February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Algonquin Spring/Summer Kids 2014 | Preview Peek

The team at Algonquin Young Readers is a generous and lovely group; they also might be one of the bravest in the business. Upon arriving at the publisher’s spring/summer 2014 preview last week in New York City, the audience in attendance was informed that they were going to have not only one but three authors video chatting into the preview! The sheer technological gymnastics impressed all of us and we excitedly settled in to hear about Algonquin’s intimate and well-curated upcoming list.

Algonquin-CoverstripFirst up, Gae Polisner, who attended in person, spoke about her upcoming young adult, The Summer of Letting Go (March, the story of 16-year-old Francesca Schnell. Francesca is trying to overcome the death four years earlier of her younger brother; he drowned while she should have been watching him. But from great tragedy also comes great hope, which Polisner stated was the takeaway she wanted for her readers. She was a lovely speaker, telling the audience that her ultimate goal was to capture “how difficult and powerful the teen years are.” The book cover has massive teen appeal: add the tragedy, romance, and family drama, and this could be a tough title to keep on the shelves.

Next in line was James Klise via online chat. He already has won legions of fans, given that he’s a high school librarian in Chicago and author of Love Drugged, a Stonewall honor book. Klise presented The Art of Secrets (April), an intriguing story about greed and generosity. When Saba Khan’s apartment is burned down in a possible hate crime, her high school community rallies around her. But when a piece of art donated to the cause turns out to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the question of where the money should go turns a community against itself. Told from multiple points of view, this has a touch of mystery couched in a realistic school story. As an added bonus, Klise shared some of the books that are popular in his library and top of his list was S.A. Bodeen’s titles, in particular The Raft (Feiwel & Friends, 2012) and The Compound (Feiwel & Friends, 2008).  I’m sure many of us working in middle school and high school libraries have found this to be true as well!

Many of us attending the preview in person received a small surprise when Sarah Klise joined us via video chat…very few of us had made the connection that James Klise, Kate Klise, and Sarah Klise are all siblings! Sarah shared Book #2 in her “Three-Ring Rascals” series, The Greatest Star on Earth (May). Similar to the first book in the series, The Show Must Go On! (2013), Sarah said that the main message of her new book is kindness and that “the outcome is better when we work together.” She also shared a lovely tidbit when she told us that the trapeze artists in the book remind her of when she and Kate were kids and would ice skate together. Like Sarah herself, the books (and the illustrations within) burst with charm and sweetness. These are wonderful recommendations for fans of “Bink and Gollie” as well as the “Clementine” series.

Speaking of charm, the room was full of it when author Tania Unsworth called in online to talk about her first story for young people, One Safe Place (April). It’s an adventure tale for middle-graders, but it also has elements of dystopia and horror. Unsworth said that she didn’t scale back for the younger crowd because “they have an appetite for scary things….  The key is how you resolve the story.”  Ultimately, though, Unsworth stresses that this is a friendship story. This would be an excellent recommendation for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, as the characters have to use their special talents and work together to escape. This sounds like a great book to hand those middle-graders who are aching to read up to the YA dystopias but who aren’t quite ready to go there.

15200_48.tifLastly, we had to hang on to our socks—because we were joined in person by James McMullan, author of I Stink! (HarperCollins, 2002) and countless other beloved picture books.  He was there to share his breathtaking and touching new illustrated memoir, Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood (March). McMullan was born in China in 1934 and led an idyllic life there until World War II broke out. McMullan’s father went to fight with the Allied forces while young James and his mother moved from one place to another, trying to escape the Japanese occupation. This memoir is, in a word, stunning. It’s a difficult book to read; it’s about being at an age when you have a growing awareness of the issues surrounding you, such as bullying, violence, alcoholism, and other values. But McMullan stresses that these values don’t need to be part of your life and that the book is “about finding a good way to be in the world.” McMullan shared with us how, as a boy, he didn’t embody traditional masculine values and attributes—he didn’t like sports and knew from an early age he wanted to draw. But it was the kind words from a physical education teacher that encouraged him to follow his own path. This is raw, cathartic, and beautiful—both in artwork and in prose—in a way that we’ve never experienced James McMullan before.  Prepare to have your socks knocked off.

If you would like more information, Algonquin has made all of these titles available on NetGalley.

Laura Lutz is a middle school librarian, book blogger, and occasional contributor to SLJ.