Ah, golden underpants, book bonanzas and more -- inspiration strikes so originally at the kids' books blogs we've passed the Liebster to. And another thank you to The Literary Lunchbox for giving us the hot potato.
I've just come back from Toy Fair, the toy industry's big trade show in New York. Even though I've been working in a toy store for the past 13 years, this was the first time I've gone to it. It's big. It has a lot of stuff I recognize from our stores, and a lot of stuff we don't carry. It's weirdly fun to run into people dressed in Ugly Doll outfits, not to mention some very short people dressed as round, slightly vegetable-ish characters I didn't recognize. And I saw some very endearing stuffed animals of Elephant and Piggie which we'll be carrying.
As I was packing to go, I opened a box of bound galleys, which is what we call sample copies of chapter books, from a publisher from whom I need to order new books that will be coming out this summer. I figured I'd grab a few to read on the bus to New York. I can do a rough sort of one of these boxes pretty quickly. I started reading the blurbs on the backs of some of the books, and the sameness of many of them are I-could-laugh-or-I-could-rant material. I pulled five (from a box of 20) galleys: they're all aimed at the Young Adult market, three have women in big dresses on the covers, one has a woman in a tank top, and the last has a slightly squished-looking heart. Here are the back-cover blurbs:
That last one's my favorite. Aaagh! It's even conceivable that some of these could be good reading. Maybe. But the way they're being marketed is so symptomatic of the pack mentality of many publishing houses these days. In the words of Beth Kephart, YA novelist:He's not a vampire. He's not a werewolf.He's something else...the Temptation.--The fate of the paranormal world rests in Evie's hands.--. . . gritty alternate reality where vampires make the rules...and one girl dares to break them.--There's normal, and then there's paranormal, and neither is Quinlan's cup of Diet Coke.--A breathtaking, postapocalyptic romance inspired by Jane Austen's PERSUASION.
I quote Kephart because she wrote a lovely essay published in Shelf Awareness (an intelligent newsletter for the book industry) offering an optimistic take on current YA writing. Despite the formulaic stuff, she argues, the books which have recently received awards or other forms of attention are getting better and better:Teeth sink. Wings ascend. Murderous games hold court. Landscapes are annihilated, and then annihilated again. It's a package deal.
Kephart's essay lists a number of very good recent YA books -- definitely worth taking a look at.Ten years ago, when I chaired the National Book Awards Young People's Literature Jury, I yearned for the dawning of a movement much like the one that I believe we are seeing today--for a time when the dominant YA books were the risk-taking books, tantalizing in their shape and form, fresh and original in their language, soulful. I believed then, and I believe now, that enduring YA books have the capacity to alert, embolden and inspire; to live outside marketing labels; to stretch young readers' ideas about how words can take them to places they've never gone.
p.s. I ended up taking two other galleys on the bus with me, both middle grade non-fantasy.