Wednesday, May 15, 2013: Dedicated Issue: Algonquin Young Readers

Algonquin Young Readers

Algonquin: The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

Algonquin: Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

Algonquin: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Algonquin: Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin

Algonquin Young Readers: Three-Ring Rascals by Kate Klise

Editors' Note

Welcome, Algonquin Young Readers!

With this issue, Shelf Awareness celebrates the launch of Algonquin Young Readers. Algonquin Books, which started in 1983 in Chapel Hill, N.C., and established a reputation for high-quality literary fiction and nonfiction, will publish five middle-grade and YA novels this fall.

Algonquin Young Readers has supported this issue. Jennifer M. Brown wrote the articles.

Algonquin at BEA 939

Books & Authors

'A Well-Read Life Begins Here'

That's the motto of the newly minted Algonquin Young Readers imprint, set to launch this fall with five titles. It's a riff on "Books for a Well-Read Life," Algonquin's 30-year-old mantra.

Elise Howard and Elisabeth Scharlatt

As Elise Howard, editor and publisher of Algonquin Young Readers, and Elisabeth Scharlatt, publisher and 24-year veteran of Algonquin Books, spoke to Shelf Awareness by phone, they described a literal hole in the wall between their offices. "We can pass notes," Howard added with a laugh. "I find that I tune in when things get interesting in Elisabeth's office." The two are clearly in synch on many levels. Scharlatt said she'd fantasized about starting an imprint for young readers for "years and years." The adult list includes roughly 20 books annually: half fiction, half nonfiction. Scharlatt wanted the Algonquin list to grow, but did not want to mess with a formula that works. Then Elise Howard, longtime associate publisher at HarperCollins (who arrived via a Harper merger with Morrow and Avon), entered her radar. Scharlatt said, "This seemed the perfect time to realize the dream; we're growing readers for Algonquin adult books."

The Algonquin Young Readers list will launch with three middle-grade novels and two young adult novels. The list came together surprisingly quickly. "Book publishing is like a small town," said Scharlatt. When word seeped out, the manuscripts poured in. Hollis Seamon came through agent Gail Hochman, Amy Herrick through Edite Kroll, and Anton and Cecil through Molly Friedrich. Howard called Kate Klise (Three-Ring Rascals), whom she'd edited at Avon, and author Chris Lynch introduced Howard to Sara Farizan. Several of them are young reader debuts, which Scharlatt points out carries on an Algonquin tradition. "We published a lot of first novels, especially coming-of-age novels, in the early years," she said. Several of those, such as Ellen Foster and How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents, won ALEX Awards (given annually by ALA to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults).

On future lists, Howard plans to publish "narrative nonfiction" and cap the total at no more than 15 books for young people annually. She says she wants to "feel smitten by every book," and cited as an example a 128-page full-color memoir from Jim McMullan about growing up in China, scheduled for spring 2014. "It's not just young readers, and not just adult, and not just an art book," Scharlatt added. "The beauty of what we're able to do at Algonquin is we don't have to identify everything in a category."

Algonquin at BEA 939

The Art of Collaboration

Two of the three middle-grade novels on the Algonquin Young Readers launch list involve collaborations: Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea by co-authors Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin, and author-artist sisters for Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise.

Lisa Martin

This is the first children's book for both Lisa Martin and her aunt, Valerie Martin, who's written 13 adult novels, including Mary Reilly, winner of the Kafka prize, and Property, which won Britain's Orange Prize. Anton and Cecil (October 8, 2013) evolved when Lisa Martin mentioned she'd been working on some story ideas, and

Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin suggested they work on something together. "I thought she was joking," Lisa admitted. "It was really relaxed. There were no hovering deadlines." At the time, Valerie Martin was working on a novel that took place on a 19th-century ship; her father was a ship's captain. And Lisa Martin's sons were ages eight and 10, and very competitive, so they landed on the idea of brothers who were cats who get separated, bound for the sea. "I took Cecil, even though he's the more adventurous one," Lisa said. "Cecil was an alter ego for me. He's worldly, and I'm a homebody." Anton reminded Valerie of her own cat, which died shortly before they finished the book. "He was a good cat, intelligent and fastidious," Valerie said. "He was cautious in a way. I am, too." Because Cecil and Anton are separated for much of the story, each author could write about her own cat's adventures.

Valerie said it took two to three years, with sometimes months going by before one would send a chapter to the other. Once they had a complete first draft, they met on the beach in North Carolina and read it aloud to each other.

The two authors knew early on how Anton and Cecil were going to meet back up, but then the challenge was getting them to the reunion. "I'd write an entire chapter that I knew wasn't right," Lisa said, "and Valerie would say that. Valerie is so good at dialogue and pacing. Reading her pages was helpful to me." Valerie quickly added, "You have a gift for plot management, which I don't. That was, for me, a real plus." Lisa noted that she prefers a recipe when she cooks, and a map when she drives. Valerie, on the other hand, describes herself as "a feeler." They didn't always agree, but they never argued. "We'd find a third way to do it," said Valerie.

