October Quick Picks

Put down the Halloween candy and grab one of these literary treats instead:

See What I have Done, by Sarah Schmidt, Grove Atlantic; $26.00, 324 pages.

Australian library coordinator-turned-novelist makes her chilling debut with a reinterpretation of the infamous story of Lizzie Borden, the Fall River, Massachusetts, native who bludgeoned her father and stepmother to death with an axe 125 years ago this past August.  Borden was tried and acquitted of the crimes, and officially, the murders remain unsolved, but Schmidt’s reexamination of the events through multiple narrators offers gruesome, cruel new perspectives on hidden family secrets.

A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, her Two Sons, and their Fight against Fascism, by Caroline Moorehead, Harper; $27.99, 488 pages. 

National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction finalist Caroline Moorehead (Human Cargo) takes on another topic examining courage under oppression. Here, we meet the Rossellis, an aristocratic family opposed to fascism and Benito Mussolini’s rise to power before World War II.  Using family letters and secret police files, Moorehead recounts how the Rosselli’s dedicated their lives and resources to rebelling against Mussolini’s reign of terror, and how their courage continued to inspire opposition during the dark days of war. A vivid portrait of a country’s decent into darkness and of those who defied it.

In the Darkness of the Night, by Bruno Munari, Princeton Architectural Press; $35.00, 60 pages.

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Originally published in Italy in 1956 under the title Nella notte buia, this little masterpiece uses a full arsenal of book arts techniques to convey space and time. Rather than relying exclusively on text, author Bruno Munari (1907-1998) relies instead on symphony of words and images to convey the story. Thick paper cutouts give way to fragile transparent sheets, making for a wholly unexpected and holistic reading experience. Perfect for collectors and paper engineers alike.

Paperbacks from Hell

New from Quirk Books is an account of the world of horror pulp fiction of the 1970s and ’80s. Author and horror historian Grady Hendrix (HorrorstörMy Best Friend’s Exorcism) traces the unexpected success of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, and William Blatty’s The Exorcist–three nightmare novels that became bestsellers and spawned two decades of provocative horror publishing. Read more, if you dare, at the Fine Books Blog.

A Form Worthy of Its Contents: The Folio Society at 70

This year marks seventy years since The Folio Society began publishing beautiful editions of global literary classics. To mark the occasion, the publishing house is offering a showstopping selection of titles in its fall catalog–Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a two-volume set of The Little Prince, and other great books. In addition, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting an exhibition entitled The Artful Bookfeaturing illustrated books, bindings, and original artwork from the Folio Society’s vast archives. Highlights include commissions from illustrators like Quentin Blake, Sara Ogilvie, Kate Baylay, Neil Packer, and many others.

Folio Society’s Editorial Director Tom Walker recently spoke about the milestone year, how they put together this recent catalog, and how he hopes Folio Society will continue to honor the company creed of producing books “in a form worthy of their contents.” Come read the interview at the Fine Books Blog.

 

Help Comes in All Sizes

Welcome to our newest reviewer, Abigail Constance Richter, a New York third grader excited to share great new children’s books with you. This first review was inspired by the brave and selfless hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida, reminding us that anyone can lend a helping hand.

Bulldozer Helps Out, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 3-6.

In Bulldozer Helps Out, Bulldozer wants to help the rest of the construction team, but the other machines say he is not big enough, strong enough, or tough enough. Soon, they feel bad and give Bulldozer an “easy” task. The full-page pictures in the book are big, bold, and colorful, and make the book a good choice for preschoolers and kids in kindergarten who love construction and want to be part of the team.

The Forbidden Fruit of an Elephant’s Garden

@BoxerBook Jane Ray explores greed in The Elephant’s Garden

The Elephant’s Garden, by Jane Ray; Boxer Books, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Many cultures have their version of the garden thief story–Russian folklore tells of Tsarevitch Ivan whose golden apples are stolen by the mythical Firebird, and food theft leads to a most unhappy ending in Nankichi Niimi’s powerful Gon, the Little Fox (1932). And of course, there’s the biblical tale of the snake tempting Eve with a forbidden apple in the garden of Eden. These aren’t those effortlessly cheerful happily ever after tales–these are stories of greed, failure, and attempts at redemption, with varying degrees of success, and Jane Ray’s retelling of a traditional Indian folktale follows in that tradition.

