Also published on this date: Wednesday January 24, 2024: Maximum Shelf: Swift River

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Holiday House: Ros Demir Is Not the One by Leyla Brittan

HarperAlley: I Shall Never Fall In Love by Hari Conner

W. W. Norton & Company to Sell and Distribute Yale University Press and Harvard University Press

Clarion Books: The Man Who Didn't Like Animals by Deborah Underwood, Illlustrated by LeUyen Pham

Holiday House: Bye Forever, I Guess by Jodi Meadows and Team Canteen 1: Rocky Road by Amalie Jahn

Wednesday Books: Dust by Alison Stine


2024 Newbery Medal Winner: Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers
(photo: Brecht Van Maele)

On Monday, as part of the American Library Association's 2024 Youth Media Awards, Dave Eggers won the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature with his middle-grade novel, The Eyes and the Impossible, illustrated by Shawn Harris. In this title, simultaneously published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and McSweeney's Publishing, Johannes the dog introduces readers to his life in a bustling and vibrant urban park.

The Eyes and the Impossible is an unusual book for a few reasons. The first being its publication: it was released simultaneously by two publishers. Would you tell our readers about that choice and the differences between the two editions?

It's an arrangement Knopf has been kind enough to let us do many times in the past, usually with my books for adults. Often, we have an idea for a special edition, and Knopf has been generous in letting us put out a simultaneous version. In this case, early on I had an idea for a bamboo-covered book and, about four years ago, we started asking our printer if they could do it, making prototypes, refining them, trying again.... As a kid I always reveled in the craft of books, and sought out unusual editions, so our wooden edition is for those readers who like a weird and sumptuous version, something that exists a bit outside of time. 

A second unusual aspect is the illustrative style: the illustrations are "classical landscapes by artists long departed" with images of Johannes the dog painted in by Shawn Harris. This is your third book with Shawn Harris, correct? 

I think so. We started with Her Right Foot, and then did What Can a Citizen Do? And then, back around 2018, Shawn and I met at Book Passage in San Francisco, and that's where I asked him to help create this crazy wooden edition and the art inside. I'd written a draft of the book, and started showing Shawn pages, and I had this idea that about every 20 pages, there would be a two-page spread of sumptuous landscape art. At that point Shawn and I didn't know if he would paint the landscapes from scratch, but at some juncture we cooked up the idea of painting Johannes into existing, Old Master landscapes. That had a nice overlap with one of the book's themes, which is Johannes's new awareness of, and obsession with, visual art. To have Johannes painted into these classic landscapes seemed a perfect solution. Once that was the concept, Shawn took it from there. He's the most versatile artist I know, and at this point we have a shorthand. He takes the germ of an idea and realizes it almost effortlessly, and far beyond my expectations or hopes.

And a third (perhaps) unusual thing about the book is the focus. The book begins with a note: "This is a work of fiction. No places are real places. No animals are real animals. And, most crucially, no animals symbolize people." Why did you want to write dogs that "are dogs," birds that "are birds," goats that "are goats," etc.?

I love Orwell's Animal Farm, and I've written political books myself, so I didn't want to anyone to read Eyes thinking it was a political allegory. I really wanted readers to allow the story to be itself--not a means to comment on contemporary American or world politics. 

How did you get into a place where you could write Johannes the dog?

I interviewed a number of dogs, and that was so helpful. They were very forthcoming. Later, when I had a draft, I read them sections of it (because most of them cannot read). Their notes were very astute, which is what I expected.

What was it like creating Johannes's physical world? Did you have a map in your head?

Some of the setting is based on elements of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a park I've more or less memorized in my mind. San Francisco locals will recognize places and features, but at a certain point the book departs from that park's geography. There's something nice about setting a book in a place you know well but giving yourself the freedom to invent or deviate from it. You need the grounding of the real setting you know, but also the freedom to break out of it.

Have you been surprised by the response to this book at all?

