Admirable Men in Three Stories about Family, Faith, and Tradition

my3books' contributing editor, and children's buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park in Chicago, Angela Sherrill returns with a look at three of her favorite middle grade novels from 2009 aimed (at least primarily) boys.

2009 saw a significant number of great new middle-grade novels. The three discussed here all have a variety of male characters spanning three generations.  They have various strengths, weakness and individual characteristics which give them depth, texture and longevity.  Of the many wonderful books I read this year with great guy leads, these are my top 3. They are most excellent and highlight the wonderful world of middle-grade fiction. Interestingly, all three were written by women. 

January 2009: The year began with a hardworking and powerful debut.

The Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
Random House |
9780375848025 | $15.99 | Jan 2009

My sales rep touted this as one of his favorites early on when presenting the Winter list.  I had heard good things about it from other booksellers (an Indie Next Spring Kids Pick!) — a double dose of recommendations.  Unfortunately, my only galley was sitting dejectedly on the nightstand of a kid critic.  When I followed up with him about the book, he said he wasn’t going to read that one because it had a father in Iraq and looked like it was going to be too sad. I gently asked him to return the galley to me—which I NEVER do—and decided to take it home and put it in the “to be read really soon” pile.  A few weeks later, I began what was to become one of my favorite books of the year.

In The Heart of A Shepherd we meet not only a tender-hearted and perceptive lead character, but also a military father and a revered grandfather. The setting is an Oregon ranch. The characters are thoughtful and hardworking. Finally, the story was about finding your place amongst family, faith and tradition.

The Mother Daughter Book Club has a nice summary of the book here .

In can be hard to sell a book on Chicago's south side with a cowboy on the cover, but I'm going to put this one in the hands of urbanites in search of greener pastures, teachers, and young people of all backgrounds.

***

June 2009: The summer soared with a steam-powered first novel.

When The Whistle Blows
by Fran Cannon Slayton
Philomel |
9780399251894 | $16.99 | June 2009

I read this one just as it was releasing and couldn't have been happier with the result.  Shortly after reading this delightful debut I was lucky enough to spend the day with the author and a 2k9 event at Anderson's Bookshop.  Visit Fran's website to see a blurbs of praise, get insider information and more.

It's about trains and troubles, boys, uncles, dads, and friends, all woven into the fabric of strong family traditions. Short vignettes of Jimmy Cannon's life leave the reader wanting to know more about the characters in this West Virginia town where men live and die by the railroad. Slayton strikes a balance between the irresponsibility of boyhood, the importance of sticking together and the meaning of the phrase, "one good turn" in a sad, but gentle story of growing up in the shadow of an admirable parent.

I knew right away that this story would find a kindred spirit in Rosanne Parry's The Heart of a Shepherd, making a great gift for young boys in need of noble male role models, and all readers who know that with great heartbreak and bitterness comes the sweet hereafter of a memorable story.

***

September 2009: The fall lit up with a newsworthy gem.

The Last Newspaper Boy in America
by Sue Corbett
Dutton, $16.99,
9780525422051

It wasn't until September that this trio was complete and I finally read Sue Corbett's latest novel. There is a paperboy tradition in Wil David's family.  All the men have held the route Wil inherits on his 12th birthday for as long as anyone can remember.  When things don't go as Wil had hoped we learn a lot about journalism, perseverance and the importance of community.

Corbett has created a fun story with a strong sense of place and small town pride. You'll come to lament the loss of the paperboy and rejoice in the unique and resourceful characters. I hope a few teachers will pick this one up, finding it a please-all for both boys and girls, with nods to books and literature, science and math, art, and photography.

While the overarching theme here is journalistic ethics, you'll find a great set of admirable male characters.  From our young hero himself, to his brothers, or the fathers and grandfathers before them,  family traditions are alive and well.

The Final Word:  Read any one of these (or all three!) and rest assured that there are authors out there writing complex and admirable male characters for you and your children.

– Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books

 

Enlightenment in the Copyright Page, Or, Three Author/Illustrator Treats From Kids Can Press, Fall 2009

Contributing Editor Angela Sherrill (of incredible Chicago bookstore 57th Street Books) returns with a look at three charming books in the Fall 2009 catalog from Kids Can Press.  Angela's last post on my3books was a look at the Pink Cheeks of David Roberts.

I love the details in a copyright page.  Even when I have no idea what some of them mean.  If you really want the details and history of copyrights, rest assured that the U.S. Copyright Office has a horridly boring website where you can fall asleep while browsing.

What initially caught my attention on the copyright pages of these three Kids Can books were the illustration methods.  I'll spare you the wonder of the font names and let you explore those on your own time.  Here, we're looking at three examples of author/illustrators that do both and do it well.  They are all on the Fall 2009 list from Kids Can Press and available now.

