Category Archives: Uncategorized

Are We Still Talking About This?

Josie Leavitt -- April 17th, 2014

Earlier this month, there was an blog post on the New York Times site about the negative effect that e-books can have on young readers’ (not fluent middle grade or older readers, but emerging readers) ability to understand what they’re reading. Really? This is news? Am I the only who is not shocked to hear this?

Take a four-year-old and give him an e-book and watch what happens. He “reads” it like a game, with buttons to press, new noises to make, etc. While he might be enjoying himself, he’s not reading, he’s playing — and these are two distinctly different and very important activities. Learning how to read requires a bit of hard work and concentration. “It seems that the very ‘richness’ of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply,” says Anne Murphy Paul from the MotherLode blog in the Times. Kids are having time focusing on all the bells and whistles but are missing the story. Of course they are. They’re kids.

Take that same boy, and this is not a scientifically proven thing, just 18 years of selling books to children, and give him the same book as a physical book and he will be engaged. He will try to predict, he will point out things he knows, and those things won’t wiggle or squeak when he touches them. He will make up his own noises for them. Maybe he’ll just run his little finger over the drawing to see if it feels like something. Maybe he’ll let his imagination wander and wonder. He will get ready to turn the page when he feels like it. The paper will have a texture and a smell. And if he grows up to be a reader, he will surreptitiously sniff every book he buys for the rest of his life.

Reading as a tactile event. How the pages turn is important, especially with picture books. Learning the right way to turn the page is a huge skill for young readers. I used to love turning the pages when my mom would read to me. Almost all books feel different from one another. As a reader, you develop a relationship with the book. How does it feel when you’re reading it? Are the pages shiny, sometimes too shiny, and you have to angle it a different way from the light. This is important for little minds to grasp. There is so much subtlety with reading a book that is lost with an e-reader.

So, give the kids back their books and let them learn to love to reading.

Getting Books to Kids for Free

Josie Leavitt -- April 15th, 2014

Kids and books should always go together, but sometimes there are financial issues that prevent this. Last week I got to see a great program that worked to remedy this. Literacy Night at the Lothrop School strived to get every student a book.

lost chidlrenLast week, Emily Raabe, debut novelist of the recently published Lost Children of the Far Islands, and I traveled down to Pittsford, Vermont to the Lothrop School for their annual literacy night. Emily was our first-ever employee 17 years ago. It’s a real thrill to be able to sell her book! There is a lovely symmetry to that which delights me. Emily’s sister, Sara (also a former Flying Pig staffer), just happens to be the principal of the school. Their literacy night includes kids in jammies (see this post for how literacy night worked in Maine with Elizabeth Bluemle) and children having different classrooms to hear different stories, then coming back together as a group for an author reading.

book table morebooksOf course the kids were adorable, and yes, there was much discussion about books and stories. But what made this event stand out were the free books for the kids. I walked in the gym and there were four tables of books arranged by ages from first grade right through fifth. As kids streamed into the gym they circled the tables and eyed the books they knew they couldn’t touch until after the presentation. The kids at this school are among Vermont’s rural poor with almost half of them qualifying for free lunches. Pittsford is a town that reflects the changing face of Vermont with a mix of farming kids and kids whose families have been caught up in heroin and meth addictions.

This was Emily’s first event for her book and she did really well. The kids seemed to have a hard time settling down and were a little chatty throughout her reading. While they may have been talking, they were paying good attention and asked many questions about the book and being a writer. One child asked, after hearing how many drafts Emily wrote, “Why don’t you have gray hair?” Emily deftly handled this one. She was also extremely kind when kids misheard her asking if they knew what a selkie myth was and hands shot up and a boy said, “I know what a selfie is: it’s when you take your picture with a phone.”

Kids bought Emily’s book and while they were waiting to get them personalized, the book tables were opened. Sara explained, “We’re going for controlled chaos.” Children streamed to the appropriate tables and carefully choose one book each that had been scoped out before. Every student left with a book. And I was left with a very happy feeling to be part of such of a special evening.

Successful School Visits

Josie Leavitt -- April 14th, 2014

School visits, if done well, can be win-win situations for the school, the author and the sponsoring bookstore. Bringing authors into a school is a gift for students, and often one that stays with young people for the rest of their lives. Often, if school visits are part of an author’s tour and that author is already going to the bookstore, the visit will be free. This is a huge boon to schools. The best school visit usually require at least one school staffer, often the librarian, to help organize and cheerlead the event. Below is a list of tips to make them as successful as possible.

