March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Interview: JLG’s Susan Marston Talks About the Hottest Upcoming Books for Fall 2012

We sat down with Susan Marston, editorial director of Junior Library Guild (JLG), which is owned by SLJ‘s parent company, Media Source, to talk about the top upcoming books for kids and teens.

What trends are you seeing?

Vampire books seem to have eased off a bit, but there are witch books aplenty. (I recommend Burn Mark by Laura Powell.) Postapocalyptic and dystopian novels remain abundant. While thought-provoking and engaging books continue to be published in this genre (Flash Point by Nancy Kresson), I have to agree with a baseball-playing middle schooler I recently spoke to on the subject. He said there were just too many bleak “future” books.

Anything else?

Speculative fiction as a whole seems to be stretching in new directions with more sci-fi, more sci-fi/fantasy mixes, and pleasantly, more humor (The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde). As we read for our spring 2013 list, we are seeing a bit more ethnic diversity in fantasy novels—a trend I hope will continue to grow. We seem to be seeing more female protagonists in classic, non-paranormal thrillers such as The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, and Ten by Gretchen McNeil.

What about for younger readers?

For younger readers, there are sequels and prequels to classics and long-running series, and authors returning to characters from some time back. (Examples include Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly, Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli, One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale, and Paula Danziger’s Amber Brown Is Tickled Pink,  a sequel written by Bruce Coville and Elizabeth Levy that fully captures Paula Danziger’s and Amber’s voice and spark.)

We are seeing humor used in pleasing ways to convey information, notably in two graphic novels by Nathan Hale One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad!; in Michael Townsend’s Where Do Presidents Come From?: And Other Presidential Stuff of Super-Great Importance (also in graphic format); and It’s a Dog’s Life: How Man’s Best Friend Sees, Hears, and Smells the World by Susan E. Goodman. Don’t be fooled by the title of What Body Part Is That?: A Wacky Guide to the Funniest, Weirdest, and Most Disgustingest Parts of Your Body by Andy Griffiths . Hilarious it is, but as the author freely admits, it is also “99.9% fact free.”(As you can see from above, long and lively subtitles and taglines are trendy!)

Any changes in picture books?

Picture-book illustrations seem to include more sophisticated and stylized approaches. (Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, and Abe Lincoln’s Dream by Lane Smith, for example.) While there are still plenty of cute picture books, even some of these have a little edge. (Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young; I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi; and Otter and Odder: A Love Story by James Howe, illustrated by Chris Raschka.)

Yellow book cover with red carWhat are some of your favorites?

From the fall season, I love Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock. The language and the illustrations are evocative and perfectly matched. It feels like an old book, a classic, but while there’s a palpable longing for the ice of days gone by, it is so compelling that readers of all ages will want to experience the different kinds of ice, the ice-skating, the family, the winter. Fortunately, the world created in the book is so well-realized and immersive that reading it is experiencing it.

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers is playful both conceptually and visually. Two kids try to outdo each other on a basketball court and their incredible shots, which they brag will go as far as outer space, will make readers smile. I also love the humor in Joe Hayes’s bilingual Don’t Say a Word, Mama / No digas nada, mamá . With striking paintings by Esau Andrade Valencia, it is a beautiful book!

An extraordinary book for the older end of the age spectrum is My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt. The subject matter definitely made it difficult to read—I’d rather not face the fact that girls are forced into prostitution. However, I grew to love and admire Angel as she found a way to save herself as well as an even younger girl. Leavitt’s writing is powerful and flawless.

I feel like I am leaving out so many other strong fiction titles: Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood,  Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey, Homesick by Kate Klise, Pinned by Sharon Flake, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, Such Wicked Intent: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book Two by Kenneth Oppel among them.

What are your nonfiction favorites?

There are so many great nonfiction books this year, that it is hard to choose favorites. Among my nonfiction favorites are Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin and Nic Bishop Snakes by Nic Bishop—both are gorgeous and full of insight. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin is a book I cannot stop talking about or recommending. It’s a riveting recounting of a thrilling time in history. Here are some other standouts: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport, The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler.

Any newbie authors/illustrators who we should keep an eye out for?

I’m eager to see more from David Nytra the author/illustrator of The Secret of the Stone Frog. As well, I am looking forward to future books from Debbie Ridpath Ohi, the illustrator of by Michael Ian Black’s I’m Bored, Lana Krimwiede, author of Freakling, and Irfan Master, who wrote A Beautiful Lie.

I see some familiar faces like Mo WIllems are back. Book cover two girls on the beach

Mo Willems has definitely done it again with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as has Jon Klassen with his latest hat book, This Is Not My Hat. Among more serious—and memorable—picture books are Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, and Sarah Stewart and David Small’s The Quiet Place.

Is there anything unique or different this year? 

There seem to be an increasing number of books requiring visual literacy, from Look . . . Look Again! by John O’Brien or wordless stories like The Giant Seed by Arthur Geisert to the proliferation of graphic novels. We discovered an all-ages book on the Chronicle adult list Stick Man’s Really Bad Day by Steve Mockus, which tells a story using the wordless cautionary signs posted near roads and machinery.

Were there any surprises?

Well, we were pleasantly surprised by Sara Pennypacker writing for an older audience with Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Hilary McKay writing for a younger audience with Lulu and the Duck in the Park. We didn’t expect the mix of realism and fantasy in Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley and What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt. Karen Hesse’s photographs and gently idyllic approach to dystopia in Safekeeping was also something new.

Are you seeing more graphic novels than previous years?

Yes, definitely. I am so glad that more children’s publishers are publishing this incredibly versatile and appealing form of storytelling.

Some of my current favorites are Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Lui and Andrés Vera Martinez, Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, and Sumo by Thien Pham. I also like the strength and substance of the adaptations of two novels, The Supernaturalist: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Giovanni Riganoand, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson.

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About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.