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Fabulous Film Festival: 90-Second Newbery

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 27th, 2015


When author James Kennedy tossed a question to the Child_Lit listserv asking for the shortest Newbery books, I was intrigued. Usually, adults aren’t the ones asking this question; it generally comes from beleaguered kids three weeks behind on a book project. So I was delighted to discover the reason behind Kennedy’s question: it had to do with his 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, a fantastic project that invites students all over the world to compress the stories of Newbery Award and Honor books into videos just one-and-a-half minutes long. The films can be live-action, animated, Claymation, anything at all that fits the criteria. Recently, a film school in Denmark asked Kennedy for a list of the shortest Newbery books to help plan their participation in the 90-Second Newberys, and he wanted to make sure his already considerable list wasn’t missing anything. A noble cause.

With the ALA Youth Media Awards less than a week away, I couldn’t resist interviewing Kennedy about the unique and wonderful way he dreamed up to celebrate children’s literature’s finest books – including some of the best quirky, twisted, funny, smart 90-second clips from his festival.

ShelfTalker: How did the simply brilliant concept of the 90-Second Newbery project come to you? 

from Writer's

from Writer’s

James Kennedy: I’ve always loved short films. The stakes are lower, so they have the freedom to be weirder. (Any Channel 101 fans out there?)

Like many people, ideas come to me when I’m bored and stuck someplace. I was trapped in a work meeting when I tried to write a quick script that summed up A Wrinkle in Time in a minute. Retelling stories quickly was already a thing on the Internet. For a while the BBC was doing 60 Second Shakespeare.

Then I thought, why not shoot this script? I’d never made a movie before. But I got my niece and nephew together with their friends and we shot it in a day. I took another few days to edit it in iMovie. I published it, with a call for more 90-Second Newberys, and I was astonished at the response – more than 100,000 views in just a few weeks!

Here’s the “Wrinkle in Time” video that started it all off:

“A Wrinkle In Time” In 90 Seconds from James Kennedy on Vimeo.

We received more than 100 submissions the first year, and that number has grown every year! We had the first screenings of the 90-Second Newberys at the public libraries in New York City, Chicago, and Portland. Over the past four years we’ve expanded to San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, Tacoma, and many book festivals and library screenings. It’s taken on a life of its own, and I’m delighted with the response. We received over 200 submissions for the 2015 film festival.

ST: What is the most surprising 90-Second Newbery clip you’ve encountered?

JK: This is not so much one particular clip, as it is a tendency. Let me put it this way. I get a lot of 90-Second Newberys based on The Giver. That’s not surprising – it’s dystopian, it’s short, and it’s assigned all the time in schools. As everyone remembers, The Giver is frequently banned because of the queasy scene in which a baby is euthanized. Well, for some reason, kids making 90-Second Newbery videos love remaking this scene, spending upwards of 10 seconds of their allotted 90 seconds gleefully depicting it.

To see what I mean, I put together a highlights clip of all the infanticide scenes from all the 90-second versions of The Giver I received. It’s both harrowing and ludicrous.

“The Giver” 90-Second Newbery Montage from James Kennedy on Vimeo.

As a runner-up, here’s a video that is hilarious but is too adult to show at the film festival. Author Lynne Kelly made this computer-animated adaptation of Susan Patron’s 2007 Medal winner The Higher Power of Lucky. Remember the controversy that kicked up because the book used the word “scrotum” in the first chapter? Well, so does Lynne:

ST: What are some of the most interesting ways this project is used by schools, libraries, and other bookish folks?

JK: I like it when people use the film festival as an excuse to highlight old or nearly-forgotten books, and bring attention to them in a new way.

Like how about William Bowen’s 1922 Newbery Honor book The Olde Tobacco Shoppe: A True Account of What Befell A Little Boy in Search of Adventure done as a bonkers puppet show?

Or Wanda Gag’s 1929 Honor Book Millions of Cats done in Minecraft?

I especially like it when folks switch up the genre of the book they’re adapting. For instance, how about a horror version of Charlotte’s Web?  [ShelfTalker note: see the clip and more commentary about this one toward the end of the article.]

