What terrific kids' titles are coming down the publishing pike? For a sneak peek of the best and brightest, we spoke to Susan Marston, editorial director of Junior Library Guild (JLG), who habit
ually devours advanced readers' copies many months ahead of most folks. Marston and her intrepid New York City crew are rushing to put the final touches on their fall 2010 list of 192 selections for children and teens--and we couldn't wait to see their choices.
Founded in 1929, JLG provides collection development services to more than 17,000 school and public libraries nationwide. This unique service reviews and selects children's and young adult hardcover trade books prior to their publication. JLG selections are placed into one of 32 reading levels ranging from Pre-K to YA and are then shipped to member libraries on a monthly basis. JLG is owned by SLJ's parent company, Media Source Inc.
What trends are you noticing in children's book publishing?
Dystopia and vampires are alive and well. Also, for upper elementary/ early middle school students, dead parents. Every book seems to have a dead parent. Some are about coping with the death, but in many others it is primarily used as a way to make the child's situation more perilous. And in YA, there are a lot of dead friends. There's also a lot of poetry, and some are creative and interesting.
Doggy Slippers [Groundwood, Aug. 2010] by Jorge Luj?. The author wrote to children all over Latin America asking them about their pets to make poems from a kid's point of view. I think the publisher originally intended the book to be in Spanish. The poems are touching and full of surprises. There's also an Arnold Adoff poetry collection for middle schoolers [Roots and Blues (Clarion, Jan. 2011)] that's about the roots of blues, and the poems and the collection are challenging, inventive, and insightful. The nonfiction on this list is really terrific.
What's one of your favorites?
Lincoln's Flying Spies: Thaddeus Lowe & the Civil War Balloon Corps [Calkins Creek, Oct. 2010] by Gail Jarrow. This guy, Thaddeus Lowe, kept telling the Union Army, "Look I have this great way to spy." They didn't take to it right away, but eventually Lincoln did. And Lowe would go up into the air, and he had Confederate soldiers shooting at him, and he's looking over everything and seeing what's going on and reporting back to the Union Army. It's a fascinating story.
Is there anything that you've recently read that has the potential to become an instant classic?
I'm not sure what makes a classic. There's The Dead Boys [Putnam, Sept. 2010] by Royce Buckingham.
Did you see its cover? There's a tree that reaches out and it consumes boys and takes life from them.
So this isn't a run-of-the-mill gardening book?
No. It's about a boy who's new in town-he's 12-and he keeps meeting these other boys who are 12, and there's something weird about these other boys. After having conversations with them, he realizes that they're talking about a different time period and something is really strange. Every decade the tree finds a new boy. The story is so compelling and so creepy and cool and really good, and kids are going to love it. But I don't know if that's an instant classic. Can I talk about a totally cool graphic novel, even though I don't know if it's going to be a classic?
It's called Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword [Amulet, Nov. 2010] by Barry Deutsch. It started as a web comic. There's this 11-year-old girl in an Orthodox Jewish community, and she imagines fighting dragons and she wants to train to do this. And she ends up meeting a witch and troll and doing all of this stuff and finally getting a sword that she can use to fight dragons. But it's all in this orthodox community. It's really cool. And the author's website, I think, has on it, "Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl."
Yeah, they're a dime a dozen.
The author uses that kind of humor throughout the book.
OK, one last question. Are there any other titles on your list that may surprise readers?
There are plenty. There's Slog's Dad [Candlewick, Feb. 2011], a book by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean. It's a previously published short story for adults. But now it's being presented as an illustrated book, and the illustrations are kind of mind bending and really interesting. And the concept of the story is pretty fascinating, too.
What's it about?
A boy named Slog. His friend is telling the story. Slog's father passed away but he said he was going to come back. So now Slog is in the park talking to a man, and we're not really sure what the guy's story is. But Slog is convinced he's his father who's come back. And the man kind of goes along with it and the friend is nervous about this. It's really a provocative, interesting, intriguing story.