The book is so personal and eccentric that I wasn't sure who would connect with it. In some ways I thought it might be too weird for a lot of readers. The prose is so loose and loopy in places, Johannes's thinking so nonlinear, that I really didn't know what anyone would make of it. And then there's the fact that Johannes sees the sun as God and clouds as her messengers; his worldview is highly unusual. But when early readers responded to it, I was happily surprised. This recognition from librarians all over the country, though, is just astounding; it means the world to me. 

Is there anything else you'd like to add or share with Shelf Awareness readers?

Support your local independent bookstore! From day one, the indies supported this weird little book and pushed it out into the world. Without the handselling of indie booksellers, I don't know where we'd be. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

 Treasure Books, Inc.: There's Treasure Inside by Jon Collins-Black

2024 Michael L. Printz Award: The Collectors

A.S. King

On Monday morning, the American Library Association announced its 2024 Youth Media Award winners. The Collectors: Stories (Dutton Books for Young Readers), edited by author A.S. King, won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. This anthology features 10 stories written by King and authors M.T. Anderson, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, David Levithan, Cory McCarthy, Anna-Marie McLemore, G. Neri, Jason Reynolds, Randy Ribay, and Jenny Torres Sanchez.

You are no stranger to the Michael L. Printz Award, having been honored for your 2010 title, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and winning the award for 2019's Dig. It's been only four years since you won this award--that time, it was a solo award. Now you're sharing it with nine other authors. How does it feel?

It feels like the most amazing party, really. To assemble a team like this, ask them to show me their weirdest selves, and then edit some of the best stories I've ever read was daunting and exciting. But mostly, it feels like this is a sort of family. When people go weird, they also tend to go deep. We see and support one another's struggles. We grow with our words. To do that in a collective is magic. So, how does it feel? It feels like magic.

This title is a collection of 10 stories written by you and a group of people you call in your intro "nine of my favorite YA authors." Did you personally choose and approach the authors?

Yes, I approached the authors and told them I was looking for a story that fit two parameters: (1) It had to be about a collection and/or its collector; and (2) It had to be weird. I said, "Be defiantly creative." I said, "There is emotional currency in weirdness." If you read the first paragraph of my introduction, you will see a piece of the e-mail I sent: a list of the things we can collect, from dryer lint to insults. All the writers I approached said yes, and I felt incredibly lucky.

Had you edited an anthology before? How did it feel to look at the stories for the first time?

I had always wanted to edit an anthology and had mentioned it to my agent many times, but I never had a clear idea. This time was different--I woke up from a dream, wrote down the idea, and, within a week or two, had a proposal ready.

Reading short stories with an eye to edit is not new to me. I taught short story at the MFA program where I used to work and continue to teach short form in my Story Club workshops.

As for how it felt... I remember reading each story for the first time and walking with it for a few days, going back to the scribbled-on pages and really thinking about what the story was about, and what each author was trying to say. Every time, I was thrilled to read a story that hadn't been read before. And every time, the story blew me away. I just remember a massive feeling of gratitude. Same as I feel now.

So, were they "as weird as they wanted"?

I said, "There are no rules" to 10 weirdos, so it was bound to be fun. Some authors were concerned that they didn't go weird enough and some thought theirs might have gone too far. My job was to reassure them that each story was brilliant and help them see it the way I saw it: as a perfect part of a whole, yet-undefined artifact. The editing work itself was more fun than I've had in a long time. But it was also daunting. I mean, some of these writers are my close friends. Some I consider family. Some are writers I admire but don't know very well. One is my actual editor. This part was the hardest: how to be editor-Amy and still be Amy. I think I managed it while also having a ton of fun with the work at hand. There isn't much difference between the Amys, I guess.

