Book reports

June 30, 2010

Picture book guy here. I love the art of telling stories with words and pictures. And I get all excited when I find a new picture book in my mailbox, a book sent to me by publishers for mention here at the Brown Bookshelf. Thing is, I’ve been so busy with my own book projects, I haven’t had time to chat-up other books lately. But I plan to do better, so here goes. These are a few that recently arrived in my mailbox:

Seeds of Change (Lee & Low Books)

by Jen Cullerton Johnson

illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

Young Wangari was taught to love and respect mugumo (trees). Trees are home to many and provide food. In addition, the Kikuyu  people of Kenya believe their ancestors live in the shade of trees.
When Wangari began attending school—something most Kenyan girls weren’t allowed to do—she excelled. Science was her favorite subject. Her education in Kenya eventually lead her to the United States where she attended college and later became a teacher at a university. But Wangari never forgot her childhood teachings, and she never stopped loving trees.
When she returned to Africa, Wangari was saddened to discover her people had turned their backs of the custom of not chopping trees down. With the loss of trees, the land was destroyed, food sources dried up, children were hungry. Wangari put her education to work and organized other women. Together they saved the land and her people, one tree at a time.
Jen Cullerton Johnson introduces readers to a little-known but important African heroine, a Noble Peace Prize winner and environmentalist. Illustrator and fine artist Sonia Lynn Sadler’s artwork is bold and colorful. Her rich paintings bring stained glass to mind.

A Place Where Floods Happen (Random House, 2010)

by Renee Watson

illustrated by Shadra Strickland

Adrienne, Keesha, Michael and Tommy are best friends. They live on the same street in New Orleans, a close-knit community where everyone knows each other, and everyone says hello.
One day as the kids play, the sun shines bright. But that only the calm before the storm. Time stands still, the sky grows dark. Hurricane Katrina moves in. During the storm streets flood, windows shatter, homes are under water. The friends are separated as the flood affects each family different. Tommy’s family goes to Houston. Keesha ends up in a trailer. Adrienne and her family goes to Baton Rouge. Michael’s family stays put and has to be rescued. “Katrina turned New Orleans inside out.”
In alternating voices, four friends describe their life before, during and after the storm.
Renee Watson’s emotive story serves as a reminder that it’s not things that make a community—people do. Shadra Strickland’s mixed media illustrations successfully capture the emotion of the story. A stunning double-page spread illustrates the enormity and devastation of the flood.

Goal! (Candlewick Press)

Mina Javaherbin

The World Cup is an international football (soccer) competition. And it’s happening right now, which makes this book report especially appropos.
Set in a dusty alleyway of a South African township, Anjani and his friends prepare to play football. They kick, dribble, run and score with Anjani’s brand new federation-size football, a prize won for being the best reader in class. But the alley isn’t safe and the friends must keep an eye out for bullies. When they are approached by a group of older kids who want to steal their ball, a new game is on as the younger kids whip the bullies at their own game.
Goal! is Mina Javaherbin’s debut in the children’s book market, and she scored a big win. A.G. Ford’s oil-painted illustrations are full of energy and emotion. In my opinion, his best work to date.


June 17, 2010

Today’s expert is Jason Wells, Publicity and Marketing Director for Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books.

Wells began his career in publishing at age sixteen at a small publisher on Long Island. Before joining Abrams in 2002, he held positions at Penguin, DK, Hyperion, and Simon & Schuster. In 2007 he received his MLS from Pratt Institute. He has worked on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney; Lauren Myracle’s TTYL and Flower Power books; Ian Falconer’s Olivia; NERDS and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley; Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff; The Jellybeans series by Laura Numeroff; Tonya Bolden’s Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl and George Washington Carver; 365 Penguins by Jean Luc Fromental and illustrated by Joelle Jolivet; and the forthcoming My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Erica Velasquez (among other titles).

BBS:  Hi, Jason. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf.

JW:   Glad to be here. I’ve long looked from afar at the work that you do. It’s thrilling to take part.

BBS:  What does your job as Publicity and Marketing Director entail?

JW:   I, with the people in my department, handle everything from setting up author and illustrator interviews and appearances, to pitching authors and illustrators for trade shows, submitting awards, coming up with clever marketing campaigns and much more. Of course, as director I also have to handle managing and motivating the team, and planning out the future.  One of the most important roles I play is as communicator—explaining how things work to authors and illustrators and relaying news to them, talking with our sales reps to help them feed information and promotions to customers, and working directly with librarians, booksellers, and the media to spread the word about our books and get feedback.

BBS:  What is your working relationship with the author/illustrator?

JW:   During the peak promotion period for the book there are calls, e-mails, and information shared back and forth. I like to think of relationships with authors and illustrators as open, in which they feel free to ask lots of questions to discover what is possible.

BBS:  These days, authors have a fair amount of marketing responsibilities—even when published traditionally.  In your view, what are the most effective ways they can spend their time and financial resources?

JW:   To be clear, the author’s involvement has a lot to do with how much time they have to devote to the project.  I’m not going to isolate specific things to do as every book is different. Not all book plans are the same. But in general, authors (if willing, and especially if new) should:

1)      Always consider every opportunity for promotion. We will often get requests from schools or stores that are nowhere near where the author lives. So if the publisher and author can work together to make these happen it is great. A publisher may not be able to always send an author somewhere but they can assist in other ways.

2)       Talk talk talk.  Publishers cannot fulfill every request an author may have, but talking about everything is important.

3)       Don’t ignore local resources. Some of the best campaigns start at home. If you can get a local librarian, bookseller, or media outlet to cheerlead, sometimes the rest of the world then takes notice.

BBS:  What marketing activities does a company like Abrams engage in when promoting a new title?

JW:   The list goes on and on. But here are some things we always do:

1)       Send review copies to key media, booksellers, librarians, and targeted subject areas that make sense.

2)       Keep our sales people informed of activities on the book, so they can then inform booksellers who will want to buy more copies.

3)       Exhibit books at trade shows, and bring in authors and illustrators when we can.

The list goes on and on though!

BBS:  Tell us the biggest error you see authors making with respect to their perspective on promotion?

JW:   I think there is a growing perception that publishers are less supportive than ever before. At least at Abrams, this is not true. So the worst thing an author can do is be distrustful of a publisher without talking to them first.  While answers may not always be what the author wants to hear, at Abrams, we want authors to be part of the process all along the way.

BBS:   There is a perception among many authors that the majority of promotional activities for PBs lie with them—versus the illustrator.  Is that accurate? If so, why do you think that is?

JW:   That is not accurate in my world, unless either party does not like to promote.  I love the “divide and conquer” approach. If the illustrator lives in point A and the author in point B, all the better for spreading the word.

BBS:   Any final advice on book promotion (including anything specific for authors/illustrators of color)?

JW:   In my experience authors and illustrators of color have access to some unique marketing arenas. I’d advise them to take advantage of as many of them as possible. 

BBS:   Drink the leftover milk (from your cereal), or pour it out?

JW:   Drink it, every day.

BBS:   Picket fence and front porch, or high-rise condo with doorman?

JW:   Picket fence and porch if it is waterfront, otherwise high-rise, doorman or not.

BBS:  Street smart, book smart, or smart alec ?

JW: Book smart alec.

BBS:   Let someone else pick all your clothes, or decide what you eat?

JW:   Clothes, for sure. Only two of my seven outfits a week usually make sense.