Compelling Contest!

Kenny Brechner -- October 23rd, 2014

Alliterative Analytical Acuity Alert!

Test your alliterative skills by submitting the Best Behaved Blurb.

First choose one of the following six books. Then submit your blurb by posting it in the comments below using the same single letter as the beginning letter for each word (a, an of, and, the, are, are also allowed). The winning entry will receive a regal reward!

Six Sensational Subjects and a Sample Submission

The Fault in Our Stars

The Hobbit

The Hunger Games

Blueberries For Sal

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Sample Submission


This tale of a terrific tractor takes the time to tell of a towering task.  The tiny tractor trundles toward a tempest of  towing trouble. A total triumph of a tractor tale!  

Brandish Blurbs Below!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Josie Leavitt -- October 22nd, 2014

Yesterday, three groups of kindergarten kids came to the bookstore to learn about community. They were visiting several stores, and even the bank, as they ventured forth from school to see what’s in the village. I looked out the front door of the store and saw the kids crossing the street like ducklings, all holding hands and walking in pairs. They entered the store, 15 or 20 at a time, in three shifts, and each class brought a new level of unintended hilarity.

The first group came in and I was ready to read some stories about communities. One great thing about owning a bookstore with an author was being able to read her book Tap Tap Boom Boom to them. Then they got to meet Elizabeth and that was pure delight. Here’s what I learned with kindergartners: they are gloriously random. When asked if anyone had been to the Flying Pig before many hands went up and the following things were said:

– I have a pig at my farm. And a baby dog.

– I like bacon.

– One time, when I was three, we had a dog.

I realized I had to get them back on track, but another little hand went up.

– I’m allergic to dogs.

Okay then. I’m not sure how teachers handle this stream of consciousness every day. The next class was really good about staying on topic, but the last class started with one shy boy raising his hand almost right away. He was nervous, but clearly needed to share.

– If you use scissors, you have to put them the right way when you’re done. Because (he was miming cutting with his hands) if you don’t, it could cut up all your paper.

And lastly, my favorite part of having kids come to the store is asking them to guess how many books we have. The answers started small, with 25 being the most guessed. Elizabeth explained that one shelf in the picture book section had at least 100 books, so they shifted their numbers up, to 101. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any cuter, one boy shouted, “Infinity!” and I was completely done in.

These classes come twice a year to us and every time I marvel at seeing so many little ones in the picture book section. I’m so used to seeing kids with their parents, that seeing them all together, 15 of them filling the picture book section with room to spare, touches me and reminds me that these are the next generation of readers. As they were leaving, one little girl said, “I love books!” I felt proud to be part of their world.

One Mom’s Terrific Letter to an Anxious Young Student

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 20th, 2014

The school year is in full swing now, and here at the bookstore, we see a full range of children: those who are happy, sad, energized, stressed, beaten down, lifted up by their experiences at school – sometimes many of those things all in one day. Our town is a college-minded one, and there can be a lot of pressure to achieve. When a student comes into the store who seems overwhelmed by the demands of school, family, or especially him or her own self, I find myself wanting to share this beautiful letter that my friend, children’s book writer J.D. Lester, wrote to her own daughter one challenging afternoon. It feels balancing and whole and joyful and kind and calm, a rudder on the out-of-control boat that can be our current cultural mindset. I’ve gotten J.D.’s permission to share her letter here, and after the letter, I’ll post a few book titles that seem to me to celebrate the happy imperfections and uniqueness of kids just being themselves, and I’ll invite you to add your recommendations, too.

And now, the words of J.D. Lester:

An Open Letter to my Kid after our first 3rd grade gifted teacher conference:

Dear Scout, I see how frustrated you are with school sometimes. I see how tired you are at the end of the day. You’re working a grade year ahead for the first time and I know it’s not easy. You’re slow and methodical; they want rapid and moving-on. I know you’re fearful that maybe you’re not good enough. But here’s the thing. You’re 8 little years old. Now is not the time for worrying about your grades or school performance. When I was 8, my biggest goals were figuring out a way down the McQueary’s chimney, growing my hamster empire, and torturing your aunt Lynna. So, I was shocked the other day when you asked me when your grades would begin to count for college. College?! You still have licensed characters on your underpants; let’s just lighten up here a bit, girlfriend. Childhood goes by too quickly; I don’t want yours to slide by in an adrenaline-and-cortisol anxiety-drunk haze.

