Author Archives: Elizabeth Bluemle

Memorial Day Reading

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 22nd, 2015

We’re closed for Memorial Day, and guess what that means? Pleasure reading!!

I’m just coming off Nova Ren Suma’s haunting and memorable The Walls Around Us, which is part Black Swan, part Orange Is the New Black. The story and its evocative telling linger. A terrific read.

Now I’m reading Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell, which came out last August but which I somehow missed. Her charming Rooftoppers was one of my favorite books of 2013, so when I noticed Cartwheeling on our shelves recently, I did a funny little hop and happy squeak. The first page alone assured me that I was not going to be disappointed, and by page 6, I was thoroughly enchanted. This book already reminds me of two of my very favorite books (which few people I know have read, so they may not be a helpful comparison): Olive Ann Schreiner’s adult novel The Story of an African Farm, with its cross-racial best-friendship and beautiful African setting; and Maria Gripe’s Hugo and Josephine, a story of two best friends, a boy and a girl, where one of the characters refuses to be bound by conventional expectations.

In Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, young Wilhemina (known as Will) is a funny, fiercely independent scrap of a girl with free reign of lots of Zimbabwean farm land as the daughter of the farm’s caretaker.  And Simon, well,

“Simon was Will’s best friend. He was everything that she wasn’t—a tall, fluid black boy to her waiflike, angular white girl. It had not been love at first sight. When Simon had arrived to train as a farmhand, Will had taken one single look and with six-year-old certainty announced that, no, she did not like him. He was flimsy. [....] But it hadn’t taken long for Will to see that Simon was breathing, leaping, brilliant proof that appearances are deceptive. In fact, she knew now, Si was a stretched-catapult of a boy, the scourge of the stables, with a hoarse laugh much too deep for him, and arms and legs that jerked and broke any passing cup or plate. [....] He smelled to the young Will of dust and sap and salt beef.

Will had smelled to Simon of earth and sap and mint.

So with such essential aspects in common—the sap, most obviously, but also the large eyes and the haphazard limbs—it was inevitable that the two fell in sort-of-love by the time they were seven, and by the time their ages were in double digits, they were friends of the firmest, stickiest, and eternal sort.”

In addition to a lively, spritely writing and terrific characters, Katherine Rundell has a gift for getting inside her character’s heads and articulating the kinds of things we all think but rarely express. I’ll indulge myself with one more example:

“…Will stayed in the sun, trying not to smile. Because Will didn’t take orders from anyone. She crouched down, making her most aggravating proud-face, and began scratching a W in the dirt with a long stick. A beetle lumbered up it and onto her arm, and she stilled herself, enjoying the tickling feeling of its thread-thin feet. It was deep green with shimmers of blue and turquoise, with pitch-black legs. She kissed it very softly. If happiness were a color, it would be the color of this beetle, thought Will.”

Isn’t that just lovely? And all by page 9.

I can’t wait to read the rest of this novel! I suspect that by the time it’s over, I might also be likening it to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, because I accidentally read the flap copy and discovered that Will is going to be torn away from her beloved Zimbabwe and plunked into a London boarding school.

What will you be reading over the long weekend?



The Secret Temptations of Booksellers

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 20th, 2015

Counterintuitive as it may seem, most people don’t go into bookselling for the “selling” piece of it. As a whole, we are avid readers, librarians at heart who love to be around books and recommend them to people, and would rather just give them away if we could. The “selling” part is a necessary, but not beloved, aspect of the job, involving enough craziness (plus frustration, plus absurdity) in the details of ordering, receiving, selling, and returning books to drive us to the outermost edges of our patience. And occasionally, I’m sorry to report, we will get a real pip of a customer—someone who forgets that the person on the other side of the counter is a human being. That’s when our brains get busy and we start wondering how close we are to saying or doing something completely outrageous at the store.

Some of our temptations are of the amused, mischievous variety. I am often tempted to pretend I’ve never heard of a very famous series that a customer is asking for. “The Magic Tree House?” I want to say with a look of thoughtful puzzlement. “Not ringing a bell.” Or, “Percy Jackson series?” Shaking my head, blank expression. “Who’s the author?” I actually have done this now and again—usually only with Harry Potter, because I know the customer will get the joke right away.

