Malamander by author and illustrator, Thomas Taylor is a fantastical book about two (approx.) 12yo — Violet Parma and Herbert Lemon. The unlikeliest team who set off to find the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Violet’s parents from the Grand Nautilus Hotel. An event that occurred 12 years ago when Violet was found abandoned in a cot in the hotel room. Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the hotel. He is in charge of collecting abandoned articles and returning them to their rightful owner except that at times decades, even a century, passes by and no one comes forth to claim the lost articles. Then Violet (literally) tumbles into Herbie’s life through an open window in his cramped space. She believes that Herbie is the only person in the world who can help her —- “Because I’m lost…And I’d like to be found.” Brilliant opening line for a fabulous plot for middle grade fiction. And off the two of them go on an adventure plotted marvelously well in Eerie on Sea that seems forever to be encased in thick sea mist or snowfall. It involves wheelchair bound owner of the hotel, Lady Kraken and her cameraluna which operates well on a full moon night to give her a bird’s-eye view of the town in 3D; the charmingly eccentric beachcomber Mrs Fossil, the local celebrity, an author, Sebastian Eels who freaks everyone with his creepy presence, a mysterious character who has a boat hook for a hand and a few more equally fascinating characters. Local life is enriched by local legends that some may believe and some may not. One particular story is about the mythical amphibious creature, Malamander, who lives in the sea but when it emerges on land can walk upright like man. It’s egg is known to possess magical powers of being able to grant any wish.
“Malamander” is the first of a trilogy by Thomas Taylor, who is perhaps better known for his book cover illustrations of the UK edition Harry Potter novels by a then relatively unknown author called J K Rowling. This particular novel of his has a wonderful book trailer and the good folks at Walker Books have been kind enough to create a standalone website recreating the map and landscape of Eerie on Sea . Unsurprisingly, the film rights to this book have already been sold to Sony whilst the author is still working on his second novel in the series.
I cannot praise this book enough for its crisp storytelling, wonderful use of visual imagery without it becoming too overpowering and the fabulous descriptions that are sufficiently sketched to tickle the imagination without being too stifling for the reader. It conjures up a magical space that is seemingly in present day but could for all practical purposes of storytelling be set in any time dimension. It is vague enough in its location details to be not too hyper-local.
Read Malamander and you shall not be disappointed. ( with @Walker Books)
Book Post 48 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.
Susan Van Metre is the Executive Editorial Director of Walker Books US, a new division of Candlewick Press and the Walker Group. Previously she was at Abrams, where she founded the Amulet imprint and edited El Deafo by Cece Bell, the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger, the Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle, They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki, and the Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Pete Fornatale, and their daughter and Lab mix.
Susan and I met when we were a part of the Visiting International
Publishers delegation organised by the Australia Council and Sydney Writers
Festival. It was an incredibly enriching time we spent with other publishing
professionals from around the world. Meeting Susan was fabulous as Walker Books
is synonymous with very high standards of production in children’s literature.
Over the decades the firm has established a formidable reputation. Susan very
kindly agreed to do an interview via email. Here are lightly edited excerpts.
1. How did you get into
publishing children’s literature? Why join children’s publishing at a time when
it was not very much in the public eye?
I never stopped reading children’s
books, even as a teen and young adult. I have always been in love with
story. I was a quiet, lonely young person and storytelling pulled me out
of my small world and set me down in wonderful places in the company of people
I admired. I couldn’t easily find the same richness of plot and character
in the adult books of the era so stuck with Joan Aiken and CS Lewis and E Nesbit
and Ellen Raskin. And I loved the books themselves, as objects, and, in
college, had the idea of helping to make them. I applied to the Radcliffe
Publishing Course, now at Columbia, met some editors from Dutton Children’s
Books/Penguin there, and was invited to interview. Though I couldn’t type
at all (a requirement at the time), I think I won the job with my passionate
conviction that the best children’s books are great
literature, and arguably more crucial to our culture in that they create
2. How do you commission
books? Is it always through literary agents?
Most of the books I publish come
from agents but occasionally I’ll reach out to a writer who has written an
article that impressed me and ask if they have thought of writing a book. Recently,
I bought a book based on hearing the makings of the plot in a podcast episode.
