Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

A ‘Valentine for Blobfish’ Contest

Kenny Brechner -- February 4th, 2016

Gene Luen Yang may be the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature but the 2016 Ambassador to Young People’s Science and Nature books is unquestionably the blobfish. No child looking at a blobfish can fail to assume that he has feelings, and that those feelings have been hurt. Whether headlining Jess Keating’s excellent new “pink is for everyone” themed Pink Is for Blobfish (Knopf, Feb.), or helping narrate Jessica Olien’s delightful The Blobfish Book (Harper, May), the blobfish clearly is the perfect ambassador to engage both children’s empathy and their interest in science.
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Worst First Line Winners!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 2nd, 2016

Ah, ShelfTalker readers, you have been so patient awaiting the results of the Worst First Line contest. But see how many wonderful extra posts by Kenny and Josie you’ve gotten to read while checking the site for the spoils of victory? We feel that the capricious nature of our announcement date adds a little je ne sais quoi to the award proceedings.

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The Myth of Valentine’s Day Books

Josie Leavitt -- February 1st, 2016

Every year we usually order a paperback Valentine’s Day display. The display – and it honestly doesn’t matter which publisher it comes from – contains a mix of titles about love from the perspective of small animals, classroom Valentine’s issues, and often a book or two about familial love. These books are cute, often adorably illustrated and usually don’t sell all that well. Sure, you’re all wondering, well then, why do you keep ordering them? Excellent question. I think we’ve succumbed to the pressure of having a display for a lot of holidays, which, in theory makes good sense, but often times these are not the books people give for specific holidays.

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Where Do You Like to Read?

Josie Leavitt -- January 29th, 2016

Every book lover has a special place they prefer to read. The act of reading is a very intimate one, and deeply personal. For some it’s comfy at home on the couch, for others it’s in a noisy cafe, and still others prefer their favorite chair. I was thinking about this while I was chatting with a friend about books. We started talking, not only where you read, but how readers prepare for reading a new book. Starting a book is very much like deciding to spend time with a friend, and this often requires preparation. Continue reading

The Importance of Interest

Kenny Brechner -- January 28th, 2016

When it comes to bookselling ideas, interplay, and industry face-to-face connections, Winter Institute is the ultimate buffet. At the end of WI 11, however, we were challenged to focus on one idea from the conference that we wanted to focus on particularly and follow through on right away. Right ho then. First though, here is a list of some other notable ideas and aspects of Winter Institute that I am not going to mention.
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Always Learning – More on ‘Cake’

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 26th, 2016

Recently, I blogged about the flare-up over Scholastic’s pulling of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, and my feeling was that because the book is for such young readers, who will not have the context to read between the lines of the “smiling slave” narrative (nor, sadly, will many of the adults sharing it with them be aware of this problematic treatment of slavery), it was a thoughtful decision to pull the book, despite the chill of censorship such a move casts.

I had felt that the book carried some of the burden that arose with the controversy around A Fine Dessert, and that it was pulled in part because sensitivities and awareness are now at such high levels that the publishing community has started to catch up to a more nuanced understanding of diversity and the importance of authenticity and accuracy.

But many voices in the community have raised the question of whether the fact that the team behind the book are people of color influenced this almost-unprecedented removal of a book from publication. And that question stopped me right in the tracks of my own white privilege – the kind that is most insidious and invisible, the kind I almost never have to think about. That white authors and illustrators have a level of support and comfort in the halls of publishing that few artists of color do. I’ve been aware of the struggles of people of color to be published, of course, and aware of frustrations with an editorial approach that often shows evidence of comfort only with certain limited kinds of stories about people of color. But I hadn’t thought at all about post-publication issues. Continue reading

Planning a Big Anniversary Party

Josie Leavitt -- January 25th, 2016

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Flying Pig Bookstore. When Elizabeth and I opened the store on November 23, 1996, I don’t think we had any idea that 20 years later not only would we still be open, but we’d be thriving. It’s been a glorious 20 years that we really want to celebrate. While the actual date of the party feels far away, the planning has already started and we have the spreadsheets to prove it. Continue reading

The Life Cycle of the MFA Residency

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 22nd, 2016
MFA Life Cycle 6

Part 1 of the comic © Kelly Bingham 2002

Back in 2002, I was one of a dozen students beginning our first semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. That long, intense week of lectures, readings, and workshops bonded us so strongly, we all still keep in touch, celebrating life and work’s successes and mourning losses together. Admittedly, it was an exceptionally fabulous group of people, but I’ll bet that can be said of most groups of children’s book writers.

Recently, a friend of mine went to her first MFA residency. It was a different program at a different institution, but I suspected that she would go through so many of the same things we did – high hopes and dreams, self-doubt, critique fear, exhilaration, and the midweek meltdown that comes as a result of exhaustion, an excess of emotional and intellectual stimulation, and the inevitable product of introverts experiencing people overload. So I sent her off with a gift that one of my classmates from that long-ago group had given to us at the end of our week together: a cartoon sketching out the Life Cycle of the MFA Residency. Continue reading

Surviving ‘The Sound of Music’

Kenny Brechner -- January 21st, 2016

Inveterate fantasy readers could be forgiven for believing that the dangers present in their favorite genre are more mordant than those to be found in small-town independent bookselling. The truth is far darker than this naive presumption. When it comes to danger, incursions form unstable parallel universes, diabolical magic wielders, pandemics stemming from dubious science experiments, alien invasions and environmental catastrophes, pale in comparison to the terror of selling local theater tickets, especially when children are involved.

angry_mobLike many bookstores, DDG volunteers to sell tickets on behalf of many community organizations. It is usually a safe and rewarding community service to offer. Local theater productions with a significant number of child actors in them is another matter. Once there are more grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and neighbors than there are tickets available well, there aren’t enough pitchforks to pass around.
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Turning Diversity Flare-Ups into Opportunity

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 19th, 2016

The children’s literature world has been stirred up by Scholastic’s announcement on Sunday that they are pulling A Birthday Cake for George Washington from their line-up and offering full return credit for unsold copies. The nutshell for anyone new to this issue is that a picture book for young readers was published, and then recalled because it ended up altering and reinterpreting history in ways that made slavery seem like a sometimes proud and happy experience, without sufficient accuracy and context in the story itself for its young readers to understand the reality of that experience (though there is a note in the back matter clarifying some of the license taken).

Our small world is in an uproar of disagreement about this decision to pull the book; you can read some articles from various viewpoints:

While the Internet is aflame with vilification and ire on both sides, what I want to talk about is the opportunity that this decision affords us in the future.

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