Who says the dog days are uneventful and slow? Over here in the picture book section we're playing with trains, learning about numbers, traveling the world, and experiencing minor peril! I love the plots of picture books.
I am going to have a teenager in my house. In - wow - 11 days, I will suddenly have a teenage boy in my house.
Somehow, this person...
...turned into this person.
Relax, that's root beer. And that's MY jacket. He looks better in it than I do, the swine. His feet are bigger than mine. His tan is better than mine. God, I think his hair might be better than mine! Sigh.
His taste in reading material is pretty good, though. And he reads faster than I do, so lately I've been relying on him to vet titles for me the way I used to for him (Poison by Bridget Zinn and Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre both get his seal of approval). So it felt very darn peculiar to recommend The Martian to him.
Do you mind if I take a moment to talk about Australians? I kind of have a need to talk about Australians (and their neighbors, New Zealanders). Just for a sec.
I don't know any jokes about Australia. Sorry!
At the pool the other day I was pimping a book to my friend Marnie and her little girl. There we were, half-naked, bobbing in the water, and I'm throwing out book titles. I really need a life, or at least a second hobby.
The warmness, it is all around.I live in Baltimore, and a large percentage of our Gross Domestic Product this time of year (mid-April til October) is humidity. Humidity and 90-degree temperatures.
It's kind of ridiculous. I have spent an August weekend in New Orleans that was more temperate. I have crossed the Equator and been more comfortable. I have ridden in an open boat on the AMAZON and not chafed so badly. Camped in THE SAHARA. Hiked THE BADLANDS. I experienced nicer weather in THOSE PLACES. Where else have I been that's hot? MADURAI, INDIA. No, Madurai was hotter than this. I actually thought we were going to die in Madurai.
Nothing for it but to go to work, help kids with their summer reading assignments, and read picture books. What have I read this week that knocked my socks off? These books:
I know what you want. I see you. You come in to the library with that little-bit-panicked look in your eye: "Oh shit there's no school for like MONTHS and they're going to do nothing but play Minecraft and moan about being bored." Or pull scary crap like balance-beam on an 8-foot fence. YEESH.
I am right there with you. Milo is in the basement right this second watching those awful Sky Does Minecraft YouTube videos. Or porn. No I did not just write that. I take it back. Wait, let me just get him up here, I'll be right back.
He was practicing guitar. OF COURSE. God, I am so not ready for him to be a teen.
Anyway, you want book recommendations for your children so that they do not forget how to read / become glassy-eyed screen zombies over the summer. You want books that are IRRESISTABLE, books that they will plough through and then ask for the next. In short, you want series books, and you want series that have been out for long enough that there's no waiting for the next book.
NO THANK YOU. Although I think that's my friend Lori off to the left there.
I did two full Javits Center days at Book Expo this year, and swore I wasn't coming back on Saturday, when the show opens to the general public and the signing lines GET REAL.
But I did. I skated in quietly on Saturday to see who won the Boston Globe / Horn Book Awards. These awards are less well-known than the big ALA awards, but to some they are more prestigious. The committees that award them are small and thoughtful and savvy.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith won the top Fiction award, and anybody who has read it will 1) agree with that choice and 2) try to remember the last time such a funny and deeply weird book won so high an award. I stayed up til after 2am reading it on my iPad in a dimly lit hotel lobby in Philadelphia. It's that good.
I will venture to say that the Boston Globe Horn Book Award might not be the only big award this year for this book. Ha - "Not since James Joyce's Ulysses has a book so preoccupied with spooge won so much critical acclaim." That'll be the tagline for the movie rights auction. That's yours for free, Smith.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Yang won an Honor for Fiction. Also a bold choice, as this is a twinset of graphic novels. Although it is a twinset of graphic novels that has won just about every award it is eligible for - you teach those Boxers to dance and I swear it would win a Tony too. I have placed multiple copies of Boxers & Saints in an 8th grade classroom of by and large reluctant readers, and these books - about the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1899! have been read to ribbons by those kids.
