Monthly Archives: November 2007

Bring on the Armored Bears!

Alison Morris - November 30, 2007

I could barely contain my excitement this week when a special, magic envelope arrived at the store bearing passes to an advance screening of The Golden Compass next Monday! HOOOOOOOOOOORAY!!!

I normally grit my teeth with nervous reserve toward film adaptations of my favorite books. In this case, though, the visual effects look so tremendous and the characters so seemingly well cast that I am VERY much looking forward to seeing the end results. Having seen the London stage adaptation a few years ago, too, I also feel like I’ve already been properly initiated into the world of abridged, streamlined renditions of His Dark Materials.

Whatever the case, this film looks like it will be a fun ride—much more fun, I’d wager, than the Beowulf movie, which Gareth and I saw last weekend in 3D on an IMAX screen. We both had relatively low expectations for the film but figured it would at least be entertaining. Which it was. In the WORST possible way. As we left the theater laughing at how bad it was, we overheard snippets of other filmgoers’ conversations as they too poked fun at its weakest moments, laughing uproariously. Yep, it was THAT bad.

My chief complaint is that all subtlety was stripped from both the story and the acting. It would seem that CG doesn’t lend itself to any small movements on the part of its characters, as every human gesture or supposedly quick glance appeared overdone and painfully obvious. This made very talented actors look and sound like complete buffoons. I’ve never been so unimpressed with a performance by John Malkovich. Or Robin Wright Penn. Or Anthony Hopkins, for that matter! Give me the real actors, please! In this case they looked about as real as the characters that populate the Shrek films, which is to say they looked very cartoony. Ironically, it’s the most fantastic character (the dragon) that looked the most real to me and delivered the best, most entertaining moments of the whole film.

As for the storyline of Beowulf and the way it’s newly interpreted here… Ugh. I understand that Hollywood has this obsession with sexing things up a bit and will give them credit for being creative about their way of doing it (making Grendel’s mother out to be a seductress who lures strong men to her bed, and later gives birth to monsters of their own making), but this variation of the story is told with too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions for my taste. In all I thought it felt overblown, terribly clichéd, and surprisingly sloppy.

One thing related to the Beowulf movie that I *did* love, though, was a typo (I think…) that I happened to catch in the Boston Globe, in their info. about the rating of the film. They explain that the film has a PG-13 rating "for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual mater." Yes, it says sexual MATER. And "mater" is the Latin word for what? Mother. So, is "sexual mater" a Freudian slip or some copywriter’s very clever joke about Angelina Jolie?

Whatever the case I looked at the rating info. for The Golden Compass, but it’s reportedly PG-13 only "for sequences of fantasy violence." Too bad they left out the "sexual mater" bit there, because I think Nicole Kidman in the role Mrs. Coulter is guaranteed to qualify.

Inflatable Memories, Shrinkable Globe

Alison Morris - November 29, 2007

One of my favorite events we’ve had at our store was that with balloon-twister Addi Somekh, almost exactly six years ago (Nov. 28, 2001). He visited soon after the publication of The Inflatable Crown Balloon Hat Kit (Chronicle Books) and WOWED us with the incredible creations that would spring from his fingertips to tower over our heads and frame our smiling faces.

Here’s me (on the left) with my beloved pal Pam Daghlian, who was our store manager at the time:

My enthusiasm for Addi’s visit sprung not so much from my love of balloons, as my love of what Addi and his friend Charlie Eckert had been doing to make the world a smaller and smilier place. Together the two traveled the world on a shoestring budget, visiting 34 countries (in 7 trips), where they’d often visit remote outposts populated by the poorest of people. Everywhere they went Addi made balloon hats for people while Charlie took photos. Often these encounters took place with folks who had never seen balloons before.

The whole point of this project was "to show people all over the world laughing and having fun, and to emphasize the fact that all human beings are born with the ability to experience joy." Many of the photos from Addi’s and Charlie’s travels were included in the book that comes with the Balloon Hat kit, but (alas) the kit is now sadly out of print (though it does appear you can still purchase copies of it directly from Addi). Kit aside, you can can spend a chunk of time admiring the photos on Addi and Charlie’s Balloon Hat website, which are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

In the years since his visit here, Addi and Charlie’s travels have become the subject of a feature-length documentary (Balloonhat). Addi has also made balloon hats for 200 in-studio guests on the set of Martha Stewart’s television show ("Martha"), played the balloon bass in a band ("Unpopable"), designed a balloon bikini (which puts the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to shame), and captured much of this fun and more on YouTube.

