Author Archives: Kenny Brechner

The Once and Future Whirl-O

Kenny Brechner -- July 2nd, 2015

You might think that shallow people miss out on a lot of the things which they are insensible to: faith, long-term conviction, the pursuit of a lofty goal, and so forth. You most likely also believe that it is obvious to outside observers that shallow people lack these things because, as Voltaire observed of himself, “I’m as small streams; they are transparent because they are shallow.”

It turns out that shallow and mordantly secular booksellers are not wholly immune to experiences of that sort. We feel loss and injustice. When the signature wrap of our store is discontinued, or a go-to handsell is not filled on an order because it has been placed out of stock indefinitely, we feel pain at the insensibility and injustice of the world in a manner not unlike our deeper colleagues.
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37 Is Just The Right Amount

Kenny Brechner -- June 25th, 2015

Goldilocks-bedsThanks to Goldilocks we can all grasp the concept of an amount being just right. But knowing what that right amount might be is harder to figure out in advance than it is to recognize after the fact. Money, love, fame, attendees for author events, the exact right amount is always clear retrospectively.  Success and failure clarify everything wonderfully.

So when Pamela Voelkel and I plotted to do some outreach to book people on behalf of a prolific ninth grade writer whose mother was dying of cancer (read the full story here), we weren’t quite sure of our goal. We knew we wanted to make a difference in Kayla’s life. But we didn’t have a clear idea of how much participation was needed or if what we were asking was impossible. The main thing was that, as Pam put it “right now, she’s out of words. Which is why I think she needs a group hug from her fellow authors and booklovers. We can’t rewrite Kayla’s story, but maybe we can give her strength for what she has to face.”

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An Interview with Mrs. Perry’s and Mrs Murray’s ARC Reviewers

Kenny Brechner -- June 18th, 2015

I’ve never come away from chatting with a classroom full of kids about ARCs they’ve read and reviewed for me without some interesting takeaways. The conversation below with two Cape Cod Hill School classes, one fourth grade and one fifth grade, who had just completed our annual Galley Review Project was not an exception. Note that while kids this age like nonfiction, the use of inserting fictional elements into the narrative to create dialogue is very important to them. Here are the kids!

Kenny: What surprised you the most about the book you read?

dangerouswatersEmma Z: That seeing a unicorn in the parking lot wasn’t surprising to the people in the book. (Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures)

Brody: There was a boy who looked nice but he did something that was not nice at all.

Emma H: I read about Dolly Madison. (Women Who Broke the Rules: Dolly Madison)  I was surprised that she was a famous girl who did a lot of things and helped her husband a lot.
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‘Uprooted’: The Epitome of an Alex Award Title

Kenny Brechner -- June 11th, 2015

The Alex Awards, which “are given to 10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18,” are a source of particular interest to me. The underlying concept of the award embodies the kind of thinking booksellers do all the time in assessing the possibility of alexawardmultiple handselling audiences for a book. The how, where, and why books crossover from Young Adult to Adult (such as The Night Circus) and vice versa are both interesting and useful. The benefits of literary bridges are immense. Successful crossover books provide substantive momentum at critical points in a reader’s life. They promote multi-generational connections. Apart from any other considerations, Alex Award winners also tend to be some of our biggest sellers.

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Summer’s Reading List

Kenny Brechner -- June 4th, 2015

With summer now visible on the horizon, and summer reading  on our minds, we are fortunate that Summer herself agreed to share some of her own reading list with ShelfTalker readers.

Kenny: I know how busy late Spring is for you. Many thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Summer: I’m delighted to do so, Kenny.

Kenny: First off I have a question for you.

Summer: Why then, unburden yourself of it.

Kenny: Well, most readers refine their literary opinions, and make their book selections, at least in part, based on interactions with other readers. I know how well read you are but do you have the opportunity to discuss what you are reading with anyone, and if so who? Do you and the other three seasons have a reading group or anything like that?
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A Group Hug for Kayla

Kenny Brechner -- May 21st, 2015
Jon and Pamela giving a talk on writing before the big Community Read assembly.

Jon and Pamela giving a talk on writing before the big Community Read assembly.

Two years ago, at a middle school community read event featuring the husband-and-wife author team, Pamela and Jon Voelkel, a passionate writer in the 7th grade named Kayla took Pam up on her invitation to stay in touch. The two of them corresponded steadily since the event, and then mysteriously stopped a few months ago. Then Pamela received an email from Kayla on a topic other than writing. Here’s Pamela:

“In a little town in Maine, there’s a teenage author whose world is falling apart. Her name is Kayla and I first met her a couple of years ago on an author visit to her middle school. She asked if I’d look at her work and that’s what I’ve done ever since. She’s at high school now, but she’s still as passionate as ever about her writing (mostly historical fantasy with strong female characters). Kayla writes and writes and writes – sometimes whole books! – and sends them to me for critiques. I hadn’t heard from her for a while and then I got the saddest email a few weeks ago, apologizing for her lack of output and explaining that her mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. This will be a terrible year for Kayla.

