Radiant Child

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by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Let’s start 2017 with one of the most exquisite books of 2016. If you don’t know it yet, I’d bet a Picasso that three Mondays from now you’ll be hearing more about it. Truly one for the year and one for our time.

Just look.

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This is what a great book looks like when a spectacular artist creates art in honor of a spectacular artist. Javaka Steptoe writes about his process at the beginning of the book–that much like Basquiat, he used parts of New York City itself. Steptoe scavenged for discarded wood from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village to the Lower East Side. Basquiat’s art isn’t reproduced in this book about him, but the spirit of his work is alive in these found planks and paintings.

Notice too, how the wood on each page fits not-so-neatly together. It’s whole, but broken. Cuts and ridges and physical places for more art to live. Again, much like Basquiat.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother. At home, they spoke three languages–four, if you include the language of art itself. Basquiat’s mother encouraged him to make and create and visit museums. She drew with him. She taught him how to see. She helped him heal.

This relationship is at the heart of the book, and is one that young readers can imagine of their own. Basquiat’s life was complicated and messy and deeply tragic. His mother was mentally ill. And yet, the book shines a light on Basquiat’s raw talent, his brilliant mind, and his loving relationship with his dear mother.

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When you consider that art and story became this creator’s voice, a clear thread of hope arises out of both the book and Basquiat’s life. We see it. We hear it. We are inspired to make and fight and do the same.

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This is the final spread in the book, and despite an exhilarating crowd of faces eager for Basquiat’s work, the text says this, “. . . above all the critics, fans, and artists he admires, the place of honor is his mother’s, a queen on a throne.” We see them there in the background, under his signature crown, and we also see them on the right, the final image in our story. A famous artist, looking toward his mother for approval. She showed him it was possible.

See how a word is occasionally visualized differently on the page? The last four instances of this design choice make a lovely little poem that succinctly reflects the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

BEAUTIFUL

MAGICAL

RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD

HE IS NOW A FAMOUS ARTIST!

For more on Jean-Michel Basquiat, check out this film and a companion NPR piece with its director, a friend of Basquiat’s. And for more on Javaka Steptoe and his book, do give this episode of The Yarn a listen.

Update: here’s a video chat between Little, Brown and Javaka Steptoe. Wonderful stuff.

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Thanks to Little, Brown for the images in this post.  

2017 Middle Grade Debuts

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Look at all of those beautiful books! Each of these book covers has a lovely author (sometimes two!) behind it, and I am so lucky to be debuting a book with this bunch. If you just can’t wait to spend some holiday money, a preorder of one or all of these is a wonderful idea. Treat your shelf!

You can find us chatting books at both of these hashtags on Twitter: #mgdebuts + #2017mgdebuts. Come join us!

Want to download a flier for yourself or your favorite local bookstore or library? Click here.

Speaking of favorite local bookstores, I am honored to have partnered with my friends at Once Upon a Time Bookstore to offer autographed copies of my book. If you’d like to preorder a copy of A Rambler Steals Home, just call (818-248-9668) or stop in.

Additional preorder links here, but don’t forget your local bookstores. They are doing important work!

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Happy New Year to you and yours, and happy reading!

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Best of the Year at All the Wonders

All the Wonders

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The team at All the Wonders has been hard at work over the last month or so, finishing up pages and tallying our favorites. We read a whole lot this year. And so this week, we bring to you four end-of-the-year-best-of-the-year lists, a monster-sized batch of top-notch books.

Head over for lists celebrating picture books, nonfiction picture books, chapter books through young adult, and comics.

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Perfect for last minute gifting!

Enjoy!

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Listen! Listen!

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by Ann and Paul Rand (reissued by Princeton Architectural Press, 2016)

I’m a big fan of these two, a creative powerhouse of a family. I’ve written about their books before, here and here.

This one is worth a look. And now, thanks to Princeton Architectural Press, you can get your hands on it once again.

It’s a look at that funny relationship between sound and color and how they swing around one another. Bold and dazzling and so very interesting, all captured here in this picture book.

Here’s a peek:

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The spread below stops me to smile. You have to tilt the book ninety degrees, unusual for the traditional page turn. And the sound of snow? Quiet, and yet powerful enough to hear. Pretty neat.

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A tender reminder to do a little more listening on all of our days, especially this time of year.

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Thanks to Princeton Architectural Press for the images in this post.

Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

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by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown 2016)

I am so excited to share this guest post with you today! Please welcome Alvina Ling, esteemed editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, sharing here about the collaborative process that brought this beautiful book to life.

Enjoy!


Creating Thunder Boy Jr.: it takes a village!

by Alvina Ling

It’s said that we’re “stronger together,” and that’s certainly the case when it comes to bringing a children’s book into the world.