As I told you again today, if you try your hardest and flunk every single dadblamed subject, we’ll go out for frozen yogurt to celebrate, because, YAY, you tried your hardest. And then maybe we’ll play with the dog and the bunny, or watch a little Turtle Man on Animal Planet. Furreals, all I really care about is that you give it your best shot – ever. I don’t care if you don’t go to Harvard. Too snowy up there, funny accents. Of course, I’d like for you to go to college – somewhere – because I think knowledge is cool, and because I think knowledge is the very best gift you can give yourself (other than a baby, and you’ll need a participant for that particular gift. But, that’s another letter for another day, though – many years from now. Like 20 years from now. At least.).

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes. Grades… and school stress and homework anxiety and – stop the presses!!! – again, I repeat, you’re 8 years old. Life is supposed to be SO much more than performing well in school, or succeeding in some fab career – though those things are nice. I’m not knocking them. I’m just saying there’s SO much more. And you’re succeeding wildly already, in my eyes. When you wanted to give blood to the children affected by the Boston bombing… when you wanted to give your birthday money to the Humane Society… when you take the time to make sure other kids feel included… those are the times I come close to being a proud Tiger Mom – because I very fiercely want you to be a good human being. The world needs good human beings more than it needs scholars and over-achievers – and the tragic thing is, we just don’t hand out nearly enough “A’s” for loving, and living, well.

So, you could say that I want you to get straight A’s in caring about other people, and having a good life, however YOU measure that. I’d also be proud if you were Valedictorian of the class that loves the sky and water and land enough to defend it. I hope you’ll be crowned Queen of the Dance of People who Failed and Got Back Up Stronger. I want you to be in the top percentile of people who value and practice humility. I want you to be voted Most Likely to Pee in Her Pants from Laughing Too Hard and Occasionally at the Wrong Times. I hope your greatest awards are smiles you give to others; I hope your trophies are lives you change because of the way you live yours. I don’t care if anyone ever knows your name; I just want you to carry it with grace so, at the end of the run, you have a sense of pride in who and where you’ve been.

I want you to see wild places and know that they are life’s cathedrals; I want you to give them every bit of respect and wonder in you. I want you to see despairing places, work to change them, and never take your own entitlement for granted. If you have to be a teacher’s pet, let the teacher be someone with so much less than you who smiles regardless. You never have to be the star athlete of anything other than euphoric dancing in the rain. (I secretly hope you’ll be a champion rain dancer like your mama.) You don’t have to be cast in the lead of any play. I hope you will know that being authentically, courageously yourself is the greatest starring role you could ever have. I want you to stay busy with extra-curriculars of living room karaoke, lightning bug catching, lying on your back in the grass and cloud-watching. I don’t want your life to be spent looking at the back of a headrest, rushing from one brag book accomplishment to the next.

Basically, sweet girl, here’s what I believe: the world chases a lot of ultimately meaningless benchmarks to measure human worth, and to prove ourselves worthy to other humans. (Silly, isn’t it? And just a little sad?) Know that many of these are arbitrary standards created by people who maybe just never learned how to be happy themselves. And if you don’t conform to these standards, or triumph within the prescribed rules, just go ahead and make your own measures, guided by your own conscience and your own special gifts. Succeed in ways that make you feel proud inside, no externals, no accolades -and, especially, no grades – required. And no matter where you go, know that, already, you’ve been my favorite teacher ever. I love you.

Love, Mama

PS: Your grades were fine. Stop worrying. XO


I love that letter. Thank you, J.D., and writers everywhere who help children develop compassion and kindness and self-forgiveness and remind them to value their own inner compass. Here are a few books that share this letter’s spirit of valuing children for their flawed, wonderful, trying-hard selves, books that say, “I hope you will know that being authentically, courageously yourself is the greatest starring role you could ever have.”


