I am home, at my kitchen table in the dimness of my house, birds and windchimes and helicopters (and the 12 o'clock boys) are all I hear, and my ears are still ringing from the din of a thousand conversations in the cavernous hollow ice cube that is the Javits Center in New York.
That's just me being metaphorical. My ears always ring like this.
But sure, let's do it. Let me put my thoughts in order, or at least jot them randomly into a blog post and see if I learned anything at BEA this year.
BEA, or Book Expo, is an annual book industry trade convention. Publishers and others stake out booths where they showcase their upcoming titles, sometimes by trotting out the authors to meet and greet and sign and press the flesh.
Poor authors. You just know some of them got into this game thinking that once they became successful they could just "eat cheese in a cave" as Rainbow Rowell said during her EXTREMELY funny speech at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. She is possibly not as shy as she makes herself out to be: "I made Nathan Lane laugh!" she marveled at one point during her talk. "The rest of you don't count."
(Nathan Lane was there as the moderator of that breakfast. He qualifies as moderator because he has a forthcoming Celebrity Picture Book about his French bulldog, Mabel.) (There is only one reason for celebrities to write children's books, and that is so that we can have a famously entertaining moderator at the Children's Book Author Breakfast. In past years I've seen Julie Andrews, Chris Colfer, Neal Patrick Harris, and Octavia Spencer.) (Colfer wins it, by the way.) (Even without singing.) (I know you were curious.)
I sort of had a conversation about this - the expectation for authors to be entertaining - with Jon Scieszka as we were both walking over to the signing area. Jon was slated to be on a panel with Mac Barnett and Jory John, the authors of The Terrible Two, and I had met the young woman who was to moderate that panel.
All three of these men suffer "a deplorable excess of personality," as the fictional John Hammond said of, one suspects, the real Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: Original Recipe, and when I saw this nice kid clutching a set of questions she had prepared for the panel, I gave her the "oh sweetie" sympathy face, the same face the kids get for a scraped knee. "You'll be lucky if you get a word in edgewise with those guys," I told her. "That's both good and bad."
Sure enough, Mac responded to each of her prompts with, "That's a really good question," and then the three would launch into some tangential schtick involving Juggalos, cows, jai alai, or bogus claims of medical expertise. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The point of these panels - and a lot of authors don't really get this, or aren't given the opportunity to exploit it - is generally not the book. If you're funny enough, or sharp enough, or if you're Jon Scieszka and you've done this enough times, people will buy your book. You don't have to sell the book from the stage, you have to sell you.
Of course this is a problem. What do you do if you're not a natural speaker? Or if you freeze up on stage? In fact, I imagine that most authors are more the cave-dwelling cheeseater type than the camp counselor type. (Literally - a lot of authors honed their public speaking skills as camp counselors or teachers.) It's not fair, and all I can suggest is - learn to play the banjo. Jon suggested dusting off those baton-twirling skills. Christ, Ben Hatke will do backflips.
I suspect that this is part of the accolade disparity in children's fiction. For whatever reason, more guy authors are comfortable getting their goof on in front of a roomful of librarians and booksellers (HMM) than are women authors.
There are exceptions: I finally started Eleanor & Park after I heard Rainbow Rowell speak the other day. And Meg Cabot spoke at the Children's Book Breakfast one year, and it was like she was personally friends with everyone in the room. I am not a princess fan in the least, but I picked up the book she was promoting, which was Airhead, after I heard her talk, and enjoyed the crap out of it. And now I have her next book, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, on my short To Read stack.
Which brings me to my short To Read stack - probably the best way to do this recap. When I sort through what I've brought back from BEA, I end up with a short To Read stack and a really tall To Read stack.
Many of the books on the short stack are there because I was interested by what the author had to say as a speaker:
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King. Amy King spoke at School Library Journal's Day of Dialog, and, characteristically, was funny as shit but also - and also characteristically - blazingly honest. She spoke about being a feminist, and what is a feminist book. "If you are a feminist, all books are feminist books." YES LAWD. I am often asked to read YA books that are depressingly chauvinist, and they evoke in me a feminist response. I haven't even finished this book yet, and I have a review 3/4 written. It is amazing, yo.
Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older, which I want to read for about eighteen reasons - it's about art and mythology, it's set in the city, it has THAT COVER, and because he spoke specifically about setting: "setting as crisis" - which, in Baltimore in 2015, plucks a string with me.
Don Brown, who wrote the beautiful, readable The Great American Dust Bowl, with its darn-near-perfect visual representations of factual information balanced with characters whose faces told their own story in expression and gesture - has a new one coming out, Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. He was a longtime picture book illustrator who discovered the joys of sequential art relatively late in life, and he therefore explains what you can do with art in panels better than most people do.
The most recent volume of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales is called Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman) (ha! that is a mouthful!).
Nate talked about the recent comeback of nonfiction graphic novels in the U.S. and how that contrasts with European comics and even American comics from the 1940's and earlier. Why did romance comics, mystery comics, and true comics die out when the comics code went into effect? (Whenever this comes up, I have to point out the exception to the nonfiction comics desert - Larry Gonick, whose Cartoon History of the Universe is a staple in my house.)