Collaboration is especially apparent when working on picture books, and I thought I’d give you all a peek into how a book gets made while outlining the publication process of the picture book Thunder Boy Jr. , written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Most picture books start with a manuscript. Sherman, associate editor Bethany Strout, and I went through a few different ideas, and a countless number of drafts and revision to get to the text that ended up in the book. He sent the initial idea for Thunder Boy Jr. in as a text titled I Want a New Name in July 2013, and we had a final manuscript and the new title by September, which is relatively fast.

Once we had a manuscript ready to share, we set about finding an illustrator. At Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (LBYR), we always ask the author if they have any ideas. Sherman suggested an illustrator, and I worked with our Design department to come up with some additional ideas to share with him, too. Ultimately, two different people at LBYR separately suggested Yuyi Morales. Yuyi’s Niño Wrestles the World had gained a lot of attention that year, and when I showed the book to Sherman, he was instantly in love. He even wrote a letter to Yuyi to entice her.

Dear Yuyi,

I am sitting in the Little Brown offices looking at picture books, searching for potential illustrators, and I just saw your Nino book, AND I AM IN LOVE.

I would very much love to work with you.

Please.

Please.

Please.

Um, please.

Sherman Alexie

I hadn’t known it at the time, but Yuyi had been planning to focus on her own work, as opposed to illustrating other author’s work. But it turned out that her whole family was huge Sherman Alexie fans. In fact, for Christmas one year her son had given his grandparents copies of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Yuyi was IN! And, we were all ecstatic. It felt meant to be.

Once Yuyi was on board, the next step was sketches. Yuyi sent us very rough thumbnails first. Here are a few spreads:

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As you may be able to see, in the early thumbnails, Thunder Boy Jr. had a bunch of friends that he interacted with. The art director, Sasha Illingworth, and I reviewed the sketches and decided that they were a little too busy and confusing at times. The funny thing with collaboration is, oftentimes you don’t remember who came up with what idea, but we ended up throwing out to Yuyi: instead of all the friends, what if Thunder Boy Jr. had just a sister instead? Yuyi loved the idea of bringing in a little girl, and focusing on Thunder Boy Jr’s immediate family.

Once sketches were in, we circulated them amongst design, copyediting (in this case, our managing editor Andy Ball), and editorial. Each department reviews the sketches carefully, looking for things like continuity, pacing, the gutter (the middle of the spread where the pages are bound together), the “bleed” on the edges (during the book’s printing, the pages aren’t always cut exactly right, so we ask the illustrator to include a quarter inch extra art, or bleed, around the edges just in case, so that nothing gets cut off), and more.

Here were the comments we sent Yuyi on the spreads above:

Spread 9:   The scene on the left is a bit close to the one on spread 11. Is it possible to change this one up a bit? This is a quieter moment in the story. We’d also  love to add mom into this scene. On the right side, we’ve love for Thunder Boy to be bigger, and would love for him to be leaning in, perhaps like he’s whispering, or gesturing to us that he’s telling a secret.

Spread 10: We LOVE this! We don’t want to lose too much of Thunder Boy’s head so it would be great to move him up a bit. We also don’t want to lose the snake in the gutter, could you shift his head to the left?

Spread 11: We’d love to see a little more action in the right hand side. Maybe make him larger in scale as well? Have him be in a more powerful/active pose?

Yuyi sent us more detailed sketches—you can see how the art has developed:

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Isn’t the little sister adorable?! For those of you who have read the book, I think you’d agree that she steals the show. And to think she almost didn’t exist!

We also sent these sketches to Sherman, who loved them so much. “Oh the sketches just made me cry!” He was also inspired to make some text changes in response to Yuyi’s art—for example, he added the little sister character into the text, and we also worked to get the ending just right.

In this case, these are the comments we send Yuyi on the three spreads I shared above:

Spread 9: LOVE

Spread 10: Need lots of bleed especially on the bottom so we don’t lose too much

Spread 11: GREAT. Love little sis hanging on Dad’s leg!

As you can see, not too many comments—Yuyi was given the go-ahead to go to final art.

In the meantime, Sherman and I continued to work on the ending—we felt that the resolution was happening too quickly. Here’s the previous ending text:

I do not want the name

they gave me when I was born.

I do not want to be Little Thunder.

I don’t want to be small.

Hey, wait.

I just had a great idea.

I know how

to fix this thing.

My Dad will stay Thunder

But my name will be Lightning.

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Sherman thought about it, and decided that he wanted the new ending to deepen the father’s role. Here was his revision:

I love my dad but I don’t want to be exactly like him.

I love my dad but

I want to be mostly myself.

