23 June 2006

looking for Leapholes

According to legend, Joseph Kennedy got out of the stock market just before the Crash of 1929 because he heard his chauffeur and other menials talking about stocks and decided that the market had peaked. He figured that these investors were too uninformed to value properties accurately, and there was no one left to buy stocks at an even higher price.

My proposed sign that the recent bull market in children's fantasy has peaked: The American Bar Association is publishing a fantasy novel for young readers. It's called Leapholes, and it's
the first children's book by thriller writer James Grippando. "Harry Potter meets John Grisham," the book's editor told Publishers Weekly. "It's time travel with a legal twist."

The premise that PW describes seems to come out of one of Evil Editor's query specimens:

With the aid of a lawyer with magical powers, Leapholes's hero, young Ryan Coolidge, literally zips in and out of law books, meeting historical characters who figured in some of the most famous legal cases in American history.
"Oh, no, a magistrate has issued a bench warrant for John Peter Zenger! Thank goodness I've retained a lawyer with magical powers!"

According to the BookSpan press release, young Ryan is "a boy who hates middle school and who is in the worst kind of trouble--trouble with the law." He must wish that he merely had, say, medical trouble. Ryan's mentor is "a mysterious old, African-American lawyer named Hezekiah"--another "magic Negro" part for Morgan Freeman.

The volume ends with essays by prominent lawyers--Baldacci, Scottoline, Boies & Alia--describing how they came to the profession. (BookSpan calls this an "Afterward." Sic.) Let's not tell those high-powered attorneys that kids rarely read prologues, forewords, introductions, afterwords, or other extras. If we did tell, we might get into the worst kind of trouble.


Eric said...

Oh please, please tell me that this is a delayed April Fool's joke... (Sadly, this sounds real enough, and I trust you enough, J. L., to believe this is the real thing.)

J. L. Bell said...

I appreciate your confidence in my ability to imagine something this silly. But, no, as the links to Amazon, BookSpan, and Publishers Weekly show, this is the real thing.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you try reading it before trashing it. (And I'm sure you'll trash it, since you've predudged. "Medical trouble?"
"Mama, help me, I'm dying of 'medical trouble.'" Who writes or talks like that?

J. L. Bell said...

Please add a name or handle to your next comment; Blogger.com allows anonymous comments, but I think that unless there's an oppressive government involved people do better with individuals taking some responsibility for their words.

I'm happy to maintain responsibility for what I wrote about the pre-publication publicity for Leapholes. I wasn't "trashing" the book, only the marketing statements, which are quite silly indeed.

Because Leapholes hasn't been published, and will be available only for BookSpan customers for a while, there's no way to review it. Maybe it's better than its press releases. Maybe it's even funnier than its press releases.

But (and here I will express some prejudices) the book's stated premises are already well thumbed. Off the top of my head, I can think of young heroes entering books in the Cracked Classics series by Tony Abbott and the Macaulay Culkin movie The Pagemaster. On top of that set-up we see the addition of another modern cliche: the wise black mentor.

Which brings me to the ABA's involvement. I suspect a press with more experience in publishing kids' fiction (such as any sort of experience at all) would be more aware of fantasy cliches. Furthermore, the programmatic quality of this book—we're going to teach kids about our legal system and how wonderful it is—is all too obvious.

If we imagined the type of kids' novel that an American Bar Association committee would come up with, it would be a lot like this one. "Not enough kids like lawyers or understand all the good we do. But kids like those Harry Potter books. Hmmm. What if we had our own Harry Potter?"

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the anonymous comment. I have a user name and password but can never remember it, and it frustrates me to no end just trying to log in and say something! Send me your mailing address (my contact info is at my website) and I'll send you an ARE. You'll probably hate it (maybe even with good reason), but if you do, blame me, not the ABA. I conceived and wrote Leapholes myself with no input from the ABA--and certainly with no agenda. Although you are correct in noting that the ABA has not published a children's book before, Kids Planet Book Club and Doubleday Book Club both have considerable experience in making selections for their book clubs, and I don't think they shared any of the pereived agenda in making Leapholes a Main Selection. As for the African American character, that is an interesting point you raise. Hopefully, you'll at least be happy to see that in Leapholes, the character's race is an integral part of the plot and not just a contrivance. Anyway, in addition to your prejudices I can see that you have a quick wit and a sense of humor, so at least throw me this bone. . . aren't ALL marketing materials really silly?
James Grippando

J. L. Bell said...

...aren't ALL marketing materials really silly?

A very good point indeed. And of course we mustn't hold authors responsible for their marketing materials. I've written enough catalogue and jacket copy to know that even the best summation and selling of a book by a publishing firm can be painful for an author.

Thanks for sharing more of the background of Leapholes.

Other folks, if you look at James's bio page, you'll see that he has a background in the law, inspired in part by A Man for All Seasons, a fine example of a work that's both programmatic and solid literature. So Leapholes could turn out to be the same, using the fantasy mode instead of historical drama. General publication is scheduled for September.