I dislike writing about trends. I would far prefer writing about a singular unicorn than a herd of ponies, but after wading through the bulk of the industry’s fall output (and by bulk, I mean it), it’s hard not to notice when you’re pulling book after book after book that touch on the same theme out of box after box after box. These phenomena seem to deserve some ink. Plus, my boss told me I had to.
One fall 2018 trend that has dominated the conversation is the rising tide of refugee-themed stories. Publishing is a reactive industry, so the ongoing movements of displaced people around the globe have resulted in more and more books on this topic each year since 2015. This year American readers will see books inspired by both the Syrian refugee crisis and our own experiences at our southern border. Khaled Hosseini makes his children’s-book debut with Sea Prayer, illustrated by Dan Williams. A picture book for older readers commemorating the 2015 death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, it’s the absolutely heartrending account of a father and son fleeing the once-peaceful Syrian city of Homs and undertaking the perilous journey to Europe. While Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers (published simultaneously in Teresa Mlawer’s Spanish translation as Soñadores) is not, strictly speaking, a book about refugees, its depictions of the disorientation of the newly arrived Mexican mother and son and the way they find a place for themselves in the United States is a powerful one. With its resonant title and its spectacular artistry, it reminds us all why being a so-called nation of immigrants is a good and important thing. These are just two; there are novels both prose and graphic and several more picture books as well.
On a lighter note, there are the octopuses. Some are escaping captivity (Inky’s Amazing Escape, by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford; Octopus Escapes!, by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer), but some are just being octopuses (Love, Agnes, by Irene Latham and illustrated by Thea Baker; Octopants, by Suzy Senior and illustrated by Claire Powell). It’s likely this little wave was inspired by the real-life Inky’s escape from the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016.
If we can trace the increase in octopus-escape-artist books to one cephalopod daredevil, then can we find a similar explanation for the little boomlet in giraffe books? This past spring saw Geraldine, by Elizabeth Lilly; this fall sees at least three more:Giraffe Problems, by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith; Teach Your Giraffe to Ski, by Viviane Elbee and illustrated by Danni Gowdy; and Giraffe and Bird Together Again, by Rebecca Bender. This last is a sequel to two previous books, so it cannot have been inspired by April, the giraffe whose 2017 pregnancy and calving was live streamed on YouTube, but what about the others? Possibly these creators all realized coincidentally that giraffes are really funny-looking animals whose inclusion in picture books offers endless comedic possibilities.
One seeming unicorn this fall is Presto and Zesto in Limboland, by Arthur Yorinks and Maurice Sendak, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Since Sendak is dead, it’s hard to get more unicornlike then a new Sendak, right? Unfortunately, this is just another book idea exhumed from a dead genius’ papers and made into a publishing event. Like Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? before it, it would’ve been far better to have left it in a Sendak archive for scholars than to try to bamboozle fans into thinking they were getting a satisfying story on par with works published during his lifetime. That’s one trend I’d love to see die.
Vicky Smith is the children’s editor.