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.

Q&A with Warren the 13th Creators Will Staehle and Tania del Rio

Warren is an unusual protagonist: squat with bulging eyes, he doesn’t make the cutest first impression. He’s the homely heir to a family hotel in a forest full of witches, talking trees, and other fantastical beasts. But what he lacks in looks Warren makes up for in charm and wit, much to the delight of his devoted fanbase. Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye landed on bookshelves in 2015 to great acclaim, and readers have been chomping at the bit for the next installment. The wait is almost over:  Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods (Quirk Books, $16.95, 240 pages, ages 11 and up) goes on on sale March 21.

Warren creators Tania del Rio and Will Staehle are bewitching readers and shaking up the children’s picture-book world by blurring the lines between comics and traditional storytelling.

Del Rio is a comic illustrator at heart: her work has appeared in the Archie series, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Marvel comics, and manga. While pursuing her BFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, del Rio met Staehle, also an art student there, and they remained friends after graduation. Staehle is considered by many critics to be one of the most exciting young illustrators today, and his work has graced The New York Times and bestselling book covers.

Del Rio and Staehle kindly answered a few questions via e-mail in late January about working with friends, early influences, and why middle-schools are forever pulled towards the macabre. (Make it all the way to the end for how kids can contact del Rio with their own questions!)

1. Warren seems to be follow the Lemony Snicket genre, that is, geared to middle-grade readers and appealing to the quirky, slightly macabre sensibilities of the tween set. How did you come up with the idea for this series? 

Tania: Will is probably better suited to answer this question as he originally created the character of Warren back when we both attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design over 13 years ago. Even back then, the character ignited my imagination, and I began writing an early novel based on Warren and his hotel, and revisited it over the years. A lot has changed plot-wise since the earliest draft, but the creepy Victorian vibe, and the mysterious riddles have been there from the beginning.

Will: As Tania mentioned above, I created Warren during art school many years ago. This was before A series of Unfortunate Events burst onto the scene, so at the time Warren was inspired more by Edward Gorey and Victorian dime novels of yesteryear. Add to that a touch of Poe, some Jules Verne, and healthy dose of Tim Burton, and you have Warren the 13th!

2. Tania, how did you make the leap from cartooning (Archie, Sabrina, Manga, My Poorly Drawn Life) to Warren?  

Tania: Even while I was drawing comics, I was also writing them, so it wasn’t actually much of a leap at all to write a middle grade novel. This age group has always been my favorite audience to write for, and I enjoyed having more space to expand on my story using prose as opposed to being confined to speech balloons. I let Will focus on the art and I focused on the writing.

3. What was the collaborative process like? 

Tania: We’ve been creative collaborators for many years, and so we’ve formed a really comfortable working relationship with a lot of brainstorming over the phone, and sending ideas back and forth throughout the entire process. Luckily, we both see eye-to-eye on many things, and have a similar aesthetic and sense of humor.

Will: It’s pretty seamless at this point, we tend to fight about the small stuff more than anything–new character’s names, neighboring towns, etc. But more often than not things run pretty smoothly.

4. Tell me why you went with the two-column layout.

Will:  The two-column layout was originally based on Victorian dime-novels and turn-of the-century newspapers. While traditionally illustrated novels leave full pages open for their art, the two column approach allows for me to have full-page images throughout while adding many small inset illustrations into the text, creating a unique look. 

5. Will, what’s the medium for the illustrations? The images feel like engravings, but after having gone through some kind of digital processing, like a mashup of steampunk Victorian with a dash of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey for good measure.

WillThe illustration is a little bit of everything. But I generally say that it’s collage-based. It’s a mixture of original drawings, some custom 3-D models, and vintage engravings that I’ve collected. It’s a hodgepodge of sources, really, but the goal is to have all of those pieces come together in a uniform way.

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Credit: Aaron Feave

6. Warren is an odd-looking child, but hard-working and well-meaning. Do you hope readers will connect with him? (Don’t judge a book by its cover sort of thing?)

Tania: I always hope readers will connect with the characters I write, because otherwise they won’t be invested in the story. I see a bit of myself in Warren, and I hope my writing feels like it’s coming from an authentic place. When I was his age, I was a bit of an ugly duckling, and got bullied quite a bit. Despite that, I tried really hard to make friends and do well in school and I took pride in areas of my life that I excelled at.