In a year of superlative picture books, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown won top honors. I was on the Cybils Fiction Picture Book committee this year and we looooved Mr. Tiger. One of my fellow committee members wrote the most beautiful, informed breakdown of its brilliance I have ever seen. At the Awards announcements, I totally annoyed Peter by making him draw a Mr. Tiger in my autograph book next to his signature. I am sorry, man. But I have my reasons.
Shaun Tan's Rules of Summer won an honor in this category. I just the other day reviewed the app of that book, for School Library Journal's Touch and Go blog. I said, "The title itself implies sunlit, child-governed anarchy, exploration, arbitrary tests of fearlessness—a world in the process of being interpreted anew through a child’s eyes. And in this app, what they see is mind-blowing." The book is LUSCIOUSLY printed - if you can get your hands on it, do.
Later that day, in another part of the forest:
That's Jen Downey, author of the tantalizingly titled The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, playing Book Title Charades at the NYPL Kids Author Carnival, a BEA-adjacent event at which the adults were - finally - purely peripheral. Tim Federle emceed the charades - I guess they thought he'd be a ringer if they let him act out titles.
Caroline Carlson (ooh second Mostly Honorable Pirates book is coming soon!), Chris Healy (when Milo heard that the third Hero's Guide book is available, he whipped his head around and gave me such a stinkeye! Ok! I'll bring it home for you!), and Matt Cody (Supers of Noble's Green and MAN I like those covers) were un-self-conscious and enthusiastic Charadesters. I have photos and/or video of all of them. FYI.
There were almost 40 authors at the event, and they all leapt (in some cases literally) into the activities that were planned for the kids.
There was Pictionary too - this is Laurel Snyder drawing clues to The Secret Garden, which the kids got RIGHT OFF. Smart cookies, these kiddos. Her book Seven Stories Up is SO good.
There are a few books I wish I'd gotten my hands on. Evil Librarian, for obvious reasons. Lies We Tell Ourselves, about race and love during the time of school integration. Jim Averbeck's middle grade mystery adventure A Hitch at the Fairmont, which I have already read and very much enjoyed, Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian, and Greg Neri's Knockout Games. I think I can get them all on Edelweiss or Netgalley, but it is dang difficult to booktalk a new book while holding up an ereader.
Apparently, for picture books, brown is the new blue.
My Day Three was actually Day Two of Book Expo. People had settled in, figured out where the hell they'd stashed the Disney/Hyperion booth, and patiently assembled into signing lines.
But first! The Children's Book Author Breakfast. With your host, Jason Segal. Unlike BJ Novak, I know who this guy is. He does stuff on Funny or Die sometimes. He was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was not about my friend Sarah Marshall, who is a printmaking professor at 'Bama. AND! I have read the sample chapters of his book, Nightmares!.
Next there was... you know, before I move on, I would just like to observe that it takes a special kind of fame to decide to title your book merely "Nightmares" and reliably expect that it's going to come up anywhere near the top in an Amazon search. Which it just did when I searched it. So I guess... that's all right for Jason Segel then.
At the breakfast we also heard from that Solid Gold dancer of the Florida swamps, the hilarious Carl "It's the 'a' that's double, not the 's'" Hiaasen, whose new book Skink--No Surrender introduces a favorite foulmouthed oddball from his adult books to a younger audience. In his talk he called the readership of the Miami Herald "mutants." I love that guy.
Lovely Mem Fox came all the way from Australia to give us a little weep - when she described listening to her daughter sing a lullaby to her grandson that her own mother had sung to her, her voice caught, and not because the syntax of that sentence is so difficult. Unfortunately, her new book, Baby Bedtime,while a lovely rhyme, has rather uninspiring illustrations.
And then Jeff Kinney talked about reading Judy Blume, getting rejection letters, and opening an independent bookstore. What I took away from his talk is that 1) people still use Prezi and 2) I like Prezi so much more than PowerPoint.
My friend Paula and I stood in line to get books signed by Marla Frazee, Bob Shea and Lane Smith, Sophie Blackall, and Tony DiTerlizzi. I missed at least as many as I got - Lorna Landvik, A. S. King, Patrick McDonnell, Libba Bray, Scott Campbell. Scott's new book Hug Machine looks - say it with me - adorable. It's got kind of a Children Make Terrible Pets vibe.