Sometimes my temptations are creative. I have to wrestle myself to the ground not to do things like rearrange all of adult fiction by color. Or size. Or to group books by theme instead of alpha by author, so the shelves would be divided into sections like: Books That Make Your Heart Happy. Books That Make You Cry, But in a Good Way. Books with Worlds You Don’t Ever Want to Leave. Books That Teach You Fascinating Things. Books That Make You Laugh on Every Page. Fabulous Books with Terrible Covers. Brilliant Gems You’ve Never Heard Of. And so on. I remind myself that this is what displays are for; I don’t need to revamp the entire store.

We did create a Mystery Mystery section on April Fool’s Day:


The worst temptation is the one when we’ve just had it with retail for the moment. Maybe we’ve dealt with people using the store as a showroom to make online purchases. Plus some kids are using picture books as skateboards while their oblivious parent reads a book in a section nearby. And an entitled customer is snapping his fingers at us for his change while another blames us for the gift card she lost. At those times, I can feel myself nearing the danger zone, which means that the very next person who is intolerably rude or treats the books, store, or my staff with disrespect is in danger of hearing out loud what I am chanting in my head. “Get. Out. Get out get out get out!” Happily, it’s never gotten to that point. Yet.

Josie and I used to have a smiley-face-on-a-stick that came with some book back when we first opened the store. We kept it for years, and whenever something drove us absolutely bonkers at the store, one of us would go behind the counter and—unseen by anyone else—raise it up to our face. It made whoever was on the front lines of the bad moment laugh and remember that, as ridiculous as retail can be, it’s still a pretty great job to be a bookseller.

Fellow booksellers, teachers, and librarians—what are your secret temptations?

YA Books That Work For MG Kids?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 15th, 2015

Kids these days are growing up, at least superficially, very fast. Younger and younger children want older and older books, or at least think they do. I ascribe this to media exposure, social media saturation, and our lovely culture of “cool” that makes every child anxious about being called babyish.

A teacher wrote to a mutual friend, looking for books for 5th to 7th graders that feel “sophisticated and savvy” but that are still appropriate for her middle-grade readers. She says she is “always on the lookout for smart, teen-y books that are stealthy in their middle gradesness. Some examples of the books we’re always looking for more of… Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Paper Things by Jennifer Richards Jacobson and, for older readers, The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu.”

What books do you give to a fifth-grade girl with an eye for YA romance? How about a sixth-grade boy who thinks he can handle all the toughness or violence in the world? The teacher’s examples are all realistic fiction, so that’s where I started.

I immediately thought of Shug by Jenny Han, Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen, After Eli by Rebecca Rupp, the books by Phoebe Stone (The Boy on Cinnamon Street, Deep Down Popular, Romeo Blue, The Romeo and Juliet Code), Alabama Moon by Watt Key, Hound Dog True by Linda Urban, Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner, I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, The 10 P.M. Question by Kate De Goldi, Abduction by Rodman Philbrick, Addie on the Inside by James Howe.

Given the titles the teacher mentioned, I suspect some of my recommendations are still too young-feeling (i.e., have covers that telegraph MG) for what she’s looking for.

It’s tempting to rail against popular culture and insist on keeping MG kids paired with MG books, but that’s not how reading really works. My own impulse is to steer kids toward the books meant for their ages, the ones I do believe will best meet them where they are, whether or not they agree with me. But that would be hypocritical. I read books waaaay beyond my age, interest level, and appropriateness from an early age, and I managed to grow up without becoming jaded. I can’t think of a book that compelled me to behave differently from my innate self’s natural trajectory or to take risks I otherwise wouldn’t have. I think gaining the trust of young readers by listening to what they want and trying to meet that wish respectfully will earn us the trust to recommend a broader ranger of great MG (and young YA) books than they might discover on their own.

What would you recommend for these young readers who want something older, books that will truly resonate with them given their younger age?

