The ability to binge-watch series on Netflix (and every network channel via app) has not been a good thing for books. Even the most avid book-readin’ fools I know are challenged to keep up their page rate with all the digital temptations flung their way. How do YOU do it?
I ask because this is what I am currently looking at:
If you’re wondering about the little white slips of paper sticking up from the books, those indicate starred reviews. Yep, I’m SUCH a librarian!
The top five shelves are ARCs I’ve brought home from the store to read. Mind you, this only goes up to October, and is only a fraction of what has actually come to the Flying Pig for us to enjoy, evaluate, and use as both buying and selling aids.
The other complicating factor for me is that I can’t multitask while reading (or pretend to multitask, or convince myself I am multitasking when I am not). Of course, this is a *good* thing — but I often feel guilty when I am “just” reading, instead of reading and cleaning or ironing or tinkering with a spreadsheet or whatnot. I can do those things while listening to an audiobook (hello, Elena Ferrante), but publishers have not yet started sending AAEs (advance audio editions) along with the galleys.
So I guess what I’m asking you fellow book lovers out there, especially those of you for whom reading is part of your work — how the heck do we get it all* read?!
*all being an absurd concept, so here “all” means “a goodly amount”
A couple of days ago, I received a phone call from a young woman asking us to set aside the new Sarah Dessen novel, Saint Anything. I told her we’d hold it behind the counter for her and asked for her last name. She said hesitantly, “I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but this is Ivy Madden.”
Have you ever found yourself avoiding a book a friend has recommended, or that everyone in the universe seems to be reading, or—worst of all—a gift book you just cannot force yourself to crack open? I want to hear about it.
I’m one of the only adult women of a certain age I know who never read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—despite its appealing cover and many rave reviews, and even after enjoying her wonderful TED talk. I think it was partly because that book sold itself by the dozens; other books needed me more, to read them so I could recommend them to customers. There are several books like that: The Red Tent, Room, Gone Girl, Water for Elephants—bestsellers so popular they have no trouble finding their audience. Those, I don’t feel so bad about. But then there are the books that have dogged me for years.
I haven’t done a book jacket trends post in a long time, in part because photos of partial faces and girls in gown continue to not go away, and it would be silly to point out such obvious things. But there are other trends emerging—some intriguing, some irritating—so I’ve gathered covers. This blog post isn’t just aiming to find look-alikes; there are some amazing cover designs below, and it’s fascinating to see how different designers treat similar themes. While I might poke gentle fun at some recurring elements, I am truly in awe of what designers create. Cover design is an incredibly challenging art—it’s art on a deadline with a budget, which has to be carried out multiple times a season. I really don’t know how they do it.
I’ll start with a micro-trend that alert Flying Pig staffers Sandy and Laura noticed: books with partial faces surrounded by leaves. First, there was last August’s The Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine (Scholastic Press). Then came September’s Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion). And now, fresh on the shelves, is April Henry’s The Body in the Woods (Henry Holt). Faces in leaves are in the zeitgeist.
Bill Peet’s books are still huge favorites among children. This one has 1333 words, according to ARBookFind.com.
In the 18-plus years I’ve been a bookseller, the average word count in picture books has dropped, and dropped again, and dropped again. When we opened the bookstore in the mid-1990s, 1,500 words was at the upper limit of what was considered to be an acceptable length. Now that’s a laughable number, and the general rule of thumb is that you’d better watch yourself if you’re over 500.
Once in a while, you’ll pick up a children’s book and know instantly it was not written (or perhaps illustrated) by anyone who grew up in this country. These books sometimes telegraph their not-United States-Americanness by having ambiguous endings, or delving into unapologetic melancholy or darkness, or taking on existential themes. I love these books, because the good ones — and I have only seen good ones, because the rest wouldn’t have made it through the import vetting process — refresh the brain like seltzer and invite us to step outside narrative habits we aren’t necessarily aware of inhabiting. They also respect the capacious nature of a child’s inquisitive, thoughtful mind.
At ALA Midwinter this January, a Gecko Press book on the Lerner table caught my eye immediately because of its retro feeling (both in palette and style) cover that reminded me of picture books I’d pore over at my grandmother’s house as a child. I also liked the title, The Day No One Was Angry. It’s always intriguing when a title pronounces itself by way of something it is not. I opened the book expecting to find a happy or at least tongue-in-cheek happy animal friendship story. Ha! Not at all.
Every summer, we have families asking for books they can read aloud (or listen to on audio) that will work for the whole family — kids from, say, ages 6 to 16, and that will entertain the adult as well. Because this is such a common request, I thought I’d create a poster of recommendations to help my staffers as well as the families.
It can be hard to find books that resonate with such a broad range of ages, so I dipped into the classics quite a bit while also looking for more recent additions to keep the list current and diverse. I polled bookselling colleagues for titles they would add to their Great Family Read-Alouds lists, and got some terrific recommendations. Here’s the first iteration of the poster:
Drum roll, please — it’s time for the the mid-year roundup of starred reviews given to books for children and teens!
The Stars So Far is a project in which I foolishly decide to gather all of the year’s starred reviews for children’s and YA books from Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. Some of the reviews are harder to track down than you’d think, so publishers, please alert me to omissions at ebluemle at publishers weekly.com.
Before writing to tell me I’m missing a star, please note that starred reviews are counted only when they have been officially printed and released by the review magazines. If you know that a book will be given a star next week or next month, please don’t send an email. I will add those stars as they are published by the review magazines. Thank you!
This is a detail-laden process, and as careful as I try to be, there will be bobbles here and there. If you want the cleanest, most comprehensive version of this list, check back here several days after the original post, when I’ll have been able to make any fixes.
And now for the stars:
Recently, I visited a school so far north in Vermont that cell service there comes from Canada. I’d been invited as the visiting author guest to help the town’s school and public library celebrate the grand finale of their year-long literacy program courtesy of the wonderful Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF). I spoke to 110 K-3 students, then 110 kids in grades 4-6—and ended with a visit to a preschool with 10 toddlers and young children. At this event, a boy told me about a book that had “changed [his] whole life.” More on that in a bit.
These finale programs are fantastic fun. First, the town librarian introduces the fun summer reading programs available to the kids after school ends, then the author (at this event, it happened to be me) does a half-hour presentation, and then every child gets to pick a book to keep. CLiF chooses a fine selection of brand-new titles for the kids to peruse—everything from Caps for Sale to Inkheart to Anna Hibiscus to books about Nascar. It’s a great mix of literary and popular titles, and it’s a blast after my presentation to be one of the adults helping the kids find just the perfect book to take home and treasure. (Since I recommend books to children of all ages every day at the bookstore, it’s a familiar gig—and so much fun not to have charge any money for the books!)
Great moments with children always come out of these events. You can see the love of books lighting up their faces, and the utter joy of receiving a present they can have forever. You hear the most touching or interesting or perceptive or thoughtful or funny things from the kids. I have a couple of memories from this visit that I can’t resist sharing:
True confession: I had several pages of notes on itty-bitty paper with funny things authors said and quotes from award speeches I wanted to share with you, and those notes have vanished into the ether. I blame Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Because they don’t know me personally and so I can. So I may as well start off my Magical BEA Moments Part 2 with them.