    

Have I Got A Book For You!
by Melanie Watt
Kids Can Press | 9781554532896 | $16.95 | Aug 2009

From the copyright page: “The artwork in the book was rendered in charcoal pencil and assembled digitally.”

If you don’t love Melanie Watt already, you have missed out on years of enjoyment, so don’t wait another day to join in the fun.  Booksellers, librarians and families all over the continent have been laughing at and with Scaredy Squirrel.  His fearful antics and preparedness tactics are endlessly funny. 

Melanie’s newest character is no Scaredy Squirrel, but the book is a loony treat all its own.  Meet Mr. Al Foxword as he tries to sell you a book. This book, in fact.  Al's suits and desperate smile leave much to be desired.  If nothing else, Al Foxword is enthusiastic. You should be, too, when you read this book. I insist you give this one the proper treatment by reading it aloud in your best enthusiastic-infomercial or used-car-salesmen voice. Whatever you do, don’t skip to the end.  Read it through properly and enjoy this flim-flam fox. He's got a few tricks up his polyester sleeves.  

By the way, Melanie knows this is one ridiculously silly book.  Check that copyright page again for her dedication.

*** 

Big Bear Hug
by Nicholas Oldland
Kids Can Press | 9781554534647 | $16.95 | Sept 2009

From the copyright page: “The artwork in this book was rendered in Photoshop.”

The illustrations make this book look like a cartoon, but the message is bit more serious than your typical bear-centric cartoon. First of all, this bear is a real sweetheart.  He hugs (read loves) everything in the forest.  But even the patience of this furry and lovable creature is tested when an overweight and empty-headed woodcutter comes into the picture. What results is a message of tolerance that trumps the “green” message we've come to expect.

I wouldn't have suspected myself to be a fan of a “green”, Photoshop-ed picture book, but this one surpassed all my expectations.  Thanks to that handy copyright page, I must confront my prejudice against illustrations rendered without the artistic tools of the previous millennium and allow that for some artists “the medium is transcended by a powerful sense of vision.

And if we check that copyright page again for Oldland's dedication, we'll see that he did indeed have a vision — it came from his mother.

*** 

Binky the Space Cat
by Ashley Spires
$7.95, 9781554533091, 2009

From the copyright page: “The artwork in the book was rendered in ink, watercolor and cat fur.”

The world of children's picture books is not lacking in space traveling animals.  Whether they reference historical space trips such as Laika and Ham, or purely imaginative one such as Green Wilma or David Carter's bugs

What makes Binky so wonderful in the world of well-traveled fictional characters?  Maybe it's that unique mixture of ink, watercolor and cat fur? I think it's the wacky shape of his head and the deft hand of talented illustrator.  But who am I?  I can't write OR draw!

The Final Word:  If it's a wonderful little press like Kids Can, go ahead and check the copyright page every once in awhile.  You might find enlightenment there.

-- Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books

> For more enlightenment on Kids Can Press, you can learn more here: web site ~ catalog downloads

The Pink Cheeks of David Roberts

I'm pleased to present the second set of picks from my3books' Contributing Editor and 57th Street Books' children's book buyer and bookseller, Angela Sherrill.

Pink Cheeks:

Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn
retold by Lynn Roberts
illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams | 9780810957831 | $16.95 | 2005

This illustrated retelling of the classic Perrault / Grimm fairy tale depicts Little Red as a pink-cheeked and industrious young boy. Although the cover interiors and the first spread are saturated in reds, this color soon becomes exclusive to three important elements in the story.

1. Apples, which tempt the boy and lead him away from the “safe” path.

2. His Red Jacket, which the wolf snags for his disguise, of course.

3. Pink Cheeks: You can see this when you go and pick up this book, which you should. Almost every human in the story has pink cheeks. Even the characters found inside the framed paintings have pink cheeks.

In this version, Little Red must use his skills of negotiation, ingenuity and sheer keg-tossing strength to save the day. So, it’s rosy cheeks for everyone, in the end.

***

More Pink Cheeks:

Iggy Peck, Architect
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams | 9780810911062 | $16.95 | 2007

Andrea Beaty, author of this wonderful book and several others, tells a witty story in clean rhyme and delightful dialogue that is not-to-be-missed. The story alone is worth a great blog-load of praise, but that is not the theme of this installment, so we won’t dwell on its swellness any longer.

We will move on to the matter at hand: the cheeks. Here again, Roberts has masterfully illustrated what could have been a Caldecott winner. Fortunately (for us), there was steep competition in 2007 and unfortunately, Iggy Peck, Architect did not win.

