Author Archives: Elizabeth Bluemle

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.

How the Sausage Gets Made

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 18th, 2014

IMG_2728I’ve just come back from the fabulous Rochester Children’s Book Festival, about which I have written before (here) as the gold standard of children’s author festivals. This year, more than 3,000 people attended this indoor celebration of books. There was not a moment when people were not filling the aisles, browsing our tables, participating in presentations, making crafts, and listening to read-alouds. The RCBF is a blast! As always, it ran like clockwork thanks to the amazing team of Elizabeth Falk, Kathy Blasi, Barbara Underhill and her team of volunteers, the brilliant Vivian Vande Velde who dreamed up the festival in the first place, and so many others who make it happen. Lift Bridge Books creates a pop-up store in the festival space and brings all of the 50 visiting authors’ books — no easy feat, I can tell you. And during the two weeks before the Festival, the “Festival-To-Go” brings authors into inner-city schools in Rochester for free, allowing hundreds, maybe thousands, of children unusual access to “real live authors and illustrators,” all talented, dedicated people passionate about books, reading, writing, and kids.

In addition to the glow of seeing SO MANY enthralled, excited children at the festival — from the three-year-old rapt over a copy of Library Lion to the 10-year-olds excitedly clutching signed copies of new books from favorite authors — there is the great joy of spending a little time with author and artist pals I might only see once or twice a year. The hilarity is pretty much non-stop, and lasts from dinner the night before the festival to drinks after the dinner the night it closes. And Readers, sometimes this means we are privy to the secrets of Great Writing.

Authors Paul Acampora and Erin Dionne let me into their private writing worlds, and are allowing me to share this video snippet with you. It came about because Paul was telling us about how his daughter refers to his writing room as a “thinking room,” because all her dad does is stare out the window. He demonstrated. And Erin responded by sharing her own, um, memorable writing style. And then they allowed their process to be recorded, poorly, by a mediocre phone camera in a crowded restaurant. So aspiring writers, take note: as Erin Dionne says, This is how the sausage gets made. (Don’t worry about the sound; it’s probably best left off.)

‘Blue Mountain’: A Book That Stands Out from the Herd

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 13th, 2014

blue mountainIt’s astonishing how accustomed we’ve all become to a certain tone in middle-grade books, a voice or mood that’s become so familiar it takes something radically different to remind us of the fact that there are many, many different ways of telling stories. A nation’s political situation, social context, attitudes, trends, or popular culture can’t help but influence writers, and writing trends and storytelling habits emerge and change along with them. Writing styles and trends wax and wane, but even gone, they leave their mark on subsequent generations of writers.

It’s so rare to feel that exciting kick in the gut that signals something fresh and deep and true, done differently. I had that feeling immediately when I started reading Martine Leavitt’s Blue Mountain. I’m not sure if Leavitt’s Canadian roots account for this book’s uniqueness, but sometimes it takes a book from another culture to spur this kind of reading awakening. Styles of narration, types of stories, even favorite themes, can vary wildly between countries, giving us stories that stand apart from our habitual daily fare, as delicious as it may be. Reading Blue Mountain is like drinking a glass of clear cold water after having chugged sodas for a week.

So much about this book feels like a return to classic storytelling. It is old-fashioned (and by this I think I mainly mean that the narrative is patient, deliberate, without being staid), full of starkness and beauty, joy and sorrow, danger and gentle calm. Readers who loved Where the Red Fern Grows and The Yearling and especially The Call of the Wild should find a new timeless tale to love here. Blue Mountain is the story of Tuk, a bighorn sheep whose world is threatened by natural predators and human encroachment. Young Tuk is large, and his approving herdmates assume that he will grow up a leader. Further signaling his specialness is Tuk’s ability to see, now and again, a mystical blue mountain in the distance that is the stuff of legend among his kind — a safe homeland for bighorn sheep beyond the reach of dangers. As humans build higher and higher up the mountains, there’s a chain reaction; animal predators are emboldened and there are fewer resources for the hungry bighorns. When Tuk leads a group of his fellow sheep away from their grounds to find the blue mountain, he encounters challenges that test his strength, intelligence, and wits.

The pace of the book has a rhythm like nature itself: it unfolds with stretches of peace and moments of high intensity. It isn’t afraid to be sober. It doesn’t shy away from the sudden brutalities of the natural world, but deals with them gracefully.