As for if they were weird? Yes. Very much so. Look at the rich surrealism in e.E. Charlton-Trujillo's "La Concha" (a good pairing with my own "We Are Looking for Home") and the intense structure of Jason Reynolds's "A Recording for Carole Before It All Goes." G. Neri's "Pool Bandits" was surprisingly weird for what feels like a straight-up story because his nonfiction voice came through and layered satisfying doubt, while David Levithan's "Take It from Me" showcased his eye to the whimsy of detail. Each author approached things in their own way, and I enjoyed those singular ways.

These stories are weird and creative: there's an unwanted collection of men, a demon who collects souls out of hatred, a White Savior who simply can't stop "saving" people who don't need her help.... How do you feel about this book as a completed project?

There was a feeling I got when I read certain stories; they saw their place as I read them. I knew Anna-Marie McLemore's "Play House" was going first. It also happened to be the first story I received. But I knew, without even seeing the others (or finishing my own) that it was the opener. It just... said so. I approached the assembly of the book the same way I would a story or novel--blindfolded and winging it. I trusted my gut. I knew M.T. Anderson's "Sweet Everlasting" was the closer--the theme was right there in the piece. I knew Randy Ribay's "The White Savior Does Not Save the Day" was a necessary topic woven through fantastically weird narrative choices and had to go near the beginning. And I knew Cory McCarthy's groundbreaking "Museum of Misery" was going to have to pop from the ditch of the book--a story about deep struggle right there in the heart. The finished project felt complete, as if I'd solved a puzzle.

Did you have a reader in mind when you dreamed up this collection?

I am an ardent supporter of teenagers who live in a world that is set up to make them feel small for simply being teenagers while they simultaneously navigate normalized violence that the adults around them deny. So, when I said that there is emotional currency in weirdness, I mean that I believe there is an extra component in weird fiction for teen readers that allows them to feel seen on a very trauma-informed level. For me, that is the reader I always aim for. The young person who is denied their lived experience because it makes adults uncomfortable. That's most young people. Look at "Ring of Fire" by Jenny Torrez Sanchez for a glimpse into how something as common as children's grief is often ignored by the adults around them.

How are you going to celebrate with your co-authors?

I haven't begun to think about this. I aim to take it slowly and take the whole year to celebrate. I mean, why not? If I win the Powerball, I might rent us a big house on a beach somewhere for a week of swimming and writing and being pampered. But I don't play Powerball, so I need to pick up the slack, I guess.

At Aaron's Books

Is there anything else you'd like to add or tell Shelf Awareness readers?

I simply wouldn't be the author I am without teachers, librarians, and independent booksellers. Because I know the Shelf Awareness crowd, I can't leave this interview without highlighting my career-long relationship with Sam, Todd, and Aaron Dickinson of Aaron's Books in Lititz, Pa. Aaron's Books has supported me through 15 years of publishing, and they are family. My first stop today was the bookstore. Of course it was. I went and put a few gold Printz stickers on copies so they would have the first chance to sell The Collectors as the award winner.

A lot of people have asked me how I feel today. I feel a lot of things, but mostly I feel grateful. For every author who said yes and wrote me a beautiful story, for my editor who plucked me from obscurity back in 2007 after 15 years of writing and 500 rejections, for my agent who looks after me, for my writing family--they all know who they are--and for booksellers like you who handsell my books to the people who need them. My gratitude is Jupiter-sized. None of us could do this without you. Thank you. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Help a Bookseller, Change a Life: Give today to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation!

Car Crashes into river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

On Sunday night, a car crashed through the front of the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y., which was closed at the time, causing significant damage. The Palladium-Times reported that the driver was charged with reckless driving and other offenses after he drove over the sidewalk and into the side of the building.

The river's end bookstore posted on Facebook Sunday night: "Thank you to all those checking in with us! We can confirm a car did hit the 1st street side of the bookstore tonight. There was no one in the store, and we're told there were no injuries. We will be closed tomorrow while we assess the damage!"