Will: As a book cover designer, I can vouch for that “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” thing. Everyone goes through an awkward phase, and hopefully Warren is no different. But I think the hope is that people see past that, and just like Warren for who he is. Tania, Jason (our publisher), and I often speak about how Warren is a cute lad to us now. I think as people live out these adventures with him, that eventually they won’t even think twice about his appearance.

7. Bunion, Sketchy, Mr. Friggs, even Beatrice–how did you come up with the names?

Tania: Some of the characters have been around for so long I can’t even remember! Will came up with some of the names, and I came up with some others. I’ve always been inspired by Roald Dahl’s books and the fantastic names of his characters: Trunchbull, Wormwood, Bogtrotter. I wanted to evoke some of that feeling when brainstorming names for the odd characters in the Warren universe.

Will I do have a bit of a particular sense when it comes to names. For me it often becomes a visual thing. How does this name look when typed out…or how does it look when it’s set in giant lettering, and being screamed out in a word balloon?

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credit: Rich Dachtera

8. What do you hope kids take away from the Warren books?

Tania: I just want them to be entertained, and to leave them wanting more! I’m a big advocate for young readers, especially in an age when we have so many digital distractions. I don’t write to “teach” kids or preach to them. I just want them to have a great time reading, and to feel like they’ve stepped into another world when they open my books. Warren has been touted as a good book for reluctant readers, thanks to the great visuals, and nothing makes me happier than hearing from parents who tell me their kids are reading Warren for the second or third time!

Will: Entertainment, and hopefully inspiration. I drew pretty much every day of my life growing up, and if we can inspire students to make that leap and draw their own comics, or write their own short story, it feels like it’s a huge win. Tania and I have been busy doing school tours for book one, and more are scheduled for the second book, and there isn’t much better in life than talking to 200 kids about being creative for a living, and answering their questions about story-telling, magic, and monsters!

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9. What do you think about danger in children’s literature? Can there be too much menace? Not enough?

Tania: I think kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. I mentioned Roald Dahl earlier. He had some really dark themes in some of his books. But they thrilled me as a child, and they stuck with me over the years. The same is true of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, which are also a big influence in my work. In this day and age, especially, I don’t see the point of trying to hide the dangers that exist in the world from kids. Better to give them stories where they can face, and triumph, over those threats in a safe and imaginative way. Of course, it’s always up to parents to decide what their children are ready to be exposed to, but as an author, I choose not to avoid darkness in my work.

Will: I think every kid is very different. We’ve had everyone from elementary school kids to senior citizens read Warren and love it. Every once and while I’ll hear that it was too scary for a certain reader, I think the imagery probably adds to some of that intensity, but the goal is always to hopefully leave Warren in a better place at the end of each book than he was at the beginning of it, and I think if kids go into it knowing that, it makes the experience a little less concerning.

10. What were you two like as kids?

Tania: I was extremely shy, and a constant daydreamer. I was also voracious reader, but when I wasn’t reading you could find me busy writing stories or drawing. I used to get in trouble for doodling too much during class, and I tried to incorporate storytelling into every homework assignment I got. As for my hobbies, I was obsessed with comic books, Super Nintendo, and Disney animation. I didn’t get outside too much!

Will: I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, and was the “artsy” kid who was raised by two artist parents. I loved comics and yard sales (and actually, I still do). I guess some things never change!

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11. What kinds of books did you read growing up? What kind of comics did you read?

Tania: As I mentioned, I loved Roald Dahl, but I also read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi – The Dragonriders of Pern and Dune series were favorites of mine. I also loved historical fiction about ancient civilizations. I’m grateful that my parents were heavy readers themselves, and so there were always books aplenty to be found in the house. I’m also grateful they never tried to stop me from reading whatever I wanted to, even if it wasn’t entirely “age appropriate”! As for comics, I was crazy about ElfQuest, X-men, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Will: I read mostly comics when I was a kid. I used to go to the local pharmacy and stare at the spinner rack, checking out the week’s newest comics. I didn’t get into “real” books until a bit later when I read some of Ray Bradbury’s books, which opened the doorway for me into literature.