A Standing Ovation from Me — and Everyone at Children’s Institute

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 5th, 2015

Jewell Parker Rhodes delivers her closing keynote to booksellers at Children’s Institute 3. Photo by Judith Rosen.

I was so sad that I wasn’t able to attend the ABC Children’s Institute this year, especially because it featured several panels and discussions about diversity in the children’s book world. And I’m monumentally sad that I missed hearing live and in person the beautiful, powerful closing keynote that author Jewell Parker Rhodes delivered on the true meaning of diversity in our field, the change we need to be striving for wholeheartedly and with purpose. But I am thrilled that PW reproduced the speech in its entirety for all of us to read. I was moved to tears by it, as were the audience members, who also showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

Here is the link to Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Children’s Institute keynote speech. (I will also include the spelled-out link here: Debbie Reese alerted me to the fact that vision-impaired folks listening to articles cannot access links that aren’t spelled out. This is obvious but hadn’t ever occurred to me, so thanks, Debbie!)

Ms. Rhodes is an exceptional storyteller, which enables her to tackle a topic that can almost lose its urgency under a burden of ‘isms’ and ‘shoulds’ and make it personal, universal, funny, heartwrenching, and heartwarming.  I’m SO tempted to quote from it here, but that would cheat the experience of letting it unfold for you the way she told it.

Thank you, Jewell Parker Rhodes! Even though I wasn’t there to hear your warm, passionate words, I give you a standing ovation from my chair, too.

ShelfTalker readers, if you read the speech, please consider sharing your thoughts and/or appreciation (just a line or two is fine) in the comments here. I’d love for Ms. Rhodes to see how far the impact of her words travels!

Please Design Nonfiction Book Covers That Grab Kids

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 1st, 2015

Sometimes, when I see new juvenile nonfiction titles, I feel as though they’re covered in dust already. I almost feel as though I’M covered in dust. And if I—an adult who loves nonfiction—react that way, I can only imagine how a 10- or 12-year-old would feel.

Some publishers make the argument that these books aren’t for bookstores. They’re for the school and library market. And my reply is, “Exactly.” I’m not sure why we would want to create books that have the most amazing true stories inside look dull and lifeless on the outside. Are we trying to make kids dread report writing as much as humanly possible? Are we trying to discourage their interest in the past, in other human beings, times, and places?

Good book covers of any kind engage readers by inviting them into the wonders within. They might portray an exciting moment of action, or pose a visual question the reader wants to answer, or simply present exciting graphic design that gives a reader confidence that whatever lies within will be interesting and worth their time.

I can sell great nonfiction to kids. Anywhere between 1/5 to 1/3 of the kids who come into the store prefer facts and true stories for their pleasure reading. Let’s give them books they will reach toward rather than shrink away from. I’m not talking about fake-y “Heeeeeyyy!” kinds of covers. I’m talking about smart, contemporary design that respects and admires the material in the book and the ultimate audience it’s aimed at. A book that lures kids into story is golden.

I’ve always felt that great fiction feels true, and great nonfiction reads like the most riveting story. And even kids who don’t think of themselves as enjoying nonfiction actually love it when it sparks their interest. How many times have you told a story to kids and had them on the edges of their seats, and afterward, they say, “Is that true?! Did that really happen??!” They want to know because it makes the story even better for those avid listeners if it’s true. If it really happened, that incredible tale of survival and endurance, that unlikely triumph, that small idea leading to a great innovation — well, that’s a tale that satisfies any reader.

And I think the sales department will reinforce that books that get read, get re-ordered, sell more copies, and live longer in your backlist.

Here are some examples of covers that I think are really successful at drawing kids in:


I’ve noticed that books adapted from adult nonfiction seem to already know the secret of offering covers that grab readers. Books designed with schools and libraries in mind should be just as lively and exciting for kids as books destined for bookstore shelves. Trust librarians to be savvy handsellers. They don’t want dry covers any more than booksellers do. Librarians want the books to appeal to kids! A great cover will give the worthy content inside the best possible shot at being eagerly picked up and perused.

And while we’re at it, make sure your page margins inside those books have enough air that readers don’t feel smothered by the content, especially kids who struggle with reading.

