Category Archives: picture books

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Illustrators at Dystel.com

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I wanted to use my blog time today to alert readers to a new feature on our website: illustration samples!

Over the past few years, we’ve added a good number of author/illustrators to our list. And so we thought it would be useful to have a single page where readers could see samples of our clients’ work without having to click over to a slew of personal websites. (Though of course we encourage that, too!)

Hence, please check out our DGLM author/illustrators, either from the menu on the right or directly at http://www.dystel.com/illustration-samples/. You’ll find a wonderful breadth of styles and techniques here, not to mention a whole lot of cuteness!

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Long ago favorites

Inspired by this Buzzfeed post from earlier in the week, I thought back on my favorite illustrated books as a kid. They were mostly fairy tales (or close to), as are the illustrations in that post. I know the trends in children’s book illustrations change drastically from generation to generation—even year to year—so when I went hunting, it was no real surprise to me, that it took some more serious digging to find examples of the types of books—both in story and design—that I loved the most.

It wasn’t hard, however, to remember the titles of my top favorites, since they still hold a place on my bookshelf (albeit in my childhood home, but they did withstand all the teenage and college year purges).

I remember reading Melisande by E. Nesbit and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Harcourt 1989) over and over and over as a girl, fascinated as I was by the artwork (and envious of her lustrous hair) and drawn in by the recognizable elements of both Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty in a story that was an original unto itself.

 

Another favorite about another plucky, independent girl was Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully (Puffin 1992). Mirette has a very French Toulouse-Lautrec poster advertisement look about it and I remember thinking that I would have given anything for her outfits, hair and bravery. Similarly, I loved the Madeleine books as well, but I don’t think I need to post a reference picture for those!

 

In addition to these and the usual Berenstein Bears and Mr. Men picture books that crowded our shelves, I realized I had an odd penchant for inherently sad stories as well. Some of my favorites (when I was in the mood—otherwise I would make my parents skip them when reading to me) were stories like The Velveteen Rabbit, Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales—most notably The Little Mermaid wherein the Mermaid must kill herself with a dagger in the end. I don’t know what attracted me to these books, but I loved them.

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Books for young (and very young) readers

For those of you who haven’t read my recent Facebook posts, I have a brand new grandson: Leo Daniel Stein, born on January 20th.   

Leo joins his six-year-old big sister Elena who is thrilled to have a little brother.

This, of course, got me thinking about what I will be reading to my new grandson (after all, it has been years since I have done this).  And, because I always want to bring Elena a book to read as well, I’ve been thinking about what titles she might like.

For newborns I have chosen the traditional and ever popular Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Guess How Much I love You, and Pat the Bunny and then Brian Fiocca’s Locomotive which just won the Caldecott Medal.  For my granddaughter who is a terrific reader, there is Where the Wild Things Are, What Does the Fox Say?, The Polar Express, I Want My Hat Back, Make Way for Ducklings and Mrs. Rumphius.

I would love to hear your suggestions for titles for each of these age groups.  There can never be too many books!

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Remembering Pete (the author)

As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, the great folksinger Pete Seeger passed away Monday night at the ripe old age of 94. Like a lot of kids with liberal-minded parents, I grew up with Pete’s music,  and I still vaguely remember him dancing across the stage at Symphony Space at one of his children’s concerts. Later on in college, I got to know more about his achievements, especially his work with the Clearwater Sloop and their annual festival in the Hudson Valley.

But then, I also had the privilege and pleasure of working with Pete as his editor on several of his picture books. And while the appreciations and obituaries today have rightly focused on his music and his activism, I just wanted to point out that Pete had quite a prolific career as a writer, too–his bibliography lists over 30 titles, from picture books to autobiographies to instruction manuals. And several of them, like Abiyoyo and How to Play the Five-String Banjo are classics in their own right.

And what was so fascinating about working with Pete was that Pete the Author was often at odds with Pete the Folksinger. In other words, while Pete clearly loved books and the written word, he struggled to reconcile the idea of a book as a finite project with the ever-evolving folk process. In other words, he couldn’t stop tinkering!

