About Traci

I am a writer, reader and editor of books for children. This blog will be a place for musings about children's books, starting with the eclectic collection already on my shelves.

ALA Love

I’m sitting in the airport in Anaheim, California, leaving the American Library Association’s annual convention. I love this convention. I love it for the books, for the librarians, for the friends I only see once or twice a year. I love seeing what other publishers are publishing, wistfully browsing their sumptuously illustrated picture books. I love talking about bookmaking with others who love the craft. I love drinking too much, laughing too hard and staying too late with my book people.

I’ve never been particularly interested in celebrity, but I geek out at ALA Annual. Just today I say Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderlust), Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheeseman, John, Paul, George and Ben) and Kadir Nelson (We Are the Ship). Yesterday I had my picture taken with Olivia the pig.

There are a number of soon-to-be released books that I’m really excited about, but I’m particularly anxious to get my hands on Harlem’s Little Blackbird, written by Renee Watson and illustrated (gorgeously!) by newcomer Christian Robinson.

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I’m exhausted, but elated and inspired. It might be time to dust off the manuscripts I’ve been working on, to pull them out of their drawer and give them a little polish. Who knows? Maybe someday one of those sumptuously illustrated picture books will have my name on it.

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“I’m a book pusher.”

Last night I was out with a friend, lamenting the romantic state of things over wine (me) and Jameson (her). A woman walked in from the adjacent restaurant, gently bouncing a boy of about five in her arms. The boy had that post-meltdown look, and now his mother  walked back forth in the relatively empty bar, whispering soothing things in his ear. A couple times I caught the boy’s eye and smiled at him. He tracked me as his mother continued her march. I watched him stroke his mother’s hair.

Suddenly, I had a thought. In my bag I had copies of the latest books I’d edited. They were probably a little too old for this boy, but the illustrations would certainly occupy him. I walked up to the woman and said, “Do you need some books?” She demurred, of course. Looking back, I wonder if her mind flashed images of people handing out the Bilble or The Watchtower or Dianetics.

Still, I persisted. “It’s OK,” I said. “I’m an editor.” Like it was my superhero catchphrase or something. In that moment, Batman had nothing on me.

And it worked. She took the books and thanked me quietly. Or maybe she just wanted me to leave her alone.

“You’re welcome,” I said with a shrug and a smile. “I’m a book pusher.”

So that last bit wasn’t my best, but whatever. The point is that I gave that kid two books that won’t even be on the shelves until April, and perhaps a moment of peace to his mom.

This morning I googled the term “book pusher,” and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a whole host of librarian-themed products on CafePress. And while I’m not a librarian, and I don’t really go to the gym, I do like the looks of this “book pusher” gym bag.

Smart *and* sporty.

I’m proud to be a book pusher. I suppose maybe it is a bit like being a super hero. Or at least like having a low-tech, non lifesaving super power. So I think I’ll always carry some extra books with me. Just in case.

Thanks, Mom.

As you might have guessed, the majority of books on my shelf are books I read as a child. Many of these books are out of print and I’ve had to track them down from various sellers. Some of them are in near perfect condition, others have been well loved over the years.

There is only one book on my shelf that I’ve had since I was a child: Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

My mother read it to me often, and when I outgrew it she put it away. Then, maybe 20 years later, she gave it to me for Christmas. This was the second time this book had been wrapped and placed under the tree. The first time was 32 years ago.Happy holidays to all. May your new year be filled with beautiful books and people who love them!

A New Wrinkle

You may have heard that next year is the 50th anniversary of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the first volume in her Time Quartet. To celebrate, there’s a whole lot of publishing going on, and the cover will get a refresh.

This makeover is, of course, an homage to the original 1962 hardcover edition:

An autographed copy of this edition is available for $14,500.

Turns out, this cover has had a lot of makeovers.

1979

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this haunting cover by Leo and Diane Dillon. Raised on Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (which will make an appearance in this blog, as will Rap-a-Tap-Tap, their Aaron Douglas-inspired tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), I love it when the Dillons pop up in unexpected places.