"There was some seemingly cosmetic damage to the bookstore," Oswego Fire Department Chief Paul Conzone told the Palladium-Times. "The windows, but luckily no structural damage that we're aware of. Code enforcement was on the scene pretty quickly."

Megan Irland, co-owner of the store with her husband, Emil Christmann, said, "Our landlord Adam Gagas has insurance, which should cover the structural damage, and we have our own business insurance, which should cover everything else."

She added that the crash did cause some damage to the interior, where "a lot of debris and glass was thrown into the store, so we not only lost inventory that was in the window, but a lot of other shelves were hit with debris."

Yesterday, river's end bookstore posted an update on Facebook: "Things are looking up here at the river's end! Here is our damage at it's worst--but the store is starting to look more normal again! Big thank you to Bruce Construction for their speedy patchwork, and Burke's for their after hours supplies. Bruce Construction was building us a temporary wall before we even fully wrapped our heads around what happened! The extensive spread of the glass has been our biggest struggle, and we anticipate we will be cleaning and cleaning again in the upcoming weeks. However, we plan to reopen our doors to foot traffic tomorrow. We will do our best to provide our standard level of customer service--but we appreciate your understanding in these unusual times!"

Kindred and Co. to Open in Post Falls, Idaho

Kindred and Co., an all-ages bookstore and bistro, is opening soon in Post Falls, Idaho, the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press reported.

Located at 851 E. Fourth Ave. and spanning 14,000 square feet, Kindred and Company will stock around 20,000 titles for children, teens, and adults, with a wide variety of genres represented. There will be a dedicated children's section with an open play space, a community room, and a conservatory that owner Elizabeth Harrison plans to use for events. In addition to books, gifts from suppliers such as Paddywax, Jellycat, and StudioOh! will be available.

The bistro, meanwhile, will serve small bites, breakfast, snack boards, soups, salads, and sandwiches, along with a variety of coffee and espresso drinks.

'Audiobooks For Binc' Campaign Underway has partnered with three bestselling authors to raise funds for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Between January 23 and 25, 100% of proceeds on titles Tom Lake by Ann Patchett; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds; and Laws of Annihilation by Eriq La Salle will go directly to Binc

"We are grateful to for their continued generosity and commitment to Binc and booksellers over the last 10 years," said Pam French, Binc's executive director. "This new promotion with authors and publishers that they've launched in support of Binc is a win for everyone involved and we're excited for listeners to be introduced to the work of these talented authors."

Correction: Andrew Vachss Obituary

We offer our apologies for the timing of yesterday's obituary note about Andrew Vachss, who died November 23, 2021, not last November 23. Sometimes Internet searches play tricks on us, and we're too busy to realize it. But we were glad to remember his important work.


Image of the Day: Cepeda's Storytime at Underdog Books

Joe Cepeda visited Underdog Bookstore in Monrovia, Calif., to do a storytime with his recent I Like to Read book, I Help (also available in Spanish as Ayudo; Holiday House).

Storefront Window Art: 2 Dandelions Bookshop 

2 Dandelions Bookshop, Brighton, Mich., shared photos on Facebook of artwork-in-progress for the shop's front window, noting: "Clifford the Big Red Dog is coming to Brighton to celebrate his birthday!... BIG THANKS to our friend Katie with @wanderingnotlostco for painting our window today in preparation for this event! We love how it turned out!!"

Bookshop Wedding: Blue Cypress Books

Blue Cypress Books, New Orleans, La., shared photos from a recent celebration at the bookshop, noting: "Sometimes wonderful people get married to each other at the shop and occasionally they make us a Cheeze-Its throw, and if we’re all lucky, Kitty Meow may be the perfect guest of dishonor. All this happened at once a few weeks ago! a million squeezey-hug-congrats to caterina & sean!! hip hip hooray! Ps--also cheers to y'all for letting us be a part of your lives in big and small ways, both types have made us verklempt in the last 24 hours it's fine."

