Author Archives: Elizabeth Bluemle

Literary Valentine’s Day Gifts

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 23rd, 2015

Oh, lovers of book lovers, what shall you give your beloveds for Valentine’s Day?

Might you give a “Library Book Necklace” from DoonyandMoony or another vendor on Etsy? Even though it’s simply a print under glass, it looks like real, teeny books set in the glass dome. (Please note: for all images in this post, just click on the picture and you will be magically transported to the vendor’s website.)

book necklace

Or perhaps something with actual words and sentiments that book lovers appreciate, from WordBaubles?

Maybe you’d like to give your special person one of the AMAZING literary totes (or T-shirts, or posters, or tattoos) from Litographs? In addition to striking design, the image happens to be made out of the words IN THE ENTIRE BOOK. All of the words in each book, up to around 40,000 words (20k on the totes; they explain all this on their website). The posters come in a variety of color combinations and the art made from words ranges from striking and iconic to delicate and romantic:

If your sweetie is a gadget geek who loves books, how about an iPhone charger built out of books? RichNeeleyDesigns makes these “Booksi” chargers.

Here’s another pretty necklace found on Etsy, this from Moongarden Designs:

For whimsy, an artist named L Delaney makes this fetching miniature book with a secret compartment:

This time of year, if you’re in the Northeast, you can’t go wrong with a literary scarf. My sister’s family gave me this Jane Austen scarf from Storiarts featuring the declaration of love between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. I have to say, it looks REALLY good on! And it’s warm and soft and cozy.

Be sure to check out their Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and Poe’s “The Raven” scarf while you’re browsing!

And as long as we’re letting Storiarts keep us warm, check out these cool Little Women Writing Gloves:

To complete your snuggly ensemble, why not this sweatshirt from Love Cove Apparel?

And for a truly personal, romantic gift, BookArt88 will create a personalized folded art book sculpture with the initials of your choosing. You still have time! Current turnaround is four days.

What will you be giving your special someone?

Farewell to Bonnie Christensen

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 16th, 2015

Bonnie Christensen (photo from her website)

She radiated loveliness, both personally and in her work. She was a gifted and creative artist, author, illustrator, and print maker, active both locally and overseas in exhibitions and galleries. While I didn’t know her well personally, Bonnie Christensen was one of those people you meet and instantly like, adored by friends and admired by colleagues for her warmth, humor, grace, and kindness. We were so sad to learn the news of her passing this week at the all-too-young age of 63.

We Vermonters feel lucky to be able to claim Bonnie as our own. Her website gives a sense of the breadth and depth of her artistic talents, from delightful and appealing picture books for young children to woodengravings and woodcut art (singly and for books like the middle-grade novel, Moon Over Tennessee by Craig Crist-Evans), to both realistic and abstract etchings, engravings, monotypes, oils and frescoes.

An award-winning artist, Bonnie wrote and illustrated a number of beautiful, informative picture book biographies, including Django, I, Galileo, Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People, Fabulous: A Portrait of Andy Warhol, The Daring Nelly Bly, America’s Star Reporter, as well as illustrating numerous notable fiction and nonfiction picture books written by herself and other authors. Just a few of her works:

She also teamed up with dear friend and fellow Vermonter Leda Schubert on the charming Princess of Borscht

Her most recent release was the beautiful A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road.

On April 21, 2015, her newest book, Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King, will arrive in bookstores across the country, and we will have the chance to celebrate Bonnie anew.

It grieves me that the children’s book world has lost yet another great light, yet if anyone will continue shining after passage from this world, it is the radiant Bonnie Christensen.

Please feel welcome to add your celebration and memories of Bonnie and her work to our comments section.

The Stars of 2014: Final Round-Up

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 8th, 2015

Well, chickadees, here it is: the final tally of starred reviews for youth literature for 2014 from the following sources: BooklistThe Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksThe Horn BookKirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. This year, 868 books received 1458 stars from these esteemed review sources.

This is an insanely detail-laden process, and as careful as I try to be, there may be oversights here and there. If you want the cleanest version of this list, check back in a week or two, when I’ll have been alerted to anything that needs fixing. Publishers, if my star count for individual titles doesn’t match yours, please send an email to me at ebluemle at publishersweekly.com, listing the title and the review sources with dates. Many thanks!