12. Will and Tania, are there any things you find hard to illustrate?

Tania: When drawing comics I pretty much hate drawing anything that isn’t a character. I’m not a fan of backgrounds, and I really find drawing cars and other machinery really difficult. But just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I don’t still have to do it if the story calls for it!

Will: I don’t hate drawing anything in particular, but there are certainly more time-consuming elements of art. Hands and fingers are always a bit of a time-drain!

13. Will, as the former art director at HarperCollins, how did you make the leap from cover design to children’s book illustration? (Is there a leap?)

Will: Well, it wasn’t exactly intentional… I worked at HarperCollins straight out of college, and worked my way up to be the art director. I worked with and designed covers for some amazing authors, like Michael Crichton, Michael Chabon, and Christopher Moore. After HarperCollins, I moved westward to take a job as the art director of JibJab, an art + animation studio based in Venice, CA. I continued to design freelance book covers, and a friend of mine at Harper became the new art director at Quirk Books. He suggested to [Quirk publisher] Jason Rekulak that they should try to do a project with me. That introduction spun into two postcard book projects, and the Warren the 13th series, and I couldn’t be happier to call Quirk home.

14. Will and Tania: You took the first Warren on the road to middle schools around the country, and I understand you plan on doing that again. Can you tell me what your presentation is like? What kinds of questions do kids ask you?

Tania: We’ve had a great experience speaking to middle school kids. We try to keep our presentation entertaining with a lot of visuals and humor. We start with a keynote presentation introducing ourselves and some of the art we made when we were in middle school, and we talk about what we do now. We introduce the world of Warren the 13th and the main characters, and then I read a portion of the book out loud. To cap it off, Will shows the kids the long and painfully arduous process of designing the book cover, which always gets a laugh.

The Q and A at the end is one of my favorite parts. A lot of the kids want to know where we came up with our ideas, and why Warren looks the way he does. Often, they want to know what the “All-Seeing Eye” is. Of course, we can’t give anything anyway, but we encourage them to read the book and solve the riddles to find out.

Will: Tania covered most of the main points, but I’ll add that the whole tour was exhilarating, and exhausting, but so very rewarding to to speak directly to the students. Walking into these schools where the kids had created original drawings of the characters on poster-board hanging all around the school nearly melted my heart! It is so much fun. And then I go home and sleep for a week straight!

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15. What else would you like our readers to know about you and the Warren books?

Tania: I want readers to know that we have a lot of ideas for future books in the Warren series, so we hope we’ll have the chance to write even more adventures for them. I also love hearing from readers and I do my best to respond.

My address is: P.O BOX 70801 Pasadena, CA 91117 I can also be reached at taniadelrioauthor@gmail.com, and on twitter @taniadelrio.

Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents, by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner; Quirk Books, $13.99, 224 pages, ages 7-10.

Celebrate Presidents’ Day with this thoroughly enjoyable nonfiction examination of America’s presidents before they grew up. Stabler continues his exploration of popular history (Secret Lives of the Supreme Court; Secret Lives of Great Authors) by digging into the boyhoods of twenty commanders-in-chief. Many were pranksters, like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, and others had surprising hobbies like ballroom dancing (Taft). Ford faced dyslexia, and Obama’s first job at Baskin Robbins ruined his taste for ice cream for life. Lively and engaging text are accompanied by Horner’s 200 caricatures of the presidents as young boys. A wonderful reminder that even the most powerful people in the world were once children too, and that greatness can come from anywhere.

Madeleines: Elegant French Tea Cakes To Bake & Share, by Barbara Feldman Morse; Quirk Books, $19.95, 176 pages.

Everyone’s either read or read about that famous passage in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu where the narrator, upon accepting his mother’s invitation to take tea and enjoy a scallop-shaped pastry, is suddenly and vividly transported back in time at those first flaky bites. Supposedly invented by a young servant named Madeleine Palumier at the court of Louis XV, these distinctive little cakes have been regaled as sophisticated and elegant cakelets.  And perhaps because of the madeleine’s pedigree and chic associations, many home cooks might refrain from baking them. Enter Barbara Feldman Morse, award-winning baker and recipe developer, who demystifies the madeleine and enthusiastically encourages readers to try one of the seventy versions in this book. The very fact that there are so many types of madeleines may shock readers, since some devotees feel (again, thanks to Proust) that there is only one authentic flavor. Morse takes out all the guesswork by introducing a one-bowl mixing method in a bid to save time. (She’s also included the classic method for those bakers with more experience, or time.)