Blue Mountain is an animal unto itself. Like Tuk, Blue Mountain forges its own path, unconcerned with the exigencies of sheep beyond its herd. It isn’t for every young reader, but will resonate and stay with those who love nature and linger in dreams of wilderness, destiny, adventure, and myth.

Book Designers: Aging Booksellers Cry Mercy!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 3rd, 2014

ISBN picFor the love of all things typographical, this is a plea to the folks who design book jackets: PLEASE choose font sizes visible to the naked middle-aged eye for your series numbers, prices, ISBNs, and any other text necessary for retailers. This goes double for the marketing info you include on ARCs — what is the use of them if we can’t actually read the intended audience, age range, price, and promotional plan jammed into that skinny strip? And series numbers on spines that are nearly invisible (either because of font size or muddy colors that blend with the rest of the spine) don’t actually serve booksellers OR readers.

As you may not be aware—living as you do amid the clear-eyed, 20-something population that comprises Manhattan’s publishing and design elite—the average age of the indie bookseller is something like 173. We cannot see 6- and 7-point ISBNs even with our reading glasses on, or while using one of those humiliating wallet magnifying cards. This makes for some comical fun when our scanner is on the fritz and customers are waiting for us to hand-enter information. Likewise, forcing booksellers to peer helplessly at a spine to figure out which book is number 6 in the Em Square Saga does not help the cause of any publisher.

Continue reading

Quick! Support the Indiegogo for We Need Diverse Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 27th, 2014

This just in from the Department of Putting Our Money (and Social Media Efforts) Where Our Mouths Are: the We Need Diverse Books campaign has put together an IndieGoGo fundraiser.

Even if you can’t contribute financially at this time (although every little bit adds up), please don’t miss the wonderful short video featuring kids and children’s book authors and editors—including Matt de la Peña, John Green, Grace Lin, Marie Lu, Lamar Giles, Tim Federle, Jacqueline Woodson, Cindy Pon, and Arthur A. Levine—and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues, who may be in a position to contribute.

Here are some of the great initiatives you’ll be supporting:

1) Diversity in the Classroom: Your donation helps bring diverse authors to classrooms that really need author visits!

2) Walter Dean Myers grants for deserving authors and artists of color whose work deserves a wider audience. (More info in the PW article here.)

And here are some of the perks you can receive for donating:

(1) Signed prints from some amazing artists!

(2) Agent critiques!

(3) Swag packs full of bookmarks, pins, and other goodies, including a poster in the super swag packs.

Over the past several years, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and talking about this vital need in children’s books, and have felt pretty deeply immersed in the value of seeing ourselves and others reflected authentically and widely in the books we offer to youth. So I was surprised to discover, in the video, an aspect of this conversation I hadn’t really thought about. It came from Matt de la Peña, who was not an enthusiastic reader as a kid and didn’t discover the power of books until his basketball skills led to a college scholarship. There, he encountered the first book he ever read that moved him nearly to tears (watch the video to find out which one!). He said, “Books became my secret place to feel.”

I think this must be the case for so many young readers, especially for boys whose feelings are not encouraged to be shared. And how are books going to touch these tender souls wrapped in their outer protective layers if those books don’t speak to a variety of emotions and situations that resonate with readers? We need diverse books! For so many, many reasons.

Thanks for everything you readers do to support and learn about and educate others about this great ball of momentum for truly multicultural literature!

One Mom’s Terrific Letter to an Anxious Young Student

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 20th, 2014

The school year is in full swing now, and here at the bookstore, we see a full range of children: those who are happy, sad, energized, stressed, beaten down, lifted up by their experiences at school – sometimes many of those things all in one day. Our town is a college-minded one, and there can be a lot of pressure to achieve. When a student comes into the store who seems overwhelmed by the demands of school, family, or especially him or her own self, I find myself wanting to share this beautiful letter that my friend, children’s book writer J.D. Lester, wrote to her own daughter one challenging afternoon. It feels balancing and whole and joyful and kind and calm, a rudder on the out-of-control boat that can be our current cultural mindset. I’ve gotten J.D.’s permission to share her letter here, and after the letter, I’ll post a few book titles that seem to me to celebrate the happy imperfections and uniqueness of kids just being themselves, and I’ll invite you to add your recommendations, too.