S&S to Sell and Distribute Central Avenue Publishing

Simon & Schuster will handle worldwide sales and distribution for Central Avenue Publishing, effective May 1.

Central Avenue Publishing focuses on fiction and poetry about "humanity at its worst--and best. Central Avenue Poetry publishes popular confessional poets who share their work on social media while also actively seeking out those whose talent has yet to be discovered. Central Avenue is dedicated to upmarket and select genre fiction with entertaining stories and diverse characters. Central Avenue Teen takes on young adult books that address tough topics by new and debut authors."

Personnel Changes at Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

In Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group marketing:

Laura Crisp is promoted to v-p & executive director, strategic insights.

Laura Keefe is promoted to v-p & senior director, marketing, at Knopf

Milena Brown is promoted to senior director, marketing at Doubleday.

Julianne Clancy is promoted to senior director, marketing at Pantheon.

Lauren Weber is promoted to senior director, brand development.

Anne Jaconette is promoted to senior marketing manager at Doubleday.

Nic Ishaq is promoted to senior advertising manager.

Matthew Sciarappa is promoted to marketing manager.

Bianca Ducasse has joined the Pantheon & Schocken marketing team as an associate director of marketing. Ducasse formerly worked at Gallery Books.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Keegan-Michael Key on the Talk

The Talk: Keegan-Michael Key, co-author of The History of Sketch Comedy: A Journey through the Art and Craft of Humor (Chronicle, $29.95, 9781797216836).

Oscar Nominations by the Book

Book-to-film adaptations led the way yesterday as nominations were announced for the 96th Academy Awards. Oppenheimer, with 13 nominations, topped the list, followed by Poor Things with 11 and Killers of the Flower Moon with 10. On March 10, the Oscars will be televised live on ABC and worldwide. Book-related standouts among the nominees include:

Oppenheimer, based on the biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin: Best picture; directing (Christopher Nolan); actor in a leading role (Cillian Murphy); actor in a supporting role (Robert Downey Jr.); actress in a supporting role (Emily Blunt); cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema); writing, adapted screenplay (Christopher Nolan); film editing (Jennifer Lame); music, original score (Ludwig Göransson); costume design; makeup and hairstyling; production design; sound

Poor Things, based on the novel by Alasdair Gray: Best picture; directing (Yorgos Lanthimos); actress in a leading role (Emma Stone); actor in a supporting role (Mark Ruffalo); cinematography (Robbie Ryan); writing, adapted screenplay (Tony McNamara); music, original score (Jerskin Fendrix); costume design; makeup and hairstyling; production design

Killers of the Flower Moon, based on the book by David Grann: Best picture; directing (Martin Scorsese); actress in a leading role (Lily Gladstone); actor in a supporting role (Robert De Niro); cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto); film editing (Thelma Schoonmaker); music, original score (Robbie Robertson); music, original song; costume design; production design

American Fiction, based on Percival Everett's novel Erasure: Best picture; actor in a leading role (Jeffrey Wright); actor in a supporting role (Sterling K. Brown); writing, adapted screenplay (Cord Jefferson); music, original score (Laura Karpman)

The Zone of Interest, based on the novel by Martin Amis: Best picture; best international feature film; directing (Jonathan Glazer); writing, adapted screenplay (Glazer); sound

Nyad, based Diana Nyad's Find a Way: actress in a leading role (Annette Bening); actress in a supporting role (Jodie Foster)

The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker: actress in a supporting role (Danielle Brooks)

Society of the Snow, adapted from Pablo Vierci's book: Best international feature film; makeup and hairstyling

The Boy and the Heron, inspired by Genzaburo Yoshino's 1937 novel How Do You Live?, which appears in the film but is not directly connected to the story: Best animated feature film

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, based on a short story collection by Roald Dahl: Best short film, live action

Nimona, based on the graphic novel by N.D. Stevenson: Best animated feature film

Robot Dreams, based on the comic by Sara Varon: Best animated feature film

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the Marvel Comics character: Best animated feature film

The ABCs of Book Banning: Best documentary short film

Books & Authors

Awards: CWA Diamond Dagger Winners

For the first time, the Crime Writers' Association has awarded its Diamond Dagger for lifetime contribution to crime writing to two authors after judges "almost came to blows" this year, the Guardian reported. Lynda La Plante and James Lee Burke are the joint recipients of this year's honor, which recognizes sustained excellence in the genre.