Sisters, Author and Artist
Author Kate Klise and artist M. Sarah Klise (rhymes with "mice") are two of six siblings who grew up in Peoria, Ill. They shared a room, and they were both ice skaters. They said that their stories usually happen with coffee or a car drive. "I think kids do like stories about bullies," Sarah said. "There's nothing more fun to read about than a bully--as long as he's vanquished." Barnabas Brambles is the villain of Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! (September 10, 2013), and he nearly brings down Sir Sidney's circus while the man is on a week-long vacation. "It's nice to see when someone comes and upsets the apple cart," said Kate.

Kate Klise

"I'm a bit tired of stories where all the adults are incompetent. As a kid, I was drawn to the ones where the adults were quirky but competent. Like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle."

The Klises thought a circus train and an evil Dick Van Dyke–looking character sounded like fun. They also liked the upstairs-downstairs contrast, with sagas unfolding on two levels. That's where the mice characters--Bert and Gert--come in. "They're kind of the Greek chorus," said Kate.

M. Sarah Klise

Although the Klises discuss the look and feel of a book when they start a new series, Kate hands the story over to Sarah only when she has a draft. Sarah designs the book as well as illustrates it, a dual role she initiated with their first book, Regarding the Fountain--a deal their agent had arranged, unbeknownst to Sarah. "I was so angry, secretly," Sarah admitted. Now, 20 years later, she considers it "a blessing. I think our books are different because of that." With Three-Ring Rascals, the sisters took a more narrative approach than their more correspondence-based novels of the past.

And it was Kate's idea to have Barnabas Brambles' jacket size be a running gag (Gert tries to tailor it, with mixed results)--and Sarah brings it to life in her illustrations. "It reminds me of the Grinch and the heart thing, or Goldilocks," Kate said. "As soon as Sarah starts illustrating these characters, they take on a deeper dimension. And the humor goes up by 50%." For Sarah, whenever the duo begins a new series, there's a lot of "agonizing and heart palpitations" until she gets the flow right. She likes sentences to end at the end of a page. "I'll e-mail Kate to say, 'This line is going off the page,' and she'll trim it so it fits," Sarah said. "It's very puzzle-like." Kate returns to their shared childhood experience for the proper analogy: "In ice skating, you're judged on artistic expression and technical merit," the author said. "You have to have those clean edges."

photo credits: Kate Klise: Dawn Shields; Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin: John Cullen

Hollis Seamon: An Extreme Coming-of-Age Story

photo: Teresa Rieder Photography

Hollis Seamon drew her inspiration for Somebody Up There Hates You (September 3, 2013) from the witty, courageous teens she met during visits she made with her son to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (fondly known as "Babies"). The good news is that her son is now 40 years old and publishing a book of his own. With SUTHY, Seamon (Corporeality and Body Work) makes her YA debut.

Even though dying is a serious topic, Richard Casey is one very funny narrator.

I knew this book would succeed or fail on voice. Even people who loved the short story [in which Richie first appeared] said you can't write a whole novel about a kid in hospice. I wanted to take that as the challenge. I knew that it would have serious stuff going on, but I wanted it to be funny and a love story. The teens were funny in hospice, and they were very, very sick. I never thought it should be one or the other.

Is it sometimes easier to be emotionally truthful through fiction, rather than nonfiction?

Absolutely. I can't imagine the kind of exposure I would feel if this were a memoir. I tried to be fiercely protective of my son's privacy. If he wants to write about his experience, he can. Fiction allowed me to write about this, and still impart the base knowledge I gained. I only write fiction. I couldn't even keep a diary without lying.

Cancer levels the playing field, doesn't it? Richie and Sylvie likely would not have crossed paths "on the outside."

The hospital is its own world. When I was there with my son, I couldn't tell if a kid was from a poor home or a rich home. Everyone was treated exactly the same. They didn't talk much about their outside lives or school; they didn't have common acquaintances. You were born in this minute and you were going to live in this minute because there was no other context.

Do you think your experience as an adult writer helped you in regard to fleshing out the adult characters? Sylvie's father, for instance, is so real.

When I wrote this novel, I didn't have a clue it would be a young adult novel. I always knew that Sylvie's father would be in some ways the antagonist figure. He would be that way whether Sylvie was sick or not. He's a lawyer; he's used to having total control. There's nothing he can do. He's insane with helplessness and frustration. What these circumstances do is they make everyone be themselves but more so.

Why was the romance important to include?

I wanted Richie to have moments of intimacy, I wanted him to have a little bit of a love affair. I wanted him to feel like he can in some ways protect Sylvie, sacrifice for her. I wanted him to have not the full spectrum, but a range of experience, including a kind of heroism. He thinks he knows everything, and part of the growing-up process is his finding out that he doesn't. I've always thought of this as an extreme coming-of-age story. He's doing everything someone would do in their lifetime, and he's doing it in 10 days.

