Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

In the (Scholastic Book) club

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When I want a good book recommendation in the world of YA and middle grade, I always ask one of my best friends, Sarah Hartley. As Senior Manager of Book Clubs at Scholastic Canada (she started as Editorial Assistant 13 years ago), she's chosen more than 15,000 books for the book club catalogues that go out to grade schools across the country every month. So she knows more than a thing or two about what makes a good book.

What makes a good book?

A unique story, engaging art work, a series with suspense, inspiring against-the-odds stories.

We are looking for different things for different ages. For our younger readers, we are looking for books that:

- meet a season or moment where the child is (eg/ back to school transitions, getting along with friends, manners, trying new things, separation anxiety, potty training)

- are actually enjoyable to read-aloud for parents and teachers (a good rhyme, a funny twist, not too short or too long),

- make children laugh (this sometimes means underpant themes!).

For transitional readers, think children in grades 1-2, we are looking for readers and early chapters books that bridge children between beginning readers with one or 2 words per page, to reading chapter books on their own. These books feature lots of colourful illustrations, speech bubbles, larger text, lots of white space, not too many pages. We also know that children still love being read to at this age and so we look for picture books with more plot development, often a fractured fairy tale or a play on words, and for those ready for novels, we have classics like Charlotte’s Web and Chronicles of Narnia, as well as the very punny and popular Geronimo Stilton series!

Have you ever loved a book, but passed it over for book club b/c it wasn't appropriate? Why?

Yes, editing the selection of books is a part of what we do every day. We are a curated selection of the best books for young readers that they access through their schools—and from this perspective it means that occasionally an older young adult title might be a bit too edgy or racy for our Book Club flyers. I am a big believer in recreational reading for children but we also have a standard of literary merit to meet and we are looking for books that meet both of these! We try to read every book we sell, and when necessary, multiple readers will review and chime in on the discussion.

What's a book you knew would be a huge hit?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: the first time we read the arc we all knew! But more recently, The Day the Crayons Quit. It has bright and funny art, a unique perspective (the crayons are talking!), it’s creative and deals with the theme of getting along and compromise—something kids and adults often need reminders about. And The Hunger Games. The 1 advance reading copy we had in Book Clubs was passed from person to person, was dog-eared and falling apart, but each person would pass it to the next and say, “prepare to stay up all night.” I read it in one sitting on a flight. You just know when you have read something truly exciting!

How important are genre trends when picking books - do you follow them and try to fill the catalogue with them or do you try to have a balance?

Yes, we follow trends but our motto is tried, true, tested and new. On any given Book Club flyer you will find the classics: Charlotte’s Web, The Giver, The Outsiders, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Love You Forever, Holes, The Kissing Hand…and you will find the best new stuff, like Pete the Cat, Elephant and Piggie, Spirit Animals, Guinness World Records, National Geographic reference, dystopian YA fiction. Hot genres are important because a trend drives readers to select a given book so when a trend takes off we try to have those for the children and parents. Right now we are seeing the “artistic” picture book as a hot genre, like The Day the Crayons Quit, Mix It Up, Press Here!, The Dot. And for the older kids, books that inspire and are heartwarming are trending, like Wonder, Counting by Sevens, and The Fault in Our Stars. This is a nice counter-trend to all of the dystopian fiction that The Hunger Games kicked off. We’re also currently seeing a lot of fractured fairy tales.

What trend were you glad to have be over?

Vampires!

What trend is next?

Picture books about creative thinking: either art, or thinking outside the box, or approaching a situation with ingenuity. For middle grade and YA, we are seeing a return to fantasy (dragons, magic school, and stories where belief in reality has to be suspended that is reminding me of the days of Harry Potter. For a while, things got quite dark in terms of themes for novels.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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