Author Archives: John A. Sellers

PW Best Books 2012: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

John A. Sellers -- October 26th, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

It’s hard not to feel like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age for young adult literature. Amid the hundreds of writers turning out intelligent, thoughtful, and beautiful books for teenagers every year, a few seem to catch readers by surprise (or me, at any rate) with every book they turn out. Libba Bray leaps to mind. M.T. Anderson belongs on the list. So does A.S. King.

True, King’s previous books have also paired the struggles of contemporary teenagers with surreal plot elements and unexpected narrative departures (cameos by Socrates happen to figure into this one), but the stories themselves feel worlds apart. PW’s review called Ask the Passengers “one of the best coming-out novels in years,” but that doesn’t really do it justice—this is a philosophical, honest, passionate, and very funny story about figuring out how love works and what it even means. That said, it’s also hard to remember a recent novel that so eloquently describes the conflicts and pressures, both internal and external, that often go hand in hand with coming out. It’s not easy, and it’s not a cure-all.

When the novel opens, readers learn that Astrid likes to lie on her family’s picnic table—summer, winter, whatever—and send her love to passengers flying overhead in airplanes. “Because if I give it all away, then no one can control it,” she says. “Because if I give it all away, I’ll be free.” What makes this act so heartbreaking? For me, it’s the underlying truth that it can be so much easier to release one’s love into the void than to give it to those closest—the parent, the friend, the boy or girl standing in front of you. What makes it so hopeful is that that same love is out there, and it might just find you when you need it.

For kids facing bullying, homophobia, or a loneliness they just don’t know how to find their way around, this book is a lifeline.

PW Best Books 2011: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

John A. Sellers -- November 1st, 2011

Leading up to the November 7th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2011, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100.  Here’s the latest post:

During the painstaking, often painful process of narrowing down Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2011, I couldn’t help but notice a “less is more” trend among our selections, especially with regard to picture books. You’re not going to get any more hints from me about what books we picked—all will be revealed in next Monday’s issue—but I can’t think of a book this year that embodies this idea better than Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick).

Everything about this picture book is deceptively simple and wonderfully understated: the premise (bear loses hat, tries to get it back); the pared-down dialogue (no need for quotation marks or attributions); the muddy palette (except for some important use of the color red); and the blank stares of his stoic forest animals, who gaze out unnervingly at readers as though uneasy about our presence.

For example:












Klassen trusts readers to fill in the blanks and piece together their own version of events, especially when it comes to the book’s seemingly sinister ending, after the bear realizes that he has seen his missing hat—as well as the animal responsible for stealing it. Despite the expressionless faces of the characters, the emotions at play—melancholy, nervousness, rage, satisfaction—come through clearly, a real testament to how much Klassen is able to convey in just a few brief sentences per page.












This is Klassen’s debut as an author, and while he’s amply demonstrated his talents as an artist in this book, as well as in Cats’ Night Out (2010) and the forthcoming Extra Yarn (which received a starred review in this week’s PW), count me among the many readers looking forward to finding out what future story ideas Klassen has up his sleeve.

Hashtag of the Moment: #bookswithalettermissing

John A. Sellers -- August 2nd, 2011

As we post, Twitter’s more literary corners are having fun with the latest book-themed, procrastination-inducing hashtag, #bookswithalettermissing, which, with the stroke of a delete key, turns Dickens into an ill-conceived ice cream flavor (Liver Twist, courtesy of @NicholasPegg) and C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair into a meditation on aging, The Silver Hair (via @lisibo). Writers and publishers are getting in on the action, too. Kate Wilson, @NosyCrow, has offered such gems as The Collected Woks of William Shakespeare and Far from the Adding Crowd (“autobiography of an accountant-turned-smallholder”), and YA author Patrick Ness’s contributions include Homer’s The Ilia (“an epic poem about many pelvic bones”) and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ma. Other favorites:

@tommydonbavand: Charlie and the Chocolate Factor
@CodeNameTanya: Notes on a Sandal
@angegarrod: Lady Chatterley’s Over
@Kari_Luana: Breaking DanNew Moo
@SteveSparshott: Laughterhouse-Five
@KBreathnach: Civilization and its Disco Tents
@Daracho: Naive Son

Got some of your own you’d like to share? Add ‘em in the comments, or join the fun on Twitter.

