Small Press Newbery
It’s always a pleasant surprise when a small press is able to break through to the big time. It last happened just a couple of years ago when A RIVER OF WORDS by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans) won a Caldecott Honor. We’ve already discussed a couple of small press titles here, but didn’t note them as such: THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (Peachtree) and THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON by Carla Killough McClafferty (Lerner). While I think the former title probably has the best chance of any small press title, here are several more for your consideration.
You may be familiar with the excellent anthology STEAMPUNK! edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link or you may be familiar with Link’s own story collection, PRETTY LITTLE MONSTERS, but you might not know that this husband and wife have their own small press, Small Beer Press, which has just started a children’s and young adult imprint, Big Mouth House. THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman is one of the first titles.
This time slip novel, at once, pays homage to classic children’s fantasy like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager and confronts readers with the world of an antebellum sugar plantation and the moral outrages of slavery–think THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC meets slavery and the civil rights movement. When thirteen-year-old Sophie is dumped at the ancestral family home to spend the summer with her grandmother and aunt, she soon finds herself whisked back in time 100 years, where she is mistaken for a slave and treated as one.
Please check out Cory Doctorow’s review at BoingBoing and Brit Mandelo’s review at Tor.com. I definitely think it’s one of the stronger novels of the year. How strong? I’m not sure. I’d definitely put it in a top ten list of middle grade novels, but I’d need to do some rereading before I could rank my fiction choices, to see whether it would be at that top of my top ten or the bottom of my top ten. It was just published recently so I’m not sure how many people have read it . . .
Donna Jo Napoli has written a steady stream of novels, most of them quite good and many of them worthy of Newbery discussion. Her latest project, TREASURY OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY, published by National Geographic, is a collection of Greek myths. Some people may not think such a piece of literature is eligible, but according to the criteria, “It may include original retellings of traditional literature, provided the words are the author’s own.”
How do you get something from nothing? Not easily, it would seem.
From empty Chaos, somehow sea and earth and air appeared. They drifted around, pieces of each getting lost in the other. No water was swimmable, no land was walkable, no gas was breathable. Anything hot could quickly turn cold. Anything cold could burst into flames. Shapes shifted, textures shifted. Objects merged one into the other effortlessly, then suddenly–slam! One or both turned inexplicably hard. What was heavy became weightless. What was weightless crashed through earth and sea and air, shattering and splattering and scattering bits of everything and nothing.
Rules of nature? They didn’t operate. Indeed, there was no nature. There was nothing reliable in this turmoil except lack of order. And lack is the essence of need.
Out of that original need came the mother force, Gaia. All on her own. Need can do that.
The past two small press Newbery titles were both from Front Street–WHAT JAMIE SAW and CARVER–and Stephen Roxborough’s new publishing venture, namelos, has another intriguing candidate: EDDIE’S WAR by Carol Fisher Saller. Several people have mentioned it here and there in the comments. It’s still on hold at my library, but I appreciated the preview at Amazon.
Miss Fenton, the librarian, saw me.
I knew her from church.
“Eddie Carl,” she whispered,
“may I help you?”
Smiling, she walked to a rack of papers
draped over wooden bars.
“Let’s see,” she said,
“St. Louis Post-Dispatch
or Peoria Star?”
She nodded toward the old man.
“Mr. Mirga has the Canton Ledger.“
St. Louis was foreign,
“St. Louis . . . what you said,” I decided.
I turned the big pages,
sniffed the ink,
Soon I could read the headlines:
“Kills Sweetheart, Takes Body Home”
or “Liverpool Farmer Found Dead in Bed.”
And the advertisements:
“Doan’s Pills clean out kidney poisons:
Clean out your 15 miles of kidney tubes.”
Or “Indulge in gold while a roast is cooking.
Set the Therm-O-Matic and all is safe.”
You could learn just about anything
kneeling on a chair,
elbows on the paper,
at a yellow pine table at the public library
in Ellisville, Illinois.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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