I tell ya, when it comes to originality, Addi’s job history puts almost anyone else’s to shame. Nice to think, though, that it includes time spent (however briefly) at Wellesley Booksmith!

Thanks for the memories, Addi!

The Best Book I Got at NCTE

Alison Morris - November 28, 2007

The best book I got at NCTE has stiff competition from a signed copy of Gloria Whelan’s new novel Parade of Shadows, which I’m looking forward to reading. And it would be hard to beat a signed copy of The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles, as it’s one of my favorite books of the year. But sorry, Gloria, Deborah, Patricia Reilly Giff, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Jeff Kinney, Charles R. Smith Jr., Katherine Applegate, Sy Montgomery, Marilyn Singer, Joyce Sidman, Robert Neubecker, T. A. Barron, William Low, Megan McDonald, Linda Sue Park, Peter Sís, and anyone else I’m forgetting. I love your books, but they’re no I Want to Be an Airplane Hostess by Carla Greene. Nor are they I Want to Be a Homemaker, also by Carla Greene. I can’t decide which of these compelling reads I prefer. Fortunately both of them are conveniently bound together in ONE volume! Read one story, flip the book over, and read the other. How handy! How convenient! A girl’s twin aspirations joined together, BFF.


Of course, I didn’t actually pick up this 1960 gem at a publisher’s booth, so I suppose it’s cheating a bit to allow it to take home top prize. But this literary masterpiece WAS given to me at NCTE by my dear friend Tim Decker, who was signing copies of his newest book, Run Far, Run Fast, at the show on Saturday, so I say it qualifies.

Why is this book the best of the ones I took home from the show? Because it sets all the others into the most stark relief—makes them seem that much more valuable, that much more welcome. Thank goodness we’ve moved beyond this point, in terms of quality of writing, quality of content, and quality of message.

Books like this, of the Dick and Jane ilk, paved the way for the reader-friendly titles we have today, of course. But thank goodness they were the paving stones, rather than the bedrock.

Booth-Bound at NCTE, Part 2: The Pros

Alison Morris - November 26, 2007

(Pair this post with the one that precedes it, about the cons of being tied to a booth at the Nov. 2007 NCTE convention.)

The Pros of Being Booth-Bound at NCTE

1. Being able to sit down.
This gets big points in my book. Those concrete floors are murder on your feet, your knees, your back. Lengthy opportunities to rest your aching dogs are a trade show rarity for those expected to stroll the aisles.

2. Being unencumbered by totebags.
As gratifying as it can be to get great loot, it’s grueling to schlep it around, even for short stretches of time. I did acquire some books this weekend but was grateful that each one made the short trip back to our booth without having to dangle first from my shoulders. The tendency to overload one’s carrying capacity wasn’t quite as evident at NCTE as it is at Book Expo, probably because at BEA most books come for free, or for the price of a small (usually $2) donation. At NCTE books must be purchased, though books at author signings tend to be inexpensive ($2-$5 for paperbacks, $5-$10 for hardcovers), and by the end of the weekend large (and large-ish) publishers are selling off all the books in their booth for a song. It was great to see teachers loading up on fantastic new titles for their classrooms at prices often as low as $2. The most expensive rate I saw books going for by Sunday afternoon was 50% off. The men and women taking full advantage of this clearing house are the ones I saw experiencing the worst shoulder fatigue. I can’t imagine how they managed to cart so many books out of the Javits Center, let alone all the way to their homes, but I suspect their methods involved spare suitcases and/or empty automobiles.

3. Gaining shelf-satisfaction.
This is the same high I get from handselling books in our store—it is so gratifying to see customers’ enthusiasm for books they hadn’t previously known, and even more gratifying to send them home with those books, knowing that they’ll be gifted to some grateful soul or put to regular use in some classroom somewhere. I never got tired of watching people get excited about Gareth’s books. (And I hope I never will!)

4. Avoiding the pitch.
I don’t like being "sold to" in the obtrusive, pushy sense of the word, and wearing an EXHIBITOR badge meant I didn’t have to worry about this. Folks at the pushiest of booths (of which there seemed to be relatively few at this show) didn’t bother trying to corner me or hand me bookmarks promoting their products, which was nice, as I find it tiring to repeatedly smile, say no thanks, and dodge my way quickly out of danger. Thankfully I didn’t see one costumed character at this show, which also helped matters.

