February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Chronicle Spring Kids 2014 | Preview Peek

Chronicle Children’s Books recently welcomed a group of librarians and booksellers to its spring preview in San Francisco, where it celebrated its 25th anniversary and the roaring success—star reviews or bestseller status—of many of its 2013 titles. But the focus remained on spring 2014, and the exciting slate of new titles that the publisher has in store. Here are some of the highlights.

Just a small sampling of Chronicle’s spring 2014 book offerings on display. Photo: Amber Morley.

Chronicle’s Publishing Director Ginee Seo started off the lively celebration by highlighting the achievements of three of the publisher’s 2013 titles, all New York Times bestsellers: Goodnight, Goodnight (108 weeks on the list), Press Here (118 weeks on the list), and Steam Train, Dream Train, which debuted at number one and remains there 25 weeks later. In addition, Seo noted that 44 of Chronicle’s kid titles have received starred reviews in 2013, a new record for the publisher.

We then turned out attention to the exciting new books Chronicle is bringing out into the world next spring. It’s a joy to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of how some of the beautifully designed books were created. I’m excited to share some of my favorites and ones that struck the crowd’s fancy.

Popular picture books
We were all interested to learn that Nina Laden—one of the very first author-illustrators that Chronicle ever published—has a new title debuting in March. Building on the legacy of her popular board book Peek-a-Who, which debuted 15 years ago, her latest, Peek-A-Zoo, will provide lots of fun guessing and playing with the sounds of “Ooo!”—which was exactly what we said about the book!

Next up was Planet Kindergarten (July). I loved seeing the detailed sketches, finished artwork, and especially the insider details that editor Melissa Manlove shared with us. For example, the aerial view of the school was patterned after the International Space Station; some of the students were inspired by various famous aliens such as ET and R2D2; the hero’s eyebrow is actually the red swoosh from the NASA logo; a license plate reads 321GO, and the Jell-O blob on the lunch line features a green zombie eye. (Now you are “in the know” along with those of us who attended the preview.) It seems that the editor, designer, and writer all had a blast working on this book.

In Here Comes Destructosaurus (April) from author Aaron Reynolds—of Creepy Carrots and Carnivores fameand illustrator Jeremy Tankard, a monster tears up a city in a fit of rage, while an unseen narrator scolds him: “Put that building down, Destructosaurus! Look with your eyes, not with your claws!” Old monster movie stills were used to conceptualize the title character in this charming book, and adults will likely chuckle at its clever nods to King Kong and other legendary creatures.

As always, hearing words of wisdom from the editors is one of the best reasons for attending librarian previews; nothing beats learning about the books from an insiders’ perspective.

For example, this gem from Manlove: “Humor gets us to see the world from a new point of view, but when humor is at its very best, it gets us to see ourselves in that point of view; it teaches us to laugh at ourselves. In its truest form, humor is compassion.” According to Manlove, humor—along with a monster-sized portion of silliness—is what we’ll find in Reynolds’s new book—which features several endings, each of which brought big laughs from the crowd.

Teachers, parents, kids, and librarians alike will enjoy At the Same Moment Around the World, which shows what kids are doing in each of the original 24 time zones. Backmatter also reveals the history of time keeping, why time zones were invented, and how we tell time now.

Says editor Ariel Richardson, “The original cover had three kids sitting in a tree playing with a toy globe and we worried it didn’t really convey the concept of the book. The new cover wraps around the case, showing the full globe.” It really is a lovely offering; it’s due out in April.

My favorite book presented in the young people’s category was I Didn’t Do My Homework Because…, due out in March with a sequel set for spring 2015. The book’s back story is an interesting one: we learned that editor Naomi Kirsten acquired it in late October 2012, and just a few months later her team had a complete book, with printer-ready files, garnering interest from 77 publishers in 16 territories. Before this book has even been released in English, there are eight co-editions.

Kirsten’s preview had us laughing not only with the hilarious excuses for not doing homework but also her tale of how she had to invoke American puritanism: instead of champagne and nudity—like on the many pages of the French version—the American version features lemonade and potato sack dresses! She wondered aloud: did the French illustrator get fed up with her prudishness? The old-school, classic illustrations are reminiscent of Bernard Waber (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile) or Hillary Knight (Eloise).

Noteworthy novels
Chronicle’s fiction line is relatively new, and so the entire team was thrilled to present a list of spring titles that Stephanie Wong, marketing manager, called “jump-in-the-air-up-and-down” good. A lot of the upcoming titles caught the attention of the librarians in the room.

For example, the second in Erica Farber’s “Fish Finelli” series, Fish Finelli: Operation Fireball (April), promises to be another fun middle-grade mystery featuring the original trio of friends—Fish, Roger, and TJ—along with bully Bryce Billingsley and some new additions, including a plucky girl character.

Debut author Julie T. Lamana’s book Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere (April) features a 10-year-old girl living through Hurricane Katrina. And in the fourth in Michaela MacColl’s series of literary mysteries, Always Emily (April), famed sisters Emily and Charlotte Brontë solve a mystery.