"By an extraordinary quirk of fate, due to our new voting process, this year's Diamond Dagger is, for the first time in seven decades, being awarded to two authors," said Maxim Jakubowski, chair of the CWA Daggers' committee. "If the Booker prize can do it, so can we!"

La Plante is best known for writing the Prime Suspect and Widows television and novel series. Her other series include Lorraine Page, Anna Travis, and Trial and Retribution. In 2008, she received a CBE for services to literature, drama and charity. Her memoir is expected to be released later this year, the Guardian noted.

"La Plante's Prime Suspect redefined the role of women in police procedurals and made a star of Helen Mirren, while Widows remains a talismanic--and wickedly entertaining--female-led heist caper," said CWA chair Vaseem Khan.

James Lee Burke, whose series about detective Dave Robicheaux includes more than 20 novels, said he was "honored and humbled" to receive his award. "It is also an honor to have my name among the best mystery and crime writers in the world," he added.

Khan commented: "James Lee Burke's lyrical depiction of the American South transcends crime fiction--his prose is often considered among the best to have graced the genre. For many, Dave Robicheaux is the very embodiment of the dogged, morally incorruptible detective beset by personal demons--a beautifully rendered character."

Reading with... Chris Grabenstein

photo: JJ Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein is the author of numerous bestselling series, including Lemoncello, Wonderland, Smartest Kid, Dog Squad, and Haunted Mystery. The graphic novel adaptation of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, illustrated by Douglas Holgate, the artist for the Last Kids on Earth series, was published on the original novel's 10th anniversary and is available now from Random House.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

The award-winning, New York Times bestselling Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is now a full-color, fun-packed graphic novel illustrated by the incredible Douglas Holgate.

On your nightstand now:

Holly by Stephen King and Alan Gratz's Captain America: The Ghost Army. I also recently finished Steve Sheinkin's most recent nonfiction page-turner, Impossible Escape. I am still, like so many of my young fans, what they call a reluctant reader (or a super critical reader). I gravitate toward books and stories that get the movie projector clacking in my brain. King, Gratz, and Sheinkin are all masters at grabbing the reader's attention and never letting go.

Favorite book when you were a child:

If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss and MAD's Don Martin Drops 13 Stories by Don Martin. Sadly, when I was the age most of my readers are now, they made us read color-coded SRA essays in school. No actual books. MAD magazine and MAD Books (along with comic books such as Archie and Richie Rich) were my refuge from dull and boring SRA essays that always came with too many comprehension questions. Looking back, I think they were training us to be SAT takers, not lifelong readers.

Your top five authors:

Stephen King--whenever he has a new release, I get the book and the audio book. He is the voice of my generation!

Steve Sheinkin--nonfiction that reads like the script to an action-packed thriller? I'm in.

Jennifer L. Holm--historical fiction that makes you feel all the feelings!

Christopher Paul Curtis--another must-read for me. Everything he writes is so full of humor and humanity.

And, of course, James Patterson (we've written three dozen books together). When he was my boss in advertising, he taught me to write commercials as if no one wants to or has to read, listen to, or watch anything I've written. We writers have to earn the audience's attention.