Thanks for listening. Librarians, what say you?

50/50 Diverse Reads Project

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 28th, 2015

Earlier in the year, I decided to spend 2015 reading a much richer selection of books. I determined that fully half of the books I read will feature main characters of color, preferably by authors of color (though current publishing statistics make that latter goal pretty hard to achieve). I wanted to share a few of these books from my reading so far.

An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott (Rosetta Press)—This book for ages 8-12 reminded me so much of books I loved as a fourth- and fifth-grader, the kind of books that explored in a warm and authentic way life’s problems and pleasures as navigated realistically by a young person I could identify with, even if some particulars of her circumstances were different from my own. (I was a desert kid, and most books I read were set in cities, suburbs, or a green countryside. As you might imagine, there were few kids in desert settings in 1970s chapter books. Heck, there still aren’t many!)

Mariqua is eight years old and in a rough patch, getting into arguments at school and leaving her grandmother at wit’s end. The gift of a wooden angel from a mysterious street vendor is the beginning of a series of small good things for Mariqua as she whispers her hopes into the angel’s ear at night. She meets a teenage girl in the same apartment complex who has secrets and struggles of her own but teaches Mariqua how to manage her strong feelings and learn to open up her guarded heart.

We are an over-the-top society these days when it comes to storytelling, and that’s a lot of fun, but children are also still learning to navigate their lives. I loved books about magic and adventure when I was a kid, but I also loved books about family, school, and community. There aren’t enough of those books in our current climate, and I couldn’t help thinking of how little room there is in publishers’ lists for books like this especially when the main character isn’t white and doesn’t live in the suburbs.

Lion, Lion by Miriam Busch and Larry Day (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray) — An exuberant picture book with sly humor in the vein of Jon Klassen and Kevin Sherry, this one is for kids who like to put visual clues and cues together. A little boy calls for his missing Lion, but the lion who shows up is looking for lunch. The boy shows him several non-human lunch possibilities, but the lion dismisses each for various reasons (some of which will help the boy and his little kitten, Lion, later). Will this end badly for the tyke? Happily, the little boy is cleverer than Lion and all ends with a happy twist.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill) — This brutal, fast-paced fantasy feels both familiar and unique. Laia is not brave like her brother nor fierce like her rebel mother nor strong like her father. Laia’s family are Scholars, whose lands and rule were overtaken over by the cruel Martial Empire long ago. Laia’s rebel parents were captured and have disappeared, and now she and her brother live with their grandparents. As the book opens, Laia’s brother is arrested for treason by ruthless Masks — soldiers of the Empire who wear liquid metal masks over their faces — and her family disintegrates while Laia watches, helpless and terrified. Disgusted by her own cowardice, she finds her way to a hideout of Scholar rebels, hoping for their help to free her brother. In exchange for their help, she must disguise herself as a slave and go into service as the handmaiden of the sadistic leader of the Martial Empire, a woman so vicious her own son—a brilliant young soldier who wants nothing more than to escape his violent future—can’t love her. In addition to the palace intrigue and peril, this story offers love triangles and questions what lies at the very heart of courage, integrity, and loyalty.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin) — If the Brothers Grimm had visited Trinidad and gathered stories there, they might have uncovered tales like this one. I’ve never read a book quite like it—unique, colorful, and memorable, not to mention scary! Aimed at ages 8-11, it has a marvelously rendered Caribbean island setting and invokes colorful creatures of myth and folklore from that region. This story is definitely for kids who like to be scared to the tips of their toes by things that go bump in the night. Corinne, 11, is very close to her hearty fisherman father. Both share a deep love of Corinne’s departed mother. Neither has ever paid much attention to tales of the jumbies and creatures who live in the forest that borders the seaside village, but one day Corinne and some friends venture into the woods, triggering a restlessness in the creatures there. Then, when a beautiful, mysterious woman shows up at the open-air market and takes an interest in Corinne and her father, Corinne knows something is not right. The woman insinuates herself into Corinne’s life and her father’s affections, while the wicked sprites and evil mischief-makers are emboldened to leave the forest and attack the villagers. As her father literally falls under the jumbie woman’s spell, it’s up to Corinne to discover the legacy of her mother and the secret strengths that lie within herself, with the help of her friends and a witch. An author’s afterword elaborates on the varieties of jumbies in Caribbean folklore.

Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen (Simon & Schuster) — I’d been hearing great things about this book, so it was high up on my reading stack. When I cracked open the covers, I admit I was a little disappointed to find that it was a novel in free verse. It’s hard for those novels to avoid having the same staccato rhythm, and most really aren’t poetry. Red Butterfly wasn’t entirely immune to those problems, BUT — I soon stopped caring because I was so intrigued by the story and characters and the way this adoption story unfolds.

So much about the story is mysterious in the beginning. Kara is a Chinese child who speaks English fluently but has bad Chinese language skills. She lives with her mother in a small apartment. They have little money, and Kara’s mother rarely ventures outside. When she does so, she covers up from head to toe. Kara’s father lives in America and sometimes sends money, sometimes doesn’t. Little by little, the reasons for Kara’s circumstances become clear. I won’t say more because part of the magic of this book is in discovering the story at its own pace.

I loved this book. I cried at the end of it, cared about the characters — especially a couple of secondary characters in the middle of the book who are deeply, lovingly rendered — and I think sensitive (the positive connotation) young readers will really love this story. My one quibble is that the turning point for Kara comes a bit too quickly, is resolved too suddenly.

So many of us have friends with daughters adopted from China. It’s a tale we think we know at least the main outlines of, but Red Butterfly illuminated an experience I’d never known about — American parents living in China for years before the adoption officially goes through, Chinese children who are undocumented because of the single-child rule, having no official identity and therefore no avenue for even being adopted. It’s clear that this novel was written by someone with intimate insider experience, and it shows in both the small details and the emotional resonance of the story.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones and Katie Kath (Knopf) — This charming middle-grade novel is lively and as much of a standout as The Jumbies, but for completely different reasons. It begins as the story of an immediately likable city girl and her parents, who inherit a farm and need to make sense of a completely unfamiliar setting. At first, you think it’s going to be the kind of bright, funny, warm, realistic novel that an author like Deborah Wiles writes—but then come, as the title promises, some very unusual chickens, some with quite alarming abilities. The mixture of the everyday and the humorously supernatural has a Roald Dahl flavor to it, but tilts less zany and more grounded. (There are even real facts about chickens and how to raise them peppered throughout the book, enlivened by great illustrations.) Twelve-year-old Sophie is resourceful and funny, an observant kid who writes letters to her deceased beloved abuela to keep her posted on Sophie’s new world, as well as to Agnes, original owner of the unusual chickens. She strikes up friendships with Gregory, the mailman (a refreshingly three-dimensional character and one of the only people in town who is “brown” like Sophie and her mother (her dad is white; her mom is Latina). Ethnicity is handled lightly but also directly in this book—for instance, Sophie has occasional moments of frustration due to people’s assumptions based on her mother and her own brown skin—which is also refreshing. These are brief, honest moments in a girl’s life and are folded so easily into a story that includes poultry thieves, shapeshifting creatures, communication from beyond the grave, as well as building an ideal chicken coop and finding friends. One of the most original, fun books I’ve read in a long time.


So that’s my update for now! The diversity revolution in publishing is beginning to have real legs, though we all need to do our part to make sure this isn’t another burst of enthusiasm that fades. Given the population of the United States, it is a win-win-win decision to bring all of our children into books that make them heroes, both ordinary and super, of stories.

Next up: The Lost Tribes by Christine Taylor-Butler (Move Books) and Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani (Tu Books).