My kids and husband showed up midafternoon on Friday. I dumped a couple tote bags of books in the minivan and then snuck my twelve-year-old into the show with me for about an hour. He got a book signed by his pal Jon Scieszka, who demanded a movie of Frank Einstein. "But I'm only about halfway through it!" protested the boy. Milo also picked up a Pathfinder Tales novel and The Farting Dead, and then we hightailed it back uptown.
Not a BEA author.
I've also written a recap of the SLJ Day of Dialog and Day One of BEA 2014 (which I misleadingly titled "BEA 2014 DAY TWO" - you're welcome). I've got one more day in the pipeline and Day Four? IT HAS CHARADES.
You have to maximize your time when you're in New York. Even when you live there, you're grouping errands geographically in your head, trying to do at least two things at once, strategizing time and transit and factoring in how much crap you are hauling with you at any given time.
E.g., it is darn convenient that NYPL's Jefferson Market branch is so close to C.O. Bigelow.
Which is how I found myself in the sale racks at Brooklyn Industries during the ten-minute gap before the shuttle came to ferry a group of us back to the Javits Center from a semi-informative tour of the Recorded Books studios. I had been wearing an ungodly unflattering sweater, so when they told us we had a few minutes, I ran across the street for an iced coffee and a discount blazer.
And a t-shirt for my son. What?! It was 30% off the sale price when you bought two items!
Backing up. I got to go to the Adult Book Breakfast on Thursday, emceed by the now terrifyingly thin Neil Patrick Harris, who has frailed himself down for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. OH I would like to see that show. Here he talks about his love for pop-up books and Choose Your Own Adventure. Which should probably remind us not to give up on kids like that - they may have other gifts.
Me, Paula and Sam in line to get books signed
The convention floor itself was a bit of a blur. Long lines for the likes of Maggie Stiefvater, Kate DiCamillo, and Rick Riordan. You couldn't get anywhere near Daniel Handler, not that you'd necessarily want to. I tried to do a little trendspotting but nothing really stuck out. Except the rise of the middle grade novel - oh yeah middle grade is charging onto the field like a bunch of 4th grade soccer players hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.
Also blue covers are a trend. Apparently blue is the new blue.
About these books - both of my boys have already ripped through Frank Einstein, and though they acknowledge that it is aimed at younger readers (say, 3rd-4th graders), they very much enjoyed it. Brenda Woods (The Blossoming of Violet Diamond) was on the Day of Dialog diversity panel, and she was very impressive. Pithy. Wise. Thoughtful. We trust industry stalwarts Jennifer Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Shannon Hale, and Cece Bell to deliver strong and peppy middle grade fare always, but there are also some wild cards that publishers are rolling the middle grade dice on this season too.
Also perfect for middle grade is Low Riders in Space (Book 1), which was my number-one get this year. I have been looking forward to it for months already - a graphic novel about three cuates (buddies) obsessed with ranflas (lowriders) who dream of opening their own garage. In a note, author Cathy Camper praises "the artistry, inventiveness, mechanical aptitude, resilience, and humor that are all part of low-rider culture." Well, she might as well have been writing about the book itself, because it's got all those things.
The high kid appeal Bic pen art by Raul the Third brings to mind MAD Magazine, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, and Jim Woodring. Rich, imaginative, funny, compositionally exciting. I can see I'm going to have to write a whole review of this. It's the rare item that will appeal to grownup art nerds like me and Cartoon Network-loving kids at the same time.
We took a break to attend the AAP Author Lunch. That's always kind of a neat event - they'll have 4 or 5 authors speak, and you really learn something about each. This year we learned that forensic anthropologist and best-selling novelist Kathy Reichs has the worst case of Resting Bitchface I've ever seen - so imagine what a nice surprise it was when she gave a smart, relaxed, sarcastic talk. She was the last to speak, and noted that several people had gotten up and walked out before she began. "Twenty-nine - I counted," she said. "And I'm having them all investigated."
