Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Picture Books to Share this Jolabokaflod

As soon as I heard about the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð, I knew my family had a new Christmas Eve tradition. What’s not to love about a “Christmas book flood” celebrated by a country that cherishes two of my favorite things…reading and chocolate?

According to tradition, Icelanders give each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the evening savoring their new books as well as chocolate. It sounds to me like the perfect way to spend a wintry evening after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Iceland values reading and publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. Their literacy rate is nearly 100%, and one out of ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. Celebrate this Christmas Eve like an Icelander by surrounding yourself with family, friends, chocolate, and a selection of Lerner Digital eBooks like the holiday favorites below. Happy Jolabokaflod!


David McKee

Our favorite patchwork elephant Elmer keeps his young elephant friends busy as they wait for Papa Red to make his annual visit. After a day playing in snow and decorating a Christmas tree, they hope to catch a glimpse of Papa Red as he lands his sleigh full of presents.

Joe Kulka

The Coal Man works hard searching mines for the coal Santa drops into the stockings of naughty boys and girls. When he arrives at the North Pole with his coal delivery, Santa informs him that he’s no longer giving out coal. This turn of events leads to an unexpected happy ending for the Coal Man.

The Nutcracker Comes to America
Chris Barton, Cathy Gendron

How did The Nutcracker become a beloved American holiday tradition? Three brothers from a small town in Utah are surprisingly credited with introducing the little known Russian ballet to San Francisco in the first full length production on Christmas Eve 1944, and American audiences fell in love.

Chris Judge

The Beast and all the villagers have been robbed of their tools, so they cannot build their snow festival. The Beast is on a mission to catch the creature causing all the mayhem and soon a snow-covered chase is underway! Along the way, the Beast learns he may have more in common with the thief than he realized.

Harriet and George’s ChristmasTreat
Nancy Carlson

No Christmas reading list would be complete without my children’s favorite holiday book! In this delightful Harriet and George tale, the young friends avoid the well-meaning Ms. Hoozit and her infamous fruitcake only to find out they may have missed out on a special Christmas treat.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Best Gift of All: A Book!

While the title of this blog post might be ever so slightly tongue in cheek, but I'm a big fan of giving kids books as gifts. I asked some of my colleagues for recommendations from the books we've published in the past year.

Without any further ado:

Alix Reid says: "I’d recommend The Secret of Goldenrod, which is the perfect book to curl up with under a blanket and next to a fire, and immerse yourself in a book about a lonely girl and a house that is magical and mysterious."

Greg Hunter says: "I would recommend The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, because the story teaches readers that every gift is precious--and that you should always beware of talking skunks."

For elementary-age kids, Anna Cavallo recommends Dino-Racing. She says: "It’s hard not to enjoy seeing the largest dinosaurs crammed in tiny cars, and illustrator Barry Gott’s fake logos adorning the race cars are hilarious. Plus, the text features lots of fun info about racing!"

And for teen girls, Anna recommends The Immortal Throne (along with the first two Into the Dark books, The Shadow Prince and The Eternity Key), saying, "This series is an engrossing escape from the winter cold and gray, easily enjoyment under a blanket with a mug of something warm. And Daphne, the badass strong female main character, should be a welcome example of a girl who’s saving the world, despite the bumbling and/or greedy men around her."

Amy Fitzgerald says, "I’d have to recommend Gabriel’s Horn, a Kar-Ben picture book about a boy whose brief meeting with a mysterious soldier changes his life forever. The art is gorgeous, the story is universal (thought it’s cleverly based on a Jewish legend), and the theme of giving and looking beyond our own needs is perfect for the holidays."

And finally, I'll throw in a couple recommendations of my own. For the science-loving kid: Masters of Disguise by Rebecca L. Johnson. 

This book offers a surprising--and occasionally gross--look at animals that use incredible tricks to deceive predators or prey. (The assassin bug on the cover is wearing a "coat" of dead ants!)

For the kid who is going to be seeing a lot of relatives: Don't Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon.