Maris Wicks, who is too young to know what filmstrips looked like, described Human Body Theater as "supplemental" science reading. I get what she's saying - she doesn't want anyone's primary source of information about anatomy to be her fun graphic novel - but take it from me, filmstrip images are all I remember about hemoglobin and mitochondria. Any kid who supplements 4th grade science with this book will do better on science tests later in life.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson. I am in the minority that didn't like his Octavian Nothing books, but I could tell that he had enjoyed the heck out of the research that went into them. As he appears to have enjoyed researching the siege of Leningrad and the history of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, composed to rally and commemorate the beleaguered city, and smuggled to the U.S. on microfilm via a roundabout route like something out of Casablanca.
Candlewick is taking kind of a chance with this big thick book of nonfiction - it may have cannibalism in it, but it is also partly about classical music, for crap's sake - and I think the cover they chose, which I love quite a lot, means they hope it will cross over to adult readers. It should. My husband's reading it right now.
Other books are on this list simply by virtue of what - or who - they are:
MARTians by Blythe Woolston. Candlewick did NOT have had run out of ARCs of this book at BEA, but one came in the mail while I was gone. Blythe's imagination and curiosity take her books places that I never expect, and I WILL GO. Like, NOW.
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. Caught my eye because that cover looks like Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick and makes me think of Little Voice and Elizabeth Eulberg's Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality, which also has beauty pageants in it. You can't go wrong with beauty pageants. Never not funny. But what sealed the deal was @Glitterbrarian's blurb on the back. Woo! If Valerie liked it, I will trust. AND Jen Bigheart. Oh my gosh and ALSO Angie Manfredi, aka @misskubelik!
Listen, here is a secret that is beginning to be true about BEA. I used to go in order to meet authors and see the coming attractions from publishers. But nowadays, for me, the real rock stars of BEA are the librarians and critics. I stood in a signing line with storyteller extraordinaire Rita Auerbach, and when we got to the front, I realized I'd have stood in a line twice as long in order to talk to her.
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Look at that cover! And look at Ezra's face when he saw that cover! When it went up as a slide during Day of Dialog, the entire auditorium went, "Ooooh!" Scary! I am putting together a panel of middle grade authors who write horror at this fall's KidLitCon, and Mary has consented to come.
The great thing about KidLitCon conversations is that everybody in the room is already on the same page. We can go deep. You should come.
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad. Oh my oh my, this picture book biography is nice. Moody and graceful, it somehow communicates that combination of determination and delicacy that is a ballerina. The gray cover is so classy, especially against Pavlova's pale pink dress.
Laurel will also be joining us at KidLitCon. This is a woman who thinks deeply about story and character - you will want to listen to what she has to say.
Fallout (Lois Lane) by Gwenda Bond. I mean... no questions asked, right? I've been reading comics since my friend Sean handed me V for Vendetta in 1987 and deploring the role of women in comics since about page 12 - this book is going on the shortlist.
Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon. There are things in here I didn't know. I didn't know D.H. Lawrence's Humming-Bird poem, which is funny and trippy is studded with gemlike words like "mosses" and "heave." It's a very well-chosen selection of poetry. I also didn't know anything about Joohee Yoon, who is apparently a genius in three Pantone colors.
I write so much about picture books I almost hesitate to mention any that I picked up at BEA, but I have to say something about Elisha Cooper's 8: An Animal Alphabet. Elisha Cooper's pencil line is disciplined and minimal, but knows when to hump and bump and curl. This lends itself so well to animals - it feels organic and compactly muscular while conveying the texture of fur or scales or spines.
I love Elisha Cooper's clouds so much I have considered them for a tattoo, but a parade of his chickens, frogs, ants, and quail would do quite nicely too.
And here are the books that my boys gravitated to on Bookmas, which is what we call the morning after BEA, when I pull everything out of the tote bags and strew it around the hotel room.
Ezra, who is twelve next week:
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Lotta blue on middle grade covers lately - couldn't have anything to do with Sisters, could it? But sure enough, a quick flip through makes me think this will be perfect for fans of Raina and Cece, as well as fans of the Holm siblings.
Milo, who is thirteen, plucked up:
Guys Read: Terrifying Tales. But of course.
Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers. Liniers signed every book with a dear little drawing, colored in with watercolors. That signing line moved slowly, but I didn't mind because I was chatting with Jamie of The Roarbots and Claudia Zoe Bedrick, who publishes gorgeous picture books at Enchanted Lion. This Liniers book is a TOON book Level 3 reader, but Milo is an egalitarian consumer of illustrated work.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Milo's into all things Oppel lately.
And then there are TWO BOOKS that I didn't get that I really want a look at:
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. This sounds like the story of wee Jonathan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the guy who just wants to get through the day without getting eaten or blown up, while his heroic and special peers heroically fight evil and endure special melodrama. And indeed, Patrick Ness confided that his inspiration was pretty much Seasons 3-5 of Buffy. Which works, because Jonathan turns villain in Season 6.
The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos. Spanning the years between Norvelt (From Norvelt to Nowhere) and being busted for drug smuggling (Hole in My Life), The Trouble in Me promises more honesty, more jinks of the hi (and possibly high) variety, and, I suspect, a little more introspection than the previous books. You can't use a Joan Armatrading lyric as your title and not deliver at least a little bittersweet among the balls-ass.
That's it. BEA, you nearly kill me every year. This year was less crowded, with fewer ARCs handed out - I feel like that's because most professional readers use the online services Edelweiss and NetGalley to preview titles. More people showed up for the panel discussions though, and maybe that's the future of BEA - giving librarians and booksellers the chance to connect with authors and learn their point of view.