One day, she’ll be a famous author. But right now, she’s out of words. Which is why I think she needs a group hug from her fellow authors and booklovers. We can’t rewrite Kayla’s story, but maybe we can give her strength for what she has to face. Her school guidance counselor says that such a gesture would be greatly appreciated by Kayla’s family.

That is from a letter Pamela is sending out today to other authors and to booksellers, encouraging them to send out notes of support to Kayla. Pamela contacted me to help with the project. She shared with me that…

“My own mother died when I was a bit older than Kayla. It felt like it should have been headline news, but the world just kept on turning. I want to show Kayla that she’s in the hearts of people she doesn’t even know. She’s a writer and that means her fellow writers and booklovers will always be there for her – booksellers, librarians, editors, publishers, readers, everyone. It’s the most supportive community I’ve ever encountered and Kayla needs to feel the love right now.”

Kayla’s family thinks this would be a wonderful and supportive idea. Anyone interested in sending Kayla a note of support should do the following. (This is from Pamela’s letter; I’m not going third person on you.)

“Cards, letters, signed books, messages of support should be mailed to Kayla via her local bookseller, Kenny Brechner at DDG Booksellers in Maine. Or you can email your message to, putting “For Kayla” in subject line.  (Of course, all correspondence will be checked by Kayla’s school guidance counselor before it’s passed on to Kayla and her family.)

For letters, please put Kayla’s envelope, unsealed, in an outer envelope addressed to:
c/o Kenny Brechner
DDG Booksellers
193 Broadway
Farmington, ME 04938
If you can spread the word on social media, please use #grouphugforkayla”

A full copy of Pamela’s letter to authors is here, Thanks everyone!

Standouts from Our Diary Writing Contest

Kenny Brechner -- May 14th, 2015

Large-scale popularity in a genre doesn’t necessarily translate to imparting the life skills it depicts to its readers.  The widespread enjoyment of post-apocalyptic novels doesn’t mean that its readers are any better prepared to experience an apocalyptic event than people who read mysteries, for example. The enormous popularity of middle grade illustrated diary series, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Dork Diaries, is different in this regard.

We ran a diary writing contest which has just concluded. With a sample size of over 100 entries to consider, one thing was clear from the results. Kids have not only been consuming popular illustrated diaries, they have been learning how to express themselves in that genre as well. See for yourself!


First of all here is one of our three Grand Prize Winners, Amelia, with her winning entry and her prize, a signed copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid!


Here is Amelia’s terrific entry. Her delighted parents confirmed that 14 out of 16 Thanksgiving dinner attendees had gotten sick from the meal!

 Our second Grand Prize entry has it all!

Our third Grand Prize Winner, Ben, is much younger than the other two winners. We were as impressed as we were charmed by the effectiveness with which he integrated the illustration and the text to paint a vivid scene.

This runner-up entry helps clarify how kids feel about the Dork Diaries books.

Many parents, educators, and booksellers wonder how much illustrated diaries are developing kids as readers in general. We may not have answered that question but I think it is obvious that illustrated diaries are teaching kids to translate what they are reading into a dynamic form of self-expression. Many thanks to our sponsors at Simon and Schuster, the teachers who worked with us to engage kids in the contest, and of course all the kids who participated!

Happy Children’s Book Week

Kenny Brechner -- May 7th, 2015

Now I’m not saying that Spot the Difference puzzles aren’t an empty exercise taken by themselves. For example, neither you nor the world in general will be markedly better off if you were to succeed in finding all 21 differences in the puzzle below.
differences21Nonetheless, like most puzzles that have a sneaky sort of compulsion to them, spotting differences  represents an exercise which has real benefit in bookstore event management. Whenever I try a new event at the store I always step back and look at it to see what made it different from other events, because it is in spotting the differences that real value is found.

Childrens_Book_WeekTake Children’s Book Week for example – this very week, that is. We are participating this year for the first time, putting on a full day of programming on Saturday, and A Diary Writing Contest with a prize party tonight. I’ve become a fan of Children’s Book Week and when I asked myself what made preparing programming for this event different from previous events, the answer was easy to spot, and that was the palpable sense of support by publishers to work together to make the event a success.

the-three-musketeers-herbert-renardI always feel that Dumas’s Musketeers had it right, the all for one and one for all motif really is gestalt. For rural stores like ours, well outside standard author tour routes, self-sufficiency is often the order of the day.  Since the Children’s Book Council, which runs Children’s Book Week, is a trade organization of publishers whose purpose is to support children’s book outreach, the commitment to provide resources for Children’s Book Week  goes beyond what I usually have to work with, providing me with more of a smorgasbord than a boxed lunch. And it really helps.

For example we are running a Diary Writing Contest and Simon & Schuster provided us with some great Dork Diaries swag to give away as prizes. A complimentary character costume rental from Random House put story hour on steroids. We also had great support from Macmillan, who provided us with Origami Envelope folding sheets to go with Megan Frazer Blakemore’s appearance. This kind of support made our own original elements come to life.

