip cookies, WHITE chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, sugar cookies, and more. All of them fresh and all of them abundant. And then, waiting at the end of the food ledge like ambrosia itself ... real Coke. You laugh but in this town Coke that isn't Diet, Caffeine-free, infused with lemon, coffee, cherries, vanilla, or god-knows-what-all is a rarity. New York takes a very European line towards Coke. You get one tiny glass if you order it in a restaurant and don't even THINK of asking for a free refill. Little Brown threw that all on its head with their abundant supply sitting alongside a bin of ice cubes that were the perfect size (don't get me started on the size of New York ice cubes) and tall empty glasses.

Right. So. You walk in, you greet Victoria, you lunge for the food like the half-starved (though you've just had lunch) wretch that you are, and then as you stagger under the weight of it all you make your way to a room filled with tables draped in white. This particular year I cowed to the needs of my workplace and sat at the NYPL table, which was fun. The room had original art set up all along the sides and free books for the taking on two tables (allowing you to select only the ones you were MOST interested in, which I thought was very clever on the publisher's part).

As Victoria would mention later, apparently Little Brown is open to hearing what other publishers do at their previews because at every seat was a printed Powerpoint presentation of the books the editors would be discussing. A... wait for it.... COLOR Powerpoint collection. All the stops? They've been torn out. So as you sit at your table with the view of 6th Avenue and the aforementioned Radio City Music Hall, you feel at one with the world. Then here's the kicker. As you are tearing into your pseudo-lunch, the editors move from table to table (15 minutes apiece) to tell you about their upcoming titles. You don't have to lift a finger. It's amazing.

The sole flaw with this plan is that though all the librarians are wearing nametags, the editors are not. 9 times out of 10 they'll say their name at the beginning, but you better catch it quickly cause they'll never say it again. Ah well.

So here are the books that'll be coming out in the Fall and Winter that struck me as particularly worth my while. As you guys all know, I skew youngish. Teen and YA doesn't interest me in the least so you'll have to go elsewhere for descriptions of the newest Gossip Girl or teen imprint. Lackaday.


I'm going in the order of the Powerpoint here, so there's no rhyme or reason to this order.

Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney - I might as well tell you now that he was our Special Surprise Guest. I passed him in the hallway on the way to the midnight loo at one point and he smiled at me. Me! Jerry Pinkney smiled at me! So thrilling. That said, I've a confession to make. I've never really been the biggest fan of the man's work. It's sort of an acquired taste, y'know? I respect what he does and the ways in which he works on his paintings. Yet the illustrations themselves aren't my bag usually. They feel too ethereal, or sketched. I'm a sucker for thick black lines, and that's a need Mr. Pinkney will never fill. Yet as I looked at Little Red Riding Hood's art, prominently displayed along one side of the room, this book I liked. For one thing, Pinkney isn't downplaying the story any. In this version the wolf (who is a realistic rather than cartoonish critter) eats Granny and Little Red before getting hacked up by the passing woodsman. There's a picture where the woodsman's shadow, axe raised, is thrown upon the bedroom wall in a moment that one the editor described as a "Hitchcock". But even more than this, the story works better than any other Pinkney story I've seen to date. For one thing, it's set entirely in the winter. Name a fairy tale (aside from anything Hans Christian Andersen wrote) that picture book illustrators have chosen to set in a winter month. Not many, are there? With a multi-cultural cast and a brilliant red that Pinkney said he had to create in multiple layers, this is a book worth keeping an eye out for.

Tintin and Alph-Art, Tintin in the Congo, and Tintin in Russia - Congo is especially problematic what with the rampant Belgian colonialism and horrifying stereotypes. So Little Brown is going to put a kind of explanatory note at the beginning of the book. Oh ah. In the meantime all twenty-four Tintins are going to be available in a single box set for the very first time in the U.S. Drool worthy.

