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Free Books!! Take As Many As You Like!

Kenny Brechner -- September 18th, 2014

We all know that the biggest return on a book is sometimes had by giving it away. This is something we think about in different ways. When a publisher sends me a free finished copy of a book I always provide it the courtesy of reading any accompanying letter carefully and taking a close look at the book. If a giveaway promotional item strikes me as particularly creative and apropos we make sure to carry out its prime function: give it away to customers.

As a bookseller I always try and be mindful of recognizing when a meaningful moment to give something away presents itself. For example, after a classroom ARC review project I don’t normally leave the ARCs in the classroom. Last year, however, one student was so taken with a particular book that it was very striking. The teacher tried to assure him that a library might have a copy when it came into print. It hit me that there was no possibility, in this boy’s life, that he would be able to buy it. I slipped it to him and the teacher later told me that, though she couldn’t get into the details of his home life, it had meant the world to him. Not all giveaways are created equal. Nor is there any formula for recognizing the important ones other than learning from examples encountered in the course of experience.

It is just such an example I wanted to share with you. I had worked closely with an elementary school recently to provide books for a new resource center at their school library. The new center has been a big success and I hadn’t given much thought to the fate of the older materials that had been replaced. The reading specialist had, however. Rather than having a book sale or donating them somewhere else she simply put them in boxes in the school hallway along with a big sign that read “Free Books!! Take As Many As You Want!” You can see some scenes from the hallway below.
freebooks1 freebooks2This simple, elegant idea was a perfect example of getting the most for something by giving it away. The children were absolutely delighted. It was a scene of happy chaos and book love. No better way of giving these books a splendid retirement could possibly have been devised. That’s just what a school is supposed to do for us. Teach us something.

Help Shape the Diversity Evolution

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 16th, 2014

This blog post title may sound a little grandiose, but I don’t think it is. I can’t tell you how hopeful I am becoming about the prospect of real and lasting change toward meaningful diversity in the children’s book field. I’m trying to figure out how I can be most useful in this effort, and am enlisting your help.

Now, I’ve been blogging about this topic for years, as have countless other writers and editors and bloggers, but it hasn’t been until the past year that it finally feels like all of the individual voices and efforts have started to have a cumulative weight, some real momentum. And this real desire for change comes with a whole lot of questions about how to be effective.

Since National Public Radio’s three-part series on diversity in publishing (my part on bookselling diverse titles is here), I have heard from many, many people who appreciated the discussion. A few were parents who wanted to let me know they hoped their local bookstores would beef up their multicultural selection and that publishers would provide a whole lot more variety of content; others were listeners who wanted to know where to find my diversity database; the majority were authors of color asking for my help getting their books noticed by publishers.

And I honestly don’t know how best to help with that last one. I’m not an agent or an editor, and the jobs I do already take more time than I have. I suspect these writers, like all writers, represent a range along the spectrum from beginner to editor-ready.

How can I help them get their work seen?

I thought about creating a private Pinterest board, where I could post authors’ and illustrators’ short book pitches and/or sample artwork. Interested editors and agents would be invited to view this board and contact contributors directly if interested in seeing more. The board would be hidden so that the work wasn’t viewable by the public; only I and the agents and editors would be able to view the pitches. (Writers new to publishing often worry a lot about their ideas being stolen. With experience comes the understanding that this is an extremely rare occurrence, and that no two people would write the same book even given the same premise. But making the Pinterest board private would protect everyone’s privacy as much as possible while offering a chance to be seen.)

I’m not convinced this is the most effective way to create opportunity, and here’s where I need you! Please, authors, illustrators, editors, and agents, share your ideas (anonymously is fine) in the comments section here about how to broaden the visibility of emerging authors of color, including and especially those writing stories featuring main characters of color. What can we do that will really help this happen?

Be part of the evolution of our field toward a truly inclusive, real-world representation of the great range of children who live in our neighborhoods and towns and villages and cities across the country.

Thank you for your ideas.