Our theme is interactivity; I wanted every element of the day’s programs, including the author appearances, to have interactive elements to them, so that the whole event stresses activity and connections. For example, to go with S.E. Grove’s appearance I designed An Age of Verity or Not Quiz.  I also looked to climb the ladder in terms of age level.

Here is what we have planned for Saturday.

10:00 – 10:30 Story time with The Poky Little Puppy

Yes he’s going to be here himself! On time!

10:30 – 11:30 Elephant and Piggie Hour: Games and Activities with Betsy Turcotte

12:00-1:00 Experience The Water Castle, Help The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, Solve The Friendship Riddle

With special guest Megan Frazer Blakemore

1:00-3:00 The Great Disruption Comes to Farmington!

With special guest S.E. Grove, author of The Glass Sentence

Take The Age of Verity or Not Challenge – try your hand at The Map Challenge

I’d love to hear what plans your store has! 

The Season of the Yeti

Kenny Brechner -- April 30th, 2015

Yetis have traditionally been understood to be solitary creatures, very rarely spotted and few in number. Looking at the fall lists, however, it is clear that we need to revise our understanding of Yetis. They are neither rare, solitary, nor hard to spot anymore.  In fact there are at least 10 children’s books featuring Yetis coming out between June and December. What has caused the Yeti to evolve in this extroverted manner?arewethereyeti

Surely the answer lies in the pages of all these new Yeti books. For starters we can see that the word itself is fun to play with, as evidenced by the fact that there are two separate books coming out this fall with the title Are We There, Yeti? The S&S marketing notes for the release of Ashlyn Anstee’s delightful version accentuate this point by noting that while the surprise trip which bus driver Yeti is taking the kids on is long indeed, prompting his passengers to repeat our title phrase many times, “The best surprise of all is yeti to come.” The children drive far into the mountains to the cave mouth of a Yeti school and all the kids have an outstandingly good time playing together. Anstee’s book embodies two key points of this season’s Yetis: they are fun-loving, and they are like human children but a little more so.

thethingaboutThese themes are shared by The Thing About Yetis by Vin Vogel. These Yetis have all the fun human kids have playing in the winter except more so, they are positively frenetic. Not sure how to have fun in the winter, what better role models than Yetis? Dear Yeti by James Kwan sees the Yetis as winter guides too, but in a calmer, more parental manner. This book introduces the third key theme: caretaking. Two kids hike off in the winter hills to find a Yeti. The Yeti, mysteriously in possession of notes from the lost kids, invisibly helps them stay safe and warm during their adventure. The other upcoming Are We There, Yeti? by Kerry Morris inverts this caregiving paradigm by having a lost baby Yeti found by a Tibetan Mastiff who returns the baby Yeti to his Mountain dwelling parents.

yetifiles2This fall will also see the second book in Kevin Sherry’s terrific series The Yeti Files, which has proven to be just the thing for reluctant readers. This book further establishes that the loneliness which had previously marked Yeti existence has passed on now, to the point that the Yeti clan is looking to pay its remission forward by taking an interest in helping out other monsters who are still experiencing loneliness, like the Loch Ness Monster.

This bring us back to a signal question, can Yetis survive their discovery? How long can they remain frontlist darlings once the newness of their real nature wears off? Perhaps not at this pace, but given that Yetis are all about outdoor fun, survival, and caretaking, which are mainstay picture book and early chapter book themes, they should continue to thrive long after this wave of celebrity has crested. Certainly they are handling the attention much better than many human celebrities do. Role models indeed!

Anatomy of a Great Community Read Launch

Kenny Brechner -- April 23rd, 2015

This was the inaugural year for the Kingfield School Community Read and they came up with a great plan for launching it! The book being used was kept an absolute secret. Excitement in the gymnasium was running high. The first thing to do was to figure out the name of the book!

Kingfield’s wonderful English teacher, Maggie Adams, had been the driving force behind the community read. A group of area seniors were invited to the launch. Then, grades 3-8 formed lines and teams were made up of one child from each grade and one senior. Maggie projected a group of Scrabble titles onto a screen, showing the letters to be found in the title. The first team to solve the anagram would be picked to reveal the books and hand them out.


A team solved it with only one hint, the first word being: The. Then the lights went out and the music came on. Principal Kim Ramharter and an able assistant wheeled out the books on a display wrapped as a present!

 The winning team tore it open and revealed 175 copies of Megan Frazer Blakemore’s great book, The Water Castle. Each winning team member grabbed a pile of books.

Then the team hit the stands and gave everyone in the room a copy The Water Castle. Huzzah!

I was up next, to tell everyone a bit about why The Water Castle is such a great book, and such a great choice for their Community Read, particularly one launched with mystery and puzzle solving.

After that, principal Kim Ramharter sat down and read everyone the first chapter.

Many people followed along in their copies.

There were still 10 minutes left for everyone to read more on their own before it was time to get ready for the bus. The Community Read launch mission was a giant success!