ST: Do you think this film festival will help inspire all those nascent Robert Altmans, Jane Campions, Steven Spielbergs, Sophia Coppolas, and Coen Brothers out there? I’m thinking especially of kids like Jennings Merganthal, who created this year’s video based on Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb:

JK: Oh, I hope so! Jennings has submitted fantastic stop-motion entries almost every year, always based on a nonfiction Newbery winner. If you liked his adaptation of Bomb, you should also check out his adaptations of An American Plague and also of the very first Newbery Medal winner, The Story of Mankind.

I can’t help but feel creating a 90-second video is good training for a budding director. With repeat submitters like Jennings, you can see him improve year by year. When you have only 90 seconds or so to work with, you must make every frame count. Kids soon learn you can’t just set up a video camera and mumble a play in front of it – you must learn how to tell the story visually, how to frame a shot, how to cut, how vary the types of shots, even how to handle lighting and sound. With the tight time limit, you can’t rely on windy dialogue to explain the story, you have to do it with images, which the mind processes much faster. And with the shoestring budget most of these movies are on, you can’t rely on ridiculous special effects – although some groups do go the extra mile and do elaborate green-screen work or even put in Star Wars-type lightsabers and lasers.

ST: What are your hopes for the 90-Second Newbery project?

JK: I hope  it continues to grow to even more cities, and I hope I keep getting great movies from these talented young filmmakers every year!

ST: Are you currently masterminding another fantastic idea that brings kids and books together?

JK: I’m currently masterminding writing another book. The 90-Second Newbery is a lot of fun, and I love doing it, but The Order of Odd-Fish came out in 2008. I need to write too!

ST: Is it possible for bookstores, libraries, and schools to hold screenings? If so, how might they go about setting that up, getting the appropriate permissions, and so on? I’m also thinking this would be a fantastic kickoff for schools to inspire their own students to make 90-Second Newberys.

JK: Do you mean having me come out to visit the bookstore/library/school and host a screening of the 90-Second Newbery myself? If so, they could just email me and we could set it up.

Or do you mean the school just screens 90-Second Newbery movies that have already been submitted? Almost all of the 90-Second Newberys are publicly available on YouTube or Vimeo. I suppose if something is already publicly online, it can be shown, right? In any case, once again it’s probably best to email me – I can give advice on what the best movies to show are, and how to make a screening go smoothly.

Or do you mean that the bookstore/school/library holds their own 90-Second Newbery contest, screening movies made in that community? In that case, I guess it’s not necessary to contact me, but I hope you do, so I can see the movies! If folks want to do their own 90-Second Newbery Film Festival screenings to kick off a program where the kids make their own videos, here are 25 successful 90-Second Newbery movies, done in a variety of styles, to inspire them:

90 Second Newbery Festival

ST: How can readers see the 90-Second Newberys on the big screen?

JK: Over the next two months we’re putting on free gala screenings of the best entries at libraries in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, Portland, and Tacoma, co-hosted by me and other children’s authors. As every year, these kids’ movies are by turns ingenious, hilarious, and impressive! I’m proud to share them.

If you happen to be in any of the cities on the dates below, I think you’d enjoy the show. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s crop of 90-Second Newberys:

*Reimagining 1953 Honor Book Charlotte’s Web as a horror movie. A must-see. These teenagers from the Schaumburg Public Library are on to something: after all, the book’s first line is “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” The plot hinges around a spider using unnatural powers, at any moment our hero might get butchered/devoured, and it ends with thousands of spiders monstrously spawning . . .

*A Claymation adaptation of 1939 Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Made by an ambitious girl scout troop from Urbana, Ill., this is resourceful and awesome!*A special effects extravaganza of 2009 Medal winner The Graveyard Book. All that green screen work! And how many kids did it take to operate that terrifying giant “Sleer” puppet?

*A stop-motion version of 2013 Honor Book Bomb. Made by a lone teenager, Jennings Mergenthal in Tacoma, Wash., this is seriously impressive, funny, AND informative.