3. How have the books you
read as a child formed you as an editor/publisher? If you worry about the world
being shaped by men, does this imply you have a soft corner for fiction by
women? ( Your essay, “Rewriting the Stories that Shape Us”)
What a good question. I definitely
look for books with protagonists that don’t typically take centre stage,
whether it’s a girl or a character of colour or a character with a disability.
I have always been attracted to heroes who are underdogs or outsiders, ones
that prevail not because they have special powers or abilities but because they
have determination and heart. I am in love with a book on our Fall ’19 list, a
fantasy whose hero is a teen girl with Down syndrome. It’s The Good
Hawk by Joseph Elliott. I have never met a character like Agatha
before—she’s all momentum and loyalty. Readers will love her.
4. Who are the writers/artists that have influenced your publishing
I am very influenced by brainy,
hardworking creators like Ellen Raskin and Cece Bell and Mac Barnett and Sophie
Blackall and Jillian Tamaki. I admire a great work ethic, outside-the-box
thinking, an instinct for how words and images can work together to create a
richly-realized story, and respect for kids as fully intelligent and emotional
beings with more at stake than many adults.
5. As an employee- and author-owned company, Candlewick is used
to working collaboratively in-house and with the other firms in the Walker
groups. How does this inform your publishing programme? Does it nudge the
boundaries of creativity?
There is so much pride at Walker and
Candlewick. Owning the company makes us feel that much more invested in
what we are making because it is truly a reflection of us and our values and
tastes. Plus, we only make children’s books and thus put our complete resources
behind them. There are no pesky, costly adult books and authors to distract us.
And I think the strong lines of communication amongst the offices in Boston,
New York, London, and Sydney mean that we have a good global perspective on
children’s literature and endeavour to make books with universal appeal. I
think all these factors contribute to innovation and quality.
6. You have spent many years in publishing, garnering
experience in three prominent firms —Penguin USA, Abrams and Candlewick
Press. In your opinion have the rules of the game for children’s publishing
changed from when you joined to present day?
Oh, definitely. When I started,
children’s publishing was a quiet corner of the business, mostly dependent on
library sales. There was no Harry Potter or Hunger Games or Wimpy Kid; no
great juggernauts driving millions of copies and dollars. And not really
much YA. YA might be one spinner rack at the library, not the vast
sections you see now, full of adult readers. Now children’s and YA is big business
and mostly bright spots in the market. The deals are bigger and the risk is
bigger and the speed of business is so much faster!
7. Do you discern a change in reading patterns? Do these
vary across formats like picture books, novels, graphic novels? Are there
noticeable differences in the consumption patterns between fiction and
nonfiction? Do gender preferences play a significant role in deciding the
I think we are in a great time for
illustrated books, whether they are picture books, nonfiction, chapter books,
or graphic novels. And now children can move from reading picture books
to chapter books to graphic novels without giving up full colour illustrations
as they age. And why should they? Visual literacy is so important to our
internet age—an important way to communicate online.
8. One of the iconic books of modern times that you have worked
upon are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Tell me more about
the back story, how it came to be etc. Also what is your opinion on the
increasing popularity of graphic novels and how has it impacted children’s
I am not the editor of the Wimpy Kid
books—that’s Charles Kochman—but I was lucky enough to help sign them up and
bring them to publication as the then head of the imprint they are published
under, Amulet Books. Charlie comes out of comics so when he saw the
proposal for Wimpy Kid, which had been turned down elsewhere, he understood the
skill and appeal of it. I have NEVER published anything that took off so
immediately. I think we printed 25,000 copies, initially, and we sold out
of them in two weeks. It showed how hungry readers were for that strong
play of words and images, and how they longed for a protagonist who was flawed
but who didn’t have to learn a lesson. Adult readers have many such
protagonists to enjoy but they are rarer in kids’ books.
9. Walker Books are inevitably heavily illustrated, where each
page has had to be carefully designed. Have any of your books been translated?
If so what are the pros and cons of such an exercise?
Our lead Fall title, Malamander, is illustrated and has been
sold in a dozen languages. I think illustration can be a big plus in
conveying story in a universally accessible way.
10. The Walker Group is known for its outstanding production quality
of printed books. Has the advancement of digital technology affected the world
of children’s publishing? If so, how?