Other covers, in no particular order:

1963. This edition currently sells for $4,500.

1973

1973

2007



It’s interesting to look at the differences in the covers, especially the way the art goes from fairly anonymous to narrative. And while on the original cover we have no sense of the relationship between Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin, we have perhaps far too great a sense in this one:

1997

And then there’s this, which I can only guess was meant for adults:

1976

Covers are a book’s first and greatest marketing tool, and publishers spend a lot of time discussing them. Everything is considered, from the ethnicity of the characters, to whether to add glitter, to whether to make a book stand out from other books section or look just like them. (Remember the profusion of black, white and red covers on young adult novels after the success of Twilight?) The narrative inside is often a secondary consideration. Covers also reflect tastes and times. You can almost guess when each of these covers were published just by looking at the art.

This is my favorite Wrinkle in Time cover, because it’s the cover of the version I read as a child:

1979

Curiously, this one doesn’t feature the kids, but it’s so creepy and dark–everything I wanted at the time.

While it looks like this tattered thing might be my childhood copy, I actually bought it earlier this year at Blue Cypress Books, one of my favorite bookstores in New Orleans. I was staying at an old bed and breakfast within walking distance of the bookstore. When I spotted A Wrinkle in Time, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend that dark and stormy night.

Evening plans in hand, I went straight back to the B&B, curled up under the quilt in my room under the eaves, and finished the book as the rain came down.

A Wrinkle in Time © 1962 by Madeline L’Engle.

The Snowy Day

‘Tis the season of snow in my hometown of Chicago, and in tribute, I present one of my all-time favorite books: Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. (Observant readers will notice that I have Peter doll–Peter is the boy in this story–on my book shelf.)


This is one of the loveliest children’s books ever–so simple and so perfect in its description of a child’s first snow. It also illustrates the magic that can happen when someone is both an artist and a writer. Keats (and his editor) knew how to leave room in his words for the pictures, and knew how to let his images carry the weight of the story. But never mind the analysis. Just enjoy the wonder:I have two versions of The Snowy Day on my shelf: an over-sized board book, and the version in Keats’ Neighborhood, a tribute book that includes 10 stories, fantastic behind the scenes information–including the photo from Life Magazine that was the inspiration for Peter–and this nugget:

“The Viking editor of The Snowy Day, Annis Duff … paid careful attention to each word chosen for the spare text. After seeing the first dummy, she encouraged Keats to create the entire book in full color–rather than color alternating with black-and-white pages, as had been the original plan. … [S]he obviously knew this decision would be very expensive.”

And this:

“Proudly, Duff presented to the world the first major full-color picture book to portray a black child–often featuring it as the first book in Viking advertisements–although neither the ad copy nor the text of the book ever mention Peter’s race.”

So much wrapped up in this one little book!

Keats’s Neighborhood also includes homages from other beloved illustrators like Jerry Pinkney, Eric Carle and Simms Taback.

For all its goodies, Keats’s Neighborhood is essential to my collection. But its treatment of the 10 Keats stories–including Goggles!, Whistle for Willie and Jennie’s Hat— leaves much to be desired. For example, in the original edition of The Snowy Day, Peter finds a stick……pokes at a tree branch……and suffers the consequences.Aside from the joy of seeing these images large and full-page, there’s so much going on here in terms of pacing, timing and consideration for page turns. The next page in this sequence is this:

But sadly, it doesn’t appear in Keats’s Neighborhood, except to punctuate the end of the introduction.

What does appear in Keats’s Neighborhood is this:Such a different experience! What would Annis Duff say?

Speaking of experiences, there is a traveling exhibit featuring Keats’s work called The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. I can hardly wait to see it.

All images from The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, ©1926. Published by the Penguin Group.

Keats’s Neighborhood first published in 2002 by the Penguin Group.

Rhythm of the City

I bought Symphony City–by illustrator, graphic designer and self-proclaimed “indie rock obsessive” Amy Martin–because it is beautiful.