They look fancy, but madeleines don’t require expensive ingredients – indeed, the basic recipe is nothing more than eggs, flour, sugar and butter – and will give home bakers the opportunity to employ those long-neglected madeleine pans received as housewarming presents. I am a wishful baker: I read cookbooks like these and long to try the concoctions described therein, only to either be totally disappointed at my lack of pastry skills or frustrated by vaguely written recipes. I located my own (never used) madeleine pan and attempted the classic recipe, reprinted below. To my delight, fragrant cakelets formed after less than an hour of preparation. While Morse suggests freezing uneaten madeleines, mine did not last long.  Bonne Fournée! (Happy Baking!)

CLASSIC FRENCH MADELEINES

Excerpted from Madeleinesby Barbara Feldman Morse. Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books.

I used to think there was nothing like a flaky croissant to make me long to live in France. Then I made these madeleines. The buttery, lemony flavor, combined with the gorgeous seashell shape—ridged on one side, smooth on the other—inspires daydreams of moving to one of Paris’s arrondissements. And here’s the best part: Although on this side of the pond a legitimate-tasting croissant is tough to find (let alone to bake!), these classic French madeleines are a cinch to make and taste divine. Serve them plain or dust them with confectioners’ sugar to jazz them up juste un petit peu.

Yield : 24 madeleines

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus 4 tbsp for pans (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1⁄2 tsp baking powder

3 large eggs

2⁄3 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

11 ⁄2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

1.    Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 12-shell pans with baking spray, or melt an additional 4 tablespoons butter and brush in each mold.

2.    In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.

3.    Place butter in another bowl and microwave on low power for 1 minute, or until melted. Allow to cool to room temperature.

4.    Place eggs and sugar in a 2-quart glass bowl or measuring cup and beat with a hand or stand mixer on medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

5.    Add vanilla and zest and continue beating for another minute or so. Fold in the flour mixture until just blended, then drizzle the cooled butter over the batter and incorporate completely.

6.    Using a 11⁄2-inch-diameter scoop or a teaspoon, fill shell molds with batter until almost full. Gently press batter to distribute it evenly.

7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until madeleines puff up and are golden brown.

8. Remove pans from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 minutes, then invert and tap madeleines onto the rack. You may also use a small offset spatula to remove each one individually. Let cool completely if planning to store and/or freeze. Otherwise, serving madeleines warm from the oven is best!  

Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself, by Bob Pflugfelder and Steven Hockensmith, illustrated by Steve Garrett; Quirk Books, $12.95,  272 pages, ages 9 to 12. (Publication: October 7, 2014)

During a phone conversation late this spring, ‘Science Bob’ Pflugfelder  enthusiasticly explained  that his books for middle-grade students are driven by his own desire to question, tinker and build. The co-author of the much-loved Nick and Tesla series, Science Bob also conducts  experiments on television programs like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Live! with Kelly and Michael, and teaches elementary school science in a Boston suburb. “Originally Nick and Tesla was meant to be a trilogy,” he remarked. “Our readership has grown with each book, and teachers and librarians are excited about them too.” This is most likely due to the series’s unique narrative structure, which are written as part novel, part do-it-yourself manuals. “As far as we can tell, there’s never been a novel that combines a ‘how-to’ with a storyline,” Science Bob said, “we couldn’t find it anywhere else.” The latest, Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove, marks the fourth book to be released, and a fifth is in the works.

The layout in Gadget Glove is a slight departure from the other three. In previous books, several do-it-yourself creations are interspersed throughout the narrative. That happens in Gadget Glove as well, but now, each project becomes one part of a larger contraption: the cyborg glove of the book’s title. “The projects are more complex this time,” Science Bob said, “I hope kids will be eager to make their own versions of the cyborg glove.” Once fully constructed, the cyborg glove has four functions: a LED signal light, an ultra-loud emergency alarm, a handy sound recorder, and an UV secret message revealer.

The creative process is divided between Science Bob, co-author Steven Hockensmith, illustrator Scott Garrett, and a team at Quirk Books. That may sound like many chefs stirring the pot, but all parties work well together. “Usually, we agree on the general plot and outline some of the DIY projects. Then Steve and I go in our own directions. We have done four books together and now on Book Five, and neither Steve nor I have ever met each other!”