5. Feeling the love.
When you’re in a booth and people are repeatedly coming by to marvel at your books, remark about how much they love them, and hand you cold hard cash with which to purchase them, you can’t help but get high from the experience. Time and again teachers came by our booth with praise for Gareth’s Beowulf graphic novel, explaining how much their students loved it and how much easier it made the task of enticing them to read full-text versions of the book. Many others came by having not yet seen Gareth’s books and most of them were thrilled with what they saw. This was especially gratifying because so many of them are purists—Shakespeare and Beowulf afficionados if ever there were. Watching these folks be won over by Gareth’s talents was deeply satisfying.

And then there was the teacher who came by the booth looking visibly moved. She said she could hardly believe that Gareth was there—that she’d been wanting to meet him in person for a couple years now, to tell him that he’d literally saved one of her student’s lives. This kid had been a gangbanger, she said, who was pretty well lost to the streets and completely uninterested in school. After she noticed him doodling on the pages of his notebooks on several occasions, she went looking for something that might interest him artistically and get him hooked enough to take some interest in what she was teaching. An online search brought up Gareth’s self-published edition of Beowulf, which she then ordered multiple copies of for her class. The student she’d been trying to reach was impressed enough by Gareth’s artwork to go looking for his web site, where he read that Gareth had created some of the art by modulating his freehand drawings on the computer. Computers + art. Apparently it was a combination this kid hadn’t heard about before. "You saved his life," this teacher said. "He went on to study computer science."

There wasn’t a dry eye in the booth.

It was worth being booth-bound all weekend just to meet that one teacher and hear her story. Working in a bookstore I have daily contact with customers and get to hear their "this book touched my life in this way" stories on a regular basis, but sitting at NCTE last weekend it occurred to me that my colleagues tied to neighboring booths probably don’t get to hear those as often. This leads me to believe that there’s a great deal to be gained (and learned) from being a regular booth-sitter.

Seeing as how I have these conversations on an (almost) daily basis, I’d still choose to roam the floor over having to remain stationary. I’ll happily do the latter at future trade shows, though—especially if someone’s willing to bring me the occasional cup of overpriced coffee. And a Greek chicken pita sandwich or two.

Booth-Bound at NCTE, Part 1: The Cons

Alison Morris - November 25, 2007

A week ago I had my first experience at NCTE and my first experience with being tied to a specific trade show booth. It was… exhausting. But perhaps not more so than being a strolling trade show visitor. While the NCTE exhibitor hall is teeny-tiny compared to that of BEA, it’s nevertheless capable of inducing the same exhibit fatigue (both mental and physical) as larger shows. I’ve created a list of pros and cons about being bound to a booth rather than being free to roam the aisles. I’ll start with the cons, and put the pros in my second post (the darn blog tool STILL won’t let me combine them into one!) in the interest of ending on a positive note.

The Cons of Being Booth-Bound at NCTE

1. The Endless Repetition.
Quite possibly the most tiring aspect of my booth-bound experience was the fact that I had to say the same things again and again and again to each person who approached our table. "The guy sitting next to me IS actually Gareth Hinds, the adapter/illustrator of these books. The Candlewick edition of Beowulf is type-set and uses a prose translation of the text. Gareth’s self-published edition is hand-lettered and uses a verse translation of the text. His edition of King Lear uses about half the text of the original play. No, he hasn’t done Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet yet. Yes, Gilgamesh is a great idea. He’s currently working on sketches for an adaptation of The Odyssey" and so on and so on, again and again. Now that I think of it, this situation would have been helped by having more titles… All the more reason for Gareth to get back to the drawing table a.s.a.p.

2. Being Charming, Charming, Charming.
That schmooze fatigue—it’s a killer. It’s hard to be friendly and make small talk at booth after booth when you’re a booth roamer. It’s even harder to muster the same enthusiasm when you’re in a booth, though, being greeted by visitor after visitor, because you don’t have the option of doing otherwise, of letting your smile droop, as it were. If you appear indifferent, the visitors to your booth will probably be the same.

