Interview with a Melancholy Spring (shelftalker)

With Spring looming, hard as the recent blizzard here in the Northeast makes that to credit, I made an appointment to speak with her and learn which books she has picked to feature during her coming term.

Kenny: Good morning!. How are you, Spring?

Spring: Good morning to you, Kenny. Truth to say, I am a bit downcast.

Kenny: I’m sorry to hear that. Is your mood a victim of the blizzard that came though earlier in the week?

Spring: Oh, nothing like that. The proximity of the seasons to each other is no cause of melancholy. No, it was the news of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s passing from ovarian cancer. Her work was beloved in the Vernal Glade. All the woodland creatures adored her books especially. It was hard to tell them.

Kenny: Oh, I see. I’m feeling sad about that too. Just recently we had a big experience at the store involving a picture book of hers coming out in September, Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True. I wrote about that just three weeks ago and had no idea she was mortally ill when she wrote the book. Thinking back now on the wonder the story conveys, of how the power of believing brought sunshine and rainbows and magic back into the Land of the Unicorns, which had been downcast and rainy for days on end, really made me tear up.

Martin The Squirrel: I love the second Uni book too, Kenny. We have a word in the language of the glade which is hard to translate. The word is falthir. It means something like working sublimely into being yourself to the enrichment of others.  She was falthir and she understood the hopes and dreams of magical creatures.

Kenny: She was falthir indeed. Sigh. Well she certainly did leave a wonderful legacy behind. Speaking of books coming out this Spring, would you mind sharing your favorites with us?

Spring: Of course. I also loved Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True. I wish it were coming out in the Spring rather than the Fall but so it is. All right, then, here are my favorite children’s books of Spring.

Escargot, by Dashka Slater, is a real pleasure. Here we have a story featuring a most delightful slug. Page by page Escargot makes his charming way towards a salad at the end of the book. Our slug narrator plays with words and humorously upends his young reader’s expectations to make for a very engaging story indeed. Another book that foiled my expectations to charming effect is The Starry Giraffe. It is the tale of a kindly giraffe who gives away the apples only he can reach to his animal neighbors.

Kenny: I just loved the ending. It’s nice to see generosity not require either anything in return or a price to be paid! Umm. Sorry for interrupting.

Spring: Not at all. Indeed the starry Giraffe represents just the sort of conduct which I advise all the woodland creatures to take to heart. Bulldozer Helps Out, by Candace Fleming, is unusual in being able to transcend a very well worn plot line to truly capture why the story of small machines longing to do big work is such a trope in the first place. Children will love it. Finally, for picture books, I would be remiss in not mentioning another frontlist title which Amy Krause Rosenthal had a hand in along with Lea Redmond and Sanne Te Loo: On The Spot: Countless Funny Stories. This is an interactive book that allows children to alter words in a story using rebus-like image stickers, giving It an accessible Mad Libs for the Very Young effect. Well illustrated and with a strong background narrative, this book is made to be shared.

Kenny: Awesome. What about some novels?

Spring: Now for Middle Grade and Young Adult, I am going to do something unusual and include one book from Winter, one from Spring and one from Summer, in that order. Otherwise Known as Possum, by Maria Laso: this book is unusual in that it is both a debut and a finale for its author, who passed away from a terminal illness shortly after completing her final edits. Set in the rural south during the Depression, the story follows its charming, headstrong narrator, Possum Porter, who is dealing with the loss of her beloved mother. Filled with humor and warmth, the story deftly explores Possum’s desire to keep everything as much the same as possible set against the dawning realization that holding things in place is not truly preserving them. Though the book speaks with great elegance on the subject of loss, the finely drawn characters, Possum’s delightful misapprehensions, her realistic, compelling friendships, and subtle hints of coming of age will speak strongly to a broad range of readers. Laso very much shared Amy Krause Rosenthal’s spirited, upbeat eloquence in the face of death.

Kenny: I can’t wait to read it! And your Spring book?

Spring: How can you not love a great love story set in a bookstore? Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley, deals directly with some serious issues but keeps them balanced within the narrative, so that the epiphanies ring true. It features enjoyable, convincing characters, and great literary references. Don’t ask me if John Green will produce another novel. I have nothing to say on that. In the meantime Words in Deep Blue is terrific realistic fiction.

My final pick is you May Already Be a Winner, by Ann Dee Ellis. Nothing short of the pleasure of actually reading the book can convey its nuanced, charming, realistic, and compelling first-person portrait of a 12-year-old girl parentified too young by poverty and by a strain of parental neglect done without ill intent.

The caretaker of her four-year-old sister Berk, Olivia’s awareness of what she is losing, along with the self-aware imaginative overlays she applies to situations to sustain her hopes and desires, are both moving and convincing. The humor of Olivia’s voice deftly reinforces its depth, and author Ann Dee Ellis, as with Cath Crowley, never overloads the story with more trauma or drama than it needs. For a book about sufficiency with a little help, the story embodies its message in a very elegant manner. Poverty and parental neglect are not easy to render effectively for Middle Grade readers, though You May Already Be a Winner could fool you about that.

Kenny: Well then, I can see that you are in a thoughtful mood indeed. Thank you so much for spending some time with us, Spring.

Spring: I daresay you are quite ready for me to spend even more, after the long winter. Ha ha.

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