Book Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
9780375866593, Knopf (Random House), $16.99, Pub. Date: October 2010

This was my first foray into the brilliant David Levithan/Rachel Cohn author combo. Yes, I admit it, I never picked up Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (9780375835339) or Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List (9780375844416). Clearly now I'll have to, because I unabashedly LOVED Dash & Lily.

Maybe it's because this is one of the bookiest romances I've ever read. Maybe it's because a lot of the story takes place in The Strand. Maybe it's because you get to experience all the good and all the bad of the holiday (Christmas) season, which is coming up shortly and yes, I've already listened to Christmas carols, so all you purists waiting until December 1st can just ignore that last part. Maybe it's because David Levithan and Rachel Cohn have the incredible talent of making the everyday profound and of showcasing the idealism versus reality that [should] lives in all of us.

Dash is exploring his favorite haunt, The Strand, when he spies a red moleskin notebook on a shelf. He picks it up, opens it, and reads these words:

I've left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don't, put the book back on the shelf, please.

How many times have I wished for that very thing to happen to me? Haven't we all? To find mystery and adventure and possibly love hidden away in a place that is meaningful to only us (and the 50 million other people who feel the same way, but we won't think about them right now).

Dash follows the clues, and so begins an epistolary adventure in which he and Lily communicate solely by clues in a notebook they hide all over New York, from the madhouse of Macy's and F.A.O. Schwartz in the days leading up to Christmas, to Madame Trousseau's Wax Museum, to the most well-known houses that showcase Christmas lights.

Romantic, yes? But what happens when they meet up? Will they live up to each others' expectations? Or will the person they've created in their heads be too strong for them to allow for the imperfections of the very real human standing in front of them?

Written in alternating chapters between characters & their authors, this is the perfect book to hand to any teen or tween or hell, adult, who needs a little shot of belief in the spirit of love. Share/Bookmark


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book of the Day: Steady Hands:Poems About Work by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

#6 in the HMH Book of the Day series:

Steady Hands: Poems About Work
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy
9780618903511, $16, Clarion

This hardcover picture book harkens back to the post I did earlier about picture books for adults (Part I is posted, Part II is coming soon). Published by Clarion Books just last year in 2009, everything about this book screams "made for an adult audience here!". From the sophisticated collage-style, often abstract artwork (not that children can't also appreciate, understand, and create this type of artwork) to the free verse, deep though poetry about various types of jobs adults have, I can't really imagine children under the age of 12-14 enjoying this book in the "Can we read that book before going to bed?" sort-of-way.

That said, not being a child any more myself (despite whatever my parents may tell me), I greatly enjoy this book and keep a copy above my desk at work. Not only is the cover illustration inspiring, but if I need some inspiration, it's fun to take a 2-minute break and read about what someone else may be doing for work right that very minute, say as a Dog Walker, Filmmaker, Personnel Administrator, or even:

Paid daydreamer
imaginary soothsayer
odd-fact researcher,
the writer
hovers like a hummingbird
by the
answering machine
holding her breath while
scanning e-mails
listening to messages
sifting through junk mail
waiting, waiting,
forever waiting,
for the next
or call.

The artwork, in particular, is what draws me to this book, especially the displaced ISBN/barcode on the back cover. I love collage-style art, and also am a huge fan of this illustrator duo, who have numerous other picture books together. Going back to my earlier point about the "sophisticated, often abstract artwork", just to emphasize how much children can appreciate it, this duo has co-illustrated one of my favorite high concept picture book series: Trains (9780761455936, Marshall Cavendish, $6.99), Cars (9780761456162, $6.99), Airplanes (9780761453888, $14.99), Trucks (9780761453284, $6.99), and Boats (9780761455240, $17.99).



What I Learned From My Fall Internship, Part 2

One of my recent projects has been to conduct a sales analysis of award-winning titles for the Coretta Scott King awards and the Pura Belpre awards across the three Houghton Mifflin Harcourt imprints: Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt, and Clarion.

Having some experience with sales figures from my previous career as the children's book buyer for the Odyssey Bookshop, it was useful to bring my own knowledge of the bookselling world to the sales information gathered from the publishing world. Book awards like the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Coretta Scott King, and the Pura Belpre are awarded by the American Library Association through the Association for Library Service to Children. When looking at sales figures, in order to understand them, one must have some understanding of the influence and intersection of three separate communities: the library market, the publishing market, and the bookselling market.

Publishers publish a book, doing all the first-tier work: editing, creating an attractive package, sales and marketing promotion and events, etc. Booksellers do the second tier work: showcasing the books available for purchase in-store, on websites, hosting author events, writing reviews, furthering the sales and promotion begun by the publishers, and also often working with schools to partner on making the book available for educational purposes. Libraries are the third tier: making the book available to a non-book-buying audience, also holding author and book events, also furthering the publisher promotion, but then increasing the school/education element, as well as often discussing the book in a more academic context. All three tiers have their own wide reaching, and often overlapping, spheres of influence, and all three tiers will often evaluate the book within the children's literature canon as a whole.