3. Being in it for the long haul.
From set up to tear down, several days later, someone has to be in your booth. Okay, they don’t have to sleep there overnight, but during the hours the trade show is open to visitors, someone has to be there to talk about the books and see that they don’t walk away. At BEA I usually hit my trade show limit by the end of the second day. At NEBA, where the floor is considerably smaller, one day is time enough for me to do things justice. In each of those cases I can usually miss the last day of the exhibition hall, or at least break up my time there with education sessions. But when you’re manning a booth? No can do. The saving grace for my weekend was probably the fact that our booth was small enough that we could get away with having only one of us there. That having been said, neither of us liked to leave the other stranded for long, and each time Gareth left I found myself faced with disappointed "customers," all wondering when the adapter/illustrator would return so that they could meet him and have him personalize their books. This meant that I was the one allowed to take the most frequent breaks, which usually involved me dropping in on some author or illustrator’s signing line, in the case of those friends I hadn’t seen in a while or people I’d always wanted to meet. OR it meant swinging by the booth of my publicist pals to see how they were doing or beg them for a favor of some sort. ("We’re running low on $5 bills—can you spare any?")

4. Packing up before going home.
FINALLY the show ends, the exhibit hall closes. Is your work done? No. Before you head back to your awaiting hotel room or (in our case) friends’ apartment, have fun packing up your books, rolling up your banners, folding up your tablecloths, sealing up your boxes. After you’ve done all this, enjoy finding some way to get them out to your waiting vehicle. Or spending a LOT of cash to ship them homeward. Either way, add another couple hours to the end of your day, because all of this is going to take you a little while.

5. Convention Center Food, Several Times a Day
Ugh. Ick. Ugh. My hot tip of the week: eat at the Agape Cafe the next time you’re at the Javits Center. A Greek outfit where the owners work right there on the premises, it offers food that’s actually quite tasty and feels considerably less "processed" than anything else you’ll find in the convention center. My entrepreneurial scheme of the month: set up a business as a Starbucks runner for booth-sitters. Seriously. When I offered to make a Starbucks run for my Houghton Mifflin pals late Saturday afternoon I realized we booth-sitters were all hitting the same wall at the same time and reasoned that someone could easily be capitalizing on that fact. After you’ve been standing on your feet for two days, talking ad nauseum about the same books and smiling to beat the band, tell me you wouldn’t be crying out for something sweet and caffeinated. And if you couldn’t leave the booth to fetch it for yourself, would you not pay someone to bring it to you? I rest my case.

(Where are the pros of being booth-bound at NCTE? In my next post. Read on!)

Kinda Gives New Meaning to "The Daily Grind"

Alison Morris - November 16, 2007

I’m cooking up a lengthy post about the many, many author and illustrator events we’ve hosted in the past month, but thought I’d entertain you all first with a look at the ideas I tossed around in anticipation of our event with Kate DiCamillo last Friday.

Because her new picture book Great Joy features an organ grinder with a fez-wearing monkey, my original idea was to order a red fez for everyone in attendance at the event, preferably embroidered with the words "Kate DiCamillo gives me GREAT JOY!" But alas, even cheap non-embroidered fezzes turned out to be surprisingly expensive. Or at least, they cost considerably more than the pens we had imprinted for our event with Rick Riordan. (A side note: I had to look up the plural form of "fez" to be sure it actually contained two z’s and learned that "fezzy" is an adjective. Ten points to anyone who can use it in a sentence.)

When the fez plan fell through I looked into hiring an actual organ grinder and monkey to "work the crowd" before our event. I figured there were slim odds of us finding anyone local who actually owned the right skills and props to pull this off, but lo and behold! A Google search containing the words "organ grinder" plus "monkey" and "boston" brought me to Hurdy Gurdy Monkey and Me, a.k.a. Tony Lupo and Coco (the monkey) of Newton, Mass., which is right next door to Wellesley! Had Tony not been out of the country last week, we might’ve signed him up for our DiCamillo evening. I’ll admit, though, that I’d was a bit nervous about this stipulation on Tony’s website:

"This is an INTERACTIVE PRESENTATION: This performance includes physical contact between the monkey and the audience. The client is responsible to provide… notification in advance if there are children attending your event that have allergies to peanuts, latex, hair, fur or any other allergy that would LIMIT OR RESTRICT physical contact with the monkey during our presentation."

Yes, like peanuts on airplanes, gone are those carefree hurdy gurdy days… (sigh.)

As it turns out, I needn’t have been so elaborate with my suggestions for saluting Kate. A few markers and a white t-shirt might’ve been enough to get the message across.

Here’s how Chloe Grace, age 8, shared her feelings for Kate (beside her in the photo below), which were first established a year ago when she read The Tale of Despereaux:

I think Chloe’s shirt shirt says more than any fez or monkey ever could.