My hope is that this list will help readers find fine books they may have overlooked, and of course to place large monetary bets on the upcoming youth award announcements. (Kidding! But speaking of which, the ALA Youth Media Awards—Newbery, Caldecott, King, Printz, Sibert, Geisel, and many many others—will be announced on February 2, 2015, beginning at 8 a.m. in Chicago, and livestreamed here.)

One note I feel strongly about: critical acclaim doesn’t always align with child appeal, so I would urge parents, librarians, booksellers, and teachers not to overlook titles without stars. Sometimes, books beloved by children don’t receive a single starred review, but still enrich and enchant their lives. The one thing I hope this project doesn’t do is encourage people to bypass titles worth considering that somehow have escaped reviewer attention. If you have some examples of books you’ve truly loved from this year that didn’t receive stars, please post them in the comments below. Caveat: no self-promotion (or promoting a friend, loved one, client, etc.)! Thanks.

And — if you’re willing to share, it would be great to know what your role in the book world is and how you use this list.

Happy reading!

SIX STARS

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99

Family Romanov, The: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. Random House, $18.99

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. A.S. King. Little, Brown, $18

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, $21.99 hc, $17.99 pb

Continue reading

Your 2015 Reading Resolutions?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 31st, 2014

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Ah, 2015, we welcome you with open arms and hopeful hearts. As many of us set new goals for more alert, thoughtful, better lived, better experienced, better managed (ha!) lives, some are also thinking about the reading year ahead.

One Vermonter we know has set out to read the Modern Library’s 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century. Not in a single year, but she is determined not to read anything else until she’s finished those one hundred books. It’s an admirable goal, and one I would borrow from with a few tweaks for myself.

The Modern Library list is solid canon fare, mostly by deceased white male writers in the Western tradition. I would love to find a classics “best of” list that draws from a broader variety of authors and countries and perspectives. In children’s books this year, School Library Journal‘s 100 Best Books of 2014 was such a breath of fresh air to peruse — it’s a lively list, full of wonderful rich diversity, and it feels to me the way a collection of books should be. It’s inclusive, unexpected, and full of gems. I would like to find an adult list of classics — for my purposes, classics that have stood the test of time — that feels as fresh and diverse.

I’m tempted to simply plumb the depths of the New Directions catalog. The books are delicious. I also always love David R. Godine’s taste in books; to fully populate my imaginary ideal reading list, I would likely need to draw from some more non-Western sources as well.

New Directions 2

Some of New Directions’ most popular titles.

Any suggestions?

Regardless of where my adult literary adventures take me, I know that in the world of children’s books, I plan to double-down on my efforts to read as many diverse offerings our author and publishing colleagues bring forth as possible. And I am looking at some ways to revamp my diversity database to reflect changes in what is needed in 2015, as opposed to in 2009 when I started it.

Most importantly, what are YOUR reading resolutions for this year? Are there authors whose *entire* bodies of work you want to read? (Katherine Paterson! Naomi Shihab Nye! Gregory Maguire! Grace Lin! Kate DiCamillo — oh, wait, you’ve already done that? Good on you! Christopher Paul Curtis! Louise Erdrich! Gary Schmidt! Natalie Babbitt! Gerald Morris! Diana Wynne Jones! Margaret Mahy! Richard Peck! Ursula K. LeGuin!) Okay, I’ll stop for now. Sooo many good ones out there; the few I’ve identified here have so many titles published that reading all of their books would be a nice, yet doable challenge.

Are you planning to read more books this year? Or read more nonfiction, or fiction, or poetry? Try reading new kinds of literature? Are you planning to write a book?

Editors, what do YOUR reading resolutions look like? I suspect they are different from the rest of ours, even though we are in this field together. Fellow booksellers, how about you?

Please do share your thoughts with us. It makes us so happy to hear from you!

Finally, thanks so much for taking the time to read Josie and Kenny and my posts here at PW’s ShelfTalker. And thanks to our fearless editor, Diane Roback, for somehow managing both to give us free reign and keep us in check, as needed. Each year, we all think about what we are bringing to PW readers, and how to make our posts better, more fun, more interesting, and worth your time. Feel free to share your ideas on how we can best serve you in the comments below or by email (mine is ebluemle at publishersweekly.com).

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Visions of Sugarplums, Gift Cards, and Checkmarks

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 24th, 2014
Sugarplums

Every year, Josie buys 40 lbs. of these delicious plum-flavored jelly candies (called “sugarplums”) from our friendly neighbor, The Shelburne Country Store. We keep a little plate of them–constantly refilled–for holiday shoppers to sample throughout the day all month long. Needless to say, this is a popular December feature at the store.