*1987 Medal winner The Whipping Boy retold in all-question format. High schooler Madison Ross and her friends retell the adventure story in the style of a verbally dextrous, fast-paced theater game:

If you or any of your readers are interested in attending, below are the screening dates, co-hosts, and links to reserve one’s (free!) seat for the film festival.Sunday, January 25, 2015 The CHICAGO screening at Adventure Stage Chicago (Vittum Theater, 1012 N Noble St, Chicago, IL). With co-host Keir Graff (The Other Felix). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.

Saturday, February 7, 2015 The OAKLAND, CA screening at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave., Oakland, CA). 12-1 pm. Reserve a seat.

Saturday, February 7, 2015 The SAN FRANCISCO screening at the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA). With co-host bestselling author Annie Barrows (Ivy and Bean). 4-5:30 pm. Reserve a seat.

Saturday, February 21, 2015 The TACOMA screening at the Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Avenue South, Tacoma, WA). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.

Sunday, February 22, 2015 The PORTLAND AREA screening at the Troutdale Library branch (2451 SW Cherry Park Rd, Troutdale, OR). 5-6 pm. Reserve a seat.

Saturday, February 28, 2015 The MINNEAPOLIS screening at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN) in Pohlad Hall. With co-host Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy). 3-4:30 pm. Reserve a seat.

Saturday, March 7, 2015 The MANHATTAN screening at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY), in the Bartos Forum. With co-host Ame Dyckman (Boy + Bot, Wolfie the Bunny). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 The BROOKLYN, NY screening at the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library (10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY) with co-host Peter Lerangis (The 39 Clues, the Seven Wonders series). In the Dweck Auditorium. 2-4 pm.

90 Second Newbery Oscars

From a New York Public Library screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. See? This IS our version of the Oscars!

All the details about the film festival, including details of the screenings, rules, and a few of the best videos I’ve received, can be found here:

ST: Thanks so much for talking with us, and for creating such a fabulous event!


The First Award of the Season

Josie Leavitt -- January 26th, 2015

For the people in children’s books, next Monday is a huge deal. It’s our equivalent of the Oscars. There are many awards that are given at the American Library Association Midwinter conference. However, for picture book fans, the first award of the season, the Charlotte Zolotow Award, was given out last week by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). This award is for picturesparky text. There are only two other awards for text of picture books: the E.B. White Read Aloud award given by the ABC (part of the American Booksellers Association) and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award. It does seem odd to me that there are so few awards for text in picture books. Yes, the pictures are huge in these books, but the words are often why parents have to read the same book every night at bedtime for months.

Last week the winner was announced and it was Jenny Offill’s charming book, Sparky, about a girl who comes to terms, in a very funny way about the limitations of her pet sloth. This book is a delightful play on a child wanting a pet desperately, and then getting one and realizing he’s got some issues that other pets don’t have. The committee then named five honor books, and, I’m thrilled to say that Elizabeth Bluemle’s book, Tap Tap Boom Boom  was one of them.

tapIt’s been a good year for Tap Tap Boom Boom. It made the New York Public Library list of top 100 books of 2014 and now the Zolotow Honor. The fact that Elizabeth keeps getting honored as an author makes working with her at the bookstore all the more fun. After the NYPL nod, we sold more of her book for the holidays, and now we just keep ringing our little bell at the store (we normally ding once if we need help at the register) twice when someone needs a book signed by Elizabeth. It’s awfully fun to hit the bell twice and shout, “Author! We need a book signed!” Some folks come in not knowing that Elizabeth co-owns the store, and the look of surprise and delight when we ask if they’d like the book signed never gets old.

The other Honor books were excellent as well, and not surprisingly, books I enjoy handselling. Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer, written by Tonya Bolden; Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep, by Barney Saltzberg; Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate (it is interesting to note that this book, as well as Elizabeth’s, was illustrated by G. Brian Karas), and lastly, Water Rolls, Water Rises = El agua rueda, el agua sube, written by Pat Mora.

This award is a wonderful way for Elizabeth, and the store, to start the new year. I fully expect our little bell to get a workout in the coming weeks.