Laughter and Terror: Writers and Stand Up Comedy

Josie Leavitt -- September 15th, 2014

When I’m not working at the bookstore I teach and perform stand up comedy. I usually teach comedy in my hometown of Burlington, Vt., but this Saturday I taught a stand up workshop in Hadley, Mass. I had posted this class on my Facebook page, and was delighted when Ellen Wittlinger messaged me to say she was thinking about signing up, but was a little “terrified.” I’ve known Ellen for years and assured her that she was hysterical and would be a great addition to the class. Plus, a little creative terror can be good for the soul.

hardlove

I was thrilled that Ellen, author of one of my all-time favorite books, Hard Love, had converted herterror to trying something new, and we both whooped and hugged when she walked into the class. What I wasn’t expecting was for Ellen to bring her friend, Lisa Papademetriou. Lisa had co-written a book with my friend Chris Tebbetts, M or F,  a humorous take on Cyrano de Bergerac and what happens when the ghost writer falls for the boy. They arrived early and we chatted. I had only met Lisa once when she popped into the store and signed stock. The class administrator came over and checked them in. “I usually shelve these guys,” I blurted. Christine looked askance at me. I explained the whole bookstore-writer dynamic going on and she just laughed.

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Bad Grammar in Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 12th, 2014

This is a tough era for readers who care about grammar. I try to tread a fair line between absolute purist (“bad grammar is something up with which I will not put”) and 21st-century slacker (“me and her went to the mall instead of diagramming sentences yesterday”). And I’ll confess that age has softened me somewhat; there’s only so much flailing against the tide of widely accepted modern usage a person can do before starting to feel like a Victorian schoolmarm.

However.

I don’t think it is too much to ask for copyeditors to be the last bastion of correct usage. When I come across “shrunk” and “drunk” being used as simple past tense, I don’t expect copyeditors to necessarily know that they are past participles, but I expect them to know how they should be used.

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Uprooting Evil in School Purchase Orders

Kenny Brechner -- September 11th, 2014

The good news is that one of your elementary school educational partners has $5,000 of grant money to spend on a new Common Core resource area for reluctant readers and she is going to spend it with you. How can there be any bad news, you ask? Actually, there can be many layers goodnewswbadnewsof it. Your educational partner, as do many of her colleagues, has turned to direct solicitations from specialty educational publishers for most of the titles on the purchase order. Some have come from catalogs that have been sitting in a closet for 10 years. More importantly, some of these specialty publishers, such as Pioneer Valley Books, will sell to you only at the same non-discounted rate that they will sell to a school. Others are selling product at very high rates and are very labor-intensive to get. Worst of all there are those that won’t sell to retail bookstores at all. You want to keep the business, and you want to deserve the business. What to do?

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First Times

Josie Leavitt -- September 9th, 2014

Owning a children’s bookstore means that there can be a lot of firsts for young customers. There is something wonderful about being the place where milestones are achieved. All too often we don’t stop and notice what astounding things kids are doing because, well, they’re not our children. But at the bookstore, in a small space, often with customers we know, there is a wonderful opportunity to see what happens when something “clicks” with a kid.

Usually the first milestone is walking. There is nothing more fun than being at the store when a littleoliver one figures out that he can put one foot in front of the other and get from over here to over there. Parents stand by nervously or excitedly, depending on the baby’s wobbliness, as they watch their child walk over to one of the bookseller’s outstretched hands that have a book in them. I do love that kids will often walk over to the person who’s holding a book. What better way to reinforce that reading is fun? Of course first smiles are always great to a part of. I’m a fan of making little ones laugh.

There is something amazing about being present when a child becomes a fluent reader. This usually happens when a kid is picking out a book, usually a chapter book, but sometimes a picture book, and the light clicks on and suddenly reading just makes sense and the words flow freely and the struggle is gone, replaced by ease of reading and comprehension. This has happened time and time again in  our 18 years of business. Every once in a while this can happen with a  very young child, sometimes no older than three, who walks by books and starts reading all the titles. When this happens we all just sort of stand around stunned while a smiling parent realizes that somewhere along the line their little toddler has taught herself to read.

Other milestones that can happen at the store include a myriad of things. Potty training success happens a lot, although this one can be a little more fraught, as there are whoopsies, but that’s why we have mops (it’s actually funny, but every bookstore bathroom also seems to double as the utility closet) in the bathroom. Every milestone deserves a celebration. Paying for a book and working on manners happen every day. I can always feel a parent’s bursting pride when their two-year-old not only says “thank you” but makes eye contact while doing so.