Matt Richtel, Cary Elwes, and Garth Stein.
Speaking of which - AAP, you guys throw this lunch in just about that same room every year. Every time someone goes in or out the doors make this terrible squeaking moan, which is very distracting when, for example, Cary Elwes is recounting tender stories about Andre the Giant. When are you going to learn to pack a can of WD-40 in your Javits Event Emergency Kit?
Jon Scieszka and Jack Gantos, the Rowan and Martin of children's literature. I think I took the best picture at the whole damn convention.
SO much happened at Book Expo (BEA) last week and this weekend. I'm breaking it up into four posts. Four! (Don't worry, they're each pretty short. Except maybe for this one.)
The School Library Journal Day of Dialog BEA preconference! I have said it before - possibly THE best single day of the year in children's literature. Smart, insightful authors - hell even the audience is better qualified than the presenters at most events... Oh my gosh we saw Cabaret this week and I must paraphrase the Emcee:
The authors - are beautiful! The presentations - are beautiful! Even the audience! Is beautiful.
SLJ has a terrific set of recap posts and videos highlighting the Jackie Woodson keynote speech, the Garth Nix lunch speech, marvelous round table discussons on diversity and unreliable narrators. That unreliable narrator panel was particularly good - Emily Lockhart should teach I swear to god. So insightful and entertaining, with many wild arm movements guaranteed to keep students paying attention.
I did kind of an Inside the Author/Illustrators' Studio thing with Lois Ehlert, Chris Raschka, Peter Sis and Raina Telgemeier. I think I'm going to need to write blog posts about each of these people and the things that I thought while I read every book each of them has ever had a hand in creating. "Overprepare and then improvise" - that's my motto.
And I made them crowns, for reasons I can't actually explain. Really helped me think about the art though.
The AAP Children's Author Dinner happened after Day of Dialog, and it was a pure treat. Seven authors spoke to a roomful of librarians while we ate the chicken and drank the wine. Here are some highlights:
Adele Griffin talked about how reading Edie: American Girl, a biography of heiress and Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick at the tender age of ten changed her life. I'll bet it did! Changed my life too, and I didn't read it til maybe high school. Her new book The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is about a young beautiful artist who dies tragically - totally inspired by Edie. I can't wait to read it, but I also couldn't resist giving it to my young beautiful artist niece, so I'll have to get another copy when it comes out.
Pretty much summing up the whole thrust of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, don't you think? Anyway, both she and Arin have now written those books, and the whole room wiped away a couple of tears and got ready for the next speaker.
Who was BJ Novak, a name which meant nothing to me but whom I suspected, due to the symmetricality of his face, to be an actor. This doesn't always mean the book's gonna suck. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. So my niece Ali and I took it for a test run back at the hotel:
I can only imagine what the other guests thought was going on in our room.
We also heard from Phil and Erin Stead. They talked about drawing birds and were generally adorable and then Erin spoke of what she misses most about working in a bookstore: saying "yes" to people. "Do you have a book for a reluctant reader?" she asked, and then flashed a slide of Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty as she said "Yes." "Do you have a book about a fish?" "Do you have a book about a truck?" "Do you have two?" It became a very fun game to try to anticipate what book she was going to show in answer to each question, and the librarians all began answering "Yes!" out loud.
It IS what is sexy about librarians. Ask us just about anything - we will say YES. Although no, you cannot borrow the reference desk scissors to trim your bloody hangnail. Sorry.
STAY TUNED. Days two, three, and four are coming soon.
I do this about quarterly, don't I - maybe I should make it a regular thing. Oh who am I kidding. One of the benefits of writing your own blog is you don't have to adhere to any schedule. Well, that and you can swear.
YES I like books by Antoinette Portis and NO I am not going to change my mind. Just like Crow is not going to fall victim to the silly craze sweeping through the yard. Little Brown Bird is supposed to say "peep." Cardinal is supposed to say "chip." THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. Until that malcontent Little Brown Bird opened his daggone beak and... WELL. I just want to come out and say I'm on Crow's side.