I think they incredible efficiency
of modern four-colour printing has allowed us to spend money on other aspects
of the book, like cloth covers or deckled edges. That sort of
thing. Children’s books are incredible physical objects these days.
11. Walker Books’ reputation is built on its ability to be creatively
innovative and constantly adapt to a changing environment. How has the group
managed to retain its influence in this multimedia culture?
First, thank you for saying
so! I think the rest of media still looks to book publishing for great
stories and as a house that has always invested in talent, we are lucky enough
to have stories that work across many forms of media.
12. Have any of books you have worked upon in your career been
banned? If so, why? What has been the reaction?
Yes. In fact, I am working with Lauren Myracle on a young adult novel, publishing in Spring ’21, called This Boy. Lauren is the author of the ttyl series, which was on the ALA’s Banned Book list for many years. It was challenged for its depictions of teenage sexuality. I was raised to be modest and rule following so my personal reaction was horror—especially when parents started phoning me directly to complain—but I feel so strongly that kids and teens deserve to read about life as it really is—not just as we wish it would be. So I came to be proud of the designation. Nothing is scarier than the truth.
In an interesting coincidence two stories I read recently — Michael Morpurgo’s beautiful Lucky Buttonand the short story “They call me Ramatanu” in Subhadra Sengupta’s A Bagful of History — both involved ghosts and eminent musicians. Lucky Button is a haunting tale about the Foundling Hospital which opened in London in 1741. Its patrons included the cartoonist William Hogarth and musician Handel whose Messiah was often sung in the building. One of the foundlings later becomes a friendly ghost who remains in the chapel. Centuries later when young Jonah takes refuge in the building to escape his class bullies, the ghost makes himself visible to the boy and tells him a tale — a tale of his life as an orphan who found happiness for a while as the young prodigy, Mozart’s, companion on his trip to Britain. For Jonah music especially Handel’s music and Mozart’s piano compositions are dear since they remind him of his mother’s fondness for the compositions when she was fit and well and not confined to her wheelchair. It is like all the stories Michael Morpurgo spins — evocative and memorable.
Subhadra Sengupta’s story is about Parvez Khan, son of Ustad Amanullah Khan, the great Dhrupad singer who is visiting his maternal grandparents in Gwalior. One day while visiting the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Sheikh Muhammad Ghaus, an important shrine for Parvez Khan’s family because one of the disciples of Ghaus was the singer Tansen. While at the shrine Parvez meets a stranger and gets into an interesting conversation about music and his desire to give up singing. The stranger gently persuades Parvez to sing him a Raag Todi and is pleasantly surprised to hear that Parvez would soon be graduating to his second Raag Malhar soon. The stranger himself was not permitted to learn the second Raag for at least two years, not till he had mastered Raag Yaman. The stranger as it turns out to be is the ghost of Tansen who had been born as a Ramtanu Pandey but later became a sufi. The Agra gharana of Hindustani classical music traces its lineage to the children of Tansen. “They call me Ramatanu” stands out as one of three good stories in what is an otherwise a problematic collection of twelve “historical” tales. ( The other two good stories are “The young monk” and “Disobedient girl”.)
Michael Morpurgo Lucky Button ( Illustrated by Michael Foreman) Walker Books, London, 2017. Hb. pp. 170 Rs 599
Subhadra Sen Gupta A Bagful of History ( Illustrated by Tapas Guha) Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, Gurgaon, 2018. Pb. pp. 240 Rs 250
From this month I begin a new column in the Hindu Literary Review called “Literati”. It will be about the world of books, publishing and writers from around the world. Here is the url to the first column. http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/catch-them-young/article5969576.ece It was published online on 3 May 2014 and will be in the print edition on 4 May 2014. I am c&p the text below.
A friend called this morning expressing her delight that her 11-year-old son had finished the pile of books I had lent him. Now he was back to reading Calvin and Hobbes. A father worried about his tennis- and cricket-mad 10-year-old son says the kid only wants to buy sports almanacs.
The parents’ bewilderment is incomprehensible given the explosion of children and young adult literature. The focus is so intense that it has generated a lively intense debate along gendered lines. Should books meant for girls have pink covers? Dame Jacqueline Wilson says it is ‘pigeonholing’ and it is putting boys off reading. Of late, there have been articles wondering whether boys are not reading because they are simply unable to discover books that appeal to them.