Thinking about it now, it’s a shame that the e-book revolution came just a little too late for Pete–I think he would have loved the idea that he could publish a piece of writing but continue to update it. Or better yet, to get other writers involved in a story through Wattpad or other crowd-sourcing websites. Ironic that the folk process could be furthered by this strain of technology…

Anyway, musings aside, I hope that if you’re thinking about Pete that in addition to listening to his music, you’ll look up some of his books as well–and if you don’t, Abiyoyo might come down from the hills and getcha!

What I’m looking for now

With this October marking my third anniversary here at DGLM, I’ve been in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking about how my client list has developed, how it’s changed over the years, and what kinds of projects I’d like to represent going forward. In that spirit, I took a gander at my old blogposts, and I realized it’s been almost two years since I published a wish list—yikes! I really didn’t mean to let it go that long, especially because last one I published drew plenty of interesting submissions, not to mention a few clients…

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m looking for now, by category:

PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATORS: Picture books have always had a special place in my heart. In fact, they’re one of the main reasons I stuck it out in children’s publishing for so long. And to my great joy, it seems like picture books are cycling back into favor–we’ve had a couple of major picture book deals here at DGLM recently. So if there are any author/illustrators out there with a fun, character-based story to tell, I’d LOVE to see your work!

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION: More than any other category, it seems like children’s book editors are hungry for middle-grade these days in any form—realistic, fantasy, sci-fi, boy- or girl-focused, you name it—and I couldn’t be happier. Ever since HARRY POTTER ended, I think publishers have been searching for the next classic, and with YA in flux (more on that below), the search has become a top priority. Personally, I’m most interested in realistic, contemporary MG a la WONDER. (Can’t argue with those numbers!) However, I’m more than happy to look at anything fantastic that fits the category, so if anyone’s got a great 8-12 character (or a great YA character that can be aged down), bring it on!

YOUNG ADULT FICTION: YA has been a puzzle for the last year or so. On the one hand, we’ve got John Green waving the banner of realistic, issue-driven YA; on the other, there’s DIVERGENT and now STEELHEART fanning the flames of sci-fi/dystopia/fantasy. My feeling is the fantasy side will keep lumbering on, but the bar for originality has never been set higher. So while I’m certainly open to fantasy/sci-fi, it really needs to be something special to have a chance. At the same time, contemporary YA seems to be in demand, though again, originality is the key. But on both sides, strong characterization trumps all–without that, we won’t get anywhere.

ADULT NARRATIVE NON-FICTION:   As I said last time: “If there’s an amazing book-length true story out there, I want to hear it. History, memoir, sports, music, immersion journalism, popular science, health, animals—whatever the subject, if you’ve got the credentials to write about it, send it my way.” To this list, I’ll add military history and politics, as well as a request—whatever the subject, try to make it as expansive as possible without losing the main narrative. A favorite rejection line from editors is that a subject is too narrow… so go wide!

ADULT MEN’S FICTION: When I first started at DGLM, I signed a number of adult fiction clients without much understanding of the categories or market, and after a number of misses, I decided to steer clear of adult fiction for a while. Three years on, I think I’ve got a better handle of how things work, plus our independent publishing program provides a viable alternative for projects that can’t find a traditional home. So, once again, I’m on the look-out for high-concept, character-driven narratives, be they thrillers, suspense, literary, commercial, horror, what have you—happy to take a look.

Thanks for giving this a read. Can’t wait to see what comes in!

 

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Brainwash Kids with Books About Books!

This weekend I’ll be back in Michigan for a wedding, and I’ll see a bunch of old friends and the children they’ve produced. So of course my suitcase is full of brightly colored kids’ books! I love giving books as baby gifts and please-like-me-toddler-of-my-dear-friend gifts. And, as a former children’s bookseller, I have a lofty book-choosing street rep to protect. Here are a few trusty favorites that I’ve wrapped and shared over and over – and lo and behold, they all carry subliminal messages about how awesome books are.

 

Wild About Books

Bright colors, snappy rhymes, what more could you ask for? Well, amazing vocabulary-building, for starters. And who doesn’t love the idea of a bookmobile visiting the zoo?!

