Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Summer scares

Are you starting to plan your summer camping trips? You probably have your tent, your sleeping bags, your cooler, your water bottles...but wait!


What about the campfire? Yes, yes, you have your wood and your matches and your marshmallows. That's all well and good. But do you have your scary stories? You know, your dragons, your witches, your zombies? Oh, you haven't packed those yet? Well, here, let me help you.

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Available in library bound or ebook. But watch out! Who knows what's really making that noise in the woods?!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dazzle Ships On Press

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director and Designer

Sometimes, we in the Design department actually LEAVE the design department for a few hours.

I know it's hard to believe, but we don't always sit behind a computer clicking buttons for 8 hours a day. Some aspects of book making require interacting with other people outside of our building. Case in point: the press check.

WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? you might ask. Thanks for asking. To explain:

The books we work so hard on in digital form while in development also make it into physical printed form, so they can join the other wonderful physical books in your homes and your bookshelves. For certain books—those that have special printing treatments, exceptionally large print runs, or have art and images that will be difficult or extremely important to match color, someone either in Design or in Print Production will head to the printer when the book is on press for quality assurance to make sure it's printing as expected.

What do we expect? That the color will match the high-end color proofs we've approved in house and send along with the digital files to the printer. A shot of printer proofs for our upcoming Millbrook picture book Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai:

Yes, the printer proofs look like a wonderful jumble of mixed up pages, 8 pages per side of large sheet of paper for the press. Once printed and folded properly, the book will all make sense. But that's a whole separate printing signatures & forms blog post for you.

We print in most books in 4-color process, so there are four plates and rollers laying down the four color components of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, that once together make a full color book. Color levels are adjusted when on press by adding or lessening any of these four color components in various areas of the images. For this particular job we added more yellow in places to warm up the art.

Printing presses are long machines with many components. This is one section of the press—one of those four plates & rollers—the yellow plate. Which may be obvious. You can see parts of two more presses in the background.
Once the paper has made it through all four color rollers, the entire image has been formed and the press sheet rolls out, done. It takes a few (or many) sheets for any color adjustments to make it through the entire press, so it's not unheard of to go through a couple hundred sheets of paper to get the colors all where we want them. Much of this prep is done BEFORE the printer calls in the clients (us), so we're there to do the final look and adjustments. And when the pressman on the job is experienced and great at his job (in this case it was Dan, hence 'pressman' rather than 'pressperson') there are very few adjustments to go once we arrive. Here, cover press sheets are rolling out of the press. The operator will grab the top sheet and bring it over to the light booth  to compare to the previous round of color adjustments and our high-end color proofs:

That reflected purple screen you see almost cut off the top left corner is the screen for the computer that runs the press—there are many many color bars and buttons that correspond to parts of the press & press sheet, all of which mystify me but the people running the press know them like the backs of their hands.

Making a color adjustment for one page will affect all the other areas of the book in that particular column of the press sheet, so changing one page to be more yellow could up the yellow on another page that really doesn't need it. As with most things, 4-color printing is a balancing act to get the right result.
Pressman Dan knew exactly how to adjust for this cover and jacket—I'd say something like "this is looking to blue, can you warm it up more" and before I was done he'd be agreeing and already adding the yellow in the right places with all the mystifying buttons. This photo shows the difference between adjustments. Which you can sort of see in the the picture... but trust me, we moved the color on the flaps to be a better match.

Once the color is right, we sign off on the approved sheet, and let the rest of the job run using the same levels. Press checks when they go well can take only ten minutes. Press checks when they go badly can end up with pulling the entire job off press to fix a problem, then rescheduling for another time—that did not happen with this book. This particular excursion to the printer went very smoothly. And we went back the next day to see the interior pages on press and worked on matching the color of the back cover printed the day before to the color of the endsheets, as the same piece of art was used in both places.

Also once signed off, we get a few press sheets and take them back to the office to take pictures, like this, to tease readers with more bits of the incredible art in this book. Just wait 'till you see the entire thing!

I'll be seeing the finished book soon, once it's back from the bindery. With the final quality assurance step at the printer, I know it'll look remarkable! You can see the entire book soon too—Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is on sale September 1. Preorder it now from IndieBound or Amazon, or look for it at your favorite indie bookstore this fall. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Solving the Middle-Grade Mystery

Greg Hunter, Associate Editorial Director

A couple of weeks ago, C.M. Surrisi, author of this spring’s hilarious, suspenseful middle-grade whodunit Vampires on the Run: A Quinnie Boyd Mystery, asked me what I thought made the middle-grade mystery novel unique. I probably responded with more verbiage than needed, but here’s a crack at the answer:

Much of what we think of as the mystery genre is scaffolding. And that’s no bad thing—where would we be without scaffolding? On the ground, many of us, after falling from some high place because there weren’t enough foot planks or supportive rails in our area.

