While scrambling to keep up with December’s harried pace, children’s booksellers are already thinking ahead to the next selling season. Four of them took a break from the holiday hoopla to share their thoughts on—and enthusiasm for—publishers’ forthcoming offerings. Here’s what they had to say about what lies ahead, and about specific titles that have caught their attention.
Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Indianapolis and Fishers, Ind.
In the children’s bookselling business, we tend to get very sad after Christmas, since there’s been so much focus on big fall books and holiday sales. We need a solid spring to get excited about, and this is an amazing spring ahead. It’s a cool mixture of strong-selling authors with new books and brand new authors—some teenagers!—with great books.
I could not be more excited about the return of an old favorite. Atheneum is reissuing The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, with new illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. Not only is the language of that book absolutely beautiful, but the art is glorious. I will handsell this to adults, teachers, and children.
An entirely different picture book is Perfect Square by Michael Hall, coming from Greenwillow. This is literally about a square and all the things it can be. It has very modern illustrations and I can’t wait to use this in storytimes. It will speak to preschoolers, art students, and adults, and will definitely stimulate creativity. I think this will be one of our standout sellers in the spring.
Every bookseller has to have a bookstore book on the shelves, and one I’m looking forward to selling is Raj the Bookstore Tiger by Kathleen T. Pelley, illustrated by Paige Keiser. It’s a Charlesbridge book about a marmalade cat who thinks he’s a tiger until another cat with all kinds of attitude tries to explain that he’s not. It’s darling.
I’m excited to handsell to teens two books written by teenage authors. One is Kick, a HarperTeen novel about soccer that Walter Dean Myers co-wrote with 17-year-old Ross Workman. Apparently, when he was 13 Ross wrote Myers a fan letter, and the author wrote back asking him to collaborate on a book. I am so jazzed about handselling this to teens who like to read and write—and especially to boys. And Sourcebooks Fire is publishing Julia Mayer’s Eyes in the Mirror, about a girl who changes places with her reflection in a mirror. The fact that the author wrote this when she was a teenager, the same age of the readers, is a powerful handsell for a bookseller.
And two more books we’re looking forward to putting on the shelf are by authors whose books have always sold well for us. Gloria Whelan has a girl’s coming-of-age-story due from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books. Small Acts of Amazing Courage is set in India in 1918, a fascinating time and setting that teens aren’t often exposed to. And another cannot-miss is Gennifer Choldenko’s No Passengers Beyond This Point, a Dial book about three kids who, because of their family’s financial crisis, fly to the midwest to live with relatives and get off the plane in an entirely different world.
Heather Lyon, owner of Lyon Books and Learning Center in Chico, Calif.
I am still totally swimming in the now, with the holiday season here, but I did most of my spring ordering last month, and there seem to be a lot of big lists with, as usual, a profusion of rabbits, which is seasonal. We’ve had a really strong year—our sales are up more than 20% over 2009, partly because of new connections we’ve made with our community and partly because the economy is doing better. So I’m very optimistic about bookselling and love the books I’ve seen that will be coming out in the spring. I found a few real standouts.
I gobbled up the galley of John Stephens’s The Emerald Atlas [Knopf] in a day and a half, reading it when I was supposed to be doing other things, which I don’t usually do. But this novel captured me with its nonstop action and brave young characters you really care about. The book reminds me of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and has an extremely satisfying ending that leaves you hoping for a sequel. Kids will really love this and I look forward to handselling it.
I’m very excited that Little, Brown is bringing out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like a Rock Star in paperback. I love this novel, which is about a girl who has had a really tough life but somehow is still a real optimist. I literally laughed and cried at the same time—it’s a very emotional story. I’ve sold some copies of the hardcover, but that’s a difficult format to sell to teens in our community, so I look forward to the paperback.
On the picture book side, everyone’s talking about The Secret River, with new art by the Dillons, and for good reason. These illustrations are my current pick for the Caldecott. It is a sweeping story, and the art really help readers to fly to that place where a family counts on the river that flows through their lives to survive the Depression. I tend to gush when I’m bowled over by a book, but boy, is this art gorgeous!
And another great picture book, Hide and Squeak by Heather Vogel Frederick, illustrated by C.F. Payne, is one that I may have passed over if I’d only seen it in the Simon & Schuster catalogue, thinking it was just another bedtime book with mice. But this is a totally charming story, told in a very loving way. The pictures are completely adorable and it’s a perfect bedtime story—and one that parents won’t get tired of reading aloud over and over again.