An international imprint I have become quite fond of is Hot Keys, established by Sarah Odedin, formerly J.K. Rowling’s editor. Hot Keys is synonymous with variety, fresh and sensitively told stories and is not afraid of experimenting nor can it be accused of gender biases in content and design. Sally Gardner’s award-winning Maggot Moon, Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride and Tom Easton’s hilariousBoys Don’t Knit belong to this list.
Other recently released YA titles available in India are Andaleeb Wajid’s No Time for Goodbyes, which uses the time travel formula to contrast contemporary life with that of the previous generation; Ranjit Lal’s blog Tall Stories, a collection of 100 stories about 10-year-old Sudha and 12 1/2-year-old Lalit, being uploaded weekly; and Joy Bhattacharjya’s delightful Junior Premier League ( co-authored with his son, Vivek) about a bunch of 12-year-olds eager to join the Delhi team of the first ever Junior Premier League tournament.
Some imprints that publish books for children and young adults in India are Puffin, Red Turtle, Duckbill, Pratham, Walker Books, Macmillan and Hachette.
Creating cultural wealth for children ensures there is little or no loss of cultural confidence, and creates a reading community in the long term. Pratham Books in partnership with Ignus ERG with funding support from Bernard van Leer Foundation is launching a new imprint called Adhikani. These books for young children will be published in four tribal languages of Odisha-Munda, Saura, Kui and Juang.
The idea is to make literature in print available in an otherwise oral culture whose stories are not normally visible in “mainstream” publications. They have already brought out 10 books and four song cards with Saura mural art based illustrations. Bi-lingual editions are also being considered in English with Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Urdu and Tamil.
The Pratham-IGNUS ERG experiment is not uncommon. The Good Books Guide: How to Select a Good Book for Children (published by NBT and PAG-E) cites other examples and introduces 800 titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages.
Today there are so many choices/distractions and readers are increasingly used to personalising their environment to their tastes and interests. Increasingly it is being done in classrooms, so why not in trade literature as well?
Readers versus writers?
Eighty per cent of readers ‘discover’ a book through word of mouth and 20 per cent through social media. The Malayalam edition of Benyamin’s award-winning novel Aadujeevitham (Goat Days) has gone into the 75th edition (it was first published in 2008) and Anurag Mathur’s Inscrutable Americans has gone into the 50th edition (first published in 1991).
Internationally, India is a dream destination for publishers. The overall market in physical books was up 11 per cent by volume and 23 per cent by value in 2013 over 2012 (Nielsen, London Book Fair, 2014). Production of books is increasing, but is there a corresponding increase in readers too?
Rahul Saini — whose Paperback Dreams is a tongue-in-cheek fictional account of publishing in India — discovered to his dismay that an author friend wanted the synopsis told. Apparently he did not have the time to go through the whole book.
Saini says, “Everyone wants to write but no one wants to read. I think this is a dangerous phenomenon. If we don’t want to read then is it really fair to write and expect others to read our books?” Writing takes time and effort and for it to be recognised it has to be of high calibre.
The inaugural V. Abdulla Award for translation from Malayalam into English will be given on May 10, 2014 in Kozhikode by writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair. V. Abdulla was the first translator of Basheer.
“A discussion of childhood sexuality is further complicated by our definitions of the very term, childhood. When does it end? Is a sixteen-year-old a child? The contemporary world brackets adolescence within childhood rather than as a phase of preparation for adulthood. By attaching adolescence to childhood we absorb into childhood a time which is sexually potent and where sexual energies are more overtly manifested, setting up a disciplinary framework shaped by a specific ordering of our social codes. Contrast this, for example, with the sexual practices of many tribal communities, which build into their social and celebratory practices a way of recognising and sanctioning sexuality among the young.” p. xxx, “Introduction” by Dr Shalini Advani, Dark Room
Dr Advani, in her powerful introduction, “Childhood Sexuality: History, Memory, Mythology” to Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India dwells upon the silences that govern sexuality in children. All though research shows that children as young as four year olds are curious about their bodies. In fact in an essay published by Lauren A., discussing her experiences as an undergraduate student who is also a sex-worker, mentions that “when I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified.” ( http://m.xojane.com/sex/duke-university-freshman-porn-star?utm_medium=facebook ) At least Lauren A. is truthful about her experience. In 2010, Tehelka published an article about sexuality amongst urban schoolchildren. http://www.tehelka.com/sex-lies-homework/
Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India is one of the first publications of its kind in India that hopes to open this conversation outside of the specialized, academic circles. It needs to be discussed, work has to be done in the family domain since most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known to the victim and inevitably related. This collection of eleven stories, he says, “is a modest effort to put together intimate accounts of sexual episodes from childhood”. But he does recognise that ” For adults, it is …a delicate balance that has to be negotiated. On one hand, parents need to give their children space and not inhibit the natural progression they need to make in the development of their sexuality. On the other hand, they need to be extremely careful that their children do not transcend boundaries of what could be called age-appropriate behaviour.” It is a courageous attempt to put this volume together since many of the people interviewed preferred to remain anonymous; yet it is a book to be read.
