The Journey (Candlewick). Reviewers are calling it a spin on Harold and the Purple Crayon, with a dash of Where the Wild Things are thrown in as well. A drab gray world (or I guess the proper shade is sepia) plus bored little girl and red crayon equals technicolor excitement. Becker has experience at various animation studios; there's a filmy sort of excitement to this wordless book.
Perhaps I was concentrating too much on Neil Gaiman's adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and giving short shrift to his kids' book, Fortunately, The Milk, (Harper) but I'm trying to correct that here. It's a middle grade (8+) story about a father who heads out to buy said milk when there's nothing to put on their Toastios. Needless to say, he is kidnapped by aliens, among other problems. It all reminds me of an episode of the Flintstones where Fred and Barney went out for burgers and buns and got roped into a spy plot. One reviewer thought the whole thing was a dare to illustrator Skottie Young. "But can you draw this?" he imagined Gaiman saying. Now you can explain to me why the UK used a different illustrator, Chris Riddell? In UK at least, the illustrator gets more props than the writer, at least according to The Guardian.
Oh, Ladybug Girl! What makes you like snow so much? Don't you know your booksellers friend really don't want to hear about big snows until January? When customers come in ominously predicting 20-inch storms--yes, this just happened to us regarding this coming Sunday--our hearts skip a collective beat. Fortunately the weather forecast that I checked this with said a moderately more manageable 3-6 inches, but still, on December 22? At least Lulu and her do Bingo will be happy. The new book, is Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow (Dial), by David Simon, with illustrations by Jacky Eaton. Kirkus Reviews wrote " appealing watercolor-and-ink illustrations enhance Lulu's spunky personality as well as that of her faithful companion, and his snow-covered scenes with hazy blue shadows capture the frosty feel of outdoor play in winter months."
It came out earlier this year, but being one of our favorite young adult books of the year has given Tom McNeal's Far Far Away (Knopf) new legs. It starts with Jeremy Johnson in the town of Never Better hearing the voice of Jacob Grimm, one of the Grimm Brothers, as well as several other ghosts. He attracts the attention of a pretty girl, but their adventures have a sinister undertone, as there are children who've gone missing in the town, with the fairytale most frequently cited as the source of inspiration being Hansel and Gretel. Most of the advance reviews were good as well, and the novel wound up being a National Book Award Finalist for young people's liteture. That said, there's always a naysayer in the bunch and I was almost amused at this critic from Voice of Youth Advocates: " Teen and juvenile readers will not be interested in the book’s dry tone which is not funny enough, scary enough, or fantastical enough to merit re-reading. Grammatically the title is incorrect; it should read, Far, Far Away." Comma karma indeed.
Between Brian Floca's Locomotive and Sherri Duskey Rinker's Steam Train, Dream Train, we already knew that 2013 was railroading us into a traintastic year. Another book that hasn't been on my radar that we've been selling well is How to Train a Train (Candlewick), by Jason Carter Eaton, with illustrations by John Rocco. In the spirit of How to Train Your Dragon, this picture book is targeted for kids who are, as coined by the publisher, loco for locomotives. As Booklist notes in its starred review, "As it turns out, a train is not so very different from a dogat least in the way you train it." The reviewer also compares the illustrations to those of Maxfield Parrish.
Enough train puns, right? Maybe one more--let's get back on track with a beautifully illustrated title that, like Steam Train, Dream Train, is a bedtime story. Once Upon a Northern Night (Groundwood), by Jean Pendziwol, with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, is about night indeed, and it's told in verse. The white and black illustrations with pops of cover are visually arresting, to say the least. Groundwood is a Canadian publisher, so that explains the interest the home towns of the author and illustrator (Thunder Bay, Montreal) as well as the interest in the Northern Lights. In The New York Times, Sarah Harrison Smith noted that "on a dark night a younger child is likely to revel in this book’s mixture of magic, wildlife and deep comfort."
Perhaps I was in the mood for this post as I was reading a kids' book as well, though probably a little mature for readers of any of these, with the possible exception of Tom McNeal's novel. It's Len Vlahos's The Scar Boys (Egmont). Vlahos is a longtime book industry professional, whose written a novel inspired by his youth in a punk band. He'll be in Milwaukee on February 13, doing schools and a public event. Now I want to get back to finishing it!