I love my dad but I want my own name.

What do I do? What do I say?

“Son, I think it’s time I gave you a new name. A name of your own.”

My dad read my mind! My dad read my heart!

“Son, my name will still be Thunder but your new name will be…”

LIGHTNING!

Together, my Dad and I

will become amazing weather.

Our love will be loud

and it will be bright.

My Dad and I will light up the sky.

Even though we often like to have the child solve a problem in children’s books himself, in this case we felt the new ending rang more true—it seemed fitting for Thunder Boy Jr. to declare his will of wanting his new name, and for his father to help grant his wish in the end. Yuyi suggested having both the father and son say “Lightning!” at the same time, which made for a satisfying ending.

Because we expanded the ending, we now needed to condense some of the beginning. Here’s a revised spread at the beginning with new text including the sister:

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Ah, there’s Mom!

If you look at the finished book, you’ll notice further art changes to the composition that were made, even after this sketch. It’s always a work in progress.

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And then comes the part that is still one of my absolute favorite parts of my job—when the final art starts coming in. In this case, Yuyi sent in scans of her art.

This is one of the first pieces Yuyi sent in:

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Absolutely gorgeous.

We sent a few test pieces into the printer to start picking paper and proofing. At this stage, we’re working closely with our production department—Erika Schwartz supervised the production of this book. We got in test proofs with the art on both coated and uncoated paper, and then reviewed both carefully. Personally, I’m a sucker for the texture and feel of uncoated paper, but it really depends on the specific art style and book. In this case, it was unanimous: we decided to go with coated paper, because it made Yuyi’s colors really pop.

In the meantime, Sasha was coming up with different fonts for us to choose from, and then placing all of the art with the text in a file called mechanicals. Printouts are circulated once again from design, to copyediting, and to editorial, with each department marking corrections and queries directly on the printouts. The mechanicals circulate until there are no more corrections needed. The mechanicals are also sent to Yuyi and Sherman for review.

The final mechanicals are sent to the printer, and we get color proof back. These we review to make sure the color reflects the original art. If an illustrator is local (like Peter Brown or Jerry Pinkney, for example), we’ll invite them into the office to review the proof for color—we have a color review room in our office with special lighting for this purpose.

Otherwise, as with Yuyi, we mail them the proof and ask them for comments, which we’ll incorporate into our own in-house review of the art. Editorial, production, and design are involved in the color correcting.

Once again, we go as many rounds as needed to get the color right.

So many discussions and decisions go into the making of a book. The cover image, of course—at LBYR we have a jacket committee where our Sales, Marketing, and Publicity directors all weigh in. We bring in sketches, then final art, and discuss details down to how the bylines will read.

Here’s an early cover sketch:

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A few early comps:

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And the final cover:

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Other things to decide: What will the endpapers look like? (circles with the colors Yuyi used throughout the book to highlight emotions) Should we include an author’s note? (We thought the book was perfect without. Also, Sherman and I felt that once the book was out in the world, it belonged to the readers and we liked the idea of different children—brown and otherwise–seeing themselves in the book without knowing the story’s inspiration.) What special effects should go on the cover? (spot gloss and embossing on the title)

The book is now out in the world. It has received six starred reviews, was an instant New York Times and IndieBound bestseller, and best of all, has been pronounced my countless kids to be their favorite book. We couldn’t be prouder of how it’s been received.

As I hope I’ve illustrated, it takes a village to create a book—and of course there are countless more people who touch the book and make it what it becomes. It’s a labor of love for everyone involved, and, ultimately, it is the readers who play the most important role of all.


 

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And the Undie goes to . . .

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That was fun. Did you have fun? We had fun. Big congrats to our winners, and we’ll see you in 2017!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for celebrating books in this way with us. The kids are lucky.

BEST SPOILER

And the Undie goes to . . .

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BEST CLIFF’S NOTES VERSION

And the Undie goes to . . .

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BEST MIDDLE GRADE/CHAPTER BOOKS

And the Undie goes to . . .

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BEST SNEAK PEEK AT THE SETTING

And the Undie goes to . . .

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CRAFTIEST

And the Undie goes to . . .

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Congratulations to all! Head over to Travis’s post at 100 Scope Notes to see five more winning Undies in these categories:

Best Impression of Something Other Than a Picture Book
The Look Closely Award
Best YA
Best Keepin’ It Simple
Best Stamp

If you haven’t yet, this is a GREAT time to click the Book Party button up there in the top right. Trust me.

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The Undies: Voting is Open!

It’s time. The wait is over. Travis and I are back with a pretty stellar lineup of shortlists for the first annual Undies Awards, and it’s up to you to vote in each category.

And so, the categories please . . .