Book you've faked reading:

Moby-Dick. I've even visited Herman Melville's house up in the Berkshires where he wrote it to complete the fake. And, yes, if you stare at the mountains from the window of his writing room, they sort of look like a great green whale.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Whenever kids ask me "What's your favorite book?" this is my go-to answer. It does what the best fiction strives to do: it builds empathy and allows me to walk a few hundred pages in someone else's shoes.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Ghosts and Drama by Raina Telgemeier. The covers are so deceptively simple, but they really grabbed my attention when I was browsing the graphic novel shelves. I think Stuart Gibbs's covers are consistently terrific, too.

Book you hid from your parents:

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Fortunately, I didn't have to hide it for long. I stayed up all night to finish it and didn't sleep for a week afterward.

Book that changed your life:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I don't think I ever would have attempted to write a novel (let alone the six dozen I've had published) without it. It was the "craft book" that helped me grow from an advertising copywriter producing commercials with 35-70 words in them to someone who could juggle 40,000-50,000 words.

Favorite line from a book:

"God bless us, everyone." A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I try to listen to it every holiday season on my morning walks.

Five books you'll never part with:

Tilt a Whirl by Chris Grabenstein (hey, it was my first published book)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Most of S.J. Perelman by S.J. Perelman, the very funny essayist and original member of the Algonquin Round Table. His words still capture the essence of what makes New York City so special.

Half Magic by Edward Eager. Sigh. This is one of the books I might've read and enjoyed back when I was eight to 12 if we weren't so busy being bored by those color-coded SRA essays.

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

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I remember being swept up in the story from the very first chapter. It would be amazing to be swept up again!

Books you wished you had read instead of all those color-coded SRA essays.

Everything by Judy Blume and Edward Eager!

Book Review

Children's Review: I Do Not Eat Children

I Do Not Eat Children by Marcus Cutler (Little, Brown, $15.99 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780316474726, February 20, 2024)

Only an absolute monster would eat a kid, right? So why do the children keep disappearing...? Marcus Cutler's sly and subversive picture book I Do Not Eat Children cautions readers to take a narrator's word with a grain of salt--and shows that some monsters might not be able to take what they're dishing out.

Ten children in a line fill the bottom of a vast double-page spread. The crowd includes a knitter, a trumpeter, a pig-tailed reader, a few athletes--oh, and a giant orange monster in green and yellow striped pants. "I do not eat children," the monster announces. "I would never eat a child," it admonishes on the next page, although a trumpet now sits on the ground amongst only nine children. "What do you think I am...," it chides as a soccer ball bounces by. (We're down to eight.) "...A monster?" Seven--only a yellow belt remains where a martial artist once stood. With each page turn, a child vanishes from the line-up, leaving behind some small vestige of their presence. Their numbers dwindle until we find our monster standing menacingly over the lone remaining child, who stares back at it. "I do eat liars," the pig-tailed reader announces.

Cutler (illustrator of Dear Polar Bears and the Lark series) makes terrific use of white space and the book's format, using the landscape of the open book to emphasize the dwindling cast of characters. Thanks to minimal text on most spreads and several quite expressively illustrated wordless pages, Cutler invites readers to focus on visual storytelling details like the detritus left in each child's wake and the revealing contents of the monster's belches. The unreliable narrator is a hefty, pointy-eared, vermillion-orange beast with bold, blockish eyebrows. It exudes the aura of one who is simply not to be trusted. Such dark humor evokes the minimalistic and grim morality of Maurice Sendak's Pierre (1962), while the cheery palette and charmingly specific illustrative details tilt the barbarity closer to the humor in Ryan T. Higgins's delightful We Don't Eat Our Classmates (2018). This tale of comeuppance employs page turns to ratchet up tension, and will likely hold listeners rapt during read-alouds.

Cutler tees up and then tickles reader expectations in this deliciously dark tale in which a mischief-maker ultimately gets (ahem, becomes?) its just desserts. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Shelf Talker: A scampish beast isn't prepared to take what it's been dishing out in a minimalistic and darkly humorous story of one hungry monster who definitely, nope, no way, does NOT eat children.

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