Getting together with relatives can be wonderful, but at times it can be nerve-racking. This book explores something we don't often see in picture books--a feisty, prickly great-grandmother--and it offers a gentle message about finding ways to love our relatives as they are, eccentricities and all.

And that's our list! I wish our readers a happy holiday season: may you all read something you love!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Giveaway: Blast from the North by David Zeltser

Happy Friday! Congratulations to Catherine Flynn (@flynn_catherine), who's won A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent. Catherine, please send your address to publicity@lernerbooks.com and we'll get your book in the mail!

We've got a wintry chapter book to give away today: it's David Zeltser's Blast from the North, sequel to Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age.

In Dawn of the Ice Age, Lug the caveboy became a hero after saving his clan from saber-toothed tigers. Now, a giant glacier is rolling toward their village, and it's on course to crush the whole settlement. Can Lug save the day again?

Here are the three ways you can enter for a chance to win: 
  • leave a comment on this post that includes your first and last name 
  • send an email to publicity@lernerbooks.com that includes your first and last name
  • tweet this line: Tweet for a chance to win  BLAST FROM THE NORTH by @davidzeltser from @LernerBooks! bit.ly/1OrSN 
US entries only, please. We'll announce the winner on the blog on Friday, December 9. Good luck!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Luis Paints the World: A Charlotte Huck Recommended book!

As glad as we always are to see Lerner books earn accolades, I particularly love seeing people start to notice the beautiful, important books that would otherwise exist quietly in the world, under the radar. 

Example A: a beautiful, important book of 2016 (IMHO)

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was following along with Twitter updates from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention, which was taking place that weekend in Atlanta. This conference is always an inspiring gathering of educators and others who recognize the immense value books can bring to students of all stripes, at all levels, and who are committed to sharing and learning new ways to engage students in the power of language and literature. While it's no substitute for being there in person, I highly recommend following the creative and profound ideas from the conference that come through in 140-character bits hashtagged #NCTE16.

The Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children is one of several honors announced each year at NCTE. This award was established in 2014 "to promote and recognize excellence in the writing of fiction for children. [It] recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder." (Source linked above.) I was thrilled to learn that the Carolrhoda picture book Luis Paints the World, by Terry Farish and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, was named a Charlotte Huck Recommended Book for 2016.

Published in April, this tender, timely story offers a glimpse of the struggle of many modern families and the hopeful power of community. Young Luis wishes his older brother, Nico, wasn't leaving for the Army. To show Nico he doesn't need to go, Luis begins a mural on the alleyway wall. Their house, the river, the Parque de las Ardillas—it's the world, their Dominican neighborhood in Lawrence, Massachusetts, all right there. Won't Nico miss Mami's sweet flan? What about their baseball games in the street?

The seasons pass, and texts from Nico overseas become sporadic. Luis presses Mami to know when Nico is coming home, with heartbreaking uncertainty in her response.
"Muy pronto," Mami says. "Pero, Luis, sometimes people, they move on. They don't come back for the baseball. Even the flan."
"Yes, they do," Luis whispers. 

But as Luis awaits his brother's return from duty, his own world expands as well, through his swoops of paint and the bright world that takes shape as neighbors grab a brush.

From the moment this book started coming together, I've been struck by the tenderness of the family relationships painted both in words and in paint, the authentic innocence of young Luis and the fear that he faces, and the power he demonstrates through his act of creative expression, which brings the community together.

It's a universally relatable story of siblings, of family, and of struggling with the unknown. It's also a rare picture book that specifically relates a military family's experience. I asked Terry about this duality, and if there was significance to this military family being Dominican-American. She replied:

"Yes, children in so many families have experienced Luis's story. My daughter was a little girl when her father, in the Air Force, left very often on assignments. She was sad and then she was angry and we all had to recover when he came home. Luis's story arose directly from my experience of working with Dominican-American families. Kids talked about their brothers or sisters being in the army and away from home. In researching, it became clear that across the country, immigrants make up a disproportionate number of the country's volunteer army. Today, having a family member in the military is often a part of Dominican-American and other immigrant families' experience. That truth was the story's impetus.