The Rabbit Problem, Indeed

John A. Sellers -- November 11th, 2010

In children’s publishing, picture books about bunnies are nothing new, particularly in the months leading up to Easter. Still, we couldn’t help but notice that they seem to be multiplying at a rate that could threaten to overwhelm our bookshelves in no time. At least if Emily Gravett’s new picture book, The Rabbit Problem, about an exponentially expanding community of rabbits (based on Fibonacci’s classic question) is any indication. Here are the ones we tracked down (and, interestingly, very few are about Easter).

Stay tuned to PWxyz for more on this adorable breaking story as it develops.

PW Best Books 2010: The Chicken Thief by Béatrice Rodriguez

John A. Sellers -- November 4th, 2010

There’s something amusing about spending a few hundred words discussing a book that doesn’t use any itself, but that’s testament to the strength of the visual storytelling of Béatrice Rodriguez. This story of love and theft initially seems to be nothing more than a good, old-fashioned chase, but has surprising depth and several turns of fate—sometimes humorous, sometimes dark—along the way.

Published in France in 2005 and in the U.S. this past May by Enchanted Lion, the picture book opens with a fox abducting a white hen from a cozy cottage inhabited by a rabbit, bear, and a rooster—presumably her mate—as well as several hens and chicks. The majority of the book is about the animals’ pursuit of the fox, but subtle clues surface that this story isn’t what it seems, paving the way for a twist ending. But enough from me. See for yourself:

The squat, panoramic spreads heighten the sense of distance traveled as the pursuers track the fox over land and sea (a scene that has the enormous bear serving as a raft is priceless). Text would be completely superfluous: Rodriguez telegraphs the animals’ fluctuating emotions—shock, anger, contentedness, betrayal, and sadness—with the lightest of touches. There’s plenty of emotional terrain for adults to explore with children, and the wordless format is ideal for generating deeper conversations about what’s going on in the book. What exactly is the relationship between the bear, rabbit, rooster, and various chickens? (It can look a little Big Love.) Is the white hen’s romance with the fox True Love or a case of Stockholm Syndrome? (She’s, um, definitely being kidnapped…) And what about the rooster, who remains heartbroken at the end? It’s a book that challenges conventions and expectations, giving readers the opportunity to look below the surface and to fill in the blanks as they see fit.

Hark, Some Funny Literary Comics

John A. Sellers -- October 25th, 2010

Illustrator Kate Beaton has been having serious fun with classic book covers over on her webcomic, Hark, a Vagrant. She has four groups of comics posted based on covers illustrated by Edward Gorey here, here, here, and here. (Oh, and in case it needs saying, they can be R-rated, for those with delicate sensibilities.) Hence, The Secret of the Underground Room (above) is indeed a horrifying secret, and in Beaton’s take on Troilus and Cressida, the lovers can’t get to first base.

More recently, Beaton posted two groups (here and here) of comics riffing on pulpy Nancy Drew covers. Here’s a personal favorite:

Anyone else doing funny comic twists on literature that we should know about? Share it with us in the comments.

All images copyright Kate Beaton.

Cover Reveal: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

John A. Sellers -- September 27th, 2010

Earlier today, Scholastic unveiled the cover of Forever, the third and final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s bestselling Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, which is due out in summer 2011. To mark the occasion, we reached out to Chris Stengel, associate art director at Scholastic, with questions about his distinctive designs for the trilogy’s covers.

PW: How exactly did you decide to go in this spare, monochromatic silhouette direction, as opposed to some other treatment of wolves and forests?

CS: In the beginning, I can remember playing with a number of photos to try and make them feel more abstract, however, things just weren’t quite working. Things were feeling much too bold and hard. I it was clear to me that there was a subtlety missing. I began with the idea of the heart-shaped leaf, created a graphic interpretation of it, and from there, things really began to grow. In order to achieve a sense of depth, I played with the color values of the branches, and felt pretty happy with the outcome. By keeping things a bit stark, I figured it could help set this title apart from others on the bookshelf.

PW: Since this is the third and final book in this trilogy, did that present any particular design challenges? Did you approach this cover with any specific goals?

CS: I definitely knew that I wanted to make the third book red. It seemed logical to me to follow the progression of the seasons. At first, I wasn’t sure how close to Shiver the sequels should be, but once the artwork came together, it felt right to create a variation on the theme. The reversal of positions for the girl, boy, and the wolves relates to the plots of the books.

PW: David Levithan bought four more books from Maggie Stiefvater back in MarchForever, plus three other novels. Will you be working on the covers for any of those? Anything you can say about any of them?

