Friday, January 22, 2016

Laura Shovan: Report from ALA Midwinter

I'm always delighted when Laura Shovan comes to pay a visit. I know I can count on her for buzz-generating discussion and/or something fun thing to try at home or in the classroom.

Her previous posts on Today's Little Ditty include:

Today she's brought BOOKS to buzz about— previews of several 2016 poetry-related titles that she discovered at ALA Midwinter.

The one book that she barely touches upon, however, is her own THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House), coming April 12th. Ordinarily, I wouldn't let her get away with something like that, but I promise we'll be taking a closer look at Ms. Hill's fifth grade classroom later this spring. In the meantime, you can visit Laura's snazzy new website for more information.

Take it away, Laura!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks for inviting me back to TLD, Michelle.

I have been to the ALA Summer conference a few times, when the event was in Washington, DC. Earlier this month, I was pleased to find that ALA Midwinter has a more intimate feel than the big summer conference. The focus is on librarian work-sessions and meetings. There were only a few stages in the exhibit hall. Two that I visited were the Pop Top Stage (featuring author panels) and the Book Buzz Stage (where editors talked about favorite new releases). While certain publisher’s booths, Penguin Random House in particular, drew shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, it was easy to strike up a conversation with editors and book reps. Advanced Readers Copies for many books were scooped up early; the exhibit hall opened on Saturday morning and publishers were out of in-demand ARCs by that afternoon.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay for the Youth Media Awards on Monday. After a big year for 2014 novels in verse, when BROWN GIRL DREAMING won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and THE CROSSOVER won the 2015 Newbery, poetry continued to earn recognition. A highlight was Margarita Engle’s three awards for her two 2015 books ENCHANTED AIR and DRUM DREAM GIRL.

Sylvia Vardell has a list of this year’s award-winning verse novels and poetry books.

While I wasn’t able to see everything, I did chat with publishers about some of the poetry books they are excited about for 2016. Here is an overview. Keep in mind, I have not had a chance to read all of these books yet. These are only previews of a few books.


Coming May 10, 2016
TRUNK TO TRUNKLET (Enchanted Lion Books) is a book of poems about animal mothers and babies. It’s written by Jorge Luján of Mexico and illustrated by French author/illustrator Mandana Sadat. I hope to see more books from international authors on the shelves.
In stores now

Although it came out in 2015, another Enchanted Lion book that caught my eye was Joohee Yoon’s BEASTLY VERSE. An article from the website Brain Pickings described how Yoon creates the saturated colors that make this book stand out: “Trained as a printmaker and fascinated by the traditional, industrial techniques of artists from the first half of the twentieth century, Yoon uses only three colors—cyan, magenta, and yellow—on flat color layers, which she then overlaps to create a controlled explosion of secondary colors.” BEASTLY VERSE is a collection of animal poems, including selections from Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash, Carolyn Wells, Christina Rosetti, D.H. Lawrence, and others. If you are a fan of Laura E. Richards’ “Eletelephony,” the hilarious fold out spread that accompanies the poem is reason enough to buy this book.


Coming February 1, 2016
Kwame Alexander was at the conference signing copies of his latest picture book, SURF’S UP (NorthSouth Books), but middle grade readers are most eager for his follow up to his Newbery Award-winning book THE CROSSOVER.
Coming April 5, 2016

BOOKED (HMH Books for Young Readers) is a free verse novel about 12-year-old soccer player Nick, who is coping with changes to his family and with bullying from his peers. The starred Kirkus review has more details on the story.

Ms. Hill's class, on display at the ALA conference.

It was such a thrill to see my own middle grade novel on display at the Random House Children’s Books booth. The icing on the cake was hearing my editor, Wendy Lamb, reading some poems from the THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY at the Book Buzz stage. One poem even got a laugh!


Thanks to Anne Zafian of Simon & Schuster for telling me about two 2016 poetry books. (Although S&S was out of ARCs at the conference, Anne was kind enough to mail me copies to preview for this post.)

Coming May 3, 2016
The first is a slim volume of historical fiction by poet Carole Boston Weatherford. YOU CAN FLY: THE TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN is not a traditional novel in verse. Instead, it is a series of poems told in the second person, taking readers from training at Tuskegee Institute to combat in World War II. Scratchboard illustrations by Jeffery Boston Weatherford are a vivid companion to such poems as “Private Joe Louis.”

Coming April 12, 2016
The second S&S book, while not strictly historical, takes on an important moment in history: September 11, 2001. SOMEWHERE AMONG is a novel in verse by debut author Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. It is told from the point of view of Ema. Ema is both Japanese and American, but doesn’t feel quite at home in either country. Because my family is bi-cultural, I’m especially looking forward to reading this book.