Literary Valentine’s Day Gifts

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 23rd, 2015

Oh, lovers of book lovers, what shall you give your beloveds for Valentine’s Day?

Might you give a “Library Book Necklace” from DoonyandMoony or another vendor on Etsy? Even though it’s simply a print under glass, it looks like real, teeny books set in the glass dome. (Please note: for all images in this post, just click on the picture and you will be magically transported to the vendor’s website.)

book necklace

Or perhaps something with actual words and sentiments that book lovers appreciate, from WordBaubles?

Maybe you’d like to give your special person one of the AMAZING literary totes (or T-shirts, or posters, or tattoos) from Litographs? In addition to striking design, the image happens to be made out of the words IN THE ENTIRE BOOK. All of the words in each book, up to around 40,000 words (20k on the totes; they explain all this on their website). The posters come in a variety of color combinations and the art made from words ranges from striking and iconic to delicate and romantic:

If your sweetie is a gadget geek who loves books, how about an iPhone charger built out of books? RichNeeleyDesigns makes these “Booksi” chargers.

Here’s another pretty necklace found on Etsy, this from Moongarden Designs:

For whimsy, an artist named L Delaney makes this fetching miniature book with a secret compartment:

This time of year, if you’re in the Northeast, you can’t go wrong with a literary scarf. My sister’s family gave me this Jane Austen scarf from Storiarts featuring the declaration of love between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. I have to say, it looks REALLY good on! And it’s warm and soft and cozy.

Be sure to check out their Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and Poe’s “The Raven” scarf while you’re browsing!

And as long as we’re letting Storiarts keep us warm, check out these cool Little Women Writing Gloves:

To complete your snuggly ensemble, why not this sweatshirt from Love Cove Apparel?

And for a truly personal, romantic gift, BookArt88 will create a personalized folded art book sculpture with the initials of your choosing. You still have time! Current turnaround is four days.

What will you be giving your special someone?

The Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest

Kenny Brechner -- January 22nd, 2015

Have you heard  that rhyming couplets in picture books are about to be revealed in a prominent medical journal as a serious health hazard? That being, umm, true, it is time to take stock of this soon to be extinct genre. It is time for the Rhyming Couplet and Quatrain Epitaph Contest.

Caution-Biological-HazardFirst of all, though, you may possibly wish to know more about the medical hazards posed by rhyming couplets and quatrains.  Here is what I can reveal at this time. This information is based entirely on what was leaked to me by a contributing scientist who has insisted on remaining nameless at present because “this is the most hazardous research I have ever been associated with. We simply didn’t use enough safeguards, and it is still unknown whether the cognitive deterioration exhibited by our entire team will prove to be reversible.” I’m sure you can understand her reticence. All right – so here is what we know so far.

  1. Rhyming Couplets and Quatrains In Picture Books (RCQIPB) has been  directly correlated  o a neurological disorder in readers called the Bappity Syndrome (BS). BS is marked by the dissociation of words from meaning and context, not only during the reading of the book but for a prolonged period afterwards. Adult readers with a saturation point exposure to RCQIPB were 278% more likely to have automobile accidents resulting from confounding traffic signs, 317% likelier to purchase food they didn’t want to actually eat because it rhymed with something already in the shopping cart, and 9,178% likelier to hug inanimate objects like rugs and mugs.
  2. RCQIPB has been firmly established as a form of malign hypnosis which makes its readers susceptible to the sort of latent behavioral triggers made famous in The Manchurian Candidate. RCQIPB therefore constitutes both a national and a global security crisis.
  3. 53% of subjects given prolonged exposure to RCQIPB experienced catastrophic cognitive decline marked by the gradual subsuming of all verbal and written communications in a nonsensical sub language the researchers termed Ippity, which is marked by communication devoid of meaning in both structure or even purpose.
  4. The findings regarding the effects of RCQIPB on children were found to be far, far more egregious but ultimately reversible if successfully exposed to Harriet the Spy.

These are, apparently, only some of the findings to be revealed in the prominent medical journal. If the article fails to appear that would certainly make this matter all the more poignant, as we would have to assume that these intrepid researchers had succumbed to the effect of BS, and were constitutionally unable to complete their paper.

