Kids book buyers weigh in with their fall picks

Now that every kid on the planet has read all four Harry Potter books, parents are no doubt getting a little panicky about what reading materials to introduce as a second act. (That's to say nothing of film and TV exec...
November 1, 2000

Now that every kid on the planet has read all four Harry Potter books, parents are no doubt getting a little panicky about what reading materials to introduce as a second act. (That’s to say nothing of film and TV exec types, who may be at a loss in deciding which kids books they can exploit next.) Hoping to alleviate the plight of both parties, we thought it high time to find out what other books are creating a stir at bookstores. To that end, this month KidScreen has polled book buyers on both sides of the Atlantic in the hopes of casting some light on titles that may have been overshadowed by Muggles and other Rowlian creations.

Animals, insects and their distinctly human conflicts continue to serve as a creative wellspring for authors, and a favorite book subject for retailers and consumers alike. A case in point is first-time author David Clement Davies’ novel Fire Bringer. Targeted to readers eight to 12, the tome-like novel (weighing in at 500 pages) focuses on a herd of deer living in the Scottish Highlands during the Middle Ages. A tyrannical chief, Drail, rules the herd with an iron hoof and is out to kill off all of his opponents, including the young foal Rannoch. Providing he lives long enough, Rannoch is destined by ancient deer prophecy to grow up and defeat Drail.

Fire Bringer, which Macmillan Publishing released in paperback in the U.K. in July, has been racking up strong sales at London-based bookstore Waterstone’s, says the store’s children’s buyer Liz Scoggins. U.S. pubco Penguin Putnam published the book under its Dutton imprint (US$19.95) in paperback last month. Theatrical and TV rights: Available.

Also in the four-legged creature genre is Crickwing (hardcover, US$15.99), written and illustrated by Jannel Cannon, who also penned the ABBY-award winning Stellaluna. Targeting readers ages six to nine, the Crickwing picture book follows the adventures of a cockroach with a gimpy wing, who initially pesters then befriends his neighbors the leaf cutter ants. ‘It’s a wonderfully illustrated book that teaches kids that bullying is wrong,’ says Cathy Francis, co-owner of Mabel’s Fables, a two-store book retailer based in Toronto, Canada. U.S. pubco Harcourt published Crickwing in September. Theatrical and TV rights: Available.

Also revolving around the animal world, though targeted to older readers, is Kate DiCamillo’s novel Because of Winn-Dixie (hardcover, US$15.99). Set in the southern U.S., Winn-Dixie is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl who moves with her father to a new town and adopts a stray dog she finds wandering in the local supermarket. Much of the book sees the dog helping India to make friends in her new hometown. ‘Winn-Dixie would make a great a movie,’ says Collette Morgan, co-owner of Wild Rumpus, a children’s bookstore based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Morgan adds that the book’s theme of adjusting to new environments is clearly resonating with young readers. Morgan’s store consistently sells out of the book, which Cambridge, Massachusetts-based pubco Candlewick Press released in March. Theatrical and TV rights: Available.

Newberry Award-winner Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl provides a different take on the new-kid-in-new-surroundings story line. In the novel the lead character Stargirl moves with her family from Pennsylvania to Arizona, where she has to start life at a new high school. Though such an experience might prove daunting for many teens, the quirky Stargirl takes it all in stride. Her non-conformist dress and personality instantly endear her to everyone she meets, even the snooty school gossip. Wild Rumpus’s Morgan says her store has sold through several orders of the book several times since its August release. Published in hardcover by Random House (US$21), Stargirl is targeted to kids 12 and up. Theatrical and TV rights: Available.

Meeting people is also the focus of Madlenka (hardcover, US$17), a new picture book by Peter Sis about a little girl living in New York City who is about to lose her first tooth. Excited by the prospect of parting with her molar, Madlenka tells everyone she knows in her neighborhood-the French baker, the East-Indian news vendor, the Latin-American grocer. Madlenka’s journey through the neighborhood serves as a device that allows Sis to deliver a travelogue of sorts on the different ethnic backgrounds of people who live in New York-a twist that hooked buyer Claire Francis of Mabel’s Fables.

U.S. pubco Farrar Strauss Giroux released the book in October and is offering free mobiles with cardboard figures of Madlenka and other characters from the book to retailers. Editions of Madlenka were released concurrently in Japan, China and Europe. Sis’s agent, Anne Elisabeth Suter, is close to inking a deal with Oakland-based toyco MerryMaker to create a doll and a children’s umbrella based on the book. Both items will likely hit stores next spring. Currently, Sis is working on a sequel to Madlenka, which has a tentative 2001 release date. Theatrical and TV rights: Still available. However, Suter says she’s received several inquiries from U.S. and European production companies.

Though it involves travel of a more mundane sort, Celia Rees’ The Witch Child deals in matters that are far more grave. Published in September in the U.K. by Bloomsbury Publishing, Witch Child (hardcover, US$16) is set in the 1600s and tells the story of a young girl who is sent from England to America soon after her grandmother is executed for witchcraft. Witch Child is told in diary format, with Mary detailing her experiences of trying to survive in the New World. Targeted to kids ages 10 and up, Witch Child remains a strong seller at Waterstone’s, says Liz Scoggins. Candlewick Press is scheduled to release the book in the U.S. next spring. Theatrical and TV rights: Available.

Another title that’s selling strongly at Scoggins’ store is William Nicholson’s young adult novel The Wind Singer. In this fantasy book a young girl and her brother escape the stifling caste system of their home city Aramanth, striking out on a quest to retrieve the voice of the wind singer, a magical instrument that sits in the center of the city and will restore liberty for their fellow citizens. Wind Singer is the first YA novel from Nicholson, who penned the screenplays to films including Gladiator, Shadowlands and Nell. Nicholson is working on the two other books in the trilogy: Slaves of the Mastery, which will hit in 2001; and Song of Fire, due out in 2002. Originally published in the U.K. in August by Egmont Publishing, Hyperion released the book in hardcover last month. Theatrical rights: Available.

Horrible beginnings abound in Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events series, which, according to Publisher’s Weekly, ranked fourth amongst top-selling kids series in the U.S. during the first two weeks of September. The fifth title in the series, The Austere Academy, which finds the orphaned Baudelaire children still being hounded by the evil Count Olaf, hit stores in August. Snicket’s sixth title, The Ersatz Elevator (hardcover, US$8.95), is slated for release in March 2001. The series, which is an unholy brew of Grimms Fairy Tales meets Roald Dahl meets Monty Python, is targeted to readers ages 10 and up and is a favorite of shoppers at Wild Rumpus. ‘They’re very humorous, macabre books,’ says store owner Collette Morgan, who expects to sell plenty of Snicket’s titles this Christmas. Theatrical rights: Nickelodeon Movies is currently developing the series into a feature film, though they’ve yet to issue a release date.

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