In this fifth and final installment of our series, we asked editors to tell us about a book of theirs, published during the pandemic, that they wish had gotten more love.
Andrea Colvin, editorial director, Graphic Publishing, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
In the last year, books helped me feel connected to something outside of myself. And few books I edited swept me off my feet as much as Shark Summer by Ira Marcks. The script for this graphic novel had always been engaging to me: it follows 13-year-old Gayle and her new cinephile friend Elijah, with whom she enters a film competition as they try to solve an old mystery surrounding Martha’s Vineyard, while at the same time dealing with her troubles at home and pesky tourist filmmakers who are working on a shark thriller movie. It is full of fun twists and as many Jaws references as you could think of, so I came to expect the unexpected with Ira. But when the art started coming in, I still found myself breathless. Each page felt like a film reel, with expressions, gestures, and the movements of characters lovingly captured. The camera lens, as it were, always seemed to move around, live with intent. One panel would be a close up of the characters talking, and to establish the next scene, the next panel would be rolling landscapes that described the sweet scenery of Martha’s Vineyard in thick lines and popping colors. It wasn’t just a graphic novel packed with film references, it was a love letter to classic thriller films that emulated their cinematography in a story that I think a ton of kids can relate to and lose themselves in. Shark Summer has had a slow start, but I know once readers get their hands on it, it will sweep them away just like it did to me.
Ken Geist, v-p, publisher at large, Scholastic
What happens when you pair humor with fact and fiction—the outcome is a hysterical picture book featuring Dr. Glider in Eat Your Rocks, Croc! by Jess Keating, with illustrations by Pete Oswald. Working with Jess Keating and Pete Oswald was incredible. Jess is a writer and a zoologist with a plethora of animal knowledge and Pete is an extremely talented artist. I had so much fun learning and laughing with both of them. It was so unfortunate that Eat Your Rocks, Croc! came out in May 2020 when most bookstores, schools, and libraries were closed. Eat Your Rocks, Croc! is a picture book that you need to hold in your hands and laugh a bit as you discover some intriguing and fun facts about animals and one plant you might not have known. Hopefully in September 2021, when the next Dr. Glider picture book, Set Your Alarm, Sloth! is published, readers will discover Eat Your Rocks, Croc! as well.
Melissa Warten, associate editor, FSG Books for Young Readers
In What Stars Are Made Of, 12-year-old Libby Monroe was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky. When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby strikes a deal with the universe to make Nonny’s baby be born perfect and healthy—but does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice? Stars published directly into the pandemic, about two weeks after the world went into lockdown, and that definitely made some things hard; but in spite of all-virtual events and a completely upended debut experience, author Sarah Allen and I, like Libby, still felt pretty lucky. From wonderful Zoom launch panels to tweets from people with (and parents of people with) Turner Syndrome about how much the book meant to them, we watched Stars find its way to the readers that needed it most, against all odds.
One of the things I think makes this book so special is that its attitude isn’t, “If only I didn’t have Turner Syndrome.” Libby is certainly aware that her disorder makes her life complicated, but Turner Syndrome isn’t the thing for her to overcome—it’s part of who she is. The voice is completely hilarious from the get-go; the second Libby says, “There were a whole buttload of things wrong when I was born,” it’s game over for kid readers! Stars was published to solid critical recognition, as was Sarah’s next novel, Breathing Underwater, in 2021. I so want middle-grade readers to find their way to these stories of self-love, determination, and growing up.
Paula Wiseman, v-p and publisher, Paula Wiseman Books
Simply put, Stephen T. Johnson can do anything. The Caldecott Honor artist and two-time New York Times Best Illustrated artist has created a remarkable book about 10 different forms of music—from classical to jazz to country. The book is a visual treat with vibrant illustrations of each type of music in an amazing accordion format on card stock. The book includes nonfiction information about each type of music. Music Is... is a book that needs to be seen and experienced—as it opens from end to end to be an impressive 21 feet long with each type of music flowing the next through a connecting line. Being published during the pandemic, there was unfortunately no way to convey the format or the drama of the book. Music is original, wonderful, and a work of art.
Nikki Garcia, editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Sonja K. Solter’s debut published on March 24, 2020, precisely when schools, jobs, and everything in between shut down across the country. When You Know What I Know is a heartbreaking yet hopeful novel-in-verse about sexual abuse told through the voice of middle-schooler and victim, Tori. Over the course of a year, Tori finds herself battling PTSD and all the mixed emotions that come with the trauma—anger, shame, and sadness. But I promise, Tori comes through the other side stronger than before. Sonja did a wonderful job of showing Tori’s journey in a sensitive and kid-friendly way.
This novel was always going to make some people uncomfortable. It’s a topic that many don’t like to think about. But sexual abuse is—sadly, appallingly, unacceptably—a part of our world, and yet it can feel off-limits to speak about it. Add a pandemic to the mix, and it’s even more difficult to get this important book in the hands of readers who need it. Quarantine forced families to stay home to protect themselves. However, the home may already be an unsafe place, and so we’ve learned there has been a significant rise of abuse. I truly believe When You Know What I Know will help anyone, child or adult, dealing with sexual abuse pre-pandemic, currently, or post-pandemic.
Julie Bliven, editor, Charlesbridge
Rare and Blue: Finding Nature’s Treasures by Constance Van Hoven, illustrated by Alan Marks, was published at the beginning of the pandemic and may have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle and shutdown. This nonfiction picture book introduces various blue species in nature and reveals why they’re either naturally rare, threatened, or endangered (e.g., blue whale, Karner blue butterfly, Eastern indigo snake, etc.). I love how interactive, informative, and striking this book is while gently encouraging conservation. The color blue happens to be the rarest color in nature, but what felt especially rare about this book was the state of the world when it published six months into the pandemic. The fact that Constance Van Hoven had to cancel her many in-person promotional events was disappointing, to say the least. In the end, I hope this book finds its way to more and more curious readers and budding naturalists, and proves to be as resilient and remarkable as the species it features.
Karen Smith, associate editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
A Cloud of Outrageous Blue by award-winning author-illustrator Vesper Stamper tells the story of Edyth, a teenage girl paving her own way during the Great Plague of 1348. Edyth has synesthesia, which intersects with her newfound work as a manuscript illuminator at a secluded priory. As the Plague grows closer to home and Edyth finds herself navigating forbidden love and priory politics, it becomes clear that she must carve her own path in a perilous era. Stunning on every level, the vibrant art interspersed throughout the novel helps readers to see the world through Edyth’s synesthetic eyes. The color and emotion against the backdrop of great historical drama and high stakes is unforgettable. A Cloud of Outrageous Blue is a wonderful literary and artistic accomplishment, and a gripping journey of self-discovery and love in all too familiar uncertain times. It pubbed on August 8, 2020 to glowing reviews but little fanfare. It’s a masterpiece, and I wish it had received the attention it truly deserves.
Click here to see our previous Pandemic Missed Connections installments.