“A Bookstore Is for Forever Books”

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 20th, 2015

Trinity CLiF EventWhen you visit a school filled with exuberant toddlers and little kids, you never know what gems might pop out of their mouths. Last week, I had the happy occasion to visit with 65 children ages 2 1/2 to 5 years at a bright, open, cheerful school that had won a grant from the Children’s Literacy Foundation to supplement their library and send new books home with the kids. Every surface in the bright, clean, vibrant classroom was covered with books donated by the folks at CLiF, who provide a terrific curated list to teachers and invite them to choose from the list and add any other requests the teachers may have. 

every hero has a story

One of the celebration’s guests was Rebecca, head of Youth Services at Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, who told the children about the library’s summer reading program, which is newly open to children below kindergarten age. Every participant not only gets to read great books and do fun activities all summer long, but also receives a free Jarrett Krosoczka-designed “Every Hero Has a Story” Platypus Police Squad T-shirt! Very exciting. I totally want one.

As a lifelong avid reader, public library patron, and former school librarian, I have always been a huge fan of libraries. They are – even more so than our beloved and important community bookstores – absolutely vital to a community’s survival (not to mention thrival). After my author story time at the CLiF celebration, there was a little Q&A with the children. I asked if they knew the difference between a library and a bookstore. One little girl, age 4 or so, raised her hand. Here’s what she said:

“A library is where you can go and get as many books as you would like and you take them home and then bring them back. You can take them out again, though, but then you have to bring them back. A bookstore is for forever books. It’s where you can take a book home and keep it forever.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. A bookstore is for forever books! *sniffle* And a library is that magical place where you can take as many books out as you like, over and over again. It occurred to me that nonprofit literacy organizations like CLiF, First Book, and so many others are the perfect intersection of bookstores and libraries: they provide free books children can take home and keep.

CLiF booksAfter the presentations, the children were invited to eat some of the tasty and beautiful snacks the school had set up for them and their families, and – best of all – they got to choose two books each to take home and keep from the many treasures the CLiF grant provided. I wish I could show you pictures of the happy, well-controlled chaos of 65 little children gazing with delight and concentration at the tabletops filled with wonderful books to choose from, trying to pick the very most enticing ones to take home, clutching their riches in their arms as the party dispersed and teachers led the little groups back to cheerful, bright, book-filled classrooms and the prospect of going home with their brand-new forever books.

Events like these make me so grateful to be part of a field that brings kids not just knowledge and entertainment and inspiration, but sheer joy. We are lucky!


If Someone Only Knew: Inviting Hurting Teens to Talk

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 13th, 2015

If Someone Only KnewAnyone familiar with the creative and advocacy efforts of YA author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and her writing colleague Carrie Gordon Watson will know about their Never Counted Out initiative, which strives to empower teens—especially at-risk teens—by encouraging them to share their stories and believe in themselves despite being dismissed, stifled, bullied, or belittled.

The Never Counted Out folks have created a new project in reaction to recent suicides by transgender teens like Ash Haffner and Blake Brockington. Frustrated by the slow pace of tolerance in this country for kids and teens who are different from their peers, Charlton-Trujillo, Watson, and their team dreamed up the idea of a shared public blog for teens called If Someone Only Knew, which invites young people to share writings on that topic in an effort to support one another.

Charlton-Trujillo felt that her childhood and teen years growing up in a small Texas town, where she “felt counted out more often than [she] was counted in,” would have been vastly different if she had been able to connect to people like her in other towns and cities, sharing ideas and offering encouraging words and supporting the fierce belief in freedom and self-expression.

If Someone Only Knew invites teens to share their stories anonymously. It’s an opportunity to tell people what’s really going on in their lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly—which, Charlton-Trujillo and Watson hope, might just help other teens make it through the roughest patches. “We are now asking young people to be heard via writing and art rather than in a suicide note,” Charlton-Trujillo writes.

Submissions to the blog can take the form of photography, video, writing, poetry slam, and music, and the comments section will be moderated to keep internet trolling at bay.

The Never Counted Out website has a great clip from At-Risk Summer, the short documentary film sparked by Charlton-Trujillo’s novel, Fat Angie. The video shows Charlton-Trujillo working with teens. Her workshops are lively and funny, and clearly draw out teens who may not have many respectful, relatable adults in their lives.

Some of the contributions to If Someone Only Knew will eventually be published in a paperback anthology, likely to come out in 2016. “Monies from the publication,” Charlton-Trujillo says, “will be directed to programs sponsored by Never Counted Out.”