In the meantime one feels that it is certainly time to write the epitaph for RCQIPB, something along the lines of .

Oh rhymes of which we must henceforth refrain
Think now of all the books of which you were the bane
Find peace and be just at your long overdue fate
Consider how even this rhyming epitaph does grate

And so forth. Post your entry below and be eligible for a sensational prize!

What Do You Get Rid Of?

Josie Leavitt -- January 20th, 2015

It’s that time of year when a lot of bookstores are doing returns. The season is slower and there are still bills to pay from the massive ordering of books during the holidays, and doing returns really helps with cash flow. But returns also make you look at how you’ve curated your store. The challenge with being a children’s store (any store really, but people have strong opinions about what’s in the kids’ section) is you are judged by customers on the depth of your stock, even if no one buys what’s impressing them.

Some returns are easy to make. Books that are now out in paperback don’t always need the corresponding hardcover. There are always the mistakes made during a frontlist buying session when I realize I’ve purchased every picture book with cute bears, regardless of the story, or I’ve overestimated how many of a new book would sell and now have four left of the display, etc. These are simple decisions often made with a rueful laugh and a promise to do a tighter frontlist order next season.

Then there are the harder decisions. Has a book earned its shelf space? Or am I keeping for purely nostalgic reasons? Or, do I need to have it because it’s a classic? People come to any bookstore with expectations of what makes a good store. Meeting these expectations while also doing the requisite number of inventory turns to remain profitable is a huge balancing act. Do we have the entire Swallows and Amazons series? Of course. Does it sell all the time? No. But we’re not going to return them because they’re great, they can change a child’s life (one reluctant reader years ago read the series and now designs boats), and they are measured by which your store is judged. We get people saying, “I can’t believe you have these!” and seeing those books on our shelves elevates the store in their minds and creates trust in our ability as booksellers. Do we need to have every Caldecott and Newbery winner? Probably not, if shelf space is determined by sales alone. But you can’t not have them. So you strike a balance and hope you’ve got the right mix for everything, but you  know that someone is always going to be disappointed or shocked we don’t have X or Y book.

So as I prepare to tackle returns, I’ll be looking at not only what hasn’t sold in a while, but why do I have it? And if I can’t honestly fight for the book, then it’s gone. But if someone on staff can lobby for a book then we’ll keep it. Maybe we could be more calculating about returns, but there’s always that lovely moment when an adult’s face lights up at seeing that long-lost childhood favorite he can now share with his children that somehow makes me proud we don’t just run the store strictly by the numbers.

Retailers: how do you approach returns at your store? And what types of books do you fight for?




Farewell to Bonnie Christensen

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 16th, 2015

Bonnie Christensen (photo from her website)

She radiated loveliness, both personally and in her work. She was a gifted and creative artist, author, illustrator, and print maker, active both locally and overseas in exhibitions and galleries. While I didn’t know her well personally, Bonnie Christensen was one of those people you meet and instantly like, adored by friends and admired by colleagues for her warmth, humor, grace, and kindness. We were so sad to learn the news of her passing this week at the all-too-young age of 63.

We Vermonters feel lucky to be able to claim Bonnie as our own. Her website gives a sense of the breadth and depth of her artistic talents, from delightful and appealing picture books for young children to woodengravings and woodcut art (singly and for books like the middle-grade novel, Moon Over Tennessee by Craig Crist-Evans), to both realistic and abstract etchings, engravings, monotypes, oils and frescoes.

An award-winning artist, Bonnie wrote and illustrated a number of beautiful, informative picture book biographies, including Django, I, Galileo, Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People, Fabulous: A Portrait of Andy Warhol, The Daring Nelly Bly, America’s Star Reporter, as well as illustrating numerous notable fiction and nonfiction picture books written by herself and other authors. Just a few of her works:

She also teamed up with dear friend and fellow Vermonter Leda Schubert on the charming Princess of Borscht

Her most recent release was the beautiful A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road.

