With schools, libraries, and bookstores closed indefinitely, children’s authors have had to cancel their travel plans and appearances during the Covid-19 outbreak. Many publishers are finding creative new ways to spread the word about new releases and connect authors with their readers through digital platforms while maintaining social distancing protocol. We’ve been highlighting some of the books this season that may not have gotten the attention they were due, and now we turn our sights to some of spring’s debuts, kicking off a series.
A Is for Another Rabbit
Hannah Batsel. Lerner/Carolrhoda, $17.99 Apr. 17 ISBN 978-1-5415-2950-2
In A Is for Another Rabbit, a rabbit-obsessed narrator makes an owl increasingly irate by refusing to play by the rules of a conventional alphabet book. Every entry is about bunnies, from “delightful, dynamic, daredevil rabbits” to “young rabbits, old rabbits, rabbits on stilts.” Author-illustrator Hannah Batsel said, “My book was released right in the middle of the crisis. As a result, I’ve been unable to host a release party, appear for signings or readings, or even meet with friends to deliver their personalized copies.” Because it’s her first book, she’s especially regretful about not being able to establish professional relationships with booksellers and local groups and organizations. “The biggest challenge I’m facing as an author is being unable to introduce my book to the world in the way it was meant to be introduced. Children’s books are supposed to be held, touched, discovered at school book fairs, flipped through until the pages are ragged, read to a big group of people, laughed at, featured at libraries, and loved in person—and not all of that is possible right now,” she said. One local teacher read Batsel’s book to her students on video and posted the video on the school’s Facebook page, where students and their parents could ask questions about the book and the writing/illustrating process. “Connecting with readers through social media and interviews is a godsend,” Batsel said, “but I’m very much looking forward to the day when I can meet my readers in person!”
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion
Ashima Shiraishi, illus. by Yao Xiao. Make Me a World, $17.99 Apr. 7 ISBN 978-1-5247-7327-4
Ashima Shiraishi may be a newcomer to picture books, but she is well-known in the rock-climbing world as one of the youngest and most skilled climbers—and as the first and only female climber to ascend a V15 bouldering problem. In her debut, which earned a starred review from PW, Shiraishi draws on that experience to tell a story of strength and perseverance, in rock climbing and beyond. This also marks the first picture book for Chinese illustrator Yao Xiao. The publisher was hoping to launch the book on May 7 at the North Face SoHo store in New York City, as the brand is one of Shiraishi’s sponsors. The author was scheduled to be in conversation with designer Jeff Staple. Though the event was canceled, it is shifting online: Shiraishi and Staple will appear live on the North Face’s Instagram on May 7. Much to her benefit in the digital space, Shiraishi currently has 300K followers on Instagram.
Lulu the One and Only
Lynnette Mawhinney, illus. by Jennie Poh. APA/Magination, $14.99 June 9 ISBN 978-1-4338-3159-1
In this #OwnVoices picture book exploring identity and discrimination, biracial Lulu doesn’t look just like her father or her mother. Tired of people asking her “what are you?,” the girl comes up with a powerful phrase to tell people who she is, not what she is. Lynnette Mawhinney is associate professor and chair of the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she helps prepare future urban teachers for the classroom. She has previously published three books, as well as several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Mawhinney was scheduled to attend the Midwest Booksellers Association Spring Road Trip in early April as an author guest, but the event was canceled. Still, she has been cheered by some positive early reviews for her first children’s book. Mawhinney is currently working with a freelance publicist to create a curriculum guide and reach out to influencers, including through a book trailer.
Ernesto Cisneros. HarperCollins, $16.99 Mar. 31 ISBN 978-0-06-288168-7
Efrén Divided, a Kids Indies Introduce title, went on sale March 31. In the book, though Efrén is American-born, his parents are undocumented; his worst fears are realized one day when his beloved Amá is deported across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. “As affecting as it is timely, Cisneros’s debut depicts how draconian U.S. immigration policies rip through one Southern California family,” PW said in its review. Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., where he teaches middle school. As an author, Cisneros believes in providing today’s young readers “with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify,” his publisher said. “The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that.” Although Cisneros had planned to work with L.A.-area bookstores on launch events and school events, he hosted a successful launch event via YouTube Live instead.
Cinderella Is Dead
Kalynn Bayron. Bloomsbury, $18.99 July 7 ISBN 978-1-5476-0387-9
Debut author and classically trained vocalist Kalynn Bayron offers a fairytale retelling in which black queer girls are the heroes, teaming up to save the kingdom. The book is set 200 years after the events of “Cinderella,” as rebellious 16-year-old Sophia flees from the Annual Ball and sets out on a journey that leads her to uncover the dark truth behind the familiar tale. Given the uncertainty around in-person appearances, Bloomsbury is hoping to set up a virtual event for Bayron in-conversation with another author in July. Bayron is already presenting her book in the virtual space, as she participated in the Social Distance Book Fest on April 25, and she was also on a virtual panel earlier this month hosted by Black Girls Create. The publisher is continuing to pitch Cinderella Is Dead for fall festivals, with the awareness that they might turn into virtual events.