- If a school, even the one that is most local to the bookstore, doesn’t actually order books from the bookstore, they are not likely to get offered visiting authors. This is definitely a case of helping the school that supports the store.

- Someone at the school must actually be excited about the visiting author. If there is tentativeness on the school’s part there is the potential for a bad visit. It’s totally okay to say no. The flip side of this works for stores, too.

- In a perfect world there would plenty of time to plan and perhaps do an author study and get the kids excited about meeting the author. We all know this is not a perfect world. But even with limited notice there are ways to get kids excited for author visits by reading the first few chapters of a book to the class in advance of the visit. It doesn’t take much to get kids intrigued by authors.

- Order forms must be easy and given to the school in a timely way. We offer our standard school discount to all books purchased for an author event. All order forms must be turned back to the bookstore at least a week prior to the event. I’m always surprised at what books the kids want and it’s often not the one the author is touring in support of; it’s usually the one you never expect and the one that’s hard to get. Allowing enough time to get the books in is vital.

- Bookstores must be really organized about the book orders and how the kids want them signed. I usually let Elizabeth do this for us. She’s meticulous and her system really works. Each child’s book(s) is rung up, the receipt stapled to the form and then the book is wrapped in the form. Then the books are organized by classroom and brought to the school for the author to sign.

- Authors need to make sure their computer/flashdrive/Power Point, etc works. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a Mac and only having PC things. I know it’s more to lug around, but if you bring your laptop from home, then you’ll know everything will likely work.

- Don’t schedule every minute of the day for the author. I know it’s a case of wanting to get the most out of the visit and getting as many kids to see the author as possible, but this is hard work and authors need time to eat, go to the bathroom and just breathe. Allowing breaks during the day just makes for better presentations throughout the day.

- Last tip: thank the author with something that’s easy to carry on a plane. Puppets and dioramas (I am not making this up) are lovely, but are really hard to travel with.

 

Fabulous First Lines, 2014 Edition, Round One

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 11th, 2014

While an exceptional first line is a wonderful thing, any superior delight it offers is actually lagniappe, since readers generally are willing to wade through a page or two—and usually at least a chapter—before abandoning a book as a lost cause. First lines are important, but they don’t carry the pressure of, say, the last line, which shoulders the entire narrative on its skinny self. All an opening line in a novel really needs to accomplish is to make you want to read on.

That said, there’s a particular pleasure in a terrific first line. It sets the tone for the book, can establish a strong voice or setting, assist in building the fictional world, startle readers into unfamiliarity, make them laugh or gasp. The first line gives you a sense of the storyteller in whom you are placing your time and trust to lead you on a remarkable journey.

Twice before in ShelfTalker, I have collected fabulous first lines (2013, 2011) that caught my attention from the year’s new middle grade and young adult releases. Below are some of the standouts I’ve come across so far from the 2014 crop of ARCs.

This is just the first round; plenty of time for more of the best to surface! In December, we’ll vote for the absolute best first line of the year.

Enjoy, and please add your own 2014 discoveries in the comments section.

I’m the happiest guy alive, because Katrina M. Zabinski is my girlfriend. I’m also the most miserable guy who ever lived, because the pressure of having a girlfriend like Tina is crushing. —Family Ties by Gary Paulsen (Random House / Wendy Lamb)

My rules for the Black Market are simple. Don’t make eye contact—especially with men. Their faces are sharp, but their eyes are sharper, and you never want to draw that blade.Sekret by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook)

Maximillian Reisman can stand on his head for thirty minutes if he wants to. The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)

There’s something I need to tell you.
Don’t be mad.
Please. Please don’t be mad. I hate it when you’re mad at me.
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (Random House / Wendy Lamb)

No body meant no casket, so they used her headshot instead. This was a Hollywood funeral, after all. —A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck (Simon & Schuster / Atheneum)

When I first heard Gayle, I couldn’t tell if she was a bird or a girl.Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin (Penguin / Razorbill)

Once upon a time there were two brothers, as alike to one another as you are to your own reflection. —The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)

In my life, I’d had my share of fights, sometimes with fists, sometimes with knives, occasionally with a sword. I’d faced opponents twice my size, twice as mean, and, as a general rule, uglier than I ever hoped to be.The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Press)

It looked like an ordinary package.The Secret Box by Whitaker Ringwald (HarperCollins / Katherine Tegen)

I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright, I am seventeen years old, and I fired the shot that ended the United States of America.Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)

I’d never seen a mock man until the Professor showed me one.Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)

As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria — his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket — he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (Scholastic / Arthur A. Levine)

What first lines have you loved this year?