Saturday, the milestone happened with my visiting cousin’s six-year-old son. Justin is a sweet boy who can read quite well, but couldn’t yet figure out how to tie his shoes. The entire family was visiting and all were busy looking at the store which they hadn’t seen yet. Justin was left to his own devices and he found a book on tying his shoes (which sadly was purchased by another child before I could jot down the title). He sat there quietly and then figured it out. We were leaving for lunch and we found him on the floor just tying and retying his shoes. His mom was beaming, his grandparents were choking up, and I was wondering what the fuss was about. “It’s the first time he’s done that.” I was told by my other cousin. Ah, that explained the joy and why we found him on the ground the rest of the trip, tying and untying his shoes.

 

An Amazon-Free Partnership

Josie Leavitt -- September 8th, 2014

We all can talk about Amazon as the scourge of the book business, the reason indies are struggling and that might be true, but there seems to be little people actually do about Amazon. Here in TVW Cover smallVermont, one small publisher, Common Ground Communications, is trying something unique to support indies: he is not offering former Governor Jim Douglas’ autobiography for sale on Amazon. This book promises to be a good seller in my small state. It’s not every liberal state that has had a successful Republican governor, so his story should be a good one.

Chris Bray is the publisher of the book The Vermont Way. And his decision to sell the book only in stores and bypass Amazon sends a strong message that sales to bricks and mortar stores matter. Chris, a long-time customer who actually spent time in the Statehouse as a representative, clearly understands that backing up the message with thoughtful, possibly risky action, is the best way to support local Vermont bookstores. Chris is all about collaboration. Maybe that’s how we can get back to supporting stores and selling more books.

Working with stores and talking with us about things like discounts, shipping and setting up events well before the book comes out is a great way to get the stores invested in the book. I even suggested that Chris waive shipping if invoices are paid within 30 days, which he is doing (following the example of other small publishers like Godine). So here we have a book that will likely be a hugely popular book in my state, that is comes with free shipping if you pay your bill on time and is only available in physical stores. No one can buy it on Amazon. I can barely wrap my head around what this means. It will be very interesting to see if I see any customers who haven’t shopped in our store in a while because they’ve gotten a Kindle.

Working together with a small press to drive sales into the bookstore is so refreshing. Chris really wants to support the indies, and obviously, wants to sell lots of books. I have no idea how many sales he’s risking by not offering the book on Amazon, but the fact that he’s willing to take that chance and work with indies exclusively, means I’ll work harder to sell the book. This is what a publishing partnership looks like: both publisher and bookstore on the same page (pardon the bad pun) working together to sell a book while supporting what’s important.

A Season for Elephants

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 5th, 2014

I was looking at our face-out display of picture book New Releases today and noticed a whole bunch of cute elephants staring back at me. This happens sometimes; something’s in the zeitgeist and all of a sudden there are 84 moose books coming out in one season, or seven authors have written poetry collections about bugs, or every fantasy novel seems to feature a severed hand. I’m not as enthused about severed hands as I am about elephants (although those severed-hand books, from a publishing season at least 10 years ago, were actually really good). But elephants! They were one of my two favorite wild animals growing up, and what’s not to love about them? In their small size, they are nothing short of ADORABLE, and as they age, they acquire an enviable depth and wisdom. They’re like people, only better.

So here are the world’s newest elephants, at least on the picture-book page:

Always by Emma Dodd (Candlewick/Templar) — In this sweet, silvery book for little ones, a baby elephant feels its parent’s love and warmth no matter what it encounters in its everyday adventures. Very simple and lovely, and the shiny silver accents on the pages add a little magical sparkle.

Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox; illus. by Emma Quay (S&S/Beach Lane) — This one sends tiny tots to bed with rhymes that start off lively and giggle-inducing —”I could eat your little ears / I could nibble on your nose” — and end up quiet, “There comes a time for sleeping / and our sleepy time is now. / So fall asleep, my angel / with a kiss upon your brow.” Mem Fox (Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes) Fox has a gift for read-aloud rhythms, and the art is cozy and joyful. Some readers could find this story a little claustrophobic (cf. I’ll Love You Forever and The Runaway Bunny), but most will welcome its snuggliness.

