Author Archives: Elizabeth Bluemle

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 now, 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.

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.


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.

Continue reading

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.

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:

Continue reading

From Teenage Book Guru to Sax-Playing Fiend

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 27th, 2014

David killin’ it on the bari. (D-dawg, this slang’s for you!)

Oh, ShelfTalker friends, that bittersweet day has arrived when we must bid farewell to one of our own. Young David, now 18, is leaving the Flying Pig for college. Must these high school students do their work and actually GRADUATE from high school, abandoning us for university and their real careers?! Clearly, we are doing something wrong.

Sure, sure, so David’s been playing the saxophone for several years now and has enormous amounts of talent. He’s been a prominent member of his high school’s Jazz Band and Symphonic Winds Group, has played for three years with the Vermont All-State Jazz Band, has attended numerous summer jazz camps, and has taught saxophone to middle school students. He wowed guests at my book launch party this spring playing a duet with equally talented fellow staffer, guitarist and singer/songwriter Laura. He was so good on the horn that the professional jazz band invited him to sit in on more songs. So, the kid’s got some chops.

David tries to hide all of the accolades from us, because he is an incredibly modest young man and deflects praise like a champ, but word trickles in. He’s been invited to play with a number of prestigious groups, and this year, he won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award at his high school. Wikipedia describes the award thusly: “The Louis Armstrong Award is the ‘top senior jazz award,‘ a highly prestigious award to a musician. It is given out by high schools nationwide to recognize “outstanding musical achievement and an incredible dedication to the program.” ‘Typically there is only one recipient per school.” Not surprisingly, David was accepted and offered scholarships to by several music schools, including the illustrious Berklee College of Music in Boston. *sniffle* So proud!

Yet, we would prefer to be in denial.

After all, David is an excellent bookseller! He is an avid reader, great with kids, unfailingly polite to adults, helpful to customers and colleagues alike, cheerful all the time, and terrific with technology. He can recommend books to an impressive range of customers – from very little ones to adults, girls and boys, men and women – with great sensitivity to their interests and wonderful enthusiasm. He’s one of the most naturally upbeat people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Oh, and he’s an Eagle Scout! He often volunteers for the tasks the rest of us don’t want to do, the ones that involve hauling heavy things up and down stairs, or tedious data entry, or scary bathroom issues.

He has his faults, though, let me just say right now. As teenagers are wont to do, he enjoys mocking our outdated slang (I amuse myself daily by saying things like, “Hey, David, do me a solid?” or, “Psych!”)  and in turn, he gleefully inflicts godawful new slang on us. (I still can’t figure out what “schweg” is supposed to mean. I’m afraid of looking it up in the Urban Dictionary.) And David is not a friend of the gift-wrap station. That’s about it in the flaws department, though, and I am sadder than I will ever admit to David’s face to see him fly the coop. But we will all be thrilled to see him soar. And he will come back to visit now and again, bringing with him some terrible new slang and phenomenal new songs. We can’t wait.

In a beautiful silver-lining loop of fate, the last high-schooler we said goodbye to, PJ, has just finished  up a master’s degree program in Edinburgh — and is coming back to the Flying Pig part-time. So I guess it’s all right to let these brilliant young people pursue their passions out in the world, because in one way or another, they will always be part of us.

In parting, I can only say to David: Do us a solid and visit often!


Voting on Book Jackets!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 20th, 2014
NetGalley Like the Cover


For YEARS now, I’ve wanted a way to give publishers feedback on book covers. As booksellers—who spend hours every single day handing books to customers and observing their reactions—we have a pretty good sense of what will and won’t move, at least in our own stores. Sometimes we receive a truly wonderful book with a cover we know children wouldn’t poke a stick at, much less pick up and buy, and it’s a shame.

Continue reading

Authors, Please Don’t Do This

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 19th, 2014

Let me preface this by saying that we’re all more transparent than we would like to believe we are. All of us. I know I’ve done various ill-advised things in the past, every instance of which I’ve later regretted. In that spirit, let me save you from yourselves.

We already know that some authors are going to face out their own books — or ask their friends and family to do this — in our stores. This can be a minor inconvenience for us, since it may be messing up a themed display, or your face-out may be replacing a book we are trying to feature for a special time-sensitive reason. Indie bookstore staff do pretty much always know which books we’ve chosen to face out, but sometimes we smile and let yours stand if we love the book you’ve turned outward. This is a mildly risky move, because if you do mess up a bookstore display and someone on staff notices, they may be irked. And you don’t want to irk booksellers; you want to endear them to you.

A much better approach is to walk up to the counter and introduce yourself, saying something like, “Hi, I’m Charming Author [insert your own name there], and I see that you have my book. Thanks so much for carrying it. I’d be happy to sign any copies, if you’d like.” We at the Flying Pig almost always say yes, though I’ll caution you that this is not universal. Some stores may say no, because stock levels need to be controlled, and bookstores are not supposed to return unsold copies that are autographed. So if that happens, try not to feel bad; they are just being uber-practical, hardcore stock warriors. The strategy then would be to create a nice relationship with them so they remember you and will give your book(s) a second look. You can do this by chatting about some of the new books you’ve loved; there is almost nothing as bonding as shared book enthusiasm. And if you actually buy something at the store, you’ve made the first move in a good faith contract of mutual support.