Unfortunately, one sentence makes for a very short post, so I’ve spent several days considering this book, working out what more there is to say. And it’s this: I love Symphony City as a work of art. As a work of story, not so much.

Symphony City‘s narrative–about a little girl lost in the city–feels incidental, a way to tie the images together. In fact, the type is so slight it nearly blends into the page, secondary to the art. I almost wonder whether the book could have been wordless, allowing readers to find their own story.

I sat with this book on a Sunday morning while listening to an NPR program about music. Trombone Shorty was being interviewed, and he talked about the street sounds of New Orleans. (As a young boy, Shorty–born Troy Evans–played trombone in the Treme neighborhood, and now, at the ripe age of 25, is a crowned prince of jazz, hip-hop and funk.) It was the perfect context in which to think about Symphony City. It got me thinking about rhythm.

I don’t think people consider rhythm in writing enough. Sometimes it’s hard to identify when not accompanied by rhyme. For me, it’s that thing that makes the written word just feel right when read out loud. It can also be a pattern that repeats. It’s often tied up in voice and tone, and all of those things we learned in Composition 101. And it can truly make or break a children’s book.

Because it is a book about music, I want Symphony City to have rhythm. And once it gets going, it does:

it comes from the street

and fills the sky

it pours in waves

through open windows

and expands

it starts as a sprout

and bursts into a forest

The pattern is repeated: The music is small, then grand, then finally altogether quiet. Which is, of course, sometimes the way symphonies work. And sometimes the way cities work too.

Martin’s illustrations have rhythm as well. When the little girl is bored at home, her world is a cardboard gray. But the world outside is full of color. Even she–in her yellow jacket–is part of the music.

The visual rhythm falls apart somewhere in the middle of the book when the pages start to feel more like individual spreads than part of a whole. At this point, the art becomes more about design, color and mood than supporting the story.

In fact, one spread stands out so much, I wonder whether it was the jumping off point for the whole book. Night has fallen, the sky is dark, but suddenly there’s a riot of color as the girl dances to the music of an electric guitar. Blazing pinks, oranges and yellows fill the sky, nearly blotting out the moon and cold of the spread before. (This image has also been turned into a poster on the inside of the dust jacket, and the circle motif is repeated on the endpapers.) It is clear that of all the music she has heard today, this is the little girl’s favorite.As I said, this book is a work of art. A lush, evocative, thoughtful work of art, right down to the use of pulpy brown paper and the golden birds on the cover. It is not a book I will read and read again, but I will most certainly revisit the pictures.

Images from Symphony City written and illustrated by Amy Martin, © 2011. Published by McSweeney’s McMullens.

The Art of the Matter

One of the things I love most about being an editor of books for children is the artwork. It’s always a good day when the art comes into the office.

I once worked on a book with a French illustrator who painted on linen. When the art came in, each piece was tightly rolled and much smaller than I was expecting. (I later learned that the artist worked smaller than actual size so that when the art was scanned and enlarged, the texture of the fabric became part of the composition. A gorgeous touch.) When we unrolled the art, the pieces practically exhaled cigarette smoke, and while I’m certainly not fond of that scent, it added another layer to an already somewhat enchanted experience.

Every now and then I work with an artist who is kind enough to give me a piece of original work. Even doodles on postcards are precious things.

Which brings me to the Children’s Book Council’s charity auction. Every year since 1919, the Council has commissioned a children’s book illustrator to create an original work of art commemorating Children’s Book Week (May 7-13 in 2012). The CBC has put five of these works up for auction to benefit their literacy foundation, Every Child a Reader.  (Here’s a write-up in Publisher’s Weekly, in case the auction site is down by the time you’re reading this.)

I’m coveting this piece by Don Freeman. Corduroy and A Rainbow of My Own are two of my childhood favorites (and they’re on my shelf, so expect to see them in this blog). Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a piece of Freeman’s art of my own?