 

 

Candlewick Gang Shares Spring Favorites

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 10th, 2014
L to R: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Chris Van Dusen, Joan Powers, Andie Krawcek, Sharon Hancock, Katie Cunningham, Mac Barnett

L to R: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Chris Van Dusen, Joan Powers, Andie Krawczyk, Sharon Hancock, Katie Cunningham, Mac Barnett

I have so much to share with ShelfTalker readers about this week’s Children’s Institute, as well as the Texas Library Association convention—but that will need to wait a bit, since these days have been nonstop, leaving little time to pull together coherent thoughts and create any kind of succinct account of the highlights. I promise all that is coming soon.

In the meantime, I was one of the guests at my publisher’s author/librarian dinner last night, and so I polled some Candlewick authors, artists (well, one artist), editors, and marketing folk about the spring 2014 book they’re most excited about at the moment. Here’s what they shared (note: for brevity’s sake, I note only the most recent release for each author and artist polled):

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, author of Fat Angie: “I’m excited to read Katie Davis’s Dancing with the Devil, because it’s a book about overcoming victimization that doesn’t feel like a Lifetime movie. It’s about becoming your best self and about empowerment.”

Chris Van Dusen, artist of President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath: “Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. His illustrations blow me away. He’s innovative, he always does something different, and you can expect the unexpected.”

Joan Powers, Candlewick editor: “There Will Be Bears by debut author Ryan Gebhart. It’s a middle grade book about hunting and meat and guns, none of which I like but all of which I love in this book.

Andie Krawczyk, Candlewick marketing: “The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. It’s multigenerational magical realism, which I’m not usually a fan of, but I am in this book. The writing is lyrical. Even the book design is impeccable.”

Sharon Hancock, Candlewick marketing: “Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano. It’s a compelling coming-of-age story in a blue-collar quahogging community.” (Apologies to Sharon for catching her with her eyes closed. She was not asleep – just blinking!)

Katie Cunningham, Candlewick editor: “I absolutely adore Two Speckled Eggs by Jennifer K. Mann. I like that it explores female friendships in a genuine way. And I really love the scene with the party hats!”

Mac Barnett, author of President Taft is Stuck in the Bath! ”The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. It’s super good. It’s got that intangible thing people are talking about when they say ‘voice.’ It’s perfect voice.”

 

 

 

 

 

Totes to Texas

Josie Leavitt -- April 8th, 2014

I never knew how many people collected flying pigs until we opened the store in 1996. Collectors come in varied ages, with a slight tip towards women, but a surprising number of men also collect all manner of flying pigs. We usually have people eyeing our four shelves of flying pigs that have been given to us throughout the years. They look so disappointed when I tell them they’re not for sale.

Last week we got an email from someone inquiring about any flying pig collectibles. I wrote back andbigpuppet said we had finger puppets and our own Flying Pig tote bags and I could easily send both to her. She called later that day. Becky, was calling from Austin, Texas. We don’t have many customers – okay, any – customers from Texas, so this was a surprise. She has a collection of over 200 flying pigs, she said she wanted the tote bag. I asked, “Not the finger puppet as well?” To which to she said, like a true collector, “Is it the small one from Folkmanis with the magnetic nose?” Well, yes it is. Clearly, she already had this one. If you don’t know these puppets, they are wonderful. And the magnetic noses mean they can stick to a lot of things, including each other, which is just adorable. I always know I’m driving too fast when my paired piglets fly off my rearview mirror.

Becky happily asked for a tote bag. Which I popped in an envelope and mailed off. But first, I had to ask her how she found us. I thought she had done an internet search for flying pig things, but actually not. She had gotten a poem in her email that somehow led her to Kate Messner’s website. Kate, of course, is a very talented writer of many books for children, and a great customer of the Flying Pig, who links to our store on her website. Once that link was made, Becky contacted us for memorabilia. So, in the ever increasing connectedness of the internet, another flying pig found a home.