BEST SPOILER

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BEST CLIFF’S NOTES VERSION

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BEST MIDDLE GRADE/CHAPTER BOOKS

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BEST SNEAK PEEK AT THE SETTING

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CRAFTIEST

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Head here to vote. And here for Travis’s post, where you can see his shortlists and ballot. Here’s a hint:

Best Impression of Something Other Than a Picture Book
The Look Closely Award
Best YA
Best Keepin’ It Simple
Best Stamp

Thanks to everyone who submitted a contender, everyone who created a contender, and everyone who excitedly talked about Undies with us all year. Voting is open through Monday, November 28th at 5pm EST, and we will announce the winners on Tuesday, November 29th. 

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Return + a video premiere and visit from Aaron Becker

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by Aaron Becker (Candlewick, 2016)

It’s an honor today to welcome Aaron Becker to this space. He’s here to talk about the close to his sweeping trilogy, the design of Return, and to premiere a beautiful short film about its creation.

Take a look. Be inspired.

And here’s Aaron:

One of my favorite parts of making books is figuring out the final bits of design for the dust jacket, the endpapers, and the book’s cover. Even when I pitched Journey years ago, I decided to build a cloth-bound, hand-stitched dummy. I wanted to make sure that if we did get an offer, if would be from a publisher that was serious about the details of book making!

In Return, I needed the design of the book to support what I had set out to do. For one, this third part of the trilogy needed to stand on its own, apart from the story it was ending. At the same time, Return needed to pay homage to the book’s predecessors and immediately feel a bit more weighty. After all, this was the final act.

The cover had to evoke something from the trilogy but also speak to the fact that we were no longer in the realm of the young child. In Return the girl has grown up a bit and its story brings up more pressing questions: What are the limits to the imagination? When is it time to grow up? And can we hold on to wonder when we chose to move on from our escapist fantasies? Clearly, I was dealing with some bigger themes here, and so I knew the jacket illustration had to reflect this. We see the girl running back into the lantern forest from Journey, but now the mood is noticeably darker and more mysterious. The lanterns glow red instead of the comforting blues from Journey. And there’s an urgency to her movement – she’s no longer just passively observing the world around her.

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The embossed design for the cover for each book was also something I carefully considered. I had to match the spirit of the book in one image. For Return, I chose the symbol of the kite – this is, after all, the visual link between the girl and her father; a symbol not only of the rift between them that starts out the trilogy, but of the connection they eventually find by the stories’ end. In wordless books, these visual symbols take on even more meaning than a book with words.

These symbols have to carry the themes and ideas of the story without the support of the written word, and to this end, you’ll also notice on the back of the jacket the girl’s crown – a symbol of her attachment to the imaginary realm – now sitting at the bottom of the sea as a relic of an adventure that has run its course.

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And lastly, we come to the endpapers. When I’ve presented the story of Return to children and adults alike, this is the part of the presentation when I start to get choked up. (In the endpapers of all places!) And though I won’t spell it out for you here, if you look closely you might just see something significant within the differences between the front and back ends papers.

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I believe it’s our duty when making children’s books to make them with care. They are objects that we share with our children that can have lasting effects on their lives. I for one, as an author and illustrator, don’t take their creation lightly. My hope is that some of this attention to detail will make the difference, even if on a subconscious level, for a child as they begin to build a connection to the stories that move them.
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An Instagram Roundup

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Here, here, here, and here on Instagram.

Forgive the quick drop in here, but I wanted to remind you that I am also sharing micro reviews and recommendations over on Instagram. Bite-sized blog posts! Come visit.

Thanks to everyone who is getting their last Undies nods to Travis and me! It’s going to be a great way to celebrate 2016’s incredible lineup of books.

Donna Weidner, are you out there? Send me an email if you see this! You won the Hotel Bruce prize pack and I’d like to get it your way.

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The Undies: Last Call!

We’re coming up to the close of our Undies season! Have you peeked underneath every book on your shelf? Now’s the time, folks.

Nominations close November 15th!

In late November, Travis and I will announce shortlists in a variety of categories and then we’ll open up the polls. The winner will be decided by popular vote (see also: you). We’ll announce the winners shortly thereafter.

To nominate a case cover for the 2016 Undies:

  1. Check out the case cover gallery we have going at Design of the Picture Book (that’s right here, in the upper right of the main page) – if the case cover you want to nominate is already there, no need to nominate it again.
  2. Make sure your nomination was published in 2016.
  3. If the case cover you want to nominate is not in the gallery and was published in 2016, take a picture and send it to me at carterhiggins (at) gmail (dot) com. Put THE UNDIES in the subject line.

Anyone (including publishers) can nominate.

We need your Undies, people!

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