There are many stories about children and sexuality, most of the time it is focused upon child sexual abuse. There are many CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) survivors who are beginning to write and share their experiences. Organisations like RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), based in New Delhi, are doing phenomenal work in this area. Payal Shah Karwa has recently published a collection of true stories called The Bad Touch that includes contributions from Harish Iyer and filmmaker Anurag Kashayap. Everyone else chose to write under pseudonyms. It is a disturbing and traumatic book to read. There is an incredible amount of pain shared. What horrifies one is the manner in which children are preyed upon and sexually abused. Recently Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s daughter, wrote an open letter about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a young child. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs®ion=Body . There will be innumerable stories like these, but it is crucial that they are shared. It is the creation of common pool of knowledge and awareness.
A couple of years ago NDTV had a programme on CSA. It was a brilliant conversation on the topic of CSA. More importantly it focused upon boys and girls, otherwise much of the conversation seems to focus upon girls. Whereas boys are equally vulnerable. Unfortunately I am unable to locate the link to it.
Last year too, a short clip on CSA went viral on Facebook. It was brilliantly made. Once again I am unable to locate the link.
Many times the best way to teach children about sexuality and help them in protecting themselves is via literature. Walker Books has three titles, classified according to age ( 4+, 7+ and 10+) called Let’s Talk About Sex. These are useful introductions to children and even an excellent guide for parents/educators in giving the child sufficient information appropriate for their age. Years ago, I also read a lovely picture book by Sohaila Abdulali on good touch and bad touch. Unfortunately it is not available in print. Otherwise it would be a wonderful resource tool to have. Finally, Ponytale Books published Lighthouse in the Storm, a collection of 24 stories written by members of the AWIC Book Therapy Project. In it there is a story by Ken Spillman, ” A bubble of shared knowing”, a chilling story about sexual abuse.
Pankaj Butalia Dark Room :Child Sexuality in India HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 180 Rs. 350
Payal Shah Karwa The Bad Touch Hay House India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 208 Rs. 299.
Lighthouse in the Storm AWIC, Ponytale Books, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.pp. 230 Rs. 225
When the Cold War raged, there were plenty of spy novels being written. With the collapse of USSR, the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of a polarised world even novelists who specialised in this genre were at a loss. In fact it was after many years that John Le Carre released a new book — A Delicate Truth— in 2013. ( My review http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/06/01/a-delicate-truth-john-le-carre-june-2013/ ) But children’s and YA literature has continued to have an appetite for espionage fiction. The new Alex Rider novel, Russian Roulette, is a fine example of it. It is a “prequel” to the hugely popular Alex Rider series. It is about the young Russian man, Yassen Gregorovich who is sent to America to kill the fourteen-year-old spy, Alex Rider. While on the mission he reminisces about his childhood in the village of Estrov, his parents, the chemical warfare and his induction into becoming a lethal contract killer.
Russian Roulette required a fair amount of research especially for the Russian sections of the book. As he mentions in the book – ” So much changed between 1995 and 2000 — the approximate setting of the story — that I’ve been forced to use a certain amount of dramatic licence.” But Anthony Horowitz is a marvellous storyteller that he is able to tell the story with finesse.
Anthony Horowitz Russian Roulette Walker India, Walker Books, 2013. Pb. pp. 410 Rs. 350
Three collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury — that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can.
Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99
Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350
Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499