Sarah Todd, buyer at Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.
One of the things I really like to see is publishers taking chances, and I’m excited that some really are this season. On the YA side, there are still some supernatural romances, but publishers are starting to think inventively about blending YA and middle-grade a bit. More and more, YA books are encompassing themes that are appropriate for 11- or 12-year-olds, which is so refreshing. I think children’s stores in particular want to hold on to our kids as long as we possibly can, and I think publishers are recognizing that they have to diversify given the audience they’re trying to reach. It’s important to tap into many genres, and even blend genres. And there’s more of that going on, which I think is awesome.
One spring book that I am especially excited about is Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt [Clarion], a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars. This has one of those protagonists who comes along rarely—from page one you want to root for him and cry with him. He’s dealing with his older brother’s return from the Vietnam War and there is so much incredible family drama. It’s a fantastic book for 12- to 14-year-olds.
Another great YA story of family dynamics is Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt, a Bloomsbury book. It’s about a teenager who is struggling with her father’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and, as part of her therapy, is told to focus on an object and write about it in her journal. The object she picks is the head of the guy who sits in front of her in class. There’s romance and there’s a lot of self-revelation going on. I like it because you could give it to a saucy 12-year-old or to a 16-year old and they’ll love it—start to finish. It’s a romance that is not at all fluffy and deals with something deeper.
Thinking of spring picture books, one that pops into my head is Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich, a Simon & Schuster book. It’s a delightful story about the unlikely friendship between a dog who rules the roost and a new dog who arrives in the family. The author has done animation for Pixar and has a wonderful, fluid style of illustration. This is charming and kids are going to just love it.
And I’m also impressed by A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña, from Dial. This is a wonderful book that is more than a boxing story. It ties into the history of the time and reaches a much broader audience than a sports audience. Kadir Nelson is the illustrator and I just don’t know how he continues to produce the glorious work that he does.
Melissa Posten, children’s book buyer at Pudd’nHead Books in Webster Groves, Mo.
What I’m seeing on spring lists are fewer romances involving supernatural beings, which is nice—that seems to be slowing down before we get truly overrun by them. I’m seeing more sci-fi and borderline thriller/horror novels, which is great since we haven’t had very many of them. And there’s a slight decrease of YA novel jackets with faces on them, and that’s good. That was way overdone—it seems that every other teen novel had a face slapped on its cover. Kids would come into the store and actually mock them! The new books are looking more diverse.
This is going to be a great paperback season. YA hardcover sales have slowed down for us in the past year, so I’m happy that some books that I thought were amazing are now coming out in paperback. I look forward to Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve, from Puffin; and Green by Laura Peyton Roberts, from Yearling. Also Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, coming from Penguin’s Speak imprint—thank God that is coming out in paperback, since it was a $19.99 hardcover, which is a pricing trend I am not liking at all. That doesn’t fly here, since I can’t discount the novel 45%.
I’m excited to see an increasing quality of leveled readers, especially from Scholastic. I particularly like the books in the Dragon Readers series, which are adorable. Time for a Picnic by Ivy Silver will be added to the series in spring. And Scholastic’s Cartwheel imprint has another beginning reader coming out which is awesome: Hippo and Rabbit in Three Short Tales by Jeff Mack.
One picture book that will make an amazing storytime book is You’re Finally Here by Mélanie Watt from Hyperion. It’s one of the funniest picture books I’ve seen in a long time. You open it up and meet a bunny who says he’s happy that you’re finally here and then begins berating you—asking what took you so long and explaining why it’s rude to keep someone waiting. This one is going to be huge.
In YA books, I think Wither, a debut novel by Lauren DeStefano, is going to be big. It’s a dystopian book from Simon & Schuster. And I’m also really excited about Divergent by Veronica Roth [HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen] is publishing. I think it has the potential to shift The Hunger Games off its throne. The author was 19 when she wrote it and she’s done amazing world-building.
A middle grade book I think will blow people away is A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron, another Katherine Tegen book. It’s about a girl and her dog, which gets lost when the family is in a car accident hundreds of miles from home. It’s written from the points of view of both the girl and the dog, and the voices are stunning.
And I absolutely sobbed my way through Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. I read it two times on my iPhone, which is very unusual for me because I never read electronically, but I was in Europe at the time. I think he is one of the finest kids’ writers today and this is absolutely his best work. If it doesn’t win something I’ll be stunned. This is a fantastic novel. There really is a lot to look forward to next season.