A few snapshots of the penultimate day before the holiday:

1) A grandmother comes in for her annual $100 gift card for her granddaughter, a child young enough to think of the card as her “credit card.” She comes in excitedly with her credit card all year long until the amount finally runs down and it’s time for a new one. Adorable.

2) A new customer asks to look through our supply of free bookmarks sent by publishers and authors to pick out several for her five-year-old grandson. He’s beginning to read, and is very serious about it. Whenever they pull out books to read together, he insists on getting his bookmark first so they can be sure to keep his place. Only, he calls it a “checkmark” instead of a bookmark. Again, adorable.

3) Not one, not three, not five, but eight kids who have grown up with the bookstore for the past 18 years have come in to say hello, chat, and find books for their family members. It’s hard to explain how charming it is to see these young adults come home from their far-flung new homes, and learn how their child selves have morphed into these beautiful, independent, grown people doing wildly varied, interesting things. What I love most is to see how they have, to paraphrase Kant, “become what they [already] are.”

4) After a long, busy day on the sales floor, I cap off my evening with a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at a local theater with friends. Retailers are often among the last people to have time to get into the swing of the holidays personally, because we are so focused on this month — 30 days that can account for 30% or more of our annual sales. So two hours in a theater filled with people who also get teary when the townspeople pour in to offer George their support is a terrific way to feel the spirit of family and friendship and holiday.

For those of you who have just finished Chanukah, and for those of you about to celebrate Christmas, and for those who celebrate any holiday or no holiday at all — I hope you are cozy, enjoying the glow of the people you love, and surrounded by brand-new books to see you through the winter nights.

What are the books you hope to get as gifts? Or have gotten and can’t wait to read?

Shelftalker and PW are on holiday for the next few days. We’ll see you next week.

 

An Unexpected Gift

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 23rd, 2014

The other day, Sandy took a phone call from a customer who was ordering some gift books. At some point, it was clear that the customer began telling her an anecdote, because Sandy said, “No, I hadn’t heard that story.” We don’t have a lot of time to listen to stories over the phone at this time of year, so I knew it must be something special. And it was.

The customer told Sandy how, many years ago, she and her son had moved away from their town in Massachusetts. They didn’t know anyone in Vermont, and her son did not want to move. To make matters worse, the new Harry Potter was coming out the day after they moved, so he wouldn’t be able to get the book from his favorite store with all of his friends. The mom called the little bookstore in their new town (ours), and discovered that we were indeed selling the new release at midnight. She told Sandy, “We came to the store, and not only was my son able to get his book, but there was a party going on to celebrate. We didn’t know anyone there, but there was such a strong sense of community. That night changed our whole feeling about the move. We knew we had moved to a good place, and that everything was going to be all right.”

I’m not sure if I can articulate how touching that was to us. That anecdote sidled into my heart alongside the child whose beloved dog had to be put down and all she wanted to do afterward was come to the store for a while; we were her blankie that day. For a bookstore to be able – just by EXISTING – to make someone feel included or comforted, well, that makes all the struggles worthwhile. (Well, that and connecting readers with fantastic books.)

For the customer to share that story was a gift to us this holiday season, and we are truly grateful. Like all retailers this time of year, we find ourselves both happy and utterly fried. We love and admire and are amused (and occasionally frustrated) by and so greatly appreciate our repeat customers. What they bring to the store — their stories, their trust in our recommendations, their own book suggestions, their senses of humor, their patience, their passion for reading, their investment in our business — is essential. Without them, we simply cannot be. And so I head into this last day and a half of craziness with a very full heart.

I like to think of all you readers out there able to slow down for the next week or so, enjoying the holidays and vacations of all varieties that you may spend with your loved ones sharing stories, sharing books, toasting loved ones who are no longer with us but are still so present, and reading for as many hours as your little hearts desire.

Mazel Tov and Merry Christmas!

The Last Chance Guessing Game

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 19th, 2014
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Kikkerland’s Decision Maker, a very popular item at the store this time of year.

This is make-it-or-break it time for indie booksellers. These last days before Chanukah and Christmas mark our last chance to order with publishers and distributors in time for our customers’ deadlines. That means it’s our last gasp at guessing which books are going to be popular, which classic titles are suddenly going to resurge, and which of our newsletter books and staff picks will take off. Every year, there are national bestsellers and unexpected sleeper hits (like Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which Josie mentioned in Monday’s blog post, and now Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See), whose publishers were caught off guard by the book’s success and are now frantically trying to reprint, stock, and ship before the 24th.

