My3Books: three picks from Candlewick Press' Fall 2009 catalog

I wanted to kick off this series with three books that stunned me from page one. So, of course, off to Candlewick Press we go!

Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamilloEli The Good by Silas HouseStorm In The Barn by Matt Phelan

Kate DiCamillo’s “The Magician’s Elephant
($16.99, 9780763644109, Sept 2009)
Silas House’s “Eli The Good

($16.99, 9780763643416, Sept 2009)
Matt Phelan’s “The Storm in the Barn
($24.99, 9780763636180, Sept 2009)

It feels a bit odd to treat Kate DiCamillo like an author who needs to be broken out after the last few years - Desperaux? Winn-Dixie? Mercy Watson? and yep, Edward Tulane, too. Her characters are household names in the households I spend time in.

But I’m one of those fans who’ll tell you that I didn’t care as much for Edward Tulane as those earlier blockbuster books. It felt like DiCamillo was just trying so hard to pack a lot of magical message into one book, and I got distracted watching the strings moving the puppets on the stage, so to speak.

But when I got the manuscript for Magician’s Elephant, I dove in with a cup of coffee and a free morning. I’m here to tell you, I didn’t need the whole morning. It’s just 200 or so pages with beautiful full-page illustrations scattered throughout from Yoko Tanaka and I blew through it.

I was elated to discover that DiCamillo still has her love of language - this is a book that was meant to be read aloud to a group of listeners - and that language is harnessed to a story that is charming in its magical simplicity: a boy, a missing sister, a magician, an elephant, a city in need of rain, a plot that brings all the actors together.

***

Silas House has published three novels for adults, and Eli The Good is his first novel for young readers. A coming-of-age novel in the most literal sense possible, it’s the story of Eli Book, ten years old in the Summer of the Bicentennial, 1976. His dad is a Vietnam Veteran, his older sister is just beginning her own rebellion, and his former war-protesting aunt has just come to live with them.

The novel is filled with great music references - I was just a bit younger at the time than Eli is during that Summer of ‘76 and it seemed like the radio was always on somewhere.

Eli is a writer-in-training - he watches, he listens, he snoops, he gets it down on paper - and those skills are going to help him make sense of the changes taking place all around him in his family. It’s possible that fans of literature for young readers have finally found the true heir to Harriet The Spy.

***

When I talk about Matt Phelan with my buyers and booksellers, I always start by mentioning that he did the cover and incidental art in Susan Patron’s Newbery Medal-winning novel The Higher Power of Lucky. But my favorite work from him to date has been his illustrations for Betty Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs, a novel set in the 1920s in a small town in the middle of Missouri.

After that book, I felt right at home as I started reading Matt’s solo graphic novel, The Storm In The Barn, a Dust Bowl magic realist story - how one young boy’s discovery on a neighboring farm might help bring rain to the town’s dusty crops.

»> Want a downloadable PDF of the Fall 2009 Candlewick Press catalog? You got it.
»> Want to be blown away by the sheer wonder of Candlewick’s backlist? The catalog elves at Candlewick put together their first epic, comprehensive backlist catalog in years.

UPDATED (06/12/09): I'm adding a (probably unnecessary) disclaimer to entries that feature books that are brought out by publishers that I represent. Of course, the whole idea behind this blog is to talk about books you should be buying or reading, so just take it as a given that in the back of my mind, it has been my secret plan all along to make you want to buy these books. Preferably from an independent bookseller.