Here, a little girl named Jasmine discovers a brightly festooned elephant stealing from her garden, and once confronted, the elephant explains that the fruit in his garden is inedible. To prove it, he whisks the astounded child to his faraway cloud garden, where massive kiwis, strawberries, and peaches fill every corner, but sadly, they’re only precious jewels and of no use to a hungry elephant. Upon returning home, Jasmine tells her family about the magnificent sky garden and though she begs them not to tell anyone, the whole village finds out about the elephant’s treasures. What follows is a surprisingly elegant exploration of greed and selfishness. Ray’s vibrant, jewel-toned, collages evoke a lush Indian fantasy world, and the double-page spread of Jasmine grasping the tail of the elephant recall’s a similar nocturnal flight in Joanne Ryder and Amy Schwartz’s Night Flight or any of Henri Rousseau’s jungle scenes.

A worthy addition to any folktale collection, The Elephant’s Garden subtly invokes Ghandi’s summation on avarice: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

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Text and art copyright 2017 Jane Ray. Reproduced with permission from Boxer Books. 

 

Pretty Birds

Check out this pair of sweet bird books that will have little chicks peeping with joy:

Check out this pair of sweet bird books that will have your little chicks peeping with joy:

 

Jump, Little Wood Ducks, by Marion Dane Bauer, photographs by Stan Tekila, Adventure Publications; $14.95, 32 pages, ages 1-4. 

Wood ducks are perfectly named because they nest in the holes of trees. Though safe from certain predators, freshly hatched ducklings can’t fly yet, and getting out of the nest requires a real leap of faith, since some nests can be thirty feet high. Newbery Honor winner Marion Dane Bauer’s latest children’s book imagines the conversation between a mother wood duck and her anxious chicks as they survey their first real challenge. Nature photographer Stan Tekiela’s high-resolution images of wood ducklings are highly entertaining and encourage in-depth examination.

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Blue Penguin, by Petr Horacek, Candlewick Press; 15.99, 32 pages, ages 1-6. 

Petr Horacek has built a career sketching adorable parrots, geese, puffins, and other creatures to great acclaim–the Washington Post even called him “the thinking tot’s Eric Carle” back in 2006 when Silly Suzy Goose first appeared. Here, Blue Penguin feels just like a regular penguin, but the other birds don’t think he belongs and exclude him. Blue Penguin spends his days alone, singing a beautiful melody, until one day a small penguin asks Blue Penguin to teach him the song. Day by day, the duo become friends, and Horacek’s lovely ode to friendship and inclusion is a reminder that what unites us is more than skin-deep.

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BLUE PENGUIN. Copyright 2015 by Petr Horacek. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

 

Hope and Happy Endings: a Q&A with Stephanie Greene

Q & A with Princess Posey author Stephanie Greene @GreeneScgbooks @PutnamBooks

Stephanie Greene’s twenty-year career spans the arc of children’s literature; as the author of over forty early readers, chapter books, and middle-grade novels, and it’s fair to say she’s probably written something that appeals to nearly every young reader. From the Moose & Hildy series to the adventures of Owen Foote, Greene always strikes just the right tone to entice and encourage children to press on and turn the page. Her Princess Posey series has blossomed into eleven volumes, chronicling the adventures of a precocious tutu-wearing first grader as she faces various age-appropriate issues.

Greene’s own childhood was filled with long days spent reading, early tutorials for crafting compelling narratives. Last month, on the eve of the publication of her eleventh Posey book (Princess Posey and the First Grade Play; Putnam) Greene graciously discussed her formative years, the importance of cultivating empathy in children, and her conviction that a child’s imagination must be cultivated and nourished with great books. What follows is a transcript of our e-mail conversation from February 17, 2017.