Kudos to an inspired and inspiring project!!

An Undersung Tour de Force and Great Re-Read: Gregory Maguire’s ‘Egg & Spoon’

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 3rd, 2015

I’m so far behind in my reading (a common bookseller’s lament) that I rarely allow myself the luxury of re-reading a book. But I got a yen recently for Gregory Maguire’s Egg & Spoon. Don’t know why, but I just had to revisit his Baba Yaga. And in re-reading Egg & Spoon, I was again struck by what a freaking masterpiece it is, a masterpiece that adults can appreciate but that never loses sight of its child audience – a rarity. Egg & Spoon is a classic. A grand, quirky classic.

Gregory Maguire’s genius is so glittery fabulous and so human, so rich and sharp and humorous, so wildly fertile, that I think he approaches Shakespeare in inventiveness, earthiness, and scope. I’ve never compared a living writer to my main bard, Shakesy, but if anyone can stand the test of centuries and still be found gorgeous, timely, relevant, and astonishing, I believe Gregory Maguire can and will.

I was shocked that Egg & Spoon was passed over by awards committees this January, and I can only hope that the one or two remaining major children’s book awards for 2014 titles (*coff*) rectifies this glaring error. (Please note: my dismay isn’t a comment on the books that did win awards, which I adored and most of which were in our store newsletter as our top picks of the year. I just thought Egg & Spoon would be up there with them.)

I think sometimes writers are so good that they almost exist in a category of their own. Maybe Shakespeare was overlooked by the Tudor Tony Awards, too.

How the Future Looks Now: New Apps for Bookstores

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 1st, 2015

One of the best things about writing for PW’s ShelfTalker is that sometimes we get the chance to break book-related news before anyone else! It’s not news that the bookselling field needs to innovate in order to stay afloat, but PW bloggers Elizabeth and Kenny have been looking at some exciting new apps being developed for booksellers to help us face some of our unique challenges and compete in an increasingly aggressive marketplace.

Here are a few of the most ingenious and experimental new apps that are just out of beta testing and will soon be available to booksellers across the country:


The iBoat Remote (for international and water deliveries)

Overseas freight charges and customs delays are a nightmare for both booksellers and customers. Fortunately, the International Booksellers’ Association has been proactively developing a new system that will revolutionize book delivery overseas — and to anyone who lives near water. “Remote control submarine delivery” (RSCD) is the next innovation in immediate, individualized distribution of books to consumers. Booksellers will simply load customer orders into waterproof containers and slide them into the iBoat Sub for safe transport under the stormiest of waters.

Step 1: Process the customer order as usual.

Step one: Process the customer order as usual april fool blog post

Step 2: Slide books into the appropriate-sized waterproof container:
plano waterprooc
Step 3: Load container into the remote-controlled iBoat submarine and set on course.

It couldn’t be easier! And controlling the iBoat is a breeze with the dedicated iBoat Remote app (available in the iTunes store and Google Play), which allows booksellers complete control over destination, speed, variable depth, and sonic predator deflection settings.

Dina Garnish, owner of Unfinished Chapters on Tortola, BVI, has been beta-testing the iBoat Remote for two months. “The last thing a bookseller needs,” she says, “is for a customer waiting on Pioneer Girl to have her long-awaited copy eaten by a shark.”

She thinks the predator deflection settings work wonders. “I swear, I’ve seen a lionfish heading for the sub and then suddenly veer away like it heard ‘Party in the U.S.A.’ on the radio at breakfast.”

Garnish also says her store has confirmed a 94% on-time completion rate with the iBoat Remote system. “That’s better than FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal System combined. And I’ve only lost one sub so far. The iBoat folks think a disoriented beluga was traveling out of its usual path and, in confusion, mistook the deflection sound for a mating call.”

“It’s not a perfect system yet,” admits iBoat Remote developer Brandt Vonderzeep III, “but it’s getting close. And unlike traditional delivery methods and drones alike, the iBoat won’t have to combat bad weather on land or sky. It zooms along safely underneath the storms and ice.”