And now, the words of J.D. Lester:

An Open Letter to my Kid after our first 3rd grade gifted teacher conference:

Dear Scout, I see how frustrated you are with school sometimes. I see how tired you are at the end of the day. You’re working a grade year ahead for the first time and I know it’s not easy. You’re slow and methodical; they want rapid and moving-on. I know you’re fearful that maybe you’re not good enough. But here’s the thing. You’re 8 little years old. Now is not the time for worrying about your grades or school performance. When I was 8, my biggest goals were figuring out a way down the McQueary’s chimney, growing my hamster empire, and torturing your aunt Lynna. So, I was shocked the other day when you asked me when your grades would begin to count for college. College?! You still have licensed characters on your underpants; let’s just lighten up here a bit, girlfriend. Childhood goes by too quickly; I don’t want yours to slide by in an adrenaline-and-cortisol anxiety-drunk haze.

As I told you again today, if you try your hardest and flunk every single dadblamed subject, we’ll go out for frozen yogurt to celebrate, because, YAY, you tried your hardest. And then maybe we’ll play with the dog and the bunny, or watch a little Turtle Man on Animal Planet. Furreals, all I really care about is that you give it your best shot – ever. I don’t care if you don’t go to Harvard. Too snowy up there, funny accents. Of course, I’d like for you to go to college – somewhere – because I think knowledge is cool, and because I think knowledge is the very best gift you can give yourself (other than a baby, and you’ll need a participant for that particular gift. But, that’s another letter for another day, though – many years from now. Like 20 years from now. At least.).

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes. Grades… and school stress and homework anxiety and – stop the presses!!! – again, I repeat, you’re 8 years old. Life is supposed to be SO much more than performing well in school, or succeeding in some fab career – though those things are nice. I’m not knocking them. I’m just saying there’s SO much more. And you’re succeeding wildly already, in my eyes. When you wanted to give blood to the children affected by the Boston bombing… when you wanted to give your birthday money to the Humane Society… when you take the time to make sure other kids feel included… those are the times I come close to being a proud Tiger Mom – because I very fiercely want you to be a good human being. The world needs good human beings more than it needs scholars and over-achievers – and the tragic thing is, we just don’t hand out nearly enough “A’s” for loving, and living, well.

So, you could say that I want you to get straight A’s in caring about other people, and having a good life, however YOU measure that. I’d also be proud if you were Valedictorian of the class that loves the sky and water and land enough to defend it. I hope you’ll be crowned Queen of the Dance of People who Failed and Got Back Up Stronger. I want you to be in the top percentile of people who value and practice humility. I want you to be voted Most Likely to Pee in Her Pants from Laughing Too Hard and Occasionally at the Wrong Times. I hope your greatest awards are smiles you give to others; I hope your trophies are lives you change because of the way you live yours. I don’t care if anyone ever knows your name; I just want you to carry it with grace so, at the end of the run, you have a sense of pride in who and where you’ve been.

I want you to see wild places and know that they are life’s cathedrals; I want you to give them every bit of respect and wonder in you. I want you to see despairing places, work to change them, and never take your own entitlement for granted. If you have to be a teacher’s pet, let the teacher be someone with so much less than you who smiles regardless. You never have to be the star athlete of anything other than euphoric dancing in the rain. (I secretly hope you’ll be a champion rain dancer like your mama.) You don’t have to be cast in the lead of any play. I hope you will know that being authentically, courageously yourself is the greatest starring role you could ever have. I want you to stay busy with extra-curriculars of living room karaoke, lightning bug catching, lying on your back in the grass and cloud-watching. I don’t want your life to be spent looking at the back of a headrest, rushing from one brag book accomplishment to the next.

Basically, sweet girl, here’s what I believe: the world chases a lot of ultimately meaningless benchmarks to measure human worth, and to prove ourselves worthy to other humans. (Silly, isn’t it? And just a little sad?) Know that many of these are arbitrary standards created by people who maybe just never learned how to be happy themselves. And if you don’t conform to these standards, or triumph within the prescribed rules, just go ahead and make your own measures, guided by your own conscience and your own special gifts. Succeed in ways that make you feel proud inside, no externals, no accolades -and, especially, no grades – required. And no matter where you go, know that, already, you’ve been my favorite teacher ever. I love you.