How is this reflected in sales? Well, remember Venn diagrams? Same concept: the book wants to have as much of the publishing, library, and bookselling market overlap as possible. But, because these are three separate entities, there's no guarantee they're all going to agree. Obviously the publisher is going to be gung-ho about their books, but each book receives a different amount of promotion. Then, the ALA might love a book and honor it with an award, but it turns out to be a book more suited for the library (read: book-borrowing) market, rather than flying off the book store shelves. Conversely, booksellers may love a book and elevate it to a higher sales status than one afforded by publishing promotion, but that still doesn't guarantee it a spot on the ALA best list - or it could, as with the case of recent Newbery winner When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

Now, the neatest part about this project was that there were several books on my list that had been published prior to 1990 (as you might imagine). Specifically two titles - one published in 1970, another in 1976 - did not have sales information available through any HMH computer database. This is because these titles are currently out-of-print, meaning though they won awards, they fell into that category of library appreciation, not bookselling appreciation, and so have fallen out of popularity. The tricky part is that they went out-of-print before the time when records began being recorded in a computer database. This means I got the help of a very nice gentleman in the sales department who kindly looked up and photocopied for me the original recipe card sales records of these books, hand entered, from about 1970-1981 (for the two books combined).

How cool is that?

I got to sit here, holding these photocopies of ancient (okay, I know the 1970s was not an ancient time) records, adding up the numbers by hand (okay, on the calculator on my computer), because they were not in a computer database. Before all of you who remember the '70s start lambasting me for making fun of something 40 years old, the point is I LOVE moments like this, when I feel so connected to a history and a time before the current digital age. (I wish I could scan the photocopy of the card to show, but that would involve revealing sales figures and I don't want to risk that.) So, despite my slight exaggeration in tone, I'm actually very appreciative and excited that I had this experience today. Share/Bookmark


Picturebooks for Adults, Part I

Going through the slush pile a few weeks ago, I came across an artist who layers photographs and clipart pieces to create ethereal digital collage artwork. I wish I could show them to you, but unfortunately the artist doesn't have a website. While the project wasn't right for Houghton Mifflin, the illustrations were beautiful, and for me, immediately brought to mind the song used in this video:

(The song is Strange Love by Little Annie, and it's eerie, and a little weird, and I love it. If you want to hear the whole song, click here, though I have to warn you that the typewritten lyrics on the YouTube video are a little off.)

I could envision full-color, full-bleed pictures adding their surreal quality to the already haunting lyrics. Of course, with the heavy, sexy lyrics and accompanying illustrations, this picture book is more appropriate for adults than children, and that thought made me consider the concept of picture books intended for adults as a whole.

The picture book that immediately came to mind was Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (9780877017882, $19.95, Chronicle) by Nick Bantock. There are four books in this series that is a mysterious love story between two people named Griffin and Sabine, spanning continents and time continuums. Each book contains gorgeous hand-designed postcards and letters between the two lovers as they unravel the mystery of their romantic communication. Perfect for fans of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, though not quite as dark.

Speaking of Audrey Niffenegger, she has created several picture books for adults: The Adventuress (9780810970526, $27.95, Abrams), The Night Bookmobile (9780810996175, $19.95, Abrams), and The Three Incestuous Sisters (9780810959279, $27.95, Abrams). In keeping with the classic Audrey Niffenegger style, these picture books are dark and fantastical while exploring complex emotions of primarily female characters.

Not all picture books intended for adults are as serious as these. Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had quite the naughty side. In addition to writing beloved children's books, Dr. Seuss was also a political cartoonist during World War II; his cartoons have been collected in Dr. Seuss Goes to War (9781565847040, $19.95, Perseus). He also wrote several picture books that are much more adult-themed in nature, including You're Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children (9780394551906, $17.99, Random House), detailing the hilarious medical checkup one of a certain age might go through, and Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family (out-of-print), a book featuring seven naked ladies romping through tongue-in-cheek explanations of common idioms. Then, of course, there are other Dr. Seuss classics that are favorites to give to adults upon certain graduations and employment transitions, such as Oh, the Places You'll Go! (9780679805274, $17.99, Random House).

Other children's books are often given between adults for various holidays. Two of my favorites make perfect Valentine's Day presents for both friends and loved ones: I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast (9780395071762, $6.95, Houghton Mifflin) and A Friend is Someone Who Likes You by Joan Walsh Anglund (9780152296780, $9.95, Houghton Mifflin). Both of these offer adorable illustrations accompanying sweet, child-like text celebrating like, love, and friendship. Though those were published as children's books, their full value is understood more by adults, I think, who can better appreciate the nuances of both text and illustration.