On April 21, 2015, her newest book, Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King, will arrive in bookstores across the country, and we will have the chance to celebrate Bonnie anew.

It grieves me that the children’s book world has lost yet another great light, yet if anyone will continue shining after passage from this world, it is the radiant Bonnie Christensen.

Please feel welcome to add your celebration and memories of Bonnie and her work to our comments section.

Kathy Space: Penguin Kids Inside Sales Rep Extraordinaire

Kenny Brechner -- January 15th, 2015

I wanted to take a moment today to recognize someone who has been an outstanding industry colleague of mine for many years, my Penguin Kids inside sales rep, Kathy Space. Kathy has been my rep at Penguin for her entire tenure there, 17 years. My Penguin inside sales reps have all been good, but Kathy has been exceptional. Always passionate about her job, always focused, effective and personal in her outreach, Kathy has been a consummate professional.


That’s Kathy in the middle on the right. When I was NECBA co-chair, back in the day, and was putting together an education program for the NEIBA trade show called How to Make Publishers Love You, we invited Kathy to be on the panel. A few of her NECBA buyers went out to dinner with her afterwards. None of us had met her in person before. Even the napkins were excited to get to meet her in person.

The depth of her professionalism has never been more evident than in this last year. With the Penguin/Random House merger the clock has been ticking on Kathy’s time there. Rather than coasting to the end, Kathy continued to be an enthusiastic and dynamic proponent of Penguin’s children’s books every day of her last year there. She continued to work with me on all my recent schemes to promote any favorite books that happened to be Penguin.

Over the years I worked with Kathy on all kinds of DDG educational outreach programs, in-store promotions, and institutional purchase order researching issues beyond number. We had a lot of fun and sold a lot of books by working together. When I first had the idea to bring a class set of ARCs for review in 2003 it was Kathy I called. Through Wereworld campaigns and Common Core price quote marathons, Kathy was my go-to rep.

Things change, as you may have had occasion to notice yourself. Things come to an end. The PRH merger means a new rep for me. It doesn’t mean my new rep won’t be great. It does mean, however, that it is time to take a moment to recognize someone who’s been a terrific book industry colleague to many of us for many years. It does mean that is time to say a goodbye, and the best wishes ever, to Kathy Space.

Mean Customers and How They Make Us Feel

Josie Leavitt -- January 13th, 2015

We’ve all had this happen: sometimes customers are mean. They don’t set out to be angry or cranky, but sometimes they are. Recently, two of my youngest staffers shared a few funny interactions with me, proving what we all already knew: being able to share the misery, as it were, makes it easier to deal with mean people.

She had been helping a customer and it wasn’t going well, and rather than say anything out loud, rightpostshe let me know she needed help by slipping me a note, that quite simply said, “This woman doesn’t like me.” Almost heartbreaking in its simplicity, the note was a tiny cry for help borne out of frustration. Once I stopped chuckling (it was funny, after all) I traded spots with Laura and asked her to help me ring up someone while I worked with the woman. After I helped the customer, who didn’t really like me much either, Laura and I had a good laugh about it. But this brings up the joy of having other booksellers to be able to help out when things get a little difficult.

Sunday I left work early because I wasn’t feeling well and the store was quite slow on a frigid Sunday. PJ is quite capable and I retreated to my couch with a hot cup of tea and promptly fell textasleep – only to awakened by my phone alerting me I had a text from one of my co-workers. I’ve given all of them the same text tone of an old-fashioned teletype machine, it’s very loud. I read the text. I felt horrible. I texted back and asked if she needed help. She said she was okay, but someone actually yelled at her because we closed the store for a week to take our annual break. I really wish I had been there for that. Sometimes you just need help and someone who can handle the situation.

My turn for cranky customers came yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s the weather or just a wacky planetary lineup. But I was working with Laura and we had three in a row. And one on the phone. All smallflwounhappy about things I couldn’t totally fix. But we did reach good agreements and everything ended well.

Here’s the thing, though. The number of cranky or mean customers is literally dwarfed (by a factor of 100) by the number of customers who come in and share their kindness with us. I got to work Sunday and noticed fresh flowers. I asked who they were from and was told, “A customer saw the article in the Wall Street Journal about the bookstore and wanted to say congratulations.”