Dancing at the Pity Party
Tyler Feder. Dial, $18.99 Apr. 14 ISBN 978-0-525-55302-1
This debut graphic memoir takes readers from Feder’s mother’s first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter at age 19. Pity Party got off to a promising start: it was an Indie Next pick and garnered five starred reviews, including one from PW. Feder had planned for a week of events in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, leading up to her appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, where she would have joined a conversation with booksellers and media about the memoir she wished she could have read as she was going through the grieving process. Instead, last Friday she virtually launched her book with Chicago indie bookstore Women & Children First.
Kate Pentecost. Little, Brown, $17.99 Apr. 14 ISBN 978-1-368-04186-7
In debut author Pentecost’s Dust Bowl–inspired dystopian YA novel, a 1935 dust storm decimates the Oklahoma Panhandle, and Goddesses Life and Death challenge those remaining to establish order, building a city and tithing crops for 10 years, before their fate is determined, what PW’s review called “an imaginative premise.” The author had been scheduled to participate in a joint event at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., with Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, to help them launch their novel Sword in the Stars and introduce Elysium Girls. BookPeople and The Writing Barn turned it into a virtual event instead, which took place on Zoom on April 7. The book will also be featured as part of NOVL CouchFest 2020, the digital book festival that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is hosting to connect authors with fans. Because the author is based in Texas, she was slated to appear at the Texas Library Association conference and attend LBYR’s annual Happy Hour event. Instead, the publisher created a dedicated TLA newsletter that included a note from Pentecost, and she joined a Virtual Happy Hour on April 21 during TLA’s virtual event.
Cynthia Salaysay. Candlewick, $17.99 May 12 ISBN 978-1-5362-0960-0
Cynthia Salaysay has workshopped her fiction at Tin House, has written food and culture articles for several Bay Area publications, and currently works as a Reiki practitioner and an operating-room nurse in Oakland, Calif. In Private Lessons, her first novel, a young pianist devotes herself to her art—and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes. Candlewick called it “a standout debut for the #MeToo era.” Now, with the current situation, the author has had to cancel her events, most notably her launch at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley, where she wrote most of her book. However, she has pivoted to digital, and recently participated in a Zoom reading co-hosted by Jessica Irish, with an open mic afterwards. The all-digital landscape has opened up more unexpected opportunities as well. Newbery Medalist Meg Medina loved the book and had wanted to do an event with her, but scheduling had proved difficult; now the two will be appearing on an Instagram Live chat on May 15. The author will also do a Facebook Live event with Cynthia Leitich Smith, hosted by Reading Group Choices, scheduled for May 29. And she is offering local Bay Area bookstores signed bookplates in lieu of signed books. “While the situation is difficult,” Candlewick reported, “she remains upbeat and optimistic, and is game to try anything.”
Nicole Kronzer. Amulet, $17.99 April 21 ISBN 978-1-4197-4084-8
Pulling from her experience as an actor and improviser, Nicole Kronzer’s first YA novel addresses toxic masculinity and #MeToo issues through the lens of the comedy world. Our review stated, “Kronzer excels at balancing humor with difficult subjects,” and we highlighted Unscripted as part of our close-up on books for young readers starring funny girls. Originally, Kronzer had bookstore events planned at Red Balloon in St. Paul, Minn., and at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Additionally, she was scheduled for Teen Lit Con in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English conference in Duluth (Kronzer is herself a high school English teacher near Minneapolis). But all of these events were canceled due to the pandemic. Instead, Kronzer had a virtual launch party in discussion with friend and Printz Award winner Nina LaCour on April 21 via Instagram. The author also wrote a guest blog post for the Nerd Daily on “Breaking into the Boys’ Club of Comedy.”
Jessi Zabarsky. Random House Graphic, $24.99 Apr. 14 ISBN 978-0-593-11999-0
Jessi Zabarsky’s debut this month coincided with the official launch of Random House’s graphic novel imprint. The LGBTQ YA fantasy, which traces the friendship-turned-romance between a young witch and her companion, started as a self-published zine. In addition to her work as a comics creator, Zabarsky runs the social media for Pusheen the Cat and has a background in online graphics. For Witchlight, RH Graphic had been planning in-store events tied to the book’s on-sale date, but given the current crisis, the team is exploring other alternatives. Meanwhile, the publisher plans to do another book with Zabarsky in the future.