Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

Why Lying Is So Hot Now

Kenny Brechner -- September 25th, 2014

sealed-with-a-lie-9781481400527_lg

One clings to the belief that effects have causes, that, for example, Young Adult trends have reasons. That may not be so, of course, perhaps the endless parade of ballroom gowns on YA cover models is just the void getting in a good one. Nonetheless, when I noticed an obvious new trend in YA frontlist I decided to eschew the epistemology of despair and try to come up with a reason.

Lying has always been a popular term for book titles, of course, but between 9/14 and 6/15 the floodgates have opened. Here is a title sampler: Even When You Lie to Me, Liars, Inc., Krakens and Lies, Lies We Tell Ourselves, Secrets and Lies, Little White Lies, Sealed with a Lie, Dead Girls Don’t Lie, Perfect Lies, Lie for Me, An Angel Torched My Homework and Other Lies, Big Fat Liar, and Trust Me I’m Lying.

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Free Books!! Take As Many As You Like!

Kenny Brechner -- September 18th, 2014

We all know that the biggest return on a book is sometimes had by giving it away. This is something we think about in different ways. When a publisher sends me a free finished copy of a book I always provide it the courtesy of reading any accompanying letter carefully and taking a close look at the book. If a giveaway promotional item strikes me as particularly creative and apropos we make sure to carry out its prime function: give it away to customers.

As a bookseller I always try and be mindful of recognizing when a meaningful moment to give something away presents itself. For example, after a classroom ARC review project I don’t normally leave the ARCs in the classroom. Last year, however, one student was so taken with a particular book that it was very striking. The teacher tried to assure him that a library might have a copy when it came into print. It hit me that there was no possibility, in this boy’s life, that he would be able to buy it. I slipped it to him and the teacher later told me that, though she couldn’t get into the details of his home life, it had meant the world to him. Not all giveaways are created equal. Nor is there any formula for recognizing the important ones other than learning from examples encountered in the course of experience.

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Uprooting Evil in School Purchase Orders

Kenny Brechner -- September 11th, 2014

The good news is that one of your elementary school educational partners has $5,000 of grant money to spend on a new Common Core resource area for reluctant readers and she is going to spend it with you. How can there be any bad news, you ask? Actually, there can be many layers goodnewswbadnewsof it. Your educational partner, as do many of her colleagues, has turned to direct solicitations from specialty educational publishers for most of the titles on the purchase order. Some have come from catalogs that have been sitting in a closet for 10 years. More importantly, some of these specialty publishers, such as Pioneer Valley Books, will sell to you only at the same non-discounted rate that they will sell to a school. Others are selling product at very high rates and are very labor-intensive to get. Worst of all there are those that won’t sell to retail bookstores at all. You want to keep the business, and you want to deserve the business. What to do?

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First Among First Day of School Books

Kenny Brechner -- September 4th, 2014

edda2It is in the nature of pyramid style table displays that something has to be on top. This is a dark irony when it comes to books about a child’s first day of school, since elementary schools are not meritocracies and stark Darwinian undertones are not quite the thing in kindergarten anymore. Ah well, there it is.

Now if you look at the top of the display you’ll see my new go-to book for the first day of school, Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School. When you read the pages of Edda you will encounter all the qualities that constitute a perfect first day of school book. It’s reassuring, funny, and full of both challenge and adventure.

Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in Asgard. As much fun as she has helping seek out unruly monsters, feasting, and riding magical animals, Edda yearns for some companionship with children her own age. Her father, Odin, has the answer.  Edda can attend school down on earth.

The story excels at finding constructive comparative humor in all the things Edda finds challenging and is struggling to adapt to. For example…

9780805097030_il_6When adventure rears its head it is a parent’s job to be entirely calm, peaceful, and supportive of the experience. Tove Jansson fans will recall that when Moomintroll decided to swim down into their flooded house to retrieve breakfast plates from the kitchen the Snork Maiden protested, saying “Tell him not to, please, please.”  To this Moominmamma replied, “Well, why should I if he thinks it thrilling?”

This peaceful relationship with adventure and wonder is the sort of parenting you’ll find in Edda too. When Edda makes friends with a boy in her class, Odin takes the two of them off to Asgard on his flying horse for a play date, and the Mom of Edda’s friend waves them off with the same cheerful grace one might have expected were her son being driven to a friend’s house in a minivan.

In the end, it is not surprising at all that when …
9780805097030_il_7Why wouldn’t they!

The Infallible Nature of Your Staff

Kenny Brechner -- August 28th, 2014

There are different methods of gauging the success of frontlist picture book titles based on in store resources. These ordering criteria methods vary in their probability of success. Here is a chart.