 

 

How Rocket Learned to Read

Rocket is THE CUTEST. But reading isn’t so easy for him, at first. Luckily, he finds a chirpy little friend who’s happy to help.

 

Library Lion

A good one for preschoolers, since the story is a bit longer… This lion loves books. LOVES. But he has to learn a very important lesson about being quiet in the library. Then he learns an even more important lesson about when you need to find an adult and ask for help. It’s funny, the illustrations are frame-worthy, and the end always gets me a little bit misty-eyed.

(Hey, how about a sequel: Literary Agent Lion!)

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Behind the scenes of a picture book

It’s been a while since I did a picture book post, much less one that focuses on artwork. But when I came across this blog post on Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s artistic process, I knew I had to share. For one, the artwork here is simply spectacular—and who doesn’t like to look at pretty pictures? And second, if you want to be humbled, check out the stages of the relief print technique, of which Rohmann is a master.

Furthermore, I’m always fascinated by an artist’s process, especially when the artist is illustrating an outside author’s words. In particular, I was struck by the fact that Rohmann inserted the text into his very first sketch—even though the text is simply “Whoopee!” It show the respect for the words that’s crucial for a successful picture book collaboration.

And taking it one step further, Rohmann is clearly concerned not only with leaving enough space for the words to read, but for placing the words for maximum visual effect.  It’s notable in some of the other finished spreads how much room he leaves for the text to stand out. As an editor, time and again I’d struggle with designers to cram text into over-decorated pieces of art. It truly speaks both to Rohmann’s art and to his modesty that he would design his pages to give the words so much prominence.

Of course, there’s a lesson here for picture book authors, too—write short! Obviously, Rohmann would be a lot more limited if he had to navigate a lengthy text. And going back to design, look at how the onomatopoetics become part and parcel of the artwork—by playing with fonts and sizes, the words become one with the art. Perhaps that’s the handiwork of a good designer, but I’d like to think the author had something like that in mind at the start!

 

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Literary playlists

Books and music always seem to go together—they’re sold in the same stores, have similar cult followings (and the traditionalists have similar aversions to new technologies), and require a certain amount of alone time to enjoy properly, while still benefiting greatly from being shared with others. Why, then, are they not more frequently paired up in the same entity?

The other day, I came across this post from Picador USA. Picador has made up Spotify playlists for some favorite books, putting together soundtracks that seem appropriate for each. This particular one is for Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which I haven’t read, but desperately want to (Brenna, you did say you’d let me borrow yours…). I can’t confirm, then, if these are the perfect tunes for this book or not, but the idea is still one that I adore.

Immediately, I started thinking of all of the books I’ve read, which was a bit of a problem, because that’s a lot of thinking to do. Unable to pick the perfect book to come up with a soundtrack for, I considered the venture hopeless. I realized, though, that the book doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to be venerable or complex. So, I settled on the first book I ever remember loving, which I’m told is the first book I read all on my own. I give you, Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree, by David Korr and published by Golden Books in 1977.

In case you are unfamiliar with the plot of this seminal work of literature, let me break it down for you. It’s about a very selfish, not very bright witch, who is also the proud owner of a cookie tree—yes, a tree that bears cookies. Of course, Cookie Monster himself is also pretty selfish—when it comes to cookies, that is. When the little witch sees him trundling down the path towards her, she knows that if she doesn’t do something fast, he’ll eat all of her precious cookies. So, she casts a spell on the tree so that it will refuse to give a cookie to anyone who will not share it with someone else. Cookie Monster pleads and pleads with all of his friends on Sesame Street, but no one believes that he would ever actually share a cookie. Back at the tree, the witch is having similar problems—it seems her spell has backfired and the tree won’t give her any cookies either! Disastrous! Cookie and Witch agree to share the cookies with each other, which is the sensible solution—though nothing can stop Cookie Monster’s voracious frenzy when it comes to cookie eating!