  1. I read that your childhood influenced your decision to become a children’s book author—could you talk about that?

    I suppose it was the combination of having been the middle child of five, which caused me to pay a lot of attention to all of the family dynamics around me, and the fact that I come from a family of readers. My parents read, my siblings read … we weren’t allowed to watch TV during the week and there weren’t computers yet, so reading was one of our main sources of entertainment. I grew up with, and on, books.
  2. What did you read as a child? Which books were the most memorable? Why?I read everything: Nancy Drew and Louise May Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Madeleine books, Barbar, Eloise at the Plaza, old-fashioned books like Little Lord Fauntleroy and Little Women. As I mention these, it feels as if most of the books from my childhood were classics. My all-time favorite was The Secret Garden because I cared about Mary from the start. It taught me about the power of an empathetic protagonist.                                                                                                                                              Princess Posey_cover
  3. Princess Posey and the First Grade Play is the eleventh in the Posey (Congratulations!) How did the series come about? Why did you decide to focus on first grade readers?Thank you. I wrote the first book as a one-off idea after I saw a sign in front of an elementary school that said: KISS AND GO LANE. My immediate reaction was that that could be hard on a child: to have to say good-bye to a parent and walk into the school by herself. I heard a little voice in my head say, “You’re leaving me.” (Seriously, writers do hear those voices – if they’re very lucky.) The original character was called Megan. She wished she could wear her pink tutu to the first day of school because it made her feel like a princess who could go anywhere, and do anything, all by herself. I never dreamt it would become a series. Susan Kochan, my editor at Putnam, saw the potential of Posey’s pink tutu and her feelings about it to act as a hook that could carry a series. It was all her idea. I didn’t decide to focus on first graders. Posey was in first grade and I was focusing on her.
  4. Posey encounters many of the same issues and adventures as children reading the books—is there a real-life inspiration for Posey?Posey is all the little girls I’ve ever known, and also myself, my two sisters, my son’s friends. I raised a boy, so I didn’t have a daughter at home to spy on for material but I didn’t need it.
  5. Why is it so important to teach young readers about kindness and empathy?Empathy is the mortar of life. It’s the basis for a good life for each individual; one in which you care about and try to understand other people. If you can’t do that, and your attentions are only turned inward, you’re leading a pretty paltry existence. Bullies run rampant in such a world. Things fall apart.
  6. What is your work process like? Do you read the book out loud as you go? How do you know when the story is just right?No, I don’t read a book I’m working on out loud. I know it’s right from my gut instinct. Or at least, I know I’ve taken it as far as I can, based on my intentions for it, and will then let my editor determine whether it’s just right. But my instincts are fairly sound.
  7. Do you visit schools? What’s that like? Do you read aloud? What kind of questions do children ask you?I love visiting schools. It’s exhausting, but terrific fun. In today’s world, it’s become more of a necessity to entertain them, which can be tough, but most of the time they’re excited to listen to me because they’ve read my books and like them. The books are the star in any visit. They ask how I write my books, where I get my ideas, which book is my favorite, about my writing habits, how old I am (that’s usually a boy question), if I have pets … they’re interested in a lot of things.

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    Text copyright 2017 Stephanie Greene, image copyright 2017 Stephanie Roth Sisson. Reproduced with permission from Putnam Books.
  8. Stephanie Roth Sisson’s illustrations are a marvelous match for your text—do you collaborate during the creative process?No. Stephanie and I have never even met. We’ve become friends through emails over the twelve books, but we’ve never discussed a book she’s illustrating. I write the manuscript and once the editor approves it, she sends it to Stephanie, who does her wonderful job with it. I’d love to meet Stephanie in person someday.
  9. Any tips for dealing with reluctant readers?It never fails to amaze me how many parents don’t seem to know what their children are interested in. They like to read about the same things they like to do in life. Ask them what they like to read about. What interests them. What they do at home. What sports they play. Anything, to get some sort of insight into what might interest them in a book. And then, don’t give them books that are too hard for their reading level. And let them read the same book a thousand times, if they want. The patterns of the words and the flow of the sentences are getting into their brains and making the act of reading more familiar.
  10. What are you working on now?A picture book biography about a wonderful physicist of the last century. He made science fun! That’s a message today’s children need to learn. We need scientists.
  11. What do you think is the key to good storytelling?
    Character, pacing, action, conflict, and an ending that satisfies.
  12. What else would you like our readers to know?If they’re teachers and parents, tell them authors love to hear from the children who like their books. If a child gets in touch, I’ll always respond.

Photo of Stephanie Greene by Amy Stern Photography.