In the case of a mystery, I’m talking about what readers want and expect from a mystery, the things that make a story recognizable as part of a larger tradition. The setup, the emergence of suspects, the red herring, the dramatic final reveal. Part of the pleasure in reading these stories is proceeding along a track we recognize.

Then, of course, there’s the other part. The characters, the color, and the details of a crime that make a story feel novel, new, even generous—and that speak to a particular audience. Roses and tomatoes both grow along a trellis, but only one says romance. And scaffolding matters, but it doesn’t determine what you grow.

The middle-grade mystery distinguishes itself here, in the other part. While a hard-boiled detective might be set in his or her whiskey-soaked ways after years of disillusion, the lead character in a middle-grade mystery comes to us in a transitional state—old enough to bristle at being dismissed as a kid, but not old enough to even drive, much less open an agency or be haunted by unsolved cases from years gone by. The mystery can be, among other things, a glimpse of (or an early entrée into) adulthood. And a middle-grade mystery puts meaningful limitations on its crime-solver. The Continental Op tends to go where he wants. Hercule Poirot even gets invited most of the time. But although the middle-grade sleuth may not like it, he or she often still has a curfew.

The careful writer of middle-grade mysteries observes these limitations and recognizes them for what they are: opportunities. Additional ways for a character to show his or her resourcefulness, and for a story to lend readers insight into a particular stage of life. In a way, the age of the middle-grade mystery’s characters and audience makes for scaffolding within scaffolding, a narrower-than-usual set of parameters for the storyteller, but again, that’s no bad thing. It all depends on how you want your garden to grow.

Any other thoughts on what makes middle-grade mysteries stand out? Share them with us in the comments! And be sure to check out Vampires on the Run for an example of the MG mystery at its finest.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Forensic Pairing: Fiction and Nonfiction

I love police procedurals, especially when you need a lot of adjectives to nail them. For example, Ben Winters's The Last Policeman (the first in a trilogy) has been described so many ways: murder mystery; dystopian fiction; apocalyptic novel; detective story. It's all of the above, plus a darn good read,

What does this have to do with nonfiction? Well, Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD, has written a couple of excellent forensic titles for TFCB--Death: Corpses, Cadavers, and Other Grave Matters and Forensic Identification: Putting a Name and Face on Death. Her YA books for TFCB showcase how forensic professionals do their work. How do professionals define and identify death? How do they work with corpses? How do they know when and how a person died? And how do they figure out the identity of a dead person if it is not immediately obvious?

Murray is a forensic anthropologist who also teaches college biology in Ohio. When I read police procedurals, I generally keep in mind what I've learned from Murray's books. It doesn't help me solve the fictional crime, but it does deepen my appreciation of the tale.

Think about pairing detective novels with forensic YA nonfiction to challenge readers in your school and to expand their appreciation for how fiction and nonfiction work together to tell stories about the human experience. They'll love it!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Environmentalist Isatou Ceesay Larger-Than-Life at the Climate March

It's every publisher's dream to see a three-foot bust of the subject of one of their books paraded down the National Mall among thousands of people.

And last month, that's exactly what happened.

A sign featuring Isatou Ceesay, the notable environmentalist featured in the 2015 picture book One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, was brought to the People's Climate March in Washington, DC.

The sign was made by Ingrid Crepeau, a puppeteer who has made "Big Head" signs of notable people (including Mae Jemison, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Neil deGrasse Tyson) for other protest marches. So for the Climate March, Ingrid decided to create signs of people who have championed sustainability, including Isatou.

Isatou has been working to recycle plastic bags and reduce waste in The Gambia for more than 20 years. In 1997, she founded the Recycling Centre of N'Jau with four other women, and from that the Women's Initiative Gambia (WIG) was formed. WIG helps women not only learn to recycle and reuse but also teaches financial planning.

Ingrid Crepeau's partner in the project, Michele Valeri, found Isatou while looking for women environmentalists to feature online.

"I was so excited by her WIG collective and a few of the interviews with her on YouTube that I knew we needed her to be at the March," Michele said.

One Plastic Bag author Miranda Paul was excited to see that Ingrid created a "Big Head" sign for Isatou.

"To see Isatou Ceesay's likeness alongside recognized environmental heroes and activists was a hopeful sign for me—a sign that in our global world, our diverse heroes will have their legacies carried on," Miranda said.

Want to learn more about how Isatou became an advocate for recycling and a leader in her community? Check out One Plastic Bag, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon.

You can also watch Isatou discuss her work with WIG in this 9-minute documentary video.