Ordering Criteria

 Objective Evaluation of Success

Actual Percentage of Success

I love the book Infallible in theory but fallible in practice 82.73%
Bloggers heart the book on Edelweiss Fallible in theory and practice 27.99%
A potpourri of industry types heart the book on Edelweiss Fallible in theory and practice 50%
43 booksellers heart the book on Edelweiss Okay, okay I’ll bring it in 82.73%
My rep really did love this one Okay, okay I’ll bring it in 82.73%
The blad was shared around the store after someone fell in love with it and everyone loves it infallible in theory and infallible in practice 100%

A quick glance reveals that the final method of uncovering high probability handselling success stories is i-dont-like-koala-9781481400695_lgby far the best. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is hard to argue with the certainty of success. For example when I came into the store last week I found an f&g of a book coming out in April 2015, I Don’t Like Koala, sitting on my chair. “Read this one,” I was told, “it’s awesome.” Over the next few days every staffer made certain that I had read it because it was either “awesome,” “great,” or totally wonderful and hilarious.”

Is it all those things? Of course it is. Look at the chart. Everyone will like I Don’t Like Koala eventually. You see even if they are so misguided as to not like it immediately Koala will handle it himself. That’s what he does with his terrible eyes and his warm, mysterious, determined heart.  Terrific illustrations and a great story, what’s not to like?

Our Regionalizer Software Is Unveiled

Kenny Brechner -- August 21st, 2014

There are those out there that feel that independents should be focusing less on decency, culture, community and fair play and more on innovating like Amazon does. With that in mind we at DDG have developed some exciting new software that is sure to have a strong impact both financially and culturally on the marketplace.

cruiseRegionalism is something that I hadn’t given a thought to until I started buying books professionally. Maine is a hyper-regional state. I soon learned that a book about a Vermont 10-year-old who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat, singlehandedly saving 5,000 people from a sinking cruise ship along the way, would garner no interest at all in Maine. On the other hand a book about a Maine 10-year-old who saved an inchworm from being stepped on by her sister would be a big seller. I learned that Mainers feel that any Moose found in New Hampshire woods are either lost or, more probably, kidnapped.

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Autumn Reveals Her Top Books for Fall

Kenny Brechner -- August 14th, 2014

With the Fall season approaching, I wanted to get some insight into what forthcoming books will be most worthy of our handselling focus. Autumn herself agreed to share her expertise with us, “lest,” as she said to me, “the ephemeral leaves cling to the trees while that which should be evergreen is cast away.”

Kenny: Thank you so much for making time for us.

Autumn: It’s my pleasure, Kenny.

Kenny: One thing I’ve always wondered is whether Fall starts on September 22nd or simply the first time a person sees a reddening leaf?

Autumn: Both. The strict calendar dates have their purpose but seasons have their own shape and nature of growth and decline which extend beyond those fixed boundaries.

Kenny: I see. Speaking of calendar dates, are both the Northern and the Southern autumnal equinoxes your responsibility? Also, do your duties extend to areas which don’t experience a proper autumn? Arizona for example.

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The Magician’s Trilogy

Kenny Brechner -- August 7th, 2014

Ever since the publication of the first book in Lev Grossman’s Magician’s Trilogy, children’s booksellers have pondered whether a book so profoundly concerned with coming of age was appropriate for younger readers. Worth considering since they are the folks bracing themselves for that very passage. With the publication of The Magician’s Land, the third and final volume in the trilogy, it is time to have a stab at an answer.

“Sheep get like shepherds, and shepherds like sheep, it is said,” and this is particularly true of epic fantasies. Their narrative form and structure reflect their substance and creation. The task of completing the quest successfully is shared by author and protagonist.

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An Interview with Amy Zhang

Kenny Brechner -- July 28th, 2014

We (children’s frontlist buyers that is) cannot fail to note the dramatic rise in the publication of YA books whose authors share the ages of their protagonists. Most of us have our presumptions about the why and the what of these books.

I assume, for example, that one reason behind the sudden rise is a line of thinking which goes that young readers will connect with young authors. This seems to be a strong presumption. I also assume that there is a good chance that the writing may not be quite the thing. This is often the case, and yet some novels appear that are highly polished and strong on style. The excellent work of Stefan Bachmann is a good example. Perhaps not coincidentally, Bachmann’s editor, Virginia Duncan, has been working with another high school age prodigy, Amy Zhang. Zhang’s debut novel, Falling into Place, is coming out this fall.

Falling Into Place recounts, through multiple first-person narratives, what appears to be a very unlikely suicide attempt of a popular and forceful high school girl Liz Emerson. Liz is controlling and harmful to those within her sphere, seemingly more the person to drive someone else to suicide rather than attempt to take her own life. The book explores her psychological dynamics through physics metaphors, suggesting that the lack of resistance to her will ultimately rebounds back on her.

