November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Amazing Artist! Bevy of Books! Cool New Space! The ABCs of the HarperCollins Fall Preview

On a warm late spring day, a group of librarians and educators descended upon the newly renovated offices of the HarperCollins Children’s Books team.

First up, we were treated to words from two-time Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka. He shared what it was like to work with the late Vera B. Williams on Home at Last (Greenwillow, September, 2016), the story of an adopted boy and his two dads.

When it was determined that Vera B. Williams would not be able to do the illustrations for Home at Last, both she and her editor knew that Chris Raschka was the right illustrator to work on the project. A series of slides showed the process of their collaboration.

Chris Raschaka's color renderings were on display.

Chris Raschka’s color renderings were on display.

Raschka’s early steps included creating a dummy copy with sketches on Post-Its. After talks with Williams at her home in Narrowsburg, NY, he revised those sketches, condensing them down and developing them further. Raschka also worked with Williams’ own sketches. The process had both of them working, both of them drawing.

Raschka spoke of the sense of urgency to the work because no one knew just how much longer Williams would be with them. In the end, he spent two days with Williams during what turned out to be her final week. He talked of how she spoke of making books as something that kept a person alive—but, of course, not forever.

Home At Last FINALRaschka’s visit was followed by the main event: A five table round-robin, when we got to hear about all of the exciting new books that will beg to be added to their to-read piles this fall.

Engineering picture books are trending and Susan Hood’s The Fix-It Man fits the bill; inspired by Rube Goldberg contraptions, the hero constructs a device for removing diapers from the house pronto. In Fox and the Jumping Contest, Corey R. Tabor’s trickster either defeats or cheats the competition by building a jet pack, leaving the reader to ponder the ethics of technology in sporting contests. Biology gets a shout-out in I Used to Be a Fish by Tom Sullivan–possibly the story of an imaginative child, possibly a primer on evolution. Speaking of primers, Christoph Niemann jumps off from the Fry Word List for simple, thought-provoking illustrations conveying meaning for more than 300 words both concrete and abstract.

Goofier fun abounds as well. In The Cranky Ballerina, Elise Gravel brings hilarious grumpiness to a girl who Does. Not. Enjoy. Dancing. Veronica Bartles’ The Princess and the Frogs follows the travails of a girl who seeks a frog for friendship purposes and resents how they keep turning into princes. Colleen AF Venable and Ruth Chan team up for Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World, chronicling Mervin’s protracted efforts to raise his arms for a hug.

Middle grade debut fiction sparked the most buzz at our table. Booki Vivat’s heavily illustrated Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom integrates drawings, diagrams, and doodles into the fabric of the text in a high-energy delight. In One Half From the East, Nadia Hashimi explores the phenomenon of Afghan girls presenting as boys until puberty for economic and personal opportunities. Julie Leung’s Mice of the Round Table series kicks off with A Tail of Camelot, in which the mice of Camelot fend off a weasel attack while their human counterparts face their own Arthurian trials. Joining a minute but blossoming shelf including George and Gracefully Grayson, M.G. Hennessey’s The Other Boy follows a transgender kid who gets outed at school.

Some veterans hit the list as well. Jacqueline Davies returns with a sharp, science-minded prankster in Nothing But Trouble. Sharon Creech’s twentieth book with HarperCollins, inspired by her own granddaughter, features a girl and a cow and both Creech’s beloved prose and poetry. Patricia MacLachlan tugs the heartstrings (again) with The Poet’s Dog, told from the perspective of an Irish wolfhound named Teddy. Patricia McCormick turns her considerable powers of research to prose nonfiction in The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, which examines how a pacifist turned assassin.

YA readers interested in science or crime will want to check out Blood, Bullets, Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos, a photo- and diagram-packed examination of the world’s most televised science. How about biomechanics, the YA mini-trend? In Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin (working title: “Sexy Frankenstein Project”), survivors in a plague-ravaged city have biomechanical limbs or, in one case, an audibly-ticking heart. In Emma Trevayne’s Gamescape: Overworld, gamers compete for bioenhancements, an upgrade Miguel needs to survive. Lauren Oliver offers Replica—which can be read four different ways—featuring clones used for testing biological weapons.

The recent uptick in LGBTQ books continues and expands. M-E Girard celebrates butch girls and healthy lesbian relationships in Girl Mans Up. As I Descended by Robin Talley combines horror and lesbian romance for a Macbeth retelling set in an elite boarding school. For a lighter southern twist, Jaye Robin Brown’s Georgia and Other Forbidden Fruit tackles the intersection of faith and sexual identity.

The road trip turned hetero romance never goes out of style, as evidenced by Katrina Leno’s The Lost and Found featuring pen pals with a propensity for losing things—even people. Garnering comparisons to John Corey Whaley and Matthew Quick, Tom Crosshill’s The Cat King of Havana follows Rick Gutiérrez on his trip to Cuba, ostensibly to learn salsa but actually to win fellow traveler Ana’s heart. In Sing by Vivi Greene, a superstar singer escapes to Maine to avoid press and starts a fling with a local boy.

This preview highlighted the fall list, though, so let’s abandon summer romance for darker deeds. Katharine McGee takes on five different perspectives for The Thousandth Floor, a futuristic thriller about a death in a 1000-story skyscraper. Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species employs alternating points of view for a flinty morality tale tackling rape culture and violence. Following in the footsteps of Uglies and Feed, Donna Freitas’s kicks off a trilogy with Unplugged, which explores a divided society in which the wealthy inhabit a digital world and the poor are relegated to physical reality. In Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns, magical triplets separated after birth meet at age sixteen and fight to the death to become queen. The fantastical-historical hybrid My Lady Jane brings together authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows to reimagine the story of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wife Jane Grey, with more shapeshifting and less beheading.

As if hearing about all of these exciting new books wasn’t enough, the day ended with a fabulous tour of the offices. Earlier that morning, Suzanne Murphy, the president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, alerted those who may or may not have been keeping track that the company turns 199 years old this year.

Their new office space is a cool mix of that long history and modern design. In the lobby one can see an old printing press and moveable type on display. A trip down the staircase

reveals a modern office layout with enviable views, inspiring book-related art and, even, in the lobby, beloved classic titles. We even gawked at legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom’s desk.

Ursula Nordstrom's desk covered in books she edited. She actually sat here, folks!

Ursula Nordstrom’s desk covered in books she edited. She actually sat here, folks!

 

 

 

 

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