We asked editors to tell us about recent books for young readers that they didn’t publish but greatly admire.
Andrea Spooner, v-p and editorial director
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I felt A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney (Holiday House/Neal Porter) was a triumph of ambitious and thoughtful bookmaking. It’s a seemingly impossible challenge—finding a textually and visually engaging way to share with young readers the important story of someone struggling to write and then present a speech. Here we have a bunch of men in white shirts and ties talking and thinking much of the time. But Barry’s text invokes emotion on every spread, using free verse to present easily digestible bits of information with rhythm and flow. And the energy of Jerry’s linework and collage creates the perfect vibe of movement and experimentation.
I’m always impressed when an artist’s choice of style and medium tangibly and metaphorically elevates the content of the book, and here it dovetails brilliantly: the collage truly brings to life the feel of King trying to bring together history, emotions, words, and big concepts into a seamless whole. This blend of text, art, and symbol is instantly established from the title page, where the words A Place to Land are merged with a map. Every page turn thereafter reveals many such subtle but substantive choices, all the way to the seven pages of expansive backmatter at the end. Many kudos to Neal, Barry, and Jerry for such an achievement!
Charlie Kochman, editorial director
Hands down, the one that got away is New Kid by Jerry Craft (HarperCollins). And not just retroactively, now that it won the Newbery Medal, but because I have known Jerry for years and knew he was destined for greatness. The graphic novel is smart, well done, and more important, necessary. Jerry has a unique voice in a creative space that has been waiting to be filled, and I have loved watching him grow as a comics creator. Middle school is vast and challenging, and there is room for all kinds of kids to be represented in our stories. I think we will look back at this book as the one that opened the gates for others to follow.
Elizabeth Law, editor
If I weren’t a children’s book editor, I would have devoured Sarah Miller’s book The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets (Random/Schwartz & Wade)—it’s an enormously compelling story, and very well told. But as an editor, who can appreciate the research, meticulousness, and difficult choices that had to be made again and again, I not only devoured it but I want to stand up and applaud. The subject matter is, of course, hugely compelling to kids, who love to read about children being mistreated. But how did the author know just which details to pick out of the massively documented lives of these children? How did she make the story so balanced, and how did she use quotes while letting the reader understand what may have been behind many of those quotes—i.e., the different agendas at play? Miller is a brilliant researcher, someone who has the highest standards for nonfiction, and best of all, a natural storyteller. Bravo!
Ashley Kuehl, executive editor
For me it always comes back to The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (FSG). I love this book so much. I love the cover, how the designer incorporated the bus route map with flames licking up toward it—all of which conveys a main character’s love of transit maps, the scene of the inciting event, and the reason the characters interacted in the first place—and the scratchy black font of the titling, which suggests both youth and the ash left by the fire. Even more than that,
I love the writing style. I love how the author incorporated various kinds of content to tell the story—Tumblr posts, news clippings, prose built from interviews with the families, and historical documentation to establish background. And that line at the end of the section explaining gender pronouns... “It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.” Casual, conversational, and it epitomizes the tone of kindness, camaraderie, and the quantity of information conveyed through the entire book. Much gratitude to both Dashka Slater and her editor Joy Peskin for creating this masterpiece.
Rotem Moscovich, editorial director, picture books
Knopf Books for Young Readers
I’ve been a fan of the work of Joyce Sidman, Taeeun Yoo, and Ann Rider, the editor, for many years—having all three of them together for Round made for some incredible book magic. Joyce’s simple, lyrical text has a distinct voice that the reader immediately connects to, and Taeeun’s art reveals the awe and beauty of round things in nature. As always, Joyce helps the reader see things in new, often unexpected ways. No detail is beneath notice here, from the rounded, generously sized font, to the breathing room left around the text, to the breathtaking page turns that always have a new revelation in store. And to finish, illuminating but not overwhelming backmatter.
A gem of a book.
Megan Peace, editor
I read Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (First Second) a week ago, and I can’t get it off my mind! It follows four high school friends and their experience with their periods. Yes, that period. From first periods, to painful periods, to worrisome periods—it touches on all types of physical responses to periods—but it also covers the emotional response to periods, like shame, embarrassment, and anger. As a reader, this book left me feeling like I had made a new friend—it comforted and excited me in a way that few books do. As an editor, this book left me feeling inspired. I want to bring equally game-changing books into the hands of readers who need them.
Andrea Colvin, editorial director, graphic publishing
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (First Second) is a revelatory book that raises the bar for what comics can do, both with its storytelling—visually and narratively—and its subject matter. Finally, a book about queer people that isn’t about them being queer! A book about toxic teen relationships that doesn’t read like an after-school special! Callista Brill at First Second has been quietly pushing the boundaries of what comics can be for years, and her recent lineup of gorgeous, authentic, at times swoony and at times gut-wrenching teen romances are leading the way forward for us all.
Katherine R. Harrison, senior editor,
Knopf Books for Young Readers
If I could claim responsibility for one book published in the last couple years, it would be National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber (Wide Eyed Editions). The format invites readers to start at any point and pick up factoids like tiny treasures in browsable bursts of text. Chris Turnham’s art takes it to the next level, with stunning full-page spreads of America’s natural wonders and more finely detailed spots to complement the text. I know I would have spent hours poring over this book when I was young, and it’s exciting to see more kid-friendly nonfiction being published, drawing readers in with a good hook and gorgeous presentation.
Tracy Mack, v-p and publisher
Scholastic Trade Book Group
I was completely swept away by Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick). Its graceful, nuanced pictures, together with pitch-perfect text, create a world fully alive, filled with courage and truth and warmth, and spilling over with a powerful love that extends beyond the page and folds you in its embrace. It is a jewel in every way.
Vicki Lame, senior editor
This one isn’t out until next month, but there is something so special about Samantha Mabry’s Tigers, Not Daughters (Algonquin Young Readers). I’ve been a huge fan of Mabry’s prose since her debut, A Fierce and Subtle Poison. Her books are spare yet immersive, and this one deftly explores grief and sisterhood through flawed, complicated characters that feel entirely teenage.
Emily Daluga, assistant editor
Abrams Children’s Books
I feel like everyone who loves books has had that moment where you just feel so totally seen by a book. Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact (Simon & Schuster) was that book for me. It’s one I always bring up when people ask what kind of projects I’m looking for as an editor, for so many reasons: Choi has achingly beautiful writing, the romance made me tear up on more than one occasion, and the story perfectly captures all the scariness of really being known by someone else. Penny has the kind of voice that burrows into your chest and stays with you long after you read the final line. It’s almost upsetting how wonderful this book is. I’m so glad it exists—but goodness, do I wish that we published it!