As tempting as it may be, please oh please do not call bookstores and ask for your own books, pretending to be someone else. For one thing, we all have Caller ID. For another, there is just something obvious about these phone calls. They don’t sound the same as regular inquiries. You know how your voice transmutes into false, stilted tightness when you have to answer an automated voice system on the phone instead of talking to a human being? Suddenly, you can’t even say your own name or the word “Question” or the number “2″ normally. Well, it’s similar with these faux phone calls about your book. The difference is palpable, and it leaves both you and the clerk uncomfortable. Also, please don’t come into the bookstore and do that same thing. We have Google, and you have a website. We can see what you look like.

Even worse, please don’t have friends or family call the store pretending to be interested in buying your book so that we will order copies. If you aren’t planning to send real business our way, it is rude to try to trick us into carrying a book that will not have your support.

Recently, we encountered a new low-point attempt at guerrilla marketing. Our staffer, David, pointed to a couple of books and said, “What’s the story on these?” I looked at them, two different titles in paperback, and shook my head. “I don’t recognize them,” I said. He said, “I think this lady left them in the store.” He told me that he had been helping another customer up front in the store on a busy sale day over the weekend, and he’d seen a woman bend down in front of the “NPR Book Picks” end cap. (This is the first bookcase most customers notice when they come into the store and turn right. It’s prominent.) David said the woman had given him kind of a funny look, and he’d seen her doing something on the bottom shelf, but he was busy helping someone else, so he didn’t have a chance to check in with her before she ducked quickly out of the store. I asked David, “You think she left these books here, hoping we’d sell them?” He said, “I think so. These and the other copies.” Other copies?? I went up front and there were more books on the bottom shelf. The person had left SIX copies of books we hadn’t ordered, displayed as though they were NPR picks. This takes a lot of gall, and is definitely not the done thing.

David had Googled the author, and said she was not the same person who left the books, nor does she live in Vermont. Perhaps it was a family member or friend. We can’t figure out the aim of this move: would someone be calling in a few weeks to see if the books had sold, and want payment?  Our staffer, Laura, had a kind thought: “Maybe she asked a friend to drop off some books for consignment, and her friend didn’t know what that meant.” This is a generous idea, but I have to wonder what friend doesn’t ask the bookstore staff, and instead decides to plop the books on a shelf face-out and run.

It has me wondering: is there some lecturer out there advising authors to do these things to get their books noticed? Because I have to say that, at indie bookstores at least, your best bet is not trickery or gimmicks, but is still the simplest (if not the easiest) one: to strike up a real conversation with a bookseller.

P.S. You may be wondering what we plan to do with those six books we didn’t order. They don’t look terrible, and if the author or her friend had approached us directly, we might have tried one or two copies. Given the icky way they came into the store, we removed them from the shelves and will hold onto them for a week or two in the back office to give back to the author/friend if she comes back or calls. After that, I suppose we will donate them.

this ORQ. (he great book!)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 11th, 2014

This Orq

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of picture books published every year, and many of them are good. Some of them are great. And a few of them hit the picture book sweet spot jackpot by managing to provide:

  • a perfect marriage of text and art
  • phenomenal kid appeal
  • read-aloud deliciousness
  • art that invites poring over
  • new discoveries in repeated readings
  • heart, joy, playfulness, suspense, reassurance, and humor
  • and, yes, jokes for the grownups, too.

this ORQ. (he cave boy.) by David Elliott, illustrated by Lori Nichols (Boyds Mills Press) hits the jackpot with its hilarious (and wry) caveman-speak text, huge heart, and utterly lovable illustrations by newcomer Lori Nichols (who also wowed us earlier this year with her debut picture book, Maple, published by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen). 

Continue reading

Wanted: Beautiful Fairy Picture Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- August 5th, 2014

Flower Fairies Magical Doors: Discover the Doors to Fairyopolis by Cicely Mary Barker (Frederick Warne & Co)

I was working in the back room when the voice of Flying Pig bookseller Sandy floated in from the front desk. “You know what’s hard to find that you’d think there would be a lot of?” she asked.  ”Beautiful fairy storybooks, the kind I would have loved and lost myself in as a child.”

You’d think this would be a flooded field, but actually, most of the gorgeous fairy picture books we used to carry have now gone out of print.

Continue reading

It’s Official—The Funniest Bookseller in Vermont!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 31st, 2014
Josie comedy

Josie Leavitt; photo © Stephen T. Knight

Okay, “funniest bookseller” wasn’t actually the category for which Josie Leavitt won top honors; it was Best Stand-Up Comic, in the annual contest run by Vermont’s arts weekly newspaper, Seven Days. The Seven Daysies are coveted awards covering 177 topics ranging from Best Restaurant to Best Place to Get Naked. Seven Days takes voting seriously; you have to vote in at least 50 of the 177 categories for your votes to count. This year, around 10,000 Vermonters sent in their picks for “best,” and Josie won Best Stand-Up Comic! The Flying Pig is bursting with pride.

This is actually Josie’s second win; she tied with “The Logger,” Rusty DeWees, in 2011, the first year that Seven Days included the stand-up comedy category. Winning the category’s first year was fitting, since Josie has been so instrumental in creating the now-blooming Burlington stand-up scene. As Seven Days put it so aptly and wonderfully in the award announcement this year:

Continue reading