Moses: The True Story of an Elephant Baby by Jenny Perepeczko (S&S/Atheneum) — Full of photos and interesting facts about elephants, this book introduces young readers to a playful, mischievous real-life little pachyderm rescued and relocated to a reserve for orphaned animals in Malawi. This book departs from usual nonfiction by anthropomorphizing little Moses to the extent of recounting “thoughts” and dialogue, which is a little odd. Children privy to the separate author’s note at the end will be sad to learn that Moses died unexpectedly young after an operation — but this is well handled and can be a springboard for discussion.

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato (Henry Holt) — It’s not easy being a very small, cupcake-loving elephant in Manhattan, but Little Elliot finds confidence and stature (not to mention a new friend) when he helps someone even smaller than he is. Curato’s art provides the wow factor here; the rich, retro feel and color palette of these illustrations are striking. Plus, the elephant has subtle polka dots, which makes me indescribably happy.

And as if those aren’t enough trunks coming at you this fall, it looks as though September 2 will bring two more elephant stories, that I will come back and report on when they arrive. In the meantime, here’s the title info and cover art:

My Bibi Always Remembers by Toni Buzzeo (Disney Press)

 

 

 

 

 

The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey by Sophie Strady; illus. by Jean-Francois Martin (Chronicle)

 

 

 

 

 

***

And now I’m going to put this out into the zeitgeist and see what the wind brings back: for next season, I’d like seahorses. Red pandas would be good, too, but really, seahorses.

First Among First Day of School Books

Kenny Brechner -- September 4th, 2014

edda2It is in the nature of pyramid style table displays that something has to be on top. This is a dark irony when it comes to books about a child’s first day of school, since elementary schools are not meritocracies and stark Darwinian undertones are not quite the thing in kindergarten anymore. Ah well, there it is.

Now if you look at the top of the display you’ll see my new go-to book for the first day of school, Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School. When you read the pages of Edda you will encounter all the qualities that constitute a perfect first day of school book. It’s reassuring, funny, and full of both challenge and adventure.

Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in Asgard. As much fun as she has helping seek out unruly monsters, feasting, and riding magical animals, Edda yearns for some companionship with children her own age. Her father, Odin, has the answer.  Edda can attend school down on earth.

The story excels at finding constructive comparative humor in all the things Edda finds challenging and is struggling to adapt to. For example…

9780805097030_il_6When adventure rears its head it is a parent’s job to be entirely calm, peaceful, and supportive of the experience. Tove Jansson fans will recall that when Moomintroll decided to swim down into their flooded house to retrieve breakfast plates from the kitchen the Snork Maiden protested, saying “Tell him not to, please, please.”  To this Moominmamma replied, “Well, why should I if he thinks it thrilling?”

This peaceful relationship with adventure and wonder is the sort of parenting you’ll find in Edda too. When Edda makes friends with a boy in her class, Odin takes the two of them off to Asgard on his flying horse for a play date, and the Mom of Edda’s friend waves them off with the same cheerful grace one might have expected were her son being driven to a friend’s house in a minivan.

In the end, it is not surprising at all that when …
9780805097030_il_7Why wouldn’t they!

A Scandalous Book (and Its Disreputable* Trailer)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 2nd, 2014

At first glance, Julie Berry’s books might seem to be all over the map in terms of subject matter, tone, and intended audience. Her debut novel, The Amaranth Enchantment, was a sparkling fairy tale for ages 10-14; her Splurch Academy middle grade series was unusually fresh and funny, comic kid-vs.-monster hijinx adventure fare for 7-10-year-olds; and her All the Truth That’s in Me was a startling, powerful, gorgeously written young adult novel in stark, poetic prose for ages 12-17. When I heard she had a new novel coming out this fall, I perked up; what on earth would she have in store for us this time?

Turns out, it’s something different once again: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is Jane Austen meets Frances Hodgson Burnett by way of Edward Gorey. It’s a gleefully farcical, Victorian-era boarding school story with a hint of romance for ages 11-15, featuring seven female students and a twist:

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