In stores now
Set more recently, but also relating an event of historical significance is Leza Lowitz’s UP FROM THE SEA (Crown/Random House). Kai is a biracial teen living in a coastal village of Japan when the March 2011 tsunami hits. The jacket copy describes Kai’s journey this way: “When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai decides to look for his estranged father.” This sounds like a fascinating intersection to explore from a teen’s point of view.

Coming March 8, 2016
One of my fellow members of The Sweet Sixteens debut author group is Riley Redgate. Riley’s novel SEVEN WAYS WE LIE (Amulet/Abrams) is mainly prose, told in the voices of its seven main characters, each representing one of the seven deadly sins. At the center of this tense high school drama is the Juniper Kipling, who is also the only voice in the book written in verse.

Sweet Sixteen debut authors at ALA

It’s interesting to note that all four of these books are technically novels in poems, each has a story told through a series of titled, stand-alone poems; rather than verse novels, where each chapter is made up of longer, fluid, untitled poems in the main character’s voice.

Although it wasn’t at ALA, another YA novel with elements of verse is poet Janet McNally’s debut, GIRLS IN THE MOON (Harper Teen). This one won’t be out until fall. The main character is a poet and lyricist, so the book incorporates song lyrics and pieces of poems in her voices.


THE SELECTED POEMS OF DONALD HALL (HMH) was released in December. I’m excited about this collection from the former U.S. poet laureate. Now 87, Hall chose poems from his sixteen books published between 1955 and 2011. It will be a fascinating to see how Hall’s work and themes have developed over a long career.

So much to look forward to! 
Thanks for keeping us in the know, Laura.

Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, her novel-in-verse for children, will be published in 2016 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).

Visit her at Laura

One more week to go before our grand celebration of Nothing! This week's featured poets were Liz Steinglass, Katie Gast, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, and Brenda Davis Harsham
Tara Smith is another one who knows how to generate a buzz in the classroom! Please join her at A Teaching Life for today's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Thanks for the round-up, Laura! "Beastly Verse" is one I'd like to get my hands on. I don't generally read tense high school drama, but "Seven Ways We Lie" sounds intriguing. I was really struck by Donald Hall's "The Ship Pounding" this week (in the Poetry in Medicine anthology). I'd love to see his selected poems. My 14yo and one of her friends are writing a book in which each character speaks in a different type of poetic form. I haven't read it yet, but from what I hear, it's going to be amazing!

    1. Tabatha -- I love the idea for your 14 yo's book project. That's so inventive!

  2. A nice summary for those of us who were unable to attend. (I was in Boston, just no where near the Trade Center!) We're lucky to have Donald Hall here in NH--everyone with an interest in poetry has had lots of opportunities to hear him speak.

  3. Thanks for sharing these exciting titles. I am enjoying watching your new author's journey. Sounds thrilling!

  4. Thanks for the great roundup, Laura! Must look for that Donald Hall book. How exciting to see your book there :).

  5. Thanks for the great peeks ahead. There's a lot of look forward to, and am so excited about THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY. How very cool to hear your editor read from it on stage! .. ah, and we can never get enough Donald Hall.

  6. Of course I'm very excited about your own verse novel, but thank you for this shout-out of so many others, some I know of, some new. It's going to be a very exciting year of reading!

  7. Wonderful post FULL of information and promise.....I'm home on a snow day and making a wish list on my favorite vendor site for all of these! In the library this past week I met a girl who has parents that are "pushing" her to read "more advanced books". She explains that they are from other countries and want her to become a brain surgeon. After lots of talk and walk around the shelves she and I decided that the books in verse will satisfy her AND her parents. YAY! I love knowing more great books in verse are coming for her and for me.

    1. Linda, there's a wonderful poetry anthology POETRY IN MEDICINE, edited by Michael Salcman. It came out last year. Salcman is a neurosurgeon, in addition to being a poet. It's a book I'd recommend to anyone, but probably best for HS and up.

    2. As much as I dislike hearing about parents who push their children in this way, I love the compromise you came up with, Linda! Well done, you!

  8. Thanks to Michelle for sharing her space, and to Laura for generously sharing her ALA experience, piquing my interest about new picture and poetry books. Like Michelle, I'm anticipating Laura's book being showcased in one of the near-future posts. Congratulations, and many blessings!

  9. Thank you, Laura! I loved the kids books selections, of course...but a collection by Donald Hall, WOW! Can't wait!

  10. Wow! What a terrific line up of books to look forward to. Thank you for sharing these highlights from ALA!

  11. Thank you to Michelle for bringing Laura to her site. Thanks to Laura for the wonderful introduction to a long list of must have books.

  12. Thanks for all of your kind words, everyone. I was excited to see the extensive list of poetry titles on Sylvia Vardell's list. It's going to be a good year.