Yet Beth Kephart’s Going Over (April) is the galley that I am most looking forward to reading. We learned some interesting back story: editor Tamra Tuller visited Berlin for the first time a few years ago; as she walked the graffiti-lined streets from West to East Berlin, she thought about what it must have been like to live in the city while the Berlin Wall was still up, and what it must have been like to be entirely cut off from loved ones by it. About a year later, Kephart visited Berlin and similarly fell in love. The two compared notes and, within months, Kephart had completed the book.

Kephart’s story so exceeded Tuller’s expectations, she says, that she cried when she first read it. Also of note is that the design of the book is meant to bring the reader further into the experience: its cover shows the actual Berlin Wall, and its endpapers show the different layers of the wall: the watchtower, service barriers, signal, and hinterland fence. Our immediate reaction? So cool!

Meanwhile, Elizabeth May’s The  Falconer: Book One (May) was described as a “stay-up-late, turning-the-pages” selection that’s a bit like “La Femme Nikita meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only substitute evil faeries for vampires.” It’s set in a Victorian-era steampunk Scotland. (Ok, it’s a toss-up between this and Going Over as to which I’m going to read first.)

Debut author Megan Jean Sovern was our guest speaker. Her novel The Meaning of Maggie, due out in May, is based on her family story—the year she was born, her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Sovern grew up believing it was perfectly normal that her dad was in a wheelchair, even as she worried that she’d somehow caused the disease since everyone in her family referred to it as MS, which were her initials. After Megan’s father died in 2008, she decided to write the book she wished she’d had when she was growing up: a story of joy and survival, understanding, and coming of age. She’s a humble, smart, and funny author. l can’t wait to read my advance copy of her book, which looks so interesting, and I will cherish the signed galley that I received at the preview.

As we made our way out into the lobby for mingling after the presentation, we were treated to dessert highlighted in the book Meaning of Maggie, and we were able to peruse tables filled with additional upcoming spring books that looked equally exciting in design and content.

Board books abound
Numerous board books caught my eye, and many of these existing series will be expanding in 2014.

For example, Opposites and Colors, two beautiful 2013 books in the TouchThinkLearn series, will be joined by Numbers and Shapes in March. Every book in the series brings new dimensions to early learning; filled with 3-D pieces and die-cuts, they’re perfect for kinesthetic and tactile learners.

I also enjoyed Daddy Wrong Legs (March), with its mix-and-match pages, and especially the adorable “You Are My Baby” series; each title features an innovative two-books-in-one format. New in spring from this series will be two titles, Ocean and Garden, both out in May.

And I’m not usually a fan of flashcards, but Andrew Zuckerman’s Creature ABC Flashcards (March) have forever changed my mind. The front of each card features a gorgeous close-up of an animal and the first letter of its name. Look for the related board book series launching in March with Creature Colors and Creature Numbers; both also feature Andrew Zuckerman’s stunning photography.

Two Hands to Love You (May) also looks wonderful; this book describes the circle of love that a child is born into, as expressed by the many hands that hold and lift and cradle and love him, while Green is a Chile Pepper (April) teaches colors and a few fun words in Spanish.

Novel nonfiction
A few other 2014 titles may also be of interest to librarians. For example, I was struck by Girl to Girl (January), which features full-color illustrations and a diverse cast of girls, ages 8–12. It discusses how to floss one’s teeth, use a tampon, and shave, among other life lessons. It includes questions, letters, and testimonials from real girls; it is endorsed by the executive director of Our Bodies, Ourselves; and it’s been vetted by doctors. It looks informative, fun, accessible, and essential.

Photoplay (March) would make a great giveaway. The book encourages doodle and drawing throughout with quirky prompts by hilariously personified animals. Readers are encouraged to draw on or around photographs taken of real people and sights around the world.

And watch for Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (February), a gorgeous picture book about the famous entertainer that’s not quite meant for the youngest readers. I talked at length with Melissa Manlove about this fascinating title.

She says, “If you had told me the day before I read this manuscript that I would ever acquire a 4,000-word picture book in verse about a woman best known for dancing naked in bananas, I would have laughed. But then I saw this amazing, scintillating, moving text by Patricia Hruby Powell, and I could not bear to make it shorter, and I could not bear not to publish it.”

Adds Richardson, Powell’s language “gorgeously evokes Josephine Baker’s vivacity, humor, bravery, and her inimitable élan. I think readers will be able to see how much love and commitment everyone who worked on Josephine offered it. In many ways this book is an enigma. The book breaks a lot of barriers and all the rules. We hope it will find its audience.”

She sold me on it, and I left with a copy to eagerly read on the train back to work.

Amy Cheney About Amy Cheney

Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate, serving the underserved for over 25 years including preschoolers, middle schoolers, adults in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color. She began YALSA-Lockdown, a list serve for librarians serving youth in custody, which led to the formation of Library Services for Youth in Custody (LYSC). She founded In the Margins book award and committee, which brings national attention to self published books by, for and about people of color living in the margins. Her theme song is "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" by Cake. Learn more at Write2Read.



  1. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you.