Fall Picture Books We Love: A Sneak Peek!
As sales reps, we sell books to stores many, many months before they are published. We just received our shipments of picture book samples and advanced reader copies of middle grade and young adult novels. Of the books that we have had the chance to read so far, a few stood out that Deanna and Erin discuss here. We realize this is very early to preview books that are not yet in stores, but we are eager to share our enthusiasm and will revisit these fall titles closer to their publication. Later this week, many of us will share a few fall favorites for older readers.
Around the time my buyers start receiving their samples, I like to send a note highlighting a few of my favorites. Since I tend gravitate toward dark and moody YA, I’m grateful I have a ready audience in my family to bounce the lighter stuff off of. When I got home from conference and opened my boxes, I immediately took out the picture book f&gs (for those not “in the know”, that stands for folded and gathered and is essentially a picture book before it is bound, used for pre-publication viewing). My daughter Ruby did not disappoint in giving me both selling and blogging fodder. In the well-meaning book called Every-Day Dress-Up, the little girl who narrates “used to only play princesses until Mommy showed me pictures and told me stories of real, great women.” The accompanying illustration shows her room with “old” pictures of the princesses she loved. Ruby (and even Ezra) immediately started naming the princesses and Ruby spent the rest of the book not admiring women breaking barriers but commenting on their clothes. Amelia has a beautiful pink jacket, Ella’s wearing a gorgeous dress, etc. But in reality, this is a cute non-preachy way to introduce women in history, with mini-biographies and suggestions for further reading in the back for the older child(plus the added bonus of a days-of-the-week lesson). In light of the recent book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by unapologetic feminist Peggy Orenstein and her recent article/review in the NY Times about girly books (including The Best Birthday Party Ever, which I blogged about last week), I found her reaction hilarious, if not somewhat disheartening. I guess what I’m most disappointed in is that Ms. Orenstein beat me to the punch on her book….
Another crowd pleaser has turned out to be, not surprisingly, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot. This is a take-off (in case you couldn’t guess) on the three little pigs. My kids love space and before we even started reading they were admiring the end papers with a map of our solar system and naming the planets (with help from the 9-year-old). It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Ezra just received a giant rocket (I call it a dollhouse for boys) for his birthday! They were immediately taken with the three little aliens named Bork, Gork and Nklxwcyz (we had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to pronounce that last one and still aren’t sure, so let me know if you have any ideas). When Alien Mom kicks them out of the house they need to find their own planets to live on. Sneaky science lessons are introduced in the descriptions of their new homes. When the robot comes to smash their houses down the kids were truly afraid – in that way that kids like to be. I’m sure my spot-on robot voice was a contributing factor as well.
We haven’t even gotten through all of the books yet – they keep asking for these two over and over- but there will be more to come including ZooZical, the new collaboration between Marc Brown and Judy Sierra. Stay tuned!
Like Deanna’s twins, my daughter is also pre-school aged and the perfect person for me to test picture books on before I head out to sell them to bookstores. Even though she often likes books my buyers are less fond of, I can confidently share with them that a child has given the book her stamp of approval. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the fall picture books with her yet but she loved Every-Day Dress Up and Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine, a sweetly illustrated story of a quiet young girl who learns to “shine” by being a good friend and discovering her talent for gardening. The book would be great to recommend for Earth Day or to tiny green thumbs.
One book I love is Neville, a new picture book from Norton Juster, the author of The Phantom Tollbooth and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, who also illustrated Clever Jack Takes the Cake, which was one of my 2010 fall favorites. Neville has just moved to a new neighborhood and he has no friends. His mother pushes him to take a walk around the block hoping that he will meet other children. By the end of the afternoon, Neville has done just that, and the clever trick he uses to meet kids will give hope to shy children everywhere. This timeless book has a funny, simple story and charming art.
School for Bandits is a humorous play on a “good manners” story, with Ralph the Racoon getting shipped off to the School for Bandits by his parents, who are concerned that he is just too polite to ever live up to great racoon bandits of the family like Grandpa Cutlass and Uncle Whiskers. Unfortunately for them, Ralph doesn’t take well to the rotten lessons and his teacher reports to his parents that he continues to be unfailingly polite and clean. Will Ralph change in order to win the Best Bandit in School competition? Or will good behavior triumph? Kids will get a kick out of the clever illustrations and humorous but subtle moral.
I Will Come Back for You by Marisabina Russo is the fictional retelling of her family’s experience as Jews living in Italy during World War II. Yes, this is a Holocaust book, but it is appropriate for children ages 4-8, and I would be proud to read this to my daughter so that she can better understand her own Jewish heritage. Russo’s mother and two half-brothers survived the war with assistance from neighbors and friends, and this book depicts their story during the war and after, as they journey to America. End papers include numerous family photos and more historical information about the time, including the astonishing fact that 85% of Jews in Italy survived the war, more than almost any other European country. This book is an intimate, beautifully written look at a dark period in history.
Covering a different but equally heartbreaking time is the gorgeous collaboration between Patricia McKissack and Leo and Diane Dillon, Never Forgotten. This is one of the most powerful and stunning picture books we’ve published in years and I have no doubt it will be met with rave reviews. Told in verse, the book is the story of a father, Dinga, and his son, Mustafa. Dinga raises his son with help from the Mother Elements, Earth Mother, Water Maiden, Fire Woman and Wind Spirit. The book follows Mustafa as he grows up, becomes an apprentice blacksmith to his father, and then, one day, is captured by slave traders and taken to America. The Elements are able to find Mustafa in America, and report back to his devastated father that he is safe, acting as a blacksmith once more. The simple prose perfectly captures the emotional tale, such as Dinga’s celebration upon learning his son is alive, “Dinga danced and feasted far into the night With the Mother Elements by his side, Celebrating the son who was taken, But never forgotten.” The book ends with a message to children that “loved ones are never forgotten when we continue to tell their stories.” It will be a pleasure to get this book into the hands of parents, children, teachers and librarians this fall.