Once again, the people in Roberts’ pictures are painted with pink cheeks, even as his characters cover a great range of skin tones. Here, you’ll see a doubly pink-cheeked Iggy Peck, the Peck parents, the suntanned neighbors, Miss Lila Greer (Iggy’s teacher), a French circus troupe and almost all of Iggy’s classmates. But the double pink I mentioned above refers to Iggy’s other cheeks. That’s right, his bum is also pink!

***

Pink Cheeks Galore:

The Dunderheads
by Paul Fleischman
illustrated by David Roberts
Candlewick Press | 9780763624989 | $16.99 | 2009

As you’ve probably guessed, Roberts’s newest masterpiece is chock-full of pink-cheeked characters. And, again, the story is an excellent one. This time, it’s from Paul Fleischman, a prolific, quirky and well-known author who “...grew up in a house built of voices.

When I read this book aloud, I always start with this warning. “Okay guys, we’re going to read a really fun book, but I have to warn you that it starts with screaming, so if you are worried that it might be too loud for you, just cover your ears, like this.”  Then I show them the “hear no evil” pose and we begin.

The pinkness of Miss Breakbone’s cheeks, the aforementioned screamer, is one of the first things you see when you begin the story and one of the highlights on the final page. For it is here that her pink cheeks are balanced by her gaudy pink gown and exaggerated bust.

In case you, like myself, are curious as to whether David Roberts has pink cheeks himself, here’s a photo of him from the HarperCollins website. It’s hard to tell... maybe the pink shirt he’s wearing tricks the eye into seeing pink around that smile, but I’d vote YES SIREE. That is one pink-cheeked fellow!

The Final Word: Three pink-cheeked winners for every picture book collection.

Angela K Sherrill,
57th Street Books, Chicago, IL

 

my3books: Defying Time and Space

Here's the first set of picks from independent bookseller, and new my3books contributor, Angela Sherrill.  Angela is the children's book buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, and one of the most discerning readers of YA and teen fiction I've met. The tall bookshelf above her desk looms with a literal wall of soon-to-be-published ARCs. All of the shelves at 57th Street Books are liberally garnished with shelf talkers by Angela and her fellow booksellers, but what leaps to the eye in the YA section are all the reviews written by young customers who've been recruited to read and comment on books new and old.

Join me in welcoming Angela to the chorus of bookseller voices on my3books.


The classic reference: A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle
Square Fish | 9780312367541| $6.99 | 1962

Enough has been written on L’Engle’s beloved, honored, and banned work that I’m sure my contribution to this pulsating dialogue of essays, opinions and debate is neither new nor noteworthy.

I can attest that teens, when not distracted by glitzy book jackets, are still finding L’Engle’s work valuable. 57th Street Books' Teen Critic Jennifer G., upon reviewing the 2008 publication of Joys of Love wrote, “... like all of Ms. L’Engle’s other books, [Joys of Love] is incredible.” Agreed.

***

The debut novel: First Light
by Rebecca Stead
Yearling Books | 9780440422228 | $6.99 |2008

I read this book after discovering Stead’s upcoming book [see below] and had to go back for more. This book is now my “go to” recommendation for fans of The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Solid and engaging in its own right, I can’t stop comparing the two underground worlds and the survival dilemmas they present. The glacial setting and ingenuity of the young female protagonist in First Light also reminds me of the chills and suspense I felt when reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. This book as delightfully made it’s way onto the 2010 Caudill nomination list, which means we’ll soon have the opinions of young readers!

***

The buzz book: When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House | 9780385737425 | $15.99 | July 2009

As a wonderfully intriguing story of the life and times of a 6th grade girl unfolds, mysterious time travel elements unravel in an intricate and beautifully threaded plot. Relationship complexities beyond what is normally expected in children’s literature bring immense wisdom to this most engaging and thoughtful story. To top it off, Stead's superbly careful writing makes this one you'll want to share with every reader you know.

Miranda, our young guide in Stead’s fascinating story, is gently obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. I expect When You Reach Me to be loved and honored (but hopefully not banned), just as its classic reference, because it is truly an incredible book.

If you’re still not convinced this one’s a winner, check out Elizabeth Bird’s School Library Journal review.

In short, my expectations for this one are high. It’s sure to be one of best books of the year and I can’t wait for it to hit my display table in July. I won’t be holding my breath to see how it does on it’s own, I’ll be sending it out the door in the hands of customers 11 & up. I’ll especially be looking out for mothers musing about fond memories of A Wrinkle In Time, young boys lauding the genius of Louis Sachar’s Holes and all appreciators of Ingrid Law’s Savvy.

Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books, Chicago

kidsboooks[at]semcoop[dot]com