This is true for many other children's picture books, whose humor, while appealing to children, is of a particularly cheeky, sarcastic, implied, or ironic nature that is greatly enjoyed by adults. Some of my personal favorites catering to the dual audience are the Knuffle Bunny trilogy, the Pigeon books, and the Elephant & Piggie series created by Mo Willems. A classic of this genre is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (9780670844876, $17.99, Viking/Penguin), hilarious retellings of classic fairy tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Lane Smith is quite the connoisseur of this type of work, both by discussing children's books in an adult way on his blog Curious Pages, and by creating books of this nature, such as the recent release It's a Book (9781596436060, $12.99, Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan), a book about the introduction of a hard copy book in a digital age.

It's a Book walks that fine line between being really intended for an adult audience but being published in a children's market. There are many picture books published in this vein, such as All My Friends Are Dead (thanks to A. Neff for this!) by Avery Monsen and Jory John (9780811874557, $9.95, Chronicle), just published in June, about all the people, animals, and objects who have deceased friends. I can't think of a single friend who wouldn't snort with laughter at this snarky book.

What are some of your favorite picture books?

Stay tuned for Part II! Share/Bookmark


What I Learned From My Fall Internship, Part 1

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Let me tell ya - it works!

After literally months of job searching, cover letter-writing, resume-restructuring, informational interviews, actual job interviews, nail biting, and losing sleep, I have an announcement to make:

As of Monday, October 4, 2010, I will be the new Sales Assistant/Receptionist for Beacon Press, located on Beacon Hill, in Boston, MA.

I can hardly believe my good fortune. Not only is Beacon Press located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Boston, but the company itself is such an inspirational institution. Associated with the Universal Unitarian Association, Beacon Press is known for publishing outstanding works of poetry (Mary Oliver is published by Beacon), liberal and thought-provoking works of adult fiction and non-fiction, and most recently some YA graphic novels.

In my position as Sales Assistant/Receptionist, I will be at the front desk, serving as a representative of both Beacon Press and the UUA, meeting & greeting Beacon Press visitors, answering phone and email inquiries, and other sundry receptionist duties. I will also be assisting with the website, online marketing, and coordinating with organizations hosting author events with Beacon Press authors. I'm sure there will be other duties I can speak about later as I settle into the position and find out what they are.

But Rebecca, some of you might be gasping, this isn't editorial work, nor is it related to children's literature!

Good point, but this is an opportunity to work within a small, independent, well-respected publishing company in Boston. This is obviously an entry-level position, and as I have only internship experience within the publishing industry as a whole, I am thrilled to gain full-time employment in the industry. I can learn so much about various aspects of publishing I've never experienced, while also keeping my eyes open for a future position in editorial work. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I am so lucky my publishing career has begun at Houghton Mifflin and now at Beacon Press. Share/Bookmark


Book Review: ABC is for Circus by Patrick Hruby

ABC is for Circus
by Patrick Hruby
9781934429617, Ammo Books, $14.95, Pub. Date: November 2010

Whimsical. Bright. Colorful. Creative. A must-have for a baby or design library.

I realize I haven't reviewed any board books as a stand-alone post,  a gross oversight I'm going to correct beginning with my latest find. For those who stopped by the Odyssey Book Shop while I was Children's Department Manager there, you might have noticed my taste in design work similar to this. Board books featuring the work of Charley Harper and Dwell Studio received front-and-center placement on the board book shelves, while Bruno Munari's ABC picture book was featured on both the picture book shelf and in my own personal library. Now I can add the up-and-coming Patrick Hruby to my list of favorite designers in this vein.

While his artistic influences are clear, Hruby's illustrations in ABC is for Circus are unique, inspired, and delightfully cheerful with a mix of colors and shapes that are both riotous and carefully constructed. I love the clean, crisp geometric shapes among the bursts of color, as well as his use of color against black and white silhouettes. The subject matter is charming, too! Who wouldn't love learning "A is for Acrobats" and "B is for Big Top," but you'll also want to pay attention to "H is for Horses" as they're horses on the carousel (which, believe it or not, is not featured for the letter "C"). I think my favorite is "N is for Nighttime" because I love the switch of a colorful starry background with the Ferris Wheel silhouette layered on top.

Run to your nearest independent bookstore to grab your copy in late October/early November.

To find out more about Patrick Hruby, visit his website here.
Check out ABC is for Circus at the Ammo Books website.
Befriend Patrick Hruby Illustration on Facebook.
Read a great review of his artwork in general on My Love For You Is A Stampede of Horses.

Thank you to NetGalley for letting me preview this book! Share/Bookmark


Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop
This is my third Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy-for-Books, discovered (by me) through Presenting Lenore - thanks to both these blog/gers for providing a great way to meet new blog/gers!