We can’t anticipate every single sought-after title, but we do our darndest. And we know what we personally always recommend for gifts, so we need to stay on top of those in addition to everything else. For example, this time of year, we know that we can sell as many of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor as we decide to stock. The same is true of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.

In addition to asking our fortune-telling Decision Maker (pictured above) whether a particular newly released title is likely to fly off the shelves, we also consult the following:

  • Bestseller lists from the major newspapers, IndieBound, and the New England Independent Booksellers Association
  • “Best of the Year” lists from 8 to 10 review and newspaper publications
  • The NEIBA Holiday Catalog
  • Our own bestsellers from the past six weeks, trying to spot rising trends
  • Classics, which always sell extra well during the holidays
  • Newbery, Caldecott, National Book Award, Coretta Scott King, and other award winners

We also check stock on our shelves, trying to fill missing gaps in popular series (always ordering extras of the first and last volumes, which sell about five times faster than the books in between) and trying to predict if there’s going to be an unexpected run on quiet backlist hardcovers. The Borrowers series is quiet much of the year, but sees a decided uptick in December, as do all of the classic series (Paddington, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Winnie the Pooh, Madeline, Babar, Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, and so on).

This is the time of year when national media outlets are releasing all of their “Best of” lists — some of them as late as this week! — so we will have unexpected requests for sleeper titles that crop up on those lists.

On busy days, we may have more than 100 transactions, which may not sound like a lot in an 8-hour period, but when you consider that each transaction will likely include handselling of several individual titles, not to mention ringing up gift cards for teachers, tracking down stray boxes from distributors, wrapping presents, and trying to find needle-in-the-haystack single books that have been misshelved, well, it’s a lot of transactions! And it’s a LOT of fun.

This Sunday, we’ll place the last of our pre-holiday orders, cross our fingers, and play chicken with the tides of holiday shopping. Wish us luck!

Elfing the Store: Making a Book Tree

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 12th, 2014

One of my favorite things to do after a busy day at the store is to lock up when everyone leaves and then get busy ‘elf’-ing the store. It’s fun to use those quiet hours to create or rearrange displays (or even whole sections of the store if I’m feeling really ambitious), tidy and straighten, making the store look festive and fresh. All of us at the store tackle different projects; booksellers PJ, Darrilyn, and Sandy often take on the windows and spiff up the front Flying Pig table. The other day, they set up staff pick books with add-on gifts: the cookbooks Prune and Twelve Recipes with little packet of page markers and recipe editor pads; The Day the Crayons Quit with a set of natural beeswax crayons; Skippyjon Jones Snow What with a little Skippyjon doll; Elizabeth Partridge’s John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth paired with a Beatles Yellow Submarine mug, and so on. It looks great and is already drawing customers’ notice. Their creativity inspired me to surprise them with a display of my own: a tree of books.

Last week, a photo of such a tree went viral on Facebook — at least among book lovers — and a friend texted me the picture and suggested we create this for the store.  Here it is:

book tree online

(I don’t have the photo source; if you know it, please alert me so I can credit properly.)

After work, I set about making a tree of our own. We have a cart of half-price hardcovers, so I pulled a bunch of those and arranged them by size and thickness. Starting with the biggest books, I built up, using smaller and smaller books as the tree grew. (It’s a little tree for our little store.) I had to cheat a little at the top, using mini books not from our cart to make the top-most layers. As I built up, I added battery-powered strings of lights that a friend had given us, and added little bows. The very top was formed by Maisy’s Christmas Tree, which had the advantage not only of being cute and a little sparkly, but being a solid board book that can stand up on its own.

Here’s how it came out:

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The tree without lights on.

Book Tree 2014 Lit

Little red lights all aglow.

Book Tree 2014 Red Lights

With the store lights out, atmospheric tree.

Maybe it’s a little lopsided, and maybe it isn’t very tall, but it was so much fun to make, and boy, does it look cute when you come into the store!

What shall I elf next? Got any bookish crafts for us to try?

 

The Snowflake Project

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 9th, 2014

Snowflake Project

Every year before Thanksgiving, families start asking us when we will have our snowflakes up in the store. They aren’t asking about wintry decor; they want to know when they can start picking out presents for kids they don’t even know.