The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. The peaceful little bull who refuses to fight in the ring, preferring to smell the ladies’ beautiful flowers, leaves a lasting impression on young readers.


Ish by Peter Reynolds. A boy crumples up his artwork after its imperfections are mocked by an older sibling, but his little sister collects it for the gallery she keeps of his drawings and shows him how to see them differently. His flowers may not be perfect, and his vases may not look ideal, but they are flower-ish and vase-ish, and there’s a lot of freedom and joy to be found in living “ishfully.” A terrific book for perfectionists.


Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Kevin Hawkes. A boy doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids. He’s got his own way of looking and thinking about things, and one summer, he sets about creating his own civilization in his garden. His determination and self-reliance—not to mention the magical results of his efforts—draw people to him. A celebration of quirky individuality.

trouble with dogs

The Trouble with Dogs… Said Dad by Bob Graham. When “the Brigadier” is brought in to teach obedience lessons to exuberant puppy Dave, his militaristic approach dulls Dave’s sparkle and dampens his spirit. Not to worry, though; Dave’s human family finds a way to teach the Brigadier that a gentler approach is the way to go, and that warmth and loyalty are more important than mere obedience.

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos. There isn’t a more lovably flawed, doing-his-best character in children’s literature than ADHD “wired-up mess” superstar Joey. Any of the Joey Pigza novels qualifies for this list (and there’s a brand-new wonderful fifth book out this fall, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza), but I chose the second one because I read them out of order and it was in this book that I discovered this series’ incredible tightrope balance of wild, laugh-out-loud humor, heartbreak, and great good heart.

brilliant fall of gianna z

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner. Disorganized, well-meaning procrastinator Gianna has one week to pull together the big seventh-grade leaf-collecting project she should have been working on for months. This MG novel rings so true, and show such great compassion for imperfect students whose other strengths deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

and heres to you

And Here’s to You by David Elliot, illus. by Randy Cecil. I have mentioned this book in a couple of blog posts over the years; it’s one of the most joyful books around. In rhyming verses, Elliott sings funny, heartfelt praises of insects and animals, fishes, birds, people, and more. Its sheer ebullience is infectious.


What books would you add to this list?

It Pays to Save Energy

Josie Leavitt -- October 17th, 2014

Something bookstore folks don’t really ever talk about are light bulbs. We are so dependent on them for everything at the store. Obviously, all retail places need them, but you don’t realize how much until you lose two in one section and suddenly your young adult section is as dark as a cave. And it always seems that bulbs go bad in one section all at once. This past week or so we lost not one, not two, but five! Two were from young adult and the rest were scattered about the store, causing small pockets of dimness.

Confronted with needing to buy a replacement case of bulbs (at a usual cost of almost $100), Elizabeth went to our local lighting store, and started placing an order for our usual 50 watt halogens, when our lighting rep suggested trying the new LED bulbs. We had tried them years ago and found the light to not have the retail pop or sparkle of the halogens: things were bright, but dim and the same time. It’s funny how bad lighting can make things look dingy. Frank was touting the wonder of these new LEDs so much, and we totally trust him, so she ordered a case and got spare halogens to tide us over. I got a call that the case had come in yesterday, so I zipped over to pick them up, credit card at the ready.

Frank handed me the case and said, “These will change your life.” I’ve never thought a light bulb ledcould that, so I nodded and smiled. He handed me the bill and I saw the first line. Total cost per bulb: $29.99. I thought, wow, this better change my life at thirty dollars a pop. It came to just about $180 for the case. Then Frank, who was clearly waiting for the big reveal, said, “Keep reading.” I scanned the invoice to discover that yes, these bulbs were that expensive, but because they’re energy efficient, putting out the same brightness as a halogen bulb, while only using 14 watts of energy, the state of Vermont gives you an energy credit for buying them. An instant rebate in the amount of $150 was applied and I tucked my credit card back in my wallet and gave Frank $25 in cash. I saved just over 83% on the case of bulbs. I left there smiling from ear to ear.

