Due to the no-sleepinest baby this side of slumberland, we contemplated bailing on this event but thankfully we got it together early enough to make the trip. Missing it would have been a big mistake.
Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA is one of those rare wonders still weathering the business model that is Independent Bookstore. You can shop them online (soapbox: and you should, if you love books – and are aware of the effects of mega-store monopolies, online and off, negatively impacting selection and living wages for creators of the writer, graphic designer, printer, publisher and illustrator varieties).
Today was their annual Kid-Lit Fest. Now that my Kid (Bee) is Literate we made attending this year a big priority, and it was a great way to spend our day.
I’d like to promote the authors that made the biggest impact on us:
(Nightbear & Lambie ©Kerry and Matt Royer – image used for review)
Writer and Illustrator couple Kerry and Matt Royer are creators of the book Nightbear & Lambie (and two other forthcoming titles, one is a holiday sequel to N&L, and one involves Spring Peepers). The book is well written, lovely in its simplicity and bound to resonate in any family where there are favorite stuffed-animal friends installed among sleeping kiddos. The illustrations are particularly nice – oil paintings with a skillfully consistent and appealing style and palate, many of which would make choice stand-alone prints.
First editions of Nightbear & Lambie are sold out, save for a handful of stores local to the creators (list). Also, the book is available at Pottery Barn Kids, as part of a cool deal they struck since that retailer originally sold the toys in question to the Royer family.
There is karmic value here too, for those of you who have young families similar to my own. They are a hard-working couple with young children, making the effort to strike out creatively despite the demanding schedule. What they’ve accomplished thus far is commendable and I wish them continued success.
(images © their respective publishers/creators – used for review)
Illustrator (and author) Amy Wummer was present (here is a Random House profile), and I quickly recognized her by her work as a contributor to High Five Magazine (a junior version of Highlights, for the 6 and under set). Amy draws a regular feature in the magazine that Bee is fond of (Tex and Indi and their cat named Cow), and she also does at least one cover for the magazine each year. Turns out – she is incredibly proficient and has A LOT of other (award-winning) credits to her name.
Her style is very recognizable while, somehow, also unobtrusive. It is perfect for storytelling, as it does not overpower the story and she’s so practiced that the consistency is seamless and the coloring perfectly suited. Especially exciting for us is that Bee sort of stood out in the readings, she asks a lot of questions and volunteers personal perspective easily – after the reading, and having two books signed to Bee (reminder: I don’t use our real names in this family blog) – Amy told Bee to expect a surprise in a future illustration, she’s going to slip Bee into a story where a child is called for (presumably a background character). Well, Amy got herself a friend for life with that gesture :).
The two books we purchased from her today (signed) are:
The third book in The Milo and Jazz Mysteries, called The Case of the Haunted Haunted House. Bee is a big fan of the A to Z Mysteries, and while I can’t give an experienced opinion on the matter at the moment, the Milo and Jazz Mysteries seem to be a very good series to graduate towards after the A to Z Mysteries – the stories appear to be a bit more mature, complex, long (not overly so), and they contain ‘super sleuthing puzzles’ – brain stretchers, logic puzzles and focus on motives matching to crimes. Young mystery readers are a lucky bunch in this day and age! Also – thanks to Lewis B. Montgomery for furnishing the store with signed copies of the book, so we have both creator signatures.
Our other book illustrated by Amy is Samuel’s Baby. A perfect choice for a 4-6 year old expecting a baby brother or sister. Our little Pea is a year old now, but certainly we feel the change to our family dynamic still taking hold. I imagine this story will further solidify Bee’s memories of this transition The book is clever and funny, as a class of kindergarteners share in Samuel’s experience in a unique and teachable way.
(image © respective publisher/creator – used for review)
Our third creative treasure trove was Laurel Snyder. From her web page bio: Laurel Snyder is the author of three novels for children, “Penny Dreadful,” “Any Which Wall” and “Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess” (Random House) and two picture books, “Inside the Slidy Diner” and “Baxter the Kosher Pig.” (Tricycle).
Laurel was a delight to talk to, and she obviously loves her work. She traveled the farthest of any of the creators we met today, having come from Atlanta for the event (see how cool Aaron’s Books is?). She read both of her picture books to the kids gathered at the event, and Bee wasn’t happy that we had to only choose one.
We bought Inside The Slidy Diner, and after reading it – I am sure we’ll be investigating her novels in due course. Laurel does some creative (and probably therapeutic) venting about the unpleasant side of working for a greasy spoon diner – in a wonderful ‘taken to the extreme’ manner that any kid would appreciate and enjoy. She challenges the kids to count the mice. I myself spent more time spying out the insect life (giant mounted ‘trophy’ roach hanging on the wall of the diner FTW). A girl spends her days like a fairy tale servant, after being caught swiping a candy from a crone (alla classic fairy tales, like Hansel and Gretel, only entirely contemporary).
The witch in question is a hair-netted crone who scratches her itchy back with the grill spatula, leaving fly guts smeared on her sweater. Yeah, it’s that good. The illustrations (by Jaime Zollars), are wonderful as well (Snyder hopes to work with her again because they are a dream team).
Check out Snyder’s new novel, Penny Dreadful, when you see it hitting stores in late September. The hyperlink I’ve attached to the title is an advance copy review compliments of Kate Messner (a discerning children’s book author).
This isn’t typically a review site – I hope I’ve been helpful, though. These are books I recommend to people like me – people in young families full of brilliant young budding bibliophiles. Choosing picture books can be daunting – I feel that all of these would please a discerning fan of the medium. Also – these folks put in the legwork. They love what they do. They spend their perfect, sunny, crisp, mid-September Saturdays trying to expose folks to their work. In my opinion, that commitment deserves an audience.
You can find (hopefully) your own local independent book sellers here: http://www.indiebound.org/