Praise for Sara Farizan's If You Could Be Mine

Here's what people are saying about If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95 hardcover, 9781616202514, 256p., ages 14-up, August 20, 2013). The book will discussed on the BEA YA Editors Buzz panel, Thursday, May 30, 10-11 a.m., in Room 1E14/1E15; Farizan is the featured author on the panel "Journey of a Young Adult Book: From Writer to Reader" on Thursday at 11 a.m in Room 1E16. She will also appear on the Uptown Stage on Friday at 10 a.m., for "Meet the BEA YA Buzz Authors."

"A heartbreakingly beautiful story of first love. In Farizan's hands, this thoughtful story unfolds without apology or deep explanation. The reader becomes part of Sahar and Nasrin's journey. We move through it with them with our heart in our hands."

—Jacqueline Woodson, author of Beneath a Meth Moon

"A book full to bursting with aching, haunting, beautiful questions."

—Chris Lynch, author of Inexcusable

"It's a story about love and the things we'll do to hold on to it, and a story about that first discovery when you start to see the world outside of your childhood. If You Could Be Mine is Sara Farizan's first novel, and it is bold. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future."

—Sara Hines, Eight Cousins Bookstore, Falmouth, Mass.


"Sara Farizan tackles a difficult and important subject in her debut novel. I defy you not to fall in love with Sahar as she deals with her sexuality in a country where such thoughts are forbidden.This book will do well with both LGBT and multicultural audiences, as well as with readers who are just looking for a great story with a strong female character."

—Suzanna Hermans, Oblong Books and Music, Millerton, N.Y.

"A fascinating, tragic love story in a culture where the social, political, and cultural rules make their romance forbidden."

—Andrea Vuleta, executive director, Southern California Independent Booksellers Association

"Refreshingly and believably diverse.... A moving and elegant story."

Kirkus Reviews

photo: Mark Karlsberg/ Studio Eleven

Book Brahmin: Amy Herrick

photo: Breukellen Riesgo

Amy Herrick is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop; she is the author of the story collection Sign of the Naked Waiter and the novel The Happiness Code. The Time Fetch (August 27, 2013) is her first book for young readers. At her annual Winter Solstice party, while talking to her childhood friend Kate, Herrick began to meditate on the idea that it feels like time is getting shorter, and that her sons' childhood days didn't feel as roomy as hers and Kate's had. What if someone (or something) were stealing time? Those were the seeds of The Time Fetch, which will be featured at the BEA Middle Grade Editors Buzz Panel on Friday, May 31, at 11 a.m. in Room 1E12-1E13;  Herrick will appear on the Uptown Stage at 1 p.m. She lives with her husband and sons in Brooklyn, N.Y., and walks her dog in Prospect Park.

On my nightstand now:

A collection of "forty new fairy tales," My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer—many of them creepy, weird and cruel, as fairytales are meant to be. Cousin Corinne's Reminder—a gorgeous new literary journal being published out of BookCourt bookstore in downtown Brooklyn, edited by Zack Zook. Beautiful Garbage by Jill Di Donato—a novel about art and sex and ambition in the 1980s art scene. Charlotte's Web by E.B. Whiteit basically never leaves my side.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Lucy Pevensie found that there was no rear wall to the wardrobe she had snuck into during a game of Hide and Seek, everything changed for me. I discovered not just Narnia, but one of the most seductive doors into the world in back of the world—books.

Your top five authors:

An ever-changing list, but here's what comes to mind today: Virginia Woolf, Harold Brodkey, E.M. Forester, C.S. Lewis, Alexander McCall Smith

Book you've faked reading:

Moby Dick—though I have read half of it and have vowed to someday finish the rest.

Book you are an evangelist for:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood—the grandmother of dystopian, post-apocalyptic novels. It is brilliant and horrifying and chillingly witty. A vision of a future United States when the ecological system is collapsing and the birthrate has dropped precipitously. A puritanically Christian, male-dominated group stages a government coup, takes away all women's rights (financial and social), and installs a highly militarized rigid class system. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who has been chosen to serve in the "handmaid" class as a concubine-like birth mother. It is an intelligent, impossible-to-put-down tale whose warnings seem as meaningful today as they did back when this novel was written.

Book you bought for its cover:

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy. And the book itself did not disappoint. Aimed at a middle-grade audience, it is a well-wrought combination of history and fantasy.

Book that changed your life:

Besides The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I'd probably say The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav. This is a delightful and fascinating exploration/description of the world of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.

Favorite line from a book: "It is not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." —from Charlotte's Web

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I first read it over the course of two long summer afternoons under the crabapple tree in our backyard—two of the sweetest afternoons of my life. I'd like to meet Anne again for the first time--but, nevermind, at least I can reread her whenever my spirits get low.

"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting." —L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

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