Pretty nifty.

 

 

 

Books That Make You Sob

Josie Leavitt -- April 7th, 2014

As booksellers, we read a lot of books. Hundreds a year in all likelihood and there are books that stay with us for their humor and their characters. Some books combine all the great things of a Box of Tissuesmemorable story coupled with deep sadness. Not the kind of sadness that is fleeting, but the kind that flat-out makes you sob. I am the first to admit that I weep easily and often if I’m moved, but there are books that just crush me. There is nothing wrong with crying with books because the emotions are real. I refuse to read books where animals die because that simply slays me.(why people dying isn’t the same is worth looking at, but that’s a blog post for another day).

It’s funny – as a kid I don’t really remember crying at books or stories. When I was sixth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Groupe, read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory and she started sobbing halfway through and never recovered. I cried more at her sadness than what was happening in the story. Teachers weren’t supposed to cry.

Books six and seven of the Harry Potter series had me crying so hard, a friend came outside to the deck where I was reading to offer solace, tissues and plea to not reveal the ending. But let’s face it, if you were a Harry Potter fan, how could you not shed a tear or two, or hundreds at the deaths of Dumbledore and Fred Weasley. And Dobby’s brave sacrifice just about killed me. When I tear up talking about these things with kids they think I’m a little crazy. This brings up the point that the sobbing that adults do at kids’ books often makes up for the tears the kids don’t shed. It’s always struck me as funny that there’s not a grown-up around who can’t stem the tears when reading Charlotte’s Web and yet I’ve not met a kid who has cried at that book. Perhaps it’s more a sense of the sentimental that children do not yet posses, but it’s always struck me as funny.

The Fault in Our Stars found me crying so hard at the ending that my dog, Ink, became so alarmed he jumped on my chest and started to lick at my face. This served two purposes. His jumping up was funny enough that it got me to stop crying for at least a minute while I explained to Elizabeth why I was practically convulsed with tears, and his insistence on licking my face grossed me out enough that I sat up and pulled myself together.

thiefAnd lastly, the book has left many adults stunned: The Book Thief.  I found myself crying throughout that book but devastated at the end, and not just from sadness but from the beauty of the ending. I’ve had many customers tell me that this was the book they read in public and regretted it. When I sell this book and other books that are surprisingly sad I always warn folks not read them in public, or at least have tissues handy and be prepared to have kindly strangers ask if they’re okay.

What are some of the saddest books you’ve read?

 

To Host or Not to Host?

Josie Leavitt -- April 3rd, 2014

We were recently approached by an author wanting to do an event with us for his Vermont history book. Local authors are lovely and they should be supported, but how to do to that when their book is published by Amazon? The book was published by CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s independent publishing arm. This was the first time I’ve been speechless at the store. I punted bydragon

The more I thought about this the angrier I got. I know the author wasn’t thinking about the larger picture. He was understandably proud of his book and wanted to set up as many events as possible. I just couldn’t say yes right away. I left word with Elizabeth about it and she wondered if we could get the books on consignment from the author. This at least saves us from ordering directly from Amazon. Then I posted on the NECBA listserv to get advice from other booksellers.

Elizabeth’s point is an excellent one and one that was echoed by other booksellers. Getting the books directly from a local author is probably the best thing to do. Several colleagues responded privately that it was galling to be asked by authors to provide the one thing Amazon cannot: a connection with real people. Authors smartly know that events are a great way to reach people. And while Amazon is great at suggesting other titles you might like, they can’t compete with a one-on-one connection borne out of people being in the same room talking about books.

I am still struggling with this. I know Amazon doesn’t really care about my little store, but increasingly, I’m forced to try and compete with them on price on a weekly, if not daily basis. It is easy to characterize Amazon as the big bad monster, but when an actual Vermonter comes in with his book, it’s hard to say no. So, with a small dose of education about why shopping locally is not important, it’s vital, I will likely host this event.

Booksellers and authors: what are your thoughts on events with Amazon-published authors?

Are We Rushing Kids Out of Picture Books?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- April 1st, 2014

Next week at the ABC Children’s Institute in San Antonio, I’ll be on a panel with fellow booksellers and one librarian, talking about our experiences with adult customers and patrons who seem to be pushing children out of picture books and into chapter books at younger and younger ages.