I replaced all the bulbs immediately and I must say, not only are they brighter and make the books more sparkly, they give off far less heat, so the store doesn’t get nearly as warm. We will slowly switch out all the old lights to the LEDs and use the money we saved to buy more books.

The Gauntlet of Hyperbole

Kenny Brechner -- October 16th, 2014

A great deal of work goes into bringing a professionally published book to market, which is why  it is painful to see that work needlessly undercut as it nears the finish line. When Edelweiss first became coin of the realm, the markup notes were written by individual reps and the buying experience was a direct extension of the traditional rep and buyer interplay, built as it was on mutual knowledge, respect, candid information, trust, and good faith. While some reps continue to produce their own markup notes, there is a distressing trend to having it outsourced to markup note writers who produce fatuous streams of hyperbole mixing in dubious comparisons to successful books and authors with long strings of adjectives, all of which results in “a light that illuminates nothing,” as Tolkien put it.

Ask yourself whether the following markup note in Edelweiss could possibly tell a professional buyer anything at all that would justify a buy:

“Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the 21st century that goes into some of the darkest, most ultra-Dickensian places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement – and a great gift for its publisher.”

Is it helpful to be told that

“Russell writes with a force that feels nearly explosive; his prose teems with the hyper-connective, barely controlled genius of early David Foster Wallace or Dave Eggers, paired with the gonzo risk-taking and off-the-grid sense of mission of a young Hunter S. Thompson.”

What can we, as buyers take from the information that a given book features

“a wholly original and unforgettable story about our relationship with an animal that has mesmerized us for centuries.”

Or that readers are represented as being in a position to

“Discover the wonder of water in this refreshingly fun and fascinating exploration of rain, raindrops, and the water cycle.”

Or celebrate

the littlest members of the family in this soothing ode to all the wonderful bits and pieces that make up a cuddly, snuggly baby.”

One wants two things from an Edelweiss markup note: candid information and candid opinion. Factual information by itself comes a little short of the mark, as you can see here.

“While the Moonbear stories deal with the many wonders of nature and the outdoors, the Bear in these books is a bit younger, wears clothes, lives with his mother and father and has adventures that are family, school, neighborhood, and friend-based.”

Still, that is a good deal more helpful than pure hyperbole. As here.

“A paradigm-smashing look at the core happiness problem of our era – the feeling that we are too busy, exhausted, or stressed-out to truly enjoy all life has to offer – as well as a surprising and scientifically-proven equation for turning stress into productive energy and busting out of your rut.”

It’s difficult, however,  to bust out of your rut when reading markup notes like that, one after another. When we are continually conjured to…

Imagine The Secret Garden for grownups – a group of misfits who happen to be related to each other, trying to capture the magic, trying to grow strong, trying to grow together, trying to pass down all that is good, all while weeding out that which is not. A search for family, community, and a better life, all inspired by flora.

And that’s the difficulty. How can we go through a catalog with 900 titles and “pass down [to our inventory systems] all that is good, all while weeding out that which is not,” if the markup notes are meaningless drivel whose function is to hype the book to the skies no matter what? This practice is deadening, counterproductive, and, most of all, unfair to everyone who worked so hard on these books.


They Don’t Need Me (And That’s a Great Thing)

Josie Leavitt -- October 15th, 2014

I returned to work yesterday after a rare 10-day vacation. This is not normally news, but I never go away for this long. The break was much needed and my staffers were all too happy to fill in my shifts for me so I could go away worry-free. It was delightful to get away and know that the bookstore was in good hands. I got very few work-related calls while I was gone – always a sign that things are running smoothly.

I walked in the store and was struck by how lovely it is. It’s so easy to take the store for granted when you work day in and day out. But to be greeted by our flying pig display table filled to the brim with Halloween books, and the cart of delectable autographed books, I was filled with an intense love of the place. The bright blue walls, the colorful rugs, our upholstered cubes dotting sections all combined to have me just fall in love with the place again. Then I looked at the displays and saw all the new books that had come out in my absence. October is always a grand month for new releases, and this one has not disappointed. Yummy books for adults and children filled the face-out cases. The first phone call I fielded was someone asking if we had a certain title. I hadn’t heard of the book, so almost said no reflexively. Of course we had it – in fact, we had two.