Love, Mama

PS: Your grades were fine. Stop worrying. XO

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I love that letter. Thank you, J.D., and writers everywhere who help children develop compassion and kindness and self-forgiveness and remind them to value their own inner compass. Here are a few books that share this letter’s spirit of valuing children for their flawed, wonderful, trying-hard selves, books that say, “I hope you will know that being authentically, courageously yourself is the greatest starring role you could ever have.”

the-story-of-ferdinand-book-cover-490x600

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. The peaceful little bull who refuses to fight in the ring, preferring to smell the ladies’ beautiful flowers, leaves a lasting impression on young readers.

ish

Ish by Peter Reynolds. A boy crumples up his artwork after its imperfections are mocked by an older sibling, but his little sister collects it for the gallery she keeps of his drawings and shows him how to see them differently. His flowers may not be perfect, and his vases may not look ideal, but they are flower-ish and vase-ish, and there’s a lot of freedom and joy to be found in living “ishfully.” A terrific book for perfectionists.

weslandia_cover

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Kevin Hawkes. A boy doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids. He’s got his own way of looking and thinking about things, and one summer, he sets about creating his own civilization in his garden. His determination and self-reliance—not to mention the magical results of his efforts—draw people to him. A celebration of quirky individuality.

trouble with dogs

The Trouble with Dogs… Said Dad by Bob Graham. When “the Brigadier” is brought in to teach obedience lessons to exuberant puppy Dave, his militaristic approach dulls Dave’s sparkle and dampens his spirit. Not to worry, though; Dave’s human family finds a way to teach the Brigadier that a gentler approach is the way to go, and that warmth and loyalty are more important than mere obedience.

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos. There isn’t a more lovably flawed, doing-his-best character in children’s literature than ADHD “wired-up mess” superstar Joey. Any of the Joey Pigza novels qualifies for this list (and there’s a brand-new wonderful fifth book out this fall, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza), but I chose the second one because I read them out of order and it was in this book that I discovered this series’ incredible tightrope balance of wild, laugh-out-loud humor, heartbreak, and great good heart.

brilliant fall of gianna z

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner. Disorganized, well-meaning procrastinator Gianna has one week to pull together the big seventh-grade leaf-collecting project she should have been working on for months. This MG novel rings so true, and show such great compassion for imperfect students whose other strengths deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

and heres to you

And Here’s to You by David Elliot, illus. by Randy Cecil. I have mentioned this book in a couple of blog posts over the years; it’s one of the most joyful books around. In rhyming verses, Elliott sings funny, heartfelt praises of insects and animals, fishes, birds, people, and more. Its sheer ebullience is infectious.

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What books would you add to this list?

Twenty-Five-Year-Old Toddlers? Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 14th, 2014
Eileen Christelow Drawing

Eileen Christelow drawing one of her little monkeys.

You can’t mention “five little monkeys jumping on the bed” to anyone in Vermont and have them NOT be familiar with the colorful series of exuberant picture books by Eileen Christelow. I suspect this is true in the rest of the country, too. Those little monkeys are so mischievous, and channel toddler energy so impishly, that it is impossible to think of them as 25-year-olds. But the first book in the series did, indeed, turn 25 this month, and we had the privilege of celebrating that milestone with a store full of real toddlers in party hats, who enthusiastically chanted along as Eileen Christelow read her books aloud.

Because of the way the event was set up in the store, there was no way to get behind the group to take photos of the backs of the kids’ heads (we don’t show their faces for privacy reasons), so you will have to take my word for it that they were ADORABLE! And the gasps and the looks on their faces watching Eileen draw her monkeys was priceless; she was making beloved characters appear out of thin air!

We had party treats for the kids set up outside on a table for children after the lively reading, drawing, and Q&A. They were invited to enjoy cake or cupcakes and apple cider on the porch, after leaving the bookstore (a sticky-page-saving endeavor that worked like a charm). We’d bought a couple of Barrel Full O’ Monkeys games and popped those on the sheet cake.

Monkey Cake

And even though the Harvest Festival and a giant soccer tournament were going on during the busy Columbus Day weekend, families turned out in numbers for the monkeys’ birthday party. We had some signboards outside that I’d drawn (apologies to Eileen Christelow for the imperfect renditions). I’d covered the signs with packing tape as a sort of laminate against rain. Good thing, too, because during the couple of weeks they were out, we had some downpours.

We don’t always have the time to try replicating picture book characters on signboards, but when we do, I think it really increases the attention our signs receive from passing traffic.

Christelow signboard side 2

christelow signboard side 1

It was one of those events that feels great from start to finish — even with the slightly hectic last-minute easel assembly (all of ours had gone missing, so we made a trip to the store that morning and had an amusing time wrestling with the nearly wordless, not-very-clear instructions).

And while the event is now past, we get to celebrate (as we do with all events) a while longer with displays of autographed stock, including Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat just in time for Halloween.

I can’t wait to see what story Eileen Christelow cooks up for the monkeys’ 30th!