Alexie Takes Home the Top Prize

Alison Morris - November 14, 2007

A fellow book lover just called me from the floor of the National Book Awards ceremony with the news that Sherman Alexie is the winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian!! Yee-haw! I love to see great acclaim go to worthy books, and this is certainly one of them.

Meet Me at NCTE!

Alison Morris - November 13, 2007

I’ll be at NCTE Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this coming weekend, helping Gareth introduce the English teachers of the world to his new King Lear graphic novel. Come by booth number 540 to pay us a visit, give me your ShelfTalker feedback, and share your impressions of this year’s conference! This will be my first time attending a trade show aimed at teachers, and I’m keen to see how it differs from those aimed at booksellers and/or librarians, specifically BEA and the ALA Midwinter meeting (my only library show experience to date). This will also be my first real experience working a show from the inside of a booth rather than from the aisles (which makes me sound like a trade show hooker, but you know what I mean). Publicists, marketers, sales reps—this weekend I’ll be tipping my hat to you, wondering how you flash those smiles, work that charm, and schlep those books so many weekends out of the year. Please send me your best booth survival tips. Or stop by often with chocolate.

How to Delight in Delayed MN Flights

Alison Morris - November 12, 2007

I’ve been in three "M" states in the past two weeks — Massachusetts, Missouri, and Minnesota. Of course, in the first of these, most of my time is spent in a wonderful independent bookstore. In the second of these, as some of you saw in a previous post, I stumbled upon a wonderful independent bookstore. In the third of these I saw only the airport… which just happens to be home to a wonderful independent bookstore — one that specializes in children’s books!

If you’re going to be stranded at an airport or at least facing a lengthy layover, let me recommend that you TRY to do so at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. While it’s true that MSP did recently play a role in a certain political scandal, it’s about the nicest airport you could ever hope to see. High ceilings, bright airy spaces, functioning "people movers," and (believe it or not) high quality, atypical retail and restaurants. Among these, in Concourse C, is a small branch of one of Minneapolis’ famed independent children’s bookstores, The Red Balloon Bookshop, which is a stellar place to kill time between flights.

That’s exactly what Gareth and I were doing when I took the photos pasted below. The first shows the storefront shared by The Red Balloon Bookshop (windows on the right) and the airport’s Authors Bookstore (which is an airport chain, as best I could tell):

Here’s a shot of the side entrance that leads directly into the The Red Balloon Bookshop. Gareth is 6’3, the door frame arches way above him, and the ceiling inside the store is even higher still. This makes the store inside seem infinitely larger.

There’s me browsing below. Those circles under my eyes are evidence of my having woken up at 4am to drive from Lincoln, Nebraska to the Omaha airport before flying on to Minneapolis.

Here we see a woman browsing the nicely lit "Intermediate" and "Teen" bookcases, and we see just what The Red Balloon Bookshop chooses to call their middle grade and YA sections.

When was the last time you were in an airport with the option to browse a copy of The Arrival by Shaun Tan or Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier? You can see (if you’re adept at recognizing even teeny tiny dust jackets) both books face out in the middle bookcase. (An aside: I don’t speak German, so I don’t really understand anything printed on Alexander’s website, but if you follow the "Studien-Projekte" link then choose "Darwin Arbeitszimmer" you can pan the entire way around the circumference of a fully illustrated room. Wunderbar!)

Clever, I think, to have a regional section in the airport store, where tourists may want to pick up a book by or about the locals. Top shelf, far right: Horns and Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson, a delightfully fun book I read aloud last summer to Gareth, a 9-year-old, and an 11-year-old. I’d be hard-pressed to say which one of us enjoyed it most. And look — on the second shelf from the bottom, the book with the green dust jacket? That’s This Is Just to Say by Joyce Sidman, which I previously named as one of my favorite poetry books of the year.

It’s clear that someone at this store puts thought into even their smallest book displays, carefully selecting books to fit a particular theme. Manners, math, and air travel were featured on the day we visited. (I like to think that they could be grouped together, positive air travel experiences being a combination of both good manners and math.)


Sigh…  Fixture envy. What a lovely store!

And speaking of lovely… I’m assuming The Red Balloon Bookshop gets its name from the French film Le ballon rouge. If you’ve never seen this short, almost dialogue-free gem, you’re in luck! You can watch it (as El Globo Rojo) in 4 parts on YouTube. And then, for a laugh, you can watch someone’s video of what they think ultimately became of that famous red sphere.