Luckily for me, this is the environment I have the pleasure of working in almost every day.

Misreading a Book

Josie Leavitt -- January 12th, 2015

I was at a party over the weekend and several people were talking about Sarah Waters’ book The Paying Guests. Everyone loved it (if you haven’t read it yet, go get it and prepare to get lost for a few days reading) and we all spoke about parts of the book we loved when my friend Hillary just started laughing. The book isn’t a comedy, by any stretch of the imagination. I asked her what was so funny and never expected her response.

It seems Hillary read the back of the book prior to starting it. Here’s where the funny comes in. The 9781594633119back of the book has blurbs for all her other books. Hillary read only the review for The Little Stranger, which is a ghost story. She started her reading with that overlay in mind. “I’m a reading a ghost story,” Hillary thought as she started The Paying Guests. Well, not so much. But here’s the really interesting thing: she read through the entire first part of the book (almost 200 pages) expecting a ghost story, so she kept finding one. In her mind she could very easily see how the rundown house could become a gothic haunting. How perhaps every creak on the stairs was a deceased brother coming back to give a message to his sister. Of course, she didn’t share this at the time, she just kept that to herself silently wondering when the ghost was going to reveal him or herself. This made for an unsatisfying read because the thing she kept wanting, ghosts or supernatural occurrences, never happened.

It was until she got to the end of the first part and the two women became lovers that she realized, “Oh, this is a love story, not a ghost story!” Needless to say, when she shared this at the party all of were laughing very, very hard. This brought up a very interesting discussion about how what we think a book is going to be can be at odds with what the book actually is. And then this got me thinking about how I talk about books with kids. Am I saying too much about the book? Am I focusing on one thing and sacrificing other information that might for a better reading experience?

Kids are very good at reading the blurbs on the jackets, and most kids’ books don’t have reviews of other books on the back, but still it got me thinking about what we say about books before people start reading them and does that color the reading experience. In some cases, clearly, that’s an issue, but in others it’s not. I think the less I know about a book, the better off I am, because sometimes I latch onto a detail or idea about the book and spend my time as a reader looking for that detail, just as Hillary was looking for ghosts.

So readers, I’m curious: how much do you like to know about a book before you start reading it?

The Stars of 2014: Final Round-Up

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 8th, 2015

Well, chickadees, here it is: the final tally of starred reviews for youth literature for 2014 from the following sources: BooklistThe Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksThe Horn BookKirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. This year, 868 books received 1458 stars from these esteemed review sources.

This is an insanely detail-laden process, and as careful as I try to be, there may be oversights here and there. If you want the cleanest version of this list, check back in a week or two, when I’ll have been alerted to anything that needs fixing. Publishers, if my star count for individual titles doesn’t match yours, please send an email to me at ebluemle at, listing the title and the review sources with dates. Many thanks!

My hope is that this list will help readers find fine books they may have overlooked, and of course to place large monetary bets on the upcoming youth award announcements. (Kidding! But speaking of which, the ALA Youth Media Awards—Newbery, Caldecott, King, Printz, Sibert, Geisel, and many many others—will be announced on February 2, 2015, beginning at 8 a.m. in Chicago, and livestreamed here.)

One note I feel strongly about: critical acclaim doesn’t always align with child appeal, so I would urge parents, librarians, booksellers, and teachers not to overlook titles without stars. Sometimes, books beloved by children don’t receive a single starred review, but still enrich and enchant their lives. The one thing I hope this project doesn’t do is encourage people to bypass titles worth considering that somehow have escaped reviewer attention. If you have some examples of books you’ve truly loved from this year that didn’t receive stars, please post them in the comments below. Caveat: no self-promotion (or promoting a friend, loved one, client, etc.)! Thanks.

And — if you’re willing to share, it would be great to know what your role in the book world is and how you use this list.

Happy reading!


Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99

Family Romanov, The: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. Random House, $18.99

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. A.S. King. Little, Brown, $18

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, $21.99 hc, $17.99 pb

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