"Overall, active duty military make up only one percent of the population, but I hope the story could be a bridge in that cultural divide between military and civilian life. In most ways, it's a story about loving your brother (or sister or parent) so bad and figuring out how to hold on to them if they have to go away. That's everybody's story."

I'm so glad to see Luis Paints the World recognized with this honor, with hopes that it will continue to find its way to a wider audience--for it is only in the hands of readers that the book will truly have the power to transform lives.

Congratulations to Terry Farish and Oliver Dominguez on this recognition!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On Gratitude, Editing, and 2016

What a year, folks. What. A. Year.

Last week as Thanksgiving approached, I was at a loss for a blog post topic until the obvious choice smacked me in the face. The foundational myth of the first Thanksgiving and its implications for generations of Americans? Good guess, but not today.

It feels especially important, this year, to reflect on causes for gratitude. (Shout-out to my colleague Sara Hoffmann, whose post from earlier this month I'm shamelessly ripping off.) As a children's book editor, I'm thankful for these things, among others:

1. Courageous authors. "Courageous" is an oft-overused word, like "traumatic" and "actionable." (Blog post for another day.) But as 2016 has shown us perhaps better than many other years, words really do have tremendous power for good and ill, and those who wield words balance universes (multiverses!) in their hands. I've worked with some very brave authors this past year--authors who reject easy answers, who give voice to harrowing and heartbreaking truths, who challenge their readers to think and feel in ways that are uncomfortable and enriching and vitally necessary. Their words have made me laugh out loud and cry into my tea, sometimes simultaneously. Their words have made me question my own assumptions, have put me to shame, and have given me hope. I can't wait for you to read their books.

2. Amazing readers. Our authors often send us photos from their signings, talks, and other events. Nothing does more to assure me I'm in the right business than seeing a young reader who's devoured all the books in a series, or who's found just the type of book he was looking for after a long search, or who opened a book on a whim one evening and was glued to the same spot, still reading, hours later. I can pull up sales figures for our books whenever I feel like it, but the number of copies sold feels insignificant compared to the beaming face of one kid who saw herself in a character.

3. Awesome coworkers. Danielle, our trade art director, bakes incredible cakes and designs stunning book covers. Giliane, our senior photo editor, scours the photography world for the best images and then wrangles politely and diligently with the gatekeepers who license those photos; she may eventually leave us for a career as a diplomat. Carol, Millbrook Press's editorial director, shares fascinating articles and books and anecdotes about her adorable children-slash-beta-readers. Vicki, our interim editor-in-chief, has a secret potions lab where she brews patience, a positive outlook, a sense of the big picture, and the ability to function without sleep. I picked those names out of a hat; everyone else is fantastic too.

4. Food. (See above re: Danielle's baking prowess.)

5. Booksellers, librarians, et al. Without customers and advocates outside Lerner, many of our books would spend their lives moping in the warehouse. You know who you are. You know you matter. We know too, and we've got your back.

6. The past. This has been a year of self-examination for many of us in this industry. We've learned a lot. We see where we've gone wrong in the past, whom we've failed to include and represent, what we've neglected to tackle, how many unnecessary printouts we've circulated, how rarely we've used recycled paper in the printers. (Come on, guys. You remove any staples beforehand, and it goes in blank side up. We can do this. I believe in you.)

7. The future. Children's publishing is all about small humans who are growing hour by hour toward adulthood--struggling with responsibilities and fears, wrestling with unruly hopes, facing a world that turns and tilts and throws curveballs. (And mixes metaphors.) Words can help. Words have power. I have faith in words and in the small humans who read them. And I'm very grateful for the chance to continue investing in our future through the work that Lerner does.

So whatever's coming at us in 2017, I'm thankful for 2016. And I'm ready for the work ahead.