The beauty of a great staff is they get things done. Elizabeth had done a wonderful job on the Eileen Christelow event (see yesterday’s post to learn more). And I was sad to have missed that one. Nothing is more fun than a packed event with tons of kids all having a great time. I did little of the event planning, and wished somehow that I could have zipped back for it. We got a lot of teacher orders while I was gone, some big and some small. All were handled with speed and accuracy. In fact, the only teacher order mistake was mine, which I discovered when I came back. Somehow I had misquoted an invoice and still am not sure how I made a $20error. Things ran so smoothly with me gone, I wondered, in jest, if they actually needed me. Of course they do, but it’s a delightful thing to know that I’m not indispensable, because now that I’ve had a proper vacation I’d like to go away more, but not till after the fun and hustle of the fourth quarter.

Twenty-Five-Year-Old Toddlers? Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 14th, 2014
Eileen Christelow Drawing

Eileen Christelow drawing one of her little monkeys.

You can’t mention “five little monkeys jumping on the bed” to anyone in Vermont and have them NOT be familiar with the colorful series of exuberant picture books by Eileen Christelow. I suspect this is true in the rest of the country, too. Those little monkeys are so mischievous, and channel toddler energy so impishly, that it is impossible to think of them as 25-year-olds. But the first book in the series did, indeed, turn 25 this month, and we had the privilege of celebrating that milestone with a store full of real toddlers in party hats, who enthusiastically chanted along as Eileen Christelow read her books aloud.

Because of the way the event was set up in the store, there was no way to get behind the group to take photos of the backs of the kids’ heads (we don’t show their faces for privacy reasons), so you will have to take my word for it that they were ADORABLE! And the gasps and the looks on their faces watching Eileen draw her monkeys was priceless; she was making beloved characters appear out of thin air!

We had party treats for the kids set up outside on a table for children after the lively reading, drawing, and Q&A. They were invited to enjoy cake or cupcakes and apple cider on the porch, after leaving the bookstore (a sticky-page-saving endeavor that worked like a charm). We’d bought a couple of Barrel Full O’ Monkeys games and popped those on the sheet cake.

Monkey Cake

And even though the Harvest Festival and a giant soccer tournament were going on during the busy Columbus Day weekend, families turned out in numbers for the monkeys’ birthday party. We had some signboards outside that I’d drawn (apologies to Eileen Christelow for the imperfect renditions). I’d covered the signs with packing tape as a sort of laminate against rain. Good thing, too, because during the couple of weeks they were out, we had some downpours.

We don’t always have the time to try replicating picture book characters on signboards, but when we do, I think it really increases the attention our signs receive from passing traffic.

Christelow signboard side 2

christelow signboard side 1

It was one of those events that feels great from start to finish — even with the slightly hectic last-minute easel assembly (all of ours had gone missing, so we made a trip to the store that morning and had an amusing time wrestling with the nearly wordless, not-very-clear instructions).

And while the event is now past, we get to celebrate (as we do with all events) a while longer with displays of autographed stock, including Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat just in time for Halloween.

I can’t wait to see what story Eileen Christelow cooks up for the monkeys’ 30th!

A Visit to Bunch of Grapes

Josie Leavitt -- October 10th, 2014

I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard all week at a writing retreat. Yesterday I took a break and ventured to Vineyard Haven to do a little sightseeing. Of course, I didn’t really get much farther than the bookstore: Bunch of Grapes. I have never been to the Vineyard before, but I remember so well hearing about the devastating fire on July 4, 2008 that forced the bookstore to close. They relocated across the street in an old livery stable, and the store is just lovely.