I don’t want to post spoilers for the panel (I’ll report on the discussion next week, and I think ABA members will be able to watch the video of the panel), but I did want to ask you out there in ShelfTalker land — you parents and teachers and booksellers and librarians — if you are noticing this pressure, and why you think it’s happening. We don’t see this “age compression” in schools; teachers who shop at our bookstore seem to understand the value of both fiction and nonfiction picture books for students of all ages. But parents and grandparents seem to be balking.

Obviously, we need to educate customers about the richness of picture book language, and the huge range of styles and formats and narratives in this literary genre that is perhaps more diverse than any other. We need to remind them that, although the price of a 32-page picture book and a 300-page chapter book might be roughly the same, a child may read the chapter book once, but the picture book 1,000 times, finding more to discover with each reading.

Why do so many parents and grandparents reject even sophisticated picture books as “baby books?” Is it a misunderstanding of what picture books are? It is an outcome of the excesses of our testing-burdened, measurable-achievement-oriented educational system? Or is there a greater loss at work, as well? Has the love of stories become somehow lesser? Do we value only what is perceived as more challenging, and testable? And why is it that the same parents who readily read light, unchallenging books for their own pleasure and comfort don’t allow the same indulgence for their kids? They often want little Johnny or Samantha to chug on up the reading levels — again, a misperception, since so many picture books contain rich vocabulary  and complex sentence structure that are more challenging than many young chapter books.

There is no sinister intent on these parents’ parts, of course; they are most likely simply trying to make sure their children are well prepared, not left behind, in the academic realm. So how do we best show them the sweet and rewarding light of opening their minds to the full range of worthy reading possibilities for their kids? Inquiring minds want to know — and if you share a terrific thought in the comments, I’d be delighted to share it during the panel discussion and credit you!

(Booksellers and librarians: The ABC has prepared a fantastic flyer to use, featuring great picture books to share with older kids, along with tips for talking with parents. Be on the lookout for that next week!)

Vermont’s Youngest Librarians (Ages 11 and 6)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 31st, 2014

Aidins Library StampWhen I moved from New York City to Vermont, I had a little fantasy of finding a house that had its own library, a light-filled, high-ceilinged room lined with bookcases and windows, and at least two big window seats with cushions. I imagined pitchers of lemonade and an open-door policy for the neighborhood. I wanted to share my big collection of books with families, and I imagined letting people check them out with old-fashioned lined cards tucked in pockets inside each book. While my library fantasy turned into opening a bookstore, I recently met someone who had the same home library fantasy I did and made it come true. And he’s only 11.

I met Aidin at the Flying Pig’s event for Jarrett Krosoczka a couple of months ago. He was waiting in the signing line with his parents and had a bright presence. He was one of those kids who seems remarkably easy in his own skin for such a young person: articulate, relaxed talking with adults and other kids, not shy. The kind of kid who grows up to be a political leader or who invents new ways for remote villages to gather water. At some point in the conversation with his family, it came out that Aidin had started a reading group last summer for his friends — around 15 kids, though not all of them come to the chapter-per-week discussions. One of his favorite book group picks so far was Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. He also turned his personal library of around 200 books into a lending library, and made and hand-delivered library cards for every kid in the neighborhood. His aunt had a special stamp made to mark his book’s endpapers, and Aidan uses that space to write due dates underneath the stamp.

Vermont's youngest librarians, showing off their newest acquisition, Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle.

Vermont’s youngest librarians show off one of their newest acquisitions, Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle.

Because Aidin also has other goals he’s working on (he’s an athlete in training with his eye on breaking some records), Aidin’s younger brother, Foster, age 6, has also been pressed into service. According to the two kids, Foster is the library assistant, responsible for “bookkeeping, making sure the books are in good condition, that they come back in time, and that kids know the library policies about due dates and treating books nicely.” Wow. That’s quite a chunk of responsibility for a first grader, but it seems to be going smoothly so far. (Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that an older sibling already so adept at turning thoughts into actions is pretty good at knowing how to delegate. I had an older sibling just like that, and she is now executive director of an amazing nonprofit organization.)

I was so charmed and impressed by Aidin and Foster’s make-it-happen ingenuity. I hope their library continues to grow, that the reading group discovers ever more treasures, and that we get to see what other community-building schemes they cook up over the years.