For 16 years now, The Flying Pig has been working with various area agencies — local food shelves, programs that support families, children and teens, and projects that connect incarcerated parents with their children through books. These agencies send us lists of the people they serve; no names, just “boy” or “girl” and an age. We cut out paper snowflakes, one for each person (most years, the snowflakes are for children, but sometimes, we are able to include books for the parents, too), and fill the store with them.

Then, from the weekend after Thanksgiving until mid-December, families flock into the bookstore to share their favorite books with families they may never have met. We have customers who have participated in the Snowflake Project for all 16 years. What we love most is the excitement and thoughtfulness of kids carefully picking out the most treasured possible gifts for other children. Often, kids will pick snowflakes for children a little younger than their own age; it’s not entirely clear if this is because, now that they are older, they are more confident about the very best book to choose for a younger child (i.e., they have a strong sense of which of their former favorites stands the test of time) or if they simply feel protective toward the littler cubs. Either way, there is nothing lovelier than a child taking a long time to pick the right book for an unknown friend.

This year, we have more than 100 snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes, people would like to participate but either don’t have the time that day, or don’t feel they have the expertise to choose a book for a young person, so they will donate funds and ask us to choose the books. That’s fine by us, too. Every year, we are grateful to celebrate in this way the profound, enduring love people have for books and for their fellow travelers on this planet.

Hatbox Holiday

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 1st, 2014

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The weekend after Thanksgiving is bustling and festive at the bookstore. We can feel the holiday shift into high gear in earnest, people coming in with long lists, poring over our newsletter searching for the perfect book for each of their seven grandchildren, spending 20 minutes at the spinner that holds quirky stocking stuffers. We trade book and gift recommendations and funny Thanksgiving anecdotes with our customers.

>On Friday, one of our favorite longtime regulars, Gail F., came in to get a couple of books for her grandchildren. I couldn’t resist showing her some new handsome wooden postcards that had just come in. One at the top of the rack caught her eye, a card with two crossed keys and the legend, “Home is where the story begins.” She reached up. ”That one,” she said, tapping the card. “I should send that to my grandson in California.” She tapped it again softly. “That’s perfect for our family.”

home is where the story begins postcard

“You see,” she said, “we have a tradition in our family that started years ago. We gave each of our children a hatbox, and we each had one, too. Over the years, all of the little things —notes, special items, written memories we jotted down, funny things that were said — went into the hatboxes. Our children are grown now, of course, and every year, the evening after Thanksgiving —THIS evening, in fact — we gather in the living room with the hatboxes in front of us. The rule is, you can’t open your own hatbox. Then we go around the circle and take turns pulling out something to share. The little ones are fascinated by their parents’ hatboxes.” She paused, got a funny gleam in her eye, clearly remembering some past hatbox incident, and added, “The other rule is, if you pull out something REALLY personal, you don’t share it.”

I wondered what kinds of personal tidbits would be both innocent enough to qualify for inclusion in the hatbox and yet be off limits for sharing. Love letters from old boyfriends, perhaps? Failing report cards? (The latter is unlikely; Gail’s children are a true passel of achievers.) It was a question for another day, however, because I didn’t want to interrupt the tale. Gail is a wonderful storyteller — her face is so lively, bright and expressive, and her voice is hushed and thoughtful and full of humor and wisdom.

At this point in her story, she lowered her voice further and grew serious. ”Last year, my son pulled out his German grandfather’s journal for the first time. He found a list of family members’ names.” Gail and her family are Jewish. Her finger traced down an imaginary list. “The name, and then the word ‘Gone.’ Name. Gone. Name. Gone. Name. Gone. Gone, all of them, in the war.”

We stood there quietly for a moment, absorbing and acknowledging the momentousness of that loss. She went on, “It led to a big discussion with the grandchildren that went on for a long time. We weren’t expecting it, that evening. But it was good. You just never know where the hatbox will take you.”

Of all the family traditions we get to hear about on the floor of the bookstore, this was one of the loveliest and most creative. I asked Gail if I could share it with ShelfTalker readers, and she graciously agreed. Later that afternoon, I shared the bare bones of the tradition giving each child a hatbox for those special memory items – with another customer, who exclaimed, “That is SO MUCH BETTER than a scrapbook! It’s like a surprise barrel where you can keep all of those refrigerator drawings and Mother’s Day breakfast tray notes that you might not put in a scrapbook.” 

Gail did say that the hatboxes are finally starting to get full. Might be time to get hatboxes for the next generation, now, and time to find out where those hatboxes will take them.