The twins’ names Nick and Tesla are an homage to electrical engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla, known for his high-voltage experiments which led to, among other things, inventing the Tesla coil, which was used by radio stations and telegraph companies. Mr. Tesla’s historical importance and scientific contributions are explored in depth in Gadget Glove. “Tesla has been in the media in recent years. Now we even have Tesla vehicles, so I think it will be interesting for kids to read the Nick and Tesla series and discover that there was a scientist named Nikola Tesla.”

Throughout the series, Nick and Tesla are generally more competent and resourceful than their adult counterparts. Sometimes, the adults are even the villains.  I think it’s nice to present things from a kid’s viewpoint; they see things that adults don’t,” said Science Bob. “In our books, that kids are able to put things together in different ways because they have a different viewpoint and a different motivation and a bit of imagination.”

Science Bob is also devoted to his role as an elementary school science teacher. He is quick to emphasize how curious, inventive, and imaginative children can be when given the chance. “Ultimately, I think the kids who turn cardboard boxes into robots using Christmas lights and fishing line are the children who go on to build Mars Rovers, solve energy problems, and feed the world.” The Nick and Tesla books tap into that creative and inventive spirit.

Being a member of the burgeoning ‘maker’ movement most inspires Science Bob’s writing and his teaching. While anyone could dabble in an activity to qualify as a maker, there is a strong current of participation within the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. The maker movement encourages passive thinkers to become active innovators through creative expression, self-reliance, and yes, even tinkering. I think, first and foremost, I like making things in the shop,” Science Bob said. “I am fascinated by movie props; I collect movie props and build movie props. That’s where my passion lies. I think the maker movement is something you’re hearing about a lot now. Look at 3D printers, for example. As they become more available, people are starting to understand what you can do with them. Programmable microchips are now in stores too. So I think the maker movement especially among kids is going to keep growing.”

Nick and Tesla have become more than characters that encourage middle-graders to be avid readers, but that being makers opens doors onto all sorts of worldly possibilities.  Science Bob could not be more delighted with the reception. “It’s great that people are embracing the Nick and Tesla series, but also how the maker world has adopted it. Parents in particular want their kids to build things, and use these books as a template. For me, it is so rewarding that kids are putting down the iPad, looking away from the screen, and are actually building stuff.”

Nicole Basbanes Claire is the head children’s librarian at the Upton Town Library in Massachusetts, where she helps young readers discover the wonder of books. Prior to that, she was a teen librarian at Gleason Public Library in Carlisle, MA. Claire received her AB in English and Creative Writing from Sweet Briar College and her MSLIS from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science. She now lives and kayaks with her husband, Billy, at their lake house in Central Massachusetts.

Photo and Recipe Reprinted with permission from Quirk Books 

This delicious drink, made with Nutella as its base, is a sophisticated take on a childhood staple.  

Nutella Melt
A steamy treat with hints of hazelnut
Serves 4

Nutella, the addictive hazelnut-chocolate spread, melts effortlessly into milk and gets a wink and smile from hazelnut liqueur.

4 cups whole milk

¼ cup Nutella

Pinch salt

6 ounces hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped, for garnish

Toasted coconut flakes*, for garnish

*To toast coconut flakes, arrange them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350°F over for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking, until toasted. Alternatively, toast them in a large dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes.

Bring milk, Nutella, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until Nutella is completely dissolved. Stir in liqueur. Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the stove while you whip the cream.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, confectioners’ sugar, and espresso powder on medium speed in a large, chilled bowl until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, beat by hand using a large wire whisk.) Ladle drink into warm cups and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and coconut.

Cooking Tip
The most efficient way to remove hazelnuts’ unpleasantly bitter skins is to blanch them. Bring 4 cups water and ¼ cup baking soda to boil in a large pot. Add hazelnuts and boil for 5 minutes. Drain hazelnuts in a colander and rinse them under cold running water, rubbing them against each other until most of the skins have come off. Place hazelnuts in a clean kitchen towel (one you’re not too attached to, because it will stain) and rub them with the towel to remove any remaining skins.

After removing the skins, place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350°F oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 15 minutes.