It sounds good, but doesn’t this leave landlocked booksellers out of the loop? Not at all, says Vonderzeep. “They can simply piggyback the system onto a drone until it reaches a viable lake, river, or sea.”

Elizabeth’s rating of the iBoat Remote: “So far, I give it 4 out of 5 Flying Pigs! Extremely promising. More field-testing will be necessary, but this is a very solid and exciting development for booksellers!”


Caninartist (dog authoring and illustrating)

One new app to keep our eyes on is the new indie publishing app, Caninartist, which allows dogs to dictate and draw their own picture books through its sophisticated bark-to-text and bark-to-image mapping software. The books are then published via etailing giant Atavism’s expressplace self-publishing platform and available for purchase online and at book and kennel Atavism affiliates everywhere.

Dog owners are reporting being thrilled with the new app. “This is just another example of the great boon indie publishing offers to the world of readers and their creative pets,” Atavism’s Caninartist spokesperson Stan Juiker said. Juiker isn’t the only one who is very pleased with this new publishing initiative.

“I always knew Mango (his golden retriever-dachsund mix) had some great stories to tell,” said Mango’s owner  Mark Santeros, “and now with the publication of his picture book, Feed Me, he can share his creative vision with the world.”
mangoThe Caninartist App may not be a boon for independent booksellers though. For example, recently retired bookseller Karen Chittenden commented, “This is why I retired, this goes beyond triage, it’s more like being trapped in a garbage disposal. ‘Capture, Kill, Eat, Good,’ repeated 10 times in a row, that is not a professional narrative, nor do the garish images of sea turtles and rabbits frolicking, which appear to have been just randomly downloaded from a clip art library by the software onto the page, have any artistic value at all.” Juiker offered a different perspective. “Animals help make us more human, and now they can enrich us in even more ways,” he said.

Kenny’s rating of Caninartist: ” I rate this app a 5 out of 5 because it would be arrogant to do otherwise. After all are we really qualified to judge the literary output of our canine companions?”


Bookistry (literary palm reading app)

A highly touted bookselling app that launched recently, the American Booksellers Association’s palm reading app, Bookistry, has met with a mixed, but mostly positive reception. The Bookistry app, which offers customers palm readings to discover what their ideal book selections are, got off to a flying start as indie customers were quick to open both their palms and their wallets for this in-person, electronic palm reader.

The app, which is integrated into bookstore POS systems, is very easy to use. Booksellers simply scan the customer’s palm and their ideal book titles appear in the POS cash register. DDG was a beta test store for the app. I can tell you that results were both surprising and gratifying. Twenty-two-year-old bookseller Sam Oppenheim noted that, “I had always been a Neil Gaiman reader, and I must say that I was surprised by the app results, but let me tell you, it knew me. Anne River Siddons is the bomb!”

Doris Maybury, mother of seven-year-old Grace, echoed those sentiments. “At first I thought Grace was a little young for Haruki Murakami but I was so wrong, she can’t put IQ84 down!


Other stores have reported darker experiences, though. “At first I thought this was an ideal extension of handselling,” said Gabby Watkins of Red Ribbon Books. “When the Bookistry scan kept adding bereavement titles for one of my favorite customers to purchase, we laughed it off. I figured it was just a glitch. I know better now. I’m not laughing anymore. Did Bookistry read the future or cause it, that’s what keeps me up at night.”

Whether it is the cause or merely the messenger of future events, app developer Jane Hypand declared that Bookistry is here to stay.  ”Look, nothing in life is perfect. Being matched up with your ideal books in a less than ideal world is bound to have some attendant complications, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.” Totally agree!

Kenny’s rating of Bookistry: “I rate this app a 4 out of 5 because I agree with Hypand that its benefits far outweigh its occasionally uncomfortable revelations. Uncovering the books which our customers are destined to read is too large a leap forward to be set aside out of a reactionary fear which, if humored, would leave us in the position of cowardly shielding our eyes from the future.


Booksellers, will you be trying any of these new apps? And have you encountered any apps that you think signal the future of bookselling?

Happy April!