Looking back over the pages of these book, it wasn’t hard at all to come up with some choice songs to accompany (some are based solely on title, others are the sentiment of the song, but they are all songs that I love):

Another Sunny Day – Belle & Sebastian

I Put A Spell On You – Nina Simone

All the Wine – The National

Fist City – Loretta Lynn

Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac

Monster Ballads – Josh Ritter

Troubbble – Stephen Malkmus

No One Will Ever Love You – The Magnetic Fields

Rebellion (Lies) – Arcade Fire

1, 2, 3, 4 – Feist

I’m Gonna Make It Better – She & Him

Tables & Chairs – Andrew Bird

Folding Chair – Regina Spektor

Still Rock & Roll to Me – Billy Joel

I promise, it works! What are some of your favorite or first books? Could you come up with a playlist or a band to do the soundtrack for any of them?

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Thoughts on Maurice Sendak

As I’m sure you’ve all heard, Maurice Sendak passed away this morning at the age of 83. Certainly, I was saddened by the news, as Where the Wild Things Are and the Nutshell Library were a part of my early childhood like so many others. And like so many other newish parents, I’ve come back to Sendak recently, sharing both books with my sons, as well as adding In the Night Kitchen and Little Bear into the mix. If one mark of success for a picture book artist is a book that speaks across generations, then Sendak’s career was truly unparalleled.

That said, I distinctly recall back when I started in kids’ books that Sendak was looked upon less than favorably by his peers. Partly, I think there was some jealously of his success, but I also think there was a feeling that he turned his back on the children’s book community. In particular, back in the 1990s Sendak spent a lot of time on the college lecture circuit (I saw him give a fantastic talk as an undergrad), which definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, for both of the aforementioned reasons. And, of course, there was his famously prickly demeanor, which didn’t always seem so lovable to those on the inside…

But I also wonder if his lack of picture book production over the last two decades had something to do with it. Most working picture book artists average at least a book a year, if not two, and by going so long between books, I think he may have heightened both the jealously and resentment factors. Certainly, that’s an old story with artists—those who deny the audience what they want run the risk of losing their fans.

Yet whether it was a conscious decision to curry favor, a sense of mortality, or whether it was just where his art took him, his recent spate of activity—the Wild Things movie, Brundibar, Bumble-Ardy, palling around with Stephen Colbertcertainly drew him back into the fold. And so it’s good to see all the tributes to him across the internet, especially from the children’s book community.

But really, the ultimate tribute will come tonight, when literally millions of children will go to sleep to his words—I know my kids will be two of them.

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Fine art and books

Hope everyone saw the great piece by Geoff Dyer in the Times Book Review this past Sunday by on the use of Victorian paintings for the jackets of the Penguin Classics back in the 1970s. Yes, it’s quite a stroll down memory lane, but I was really struck by Dyer’s point that the paintings featured on the jackets not only did their job of getting him to read the books, but that they afforded Dyer an introduction to fine art and art history as well. And I love the idea of him joyfully stumbling upon his favorite book jacket images in art galleries and museums!

Coincidentally, I’d been kicking around a blog post on the intersection of books and fine art for a while now, though at a slightly younger level. Through the generosity of my children’s book editorial friends (and my raiding the shelves at Penguin before I left), we’ve got a number of picture books at home that feature fine art—James Warhola’s Uncle Andy’s, Babar’s Museum of Art, and the first Olivia, to name a few. And one of the proudest (and cutest) moments of fatherhood for me so far was when we took our son to MOMA and he recognized not only Warhol’s Marilyn from Uncle Andy’s, but the Jackson Pollock painting that Olivia could do “in about five minutes”—luckily, our boy didn’t pull an Olivia and try it at home!

More seriously, I’m hopeful these book/art connections will instill a lifelong interest in fine art as much as reading. And like Dyer, I’m counting on the Penguin Classics to further this interest for my son as he gets older. Moreover, in this age of eBooks, where book covers have the potential to go the way of record jackets in the CD age, I think it’s a strong argument for publishers to continue producing intelligent and intellectual book packaging.

Okay, let’s have some fun—if you were picking a fine art masterpiece for your book jacket, what would it be?