CS: Funny that you should ask, because I’m actually in the middle of concepting the design for a new book by Maggie right now! It’s been challenging to try and emulate the same subtlety that exists on Shiver, Linger and Forever, but I’m sure something will come together soon. Over the weekend, I was able to begin fleshing things out a bit. Hopefully everyone will like the direction!

PW: Any other covers you’ve been working on that we should keep an eye out for?

CS: Half Brother by Ken Oppel (September 2010) hit the shelves recently and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. Three others I enjoyed working on should also be released pretty soon: Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan (March 2011), The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman (January 2011), and the sequel to Numbers by Rachel Ward called The Chaos (March 2011). I can’t wait to see how they’re received!

Authors Withdraw from Teen Lit Festival

John A. Sellers -- August 18th, 2010
Ellen Hopkins.

Ellen Hopkins.

Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook have been abuzz in the last 24 hours with news that four YA authors have pulled out of the annual Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Tex., a Houston suburb. The authors withdrew in support of writer Ellen Hopkins, who announced in a blog post last week that she had been disinvited from the festival, which is organized by the Humble Independent School District, and is scheduled for January 2011. In the post, entitled “Censorship Bites,” Hopkins announced that her invitation had been revoked after a middle-school librarian and parents approached a superintendent and the school board about her participation. Hopkins’s novels in verse deal with gritty subject matter: her Crank series, which concludes next month with Fallout, centers on meth addiction, while her 2009 novel, Tricks, was about teen prostitution. “We all feel badly that we’re making this stand,” Hopkins told School Library Journal. “We don’t want our readers to feel like we’re punishing them. But this is about having the right to read our books, and these people don’t have the right to say you can’t.”

In the last few days, four authors who were also scheduled to appear at the festival—Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, and Tera Lynn Childs—announced in quick succession that they were also withdrawing. “What is important is that a handful of people – the superintendent, the one (one!) librarian, and “several” (three? five?) parents – took it upon themselves to overrule the vast majority of teachers and librarians and students who had chosen one of the most popular YA authors in America to be their headliner,” wrote Hautman in a blog post. “That is a form of censorship as damaging and inexcusable as setting fire to a library.” And on her blog, de la Cruz wrote, “I believe that as a writer, we have to stick up for each other, and against censorship, and against people who want to tell everyone else what to think, what to read, what to watch.” Other authors scheduled to appear at the festival are Sharon Flake, Brian Meehl, and Todd Strasser.

Online reactions have largely been supportive of the authors, though several people have weighed to express dismay over the teens who won’t get to hear the authors speak. “I know we’re all supposed to be warriors against censorship, but I’m also a warrior for teens and I don’t want them to be the collateral damage,” wrote “A Teen Librarian” in a comment on Hautman’s post. Responding to this particular comment in a subsequent post, Hautman wrote, “I agree that teens should not have to pay for the political battles of their elders. But they do, every day, in more ways than I can count. I wish I could have figured out a way to attend TLF without hating myself for doing so, but I could not.”

Galley of the Day: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

John A. Sellers -- July 28th, 2010

Lauren Oliver hit the ground running this past spring with her debut novel, Before I Fall (HarperCollins). PW called the YA novel “raw, emotional, and, at times, beautiful” in a starred review, and named Oliver one of our Flying Starts, It hit the New York Times bestseller list, and was just optioned by Fox 2000 (having just seen The Kids Are All Right, how about Mia Wasikowska as Sam?).

In our Flying Starts profile, Oliver mentioned that her next book, Delirium, a dystopian novel, would be the first in a trilogy. The books are set in a world in which love has been classified as a deadly disease, one that’s treatable with a medical procedure that removes all of the symptoms of “amor deliria nervosa.” Well, it’s not out from Harper until February, so we’ll have to wait until then to see if, among the daunting number of teen dystopian novels on the horizon, this will be the one that picks up the mantle of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, which wraps up next month.

But we don’t have to wait to take a peek at Delirium—we’ve got an early galley. From the first chapter:

“Many people are afraid of the procedure. Some people even resist. But I’m not afraid. I can’t wait. I would have done it tomorrow, if I could, but you have to be at least eighteen, sometimes a little older, before the scientists will cure you. Otherwise the procedure won’t work correctly: People end up with brain damage, partial paralysis, blindness, or worse.

“I don’t like to think that I’m still walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swear I can feel it, writhing in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It makes me feel dirty. It reminds me of resistance, of diseased girls dragging their nails on the pavement, tearing out their hair, their mouths dripping spit.

“And of course it reminds me of my mother.”