There's Nothing to do on Mars by Chris Gall - I'm under the distinct impression that Chris Gall is moments away from being discovered. To my mind he's up there with David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg in terms of uber-reality transposed to the page. In this little picture book he goes for his first "real children's story," or so sayeth editor Andrea Spooner. I'm not entirely certain what that means, of course. I mean, I'll stand on a table and do a tap dance while defending Dear Fish's kid-friendly appeal to my grave. In this one there's a fun boy hero, robotic dogs, pictures within pictures, and a fun story. Little Brown is hoping that with the publication of articles theorizing on the possible existence of water on Mars, this book's climax may make it particularly timely. Whatever the case, I'm just happy to see Gall getting more work.

American Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's by Laban Carrick Hill - I've a personal connection to this one. I think I reviewed Hill's previous non-fiction work Harlem Stomp on the website Epinions and for the first and ONLY time in the history of my reviews, the author thought to check that site. So we got to talking and I did my standard oh-please-oh-please-oh-please-write-a-Black-Panthers-children's-book which tends to fall upon deaf ears. Mr. Hill, however, assured me that he was including the Panthers in an upcoming book he was working on. Now the book is almost out and it's an eye-popping extravaganza. First off, I was amused that the editor introduced it by calling the sixties generation, ". . . wilder than Generation X, more activist than Generation Y." No argument there. The research, if Harlem Stomp is any indication, will be good to begin with. Hill's smart too. He touches on everything from women's rights to Robert Crumb to politics to the start of the environmental movement. And the design will blow you away. I wish I could show you the cover but it's just not available online yet.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Ashley Wolff - Not usually my bag. The whole idea of taking an already existing poem/song and spicing it up via a change in location is nice and all but doesn't usually lure me. This book, with its Southwestern theme, kind of suckered me in though. For one thing, there are cookie recipes in the back. Smaaart move, LB&C. Author Philemon Sturges died before the publication of this title and was good friends with illustrator Ashley Wolff. Therefore she has memorialized him in one of the pictures in the story, and Little Brown was good enough to have that painting on display in the room. Very nice.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! by Bob Spitz - Well, I can't help but think that the title is going to mistakenly suck in a lot of Yeah Yeah Yeah fans. That said, Bob Spitz was the fella who wrote The Beatles: The Biography, which came out a year or two ago. Bob spent ten plus years of his life to create it. Well, he was out and about with his daughter one day and she wanted to write a report on The Beatles. Unfortunately the number of quality Beatles titles out there for kids is near non-existent. So now we've a 240 paged bio with a pretty metallic cover. Ooooo. Shiny. Apparently Little Brown is all about the 60's these days. We were told that some pot and LSD mentions crop up in this book but they're all accompanied with disclaimers (awwww....).

Look-Alikes Around the World by Joan Steiner - I never was into the Look-Alike books, respecting what they do without caring to view them too closely in my library. One Nancy Conescu sort of won me over to this one. I wasn't even going to take the free ARC home, but then we took some in-depth looks at the pictures. The Taj Mahal made out of onions and recorders. A tempestuous dancer with a skirt formed from the seam of a zipper. It's all rather wonderful on the eyes and the only Photoshopping done on this title is some light color correction here and there. Plus, the New York State Museum may be displaying her work soon. How much did Little Brown love this book? They bound the ARC. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is dedication.

Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith - This is another example where it's frustrating not to have a cover image to show you. Now I know I said I wouldn't talk up any YA, but Cindy Egan (the self-described "Gossip Girls Leader") told me point blank that this was the book for me, and I fear she may be right. First of all, it has this wacky cover that's a brilliant caution-to-the-wind, line-down-the-middle-of-the-street yellow. Then dead smack center is a kind of Silence of the Lambs image (sans skull) with a moth becoming the eyes of a young woman. Below it, however, is a pair of luscious ruby lips, and it is here that we get an inkling of what Little Brown is hoping for. They're hyping this as a book of fantasy for non-fantasy fans. Something for the fans of the Clique and Gossip Girls books. Well good luck with all that, LB. I was just happy to see that the story takes place in Portland, OR and has a kind of grungy-hippy feel. Think of War for the Oaks for the younger set and in Portland rather than Minneapolis. We'll see how it does.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - Oh, right. Crap. Okay, so there were TWO YA titles I got a little excited by. Sherman Alexie is doing his very first teen novel and he's been paired up, by some stroke of genius, with graphic novelist Ellen Forney. It's a story about a Native American kid who goes off the reservation to attend a white high school. Since the character draws comics in his spare time, that's where Forney comes in. It sounds a lot like Autobiography of My Dead Brother to me, so we'll have to see where it goes. My co-worker, who has already plowed through the thing, says that at first he takes a little while to find his YA voice, but that soon enough he becomes comfortable with the new genre and the book picks up.

