Sheep with wanderlust and a young Japanese adventurer -- two children's stories by local authors -- have caught the attention of a committee of librarians working in branches of the New York Public Library.
Chris Monroe's picture book "Sneaky Sheep" and Margi Preus' chapter book "Heart of a Samurai" were named on the library's list of 100 Books for Reading and Sharing last week. Both writers are getting plenty of chatter right now in the season of year-end and best-of lists -- and beyond. Monroe's first crack at picture books, "Monkey with a Tool Belt," has been optioned by a Chorion, a British production company with the intent of selling it as a weekly TV series.
It's a feat to land two local authors on the same distinguished list, said Anita Zager, owner of Northern Lights Books & Gifts, an independent bookstore in Canal Park. Her store prominently features Monroe's and Preus' titles.
"It's a huge deal," Zager said. "It's just another indication of the strength of Minnesota, and our Northeastern Minnesota community."
Claire Kirch, Midwest correspondent for Publisher's Weekly, said acknowledgement on this list will help both writers' book sales.
This is the second time on this list for Monroe, whose "Monkey with a Tool Belt" was named to the library's list in 2008.
"Sneaky Sheep," in the category of picture books for children 2 to 6, is the story of sheep Rocky and Blossom, and Murphy, the sheep dog charged with keeping them out of trouble. It includes the humorous illustrations Monroe is known for -- sheep juggling fire, sheep playing with scissors -- and dialogue wrapped in bubbles, a nod to her background in comics. Monroe's weekly comic "Violet Days" runs in the News Tribune on Thursdays.
"Just the fact that I'm able to be published is the coolest thing," Monroe said. "This is just sort of like icing on the cake. It's definitely an honor."
Meanwhile, Monroe said Chorion has several years to take "Monkey with a Tool Belt," the adventures of a Mr. Fixit monkey, to production. They will pitch it and try to sell it as a weekly series, but it is still early in the process. She said she probably wouldn't be involved with creating the series. Chorion is behind "Olivia," an animated TV show about a little girl with a big imagination, which plays on Nick Jr.
"Sneaky Sheep" received a Moonbeam Children's Book Award and a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal.
Preus' "Heart of a Samurai" is based on the adventures of the teen-aged Manjiro Nakahama. A folk hero in Japan, Nakahama is not as well-known here, where he went on to become an ambassador between the two countries.
"I'm honored to be on any list that Chris Monroe is on," Preus said. "I'm blown away by that. I never expected any such thing. The first reviews that came in I seriously thought were a mistake. They were writing about something else. So to get on these best-of lists, it's amazing to me."
Zager said Preus, an original member of the Colder by the Lake theater troupe, is a good storyteller adept at engaging a reader.
"It was a book that kept me awake that night," she said.
"Heart of a Samurai" received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal and Booklist. It was on Publisher's Weekly's Best Children's Books 2010 list and Kirkus Reviews' Best Children's Books and Best Fiction about Boys lists. A film crew from Japan recently followed Preus as she spoke with students at Nettleton Elementary School in Duluth.
"Samurai" is also up for a first-time Kiddo Award on James Patterson's website readkiddoread.com. Voting is open on the website until Feb. 15.