To see the amazing blogs I discovered previously, visit my first Hop and my second Hop.

As this is Book Blogger Appreciation Week, as part of the Hop, I will be sharing my "favorite book bloggers and why [I] love them".

I, of course, have to begin with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, commonly known as Seven Imp, a book blog about children's books that is (if I may give my humble opinion) the preeminent children's book world blog. Interviews, artwork, children's book world discussions, this blog is a treasure trove of goodies waiting to be explored almost every day. Also, personally, they're named after a Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland quote, so how can I not love that?

a thousand Books with Quotes is another blog I look up often, as I appreciate the sampling of quotes from each book with the general synopsis. Better than any "look inside!" preview, it whets the appetite even more to find out what those quotes are about and where they fit in to the overall plot.

Last, but not least, As the Crowe Flies and Reads by my friend and former co-worker Ms. Emily Crowe is a fabulous read-and-travel-log. Sharing informed opinions, asking critical question, reviewing great books, and showcasing incredible photography and travel stories, this is one of my favorite blogs whether I'm looking for a literary book recommendation or my next dream vacation.

Blogs I have discovered today through the Hop include:

1. Pen and Paper, who gave me a great idea for a post about a Shelf of Awesome, coming soon, I hope!
2. Blkosiner's Book Blog hosted the original Shelf of Awesome idea.
3. A Trillian Books has an adorable blog design and great YA and adult book reviews.

4. For What It's Worth also has a stylish blog design and combines book reviews with music reviews - how great is that? I love discovering both!

As always, check 'em out!

Also just discovered this Follow My Book Blog Friday:

Hosted by Parajunkee, this is very similar to the Book Blogger Hop mentioned above. Today they are featuring Bailey of IB Book Blogging, and the question is: Do you read YA or stick with adult?

Both, of course! (Of course for me, anyway.) But this blog is for my children's/YA book review-related posts only. My adult book reviews can be found on Afterthoughts for Adults.

Thanks to Bloggin' 'Bout Books for turning me on to this! Share/Bookmark


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book of the Day: I Ain't Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

#5 in the HMH Book of the Day series:

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More!
by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow
9780152024888, $16

Despite not knowing the tune to the song "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More," the new lyrics stand on their own as very funny, lively, interactive text, whether you're literally painting or just reading and singing along. A little boy paints all over his house - the walls, the curtains, the ceiling, the floor - so his mother forbids him to paint anymore. The boy gets around this by painting himself while singing this song, with such lyrics as, "Guess there ain't no harm if I paint my...[kids guess as you flip the page] ARM! Now I ain't gonna paint no more." Kids can mime painting themselves while dancing around and signing this song.

If you're reading this at an activity-based storytime, you can have the kids draw an outline of themselves, and then paint in the body like the illustrations in the book. The illustrations are black-and-white outlines with shading; as the little boy paints himself, each body part becomes a riotous mix of colors, shapes, styles, and images. This illustration style really appeals to me, and if it does to you, too, check out Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, one of my favorites. Share/Bookmark


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book of the Day: Sisters by David McPhail

#4 in the HMH Book of the Day series:

by David McPhail
9780152046590, $9.99

Originally published in 1984, this delightful little book (apparently I have a preference for books with a small trim size) is perfect for the care package I'm sending to my sister at college. Published with a new jacket image and color illustrations for the first time in 2003, each page exhibits spot illustrations of romping sisters, demonstrating how they are alike and how they are not. The most important thing, of course, is that no matter how different they may be, they both love each other a lot. Sweet without becoming saccharine. Share/Bookmark


What I Learned From My Summer Internship, Part 3

Good news on the summer internship front: It has now been extended into a fall internship. Hooray!

Beginning today, for the next 10 weeks (or until I find a full-time position), I will remain the Children's Editorial Intern, now working directly with Kate O'Sullivan, Senior Editor at Houghton Mifflin, as well as with other HMH children's editors, including Margaret Raymo, Ann Rider, Erica Zappy, and editorial assistant Christine Krones. I will continue to read manuscripts and write reader reports, make my way through slush piles, write decline letters, and in general learn more about the Houghton Mifflin way of children's publishing.

Subsequent postings on my experiences will be entitled "What I Learned From My Fall Internship". Also, I hope to continue posting (albeit sporadically) the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book of the Day. Lastly, check out Afterfonts..., my blog dealing with things typographical- and word-related, where I sometimes post the new vocabulary words I've learned from all my reading. Occasionally, I also get the urge to make words up, like the word hippoltergeist, a word that came about when I somehow got the words hyperpolyglot and poltergeist mashed together in my head. A fellow intern and I decided hippoltergeist should be defined in this way:

hippoltergeist, n.

-the spirit of a deceased hippopotamus that wreaks havoc on family homes, mainly in the children's bedrooms, though not in a malicious way Share/Bookmark