The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch - I like the story behind this title. Apparently when Little Brown went in to bid for this one the staff dressed up like various characters from the story to woo the author (name unknown) to their team. The cover is being done by Gilbert Ford (check out his fabulous mod website), though I have a weakness for the original ARC cover. The sole problem with this book at the moment is that it appears (just hearing about it) to be wallowing in Lemony Snicketness. It talks at the beginning about how you shouldn't read the book (though it commends you for doing so eventually). It will have a mysterious author writing under a pseudonym much like Daniel Handler has done. All we know about the author at this point is that he's an L.A. TV writer. Anyone want to take a guess at who it might be? I'm placing my money on Ken Levine (which is patently ridiculous, but I dare to dream).

And that is that. The buzzword at Little Brown these days appears to be "commercial". "Commercial" is a good thing. You want a book to be "commercial". It's all very interesting to hear about, really.

And then it was time for Special Guest Star Jerry Pinkney to speak. I've already gone over some of the stuff he mentioned. One bit of particular note, however, was that Westchester County's various museums are gearing up for a bit of a notable children's illustration celebration. The Katonah Museum of Art will, between July 1st and October 21st present Children Should Be Seen where, "The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art will bring together approximately 85 works of original children’s book illustrations in a comprehensive survey of the best American picture-book art of the last decade." Then at the Hudson River Museum between June 16 and September 2nd there's to be Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay on display. Top all that off with the Jacob Burns Film Center showing children's films during those months (info not available online yet) and two words come to mind: Field Trip!

And thus, stuffing extra cookies down our shirts when no one was looking, we left. Now for the real dirt.

WINNER OF THE BEST SHIRT OF THE PREVIEW: Andrea Spooner! Poor Andrea. She's sitting there telling me why I should enjoy such n' such a book and what am I actually taking notes on? Her fabulous shirt. Oh, you should have seen it. A cool brown dotted with small pink, white, red and orange spots. The dots collect on the front, on the cuffs, and near at least one elbow. Such a great piece of clothing. Wish I could find it online to show to you.

WINNER OF THE BEST SHOES OF THE PREVIEW: Victoria Stapleton. Duh. Anyone who wants to challenge her rule on this particular throne is welcome to try, but we won't guarantee you won't get hurt in the process.

A special shout out to Liz Burns from Tea Cozy with whom I never really got a chance to speak. Ah well. Next time, Liz.

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At 9:00 PM , Blogger Brooke said...

Wowza, I feel so "in the know" now.

Hey, a question about the upcoming Pinkney version of "Little Red Riding Hood" -- if the book is set in the wintertime, how will the story work? Doesn't the wolf tempt Little Red to stray off the path to pick wildflowers? I'm just curious to see how that'll turn out.

At 9:24 AM , Blogger Laura said...

I'm excited that someone finally put voice to my feelings on Jerry Pinkney - he's like Shakespeare for me: I recognize the enormous talent - perhaps, genius - but it just isn't my taste. But I AM a fan of Chris Gall's and I too am pleased to see him putting something new out. You didn't mention that weird wraparound half-cover that LB has around the Tintin book to cover up the dated picture. I immediately thought, "What's a library going to do with that?!"

At 5:55 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Rats! I was there- wish I had met you! I came down from Albany- so was busy staring out the window like a real rube... Thanks for the wonderful summary of the event- AND the description of THE shoes!


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