Despite her parents' naysaying, a strong-willed girl is determined to acquire a pet dinosaur in Lulu and the Brontosaurus (Atheneum, Sept.), an early chapter book by Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Lane Smith, the book first sprang to life during the author's storytelling sessions with grandsons Nathanial and Benjamin, now six and nine. "We spend time together in Maine every year, and one rainy day I began making up stories about a girl named Lulu," she explains. "I became quite interested in this girl and her desire for something impossible, and the boys, too, were intrigued by her."
Lulu and the Brontosaurus (which Viorst notes is dedicated to those grandsons, since "if it weren't for them, it wouldn't have happened") marks a departure for the author. "I've never written a book like this, and part of me kept saying, ‘Where is this coming from?' " she says. "The author is in the story as a character—if I were being pretentious, I'd call it postmodern. In addition to telling a story with an adventure, as Lulu searches for her brontosaurus, I'm telling a story about telling a story."
Lulu's personality, which the author describes as "hardlike," as distinguished from adorable, cuddly, irresistible characters, is not unfamiliar to the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and its sequels. "Lulu is a pain, kind of like the way Alexander is a pain," Viorst says. "They're ultimately redeemable and lovable, but you have to work at it. They have an edge to them. I'm very fond of Lulu, and I'd like to give her more adventures, more opportunities to drive people crazy."
Viorst's latest addition to her decades-themed books for adults is Exceedingly Eighty: And Other Adaptations (Free Press, Oct.). "It's a bit weird to be coming out with back-to-back books, one for the around-eight set and the other for the around-80 set," she says.
A highlight of BEA, remarks Viorst, is meeting Lane Smith in person for the first time. "I count my blessings that he illustrated this book," she says. "I've said to him, ‘Don't think I don't have high standards, because I do have high standards. But your art is perfect, just perfect.' If I were an illustrator, this is exactly how I would illustrate this book."
Another big moment will be Alexander's induction into the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame at today's Celebration of Bookselling Luncheon. "On the same day as my book signing with Lane! It's going to be a glamorous day for me," she says.
She and Smith sign ARCs of Lulu and the Brontosaurus, 11–11:30 a.m., at Table 15.