With its young author and its theme of attempted suicide, Falling into Place has two popular tropes going for it. The richness of its language and its conceptual depth are both a surprise and a delight. To explore Falling into Place here’s a Q&A with its 18-year-old author.

Kenny: If you could recommend a book for your character Liz Emerson to read, what would it be?

imgQ2UqtYAmyZhangAmy: I’d give her The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I’d leave it on the brown couch in her basement on New Year’s Eve, Because I think she needs a love story. I’d also give her The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think it would make her feel less lonely.

Kenny: Did her suicide attempt need to occur for Liz to have her emotional epiphany, or could that have been achieved in another way?

Amy:  I think the problem with Liz was that she didn’t believe in epiphanies or at least not for herself. She didn’t think there was a solution, just an ending, and she went with the ending. I do think she should have talked to her physics teacher more. In every school there are teachers who don’t want to be there and teachers who frankly are not very good at their job, but there are also teachers – lots of them – who genuinely care about every single one of their students, and Mr. Eliezer was one of them. For starters, he could definitely have explained the whole “cause and effect ” thing to Liz again. And he would have listened, he would have listened to anything, and maybe eventually Liz would have told him everything. My teachers were everything in high school. I’d go to their rooms to steal candy or to have makeshift therapy session or to ask questions or to decorate their rooms on their birthdays. I don’t know if she could have had the emotional epiphany, but I think she should have known to go to Mr. Eliezer instead of her guidance counselor for help.

Kenny: If you could change one thing in one of your favorite books, what would it be?

DeathSeventhSealAmy: I’d put my name on the cover of The Book Thief instead of Markus Zusak’s – kidding! Hmm. I’m honestly not sure that there is anything I’d change about it. I’ve honestly sat here wracking my brain and flipping through my copy for about an hour now, and it’s one of the most perfect and complete books I’ve ever read. Maybe a few more of death’s little comments? I remember that when I read it the first time there would be a few pages without the excerpts and I’d catch myself thinking “Gosh, I really miss Death.”

Kenny: The physics principles really work as metaphor. Is it simply metaphor, though, or is there an actual casuistry between physics and the psychology of emotion?

Amy: Honestly? My physics and psychology classes were both primarily lecture classes with teachers that never checked notes I spend most days writing in the margins of my note books. So I’m not sure how well I can answer this question. Back in March I was doing a project for psychology about cognitive biases with a focus on the Efallacy of the single cause, and I came across this Tolstoy quote: “When an apple ripens and falls what makes it fall? Is it that it is attracted to the ground, is it that the stem withers, is it that the sun has it dried up, that is has grown heavier, that the winds shake it, that the boy standing underneath it wants to eat it? No one thing is the cause.” Every event is caused by infinite factors but our minds are wired to fixate on one. I think that’s what makes physics, at least at the high school level, so conceptual. You have to focus on one factor, gravity or direction or mass, to solve the problem so you disregard all the others. I think the actual connection between physics and emotion is that fault in our heads, the tendency to name a scapegoat to match one effect to one cause. That’s what Liz did. She named herself as the scapegoat, and she didn’t want to be the cause anymore.

Kenny: The unidentified narrator was a marvelously ingenious and effective device. Avoiding the horrible shoals of a spoiler, can you tell us a bit about whether this device was always envisioned in the story or developed at a later point?

20306804Amy: The first version of Falling into Place was a short story about a girl who committed suicide, who left behind a journal explaining her reasons why through Newton’s Laws of Motion. I knew it was a story that I wanted to develop into a novel-length work. A few months later, I wrote a story with an unknown narrator who watched a little girl grow up. I had saved both stories in the same file, so when I went to open the first to outline the project that would become Falling into Place, the second caught my eye. I had been unsatisfied with the narration of the first short story, so I played with the idea of combining the two short stories, and I had a lot of fun with it!

Kenny: What can you tell us about your next book?

Amy: I’m working on a book tentatively titled This Is Where the World Ends, which is about a boy who’s obsessed with apocalypses and a girl whose goal in life is to make the entire world fall in love with her. There’s spray paint and a coffee shop full of origami cranes and a dictionary of made-up words, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!

Kenny: Thanks, Amy.

Amy: My pleasure.

The Littlefield Letters

Kenny Brechner -- July 24th, 2014
whowaskids2

Mrs. Newall’s Fourth Grade Class of Who Was fans.

I’ll come straight out and admit it.  I have a goal for this post. To prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Common Core has done a wonderful thing for reluctant readers. As we all know the adoption of the Common Core has led to widespread grant writing by schools for purchases of non-fiction books from trade publishers. Publishers have responded to this opportunity by dusting off the non-fiction denizens of their backlists, and acquiring and publishing strong new non-fiction titles. These titles began coming into libraries and classrooms in significant quantities last fall.

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