I love bookstores with character. Bunch of Grapes is welcoming and full of the old livery beams that were used for horse stalls that add height to the space and give it a unique feel. The store was bustling with staffers that morning. I asked Karen, who seemed to be in charge that day, why so many staffers were working and she said, “They’re training.” It seems that the summer crew has gone and there was a new crop of booksellers learning about the store – it was one person’s second day! – and getting ready for the fourth-quarter rush. They were a very nice bunch, but with the exception of Karen, none had worked at the store longer than a month. I must say, for folks in training, these staffers were all busy and really seemed to know what they were doing. This speaks to a very well-run store with a great training program.

photo 1Bunch of Grapes sells some unique items. The one that really caught my eye were the book bird houses. They were simple and elegant and made out of old books. I asked Karen about them and she said they sell really well, and I can see why. Some were of children’s books, and some were made out of adult books. I love the note next to them: Don’t pick up by the perch.

When I visit other stores, I always look at how they display books and sidelines. I must say, Bunch of Grapes has a very clean, uncluttered feel and everything is very nicely displayed. They pack a lot in their space without it feeling crammed. Their kids’ section was lovely and 3photo 2I love the sideline case. The puzzles look so good together and it’s smart of them to have their own place.  I also really enjoy seeing what books other stores feature. Their picture books display has some of my favorites and some I wasn’t familiar with. Lastly, I covet their display table in the front with adult books. It’s large enough to really feature a fair number of titles, and it’s really just an antique table, and the arrangement of the books really works. photo 4Such a simple and effective way to highlight almost 20  titles. And the stacks of books are just the right height, not too many to feel overwhelming and not too few so customers wouldn’t feel comfortable taking one off the stack. I love traveling and going to other stores, but my favorite part of traveling is returning to my store and seeing it with fresh eyes.

Bookseller Blind Spots

Kenny Brechner -- October 9th, 2014

One of the nice things about buying and handselling is being pushed out of our comfort zones and appreciating the pleasure other readers take in genres to which we are not naturally inclined to give our own custom. Nonetheless, we all have very real blind spots as buyers. Categories we loathe, categories we like too much, categories that decline to offer us any personal interest, all offer the opportunity to incur the ill considered fruits of bad buying decisions.  How to overcome our own biases and pull the best titles across these perilous areas and into our stores?

To explore this idea I have put forward some examples into a spreadsheet, which, as we all know, confers a strict scientific character to any enterprise in which they are employed.




Cat Books

They are not dog books

Show them to cat people

Meaningful books

I have the spiritual depth of a goldfish and only the vaguest idea of how deep minds work.

Study the track record of the author. Compare them in your mind to other meaningful books that have sold in the past.

Picture books that demonize electronic media and celebrate reading and physical books

Preaching to the choir, agree with too implicitly

Attain a zen-like calm and be fair-minded and critical

Picture books with goopy rhyme schemes

As Andrew Lang once said, “The urge to parody is really too strong.”

Flippity flappity flunk
Don’t bring in the junk

YA books in which the female protagonist’s stomach does flips when exposed to the love interest

Physical inaptitude for understanding

Iron-willed suspension of disbelief

This is just a tiny sampling of the epic shoals that lurk beneath the surface of unwary buying. If anyone wants to confess their own greatest challenges in this area and share their best solutions, toss them in below!


Reading Runs in Families

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 7th, 2014
Family Reading

The family that reads together, dreams together.

Maybe it’s the gorgeous fall weather we’re having right now, but suddenly whole families are coming to the bookstore to shop together. Usually, the families generally pile in en masse on weekends. During the school week, it’s more usual to see one parent with an assortment of the kidlings. For the past 10 days, it has been the season of dads and moms and offspring! Dads reading to their children in the picture book section, dads and moms browsing for books while the kids scatter to find theirs. It’s just lovely to see entire families of reading enthusiasts sharing stories together.

And while it is true that many passionate lifelong readers have grown up in families that didn’t share their love of books, I can’t help but think that growing up with parents who take the time to sit and read with their children, who make it a priority in their own lives, too, can’t help but greatly influence even the most struggling reader. There is something so moving to me about the gentleness (and liveliness, and silliness, and seriousness, and thoughtfulness, and joy, and inquisitiveness) about families sharing books. What better way to help a young person find his or her way into a love of story and discovery, and give them a fluency with the written word? As more and more people disappear into their devices, even and especially when they are spending time with kids, I am heartened beyond measure that the simple pleasure of page-turning still beguiles families.