Monthly Archives: April 2008

ARC Feeding Frenzy

Alison Morris - April 29, 2008

Normally when a box of galleys arrives in my office, I don’t have to be too concerned about who’s got first dibs on any one title. As the buyer I generally believe that I’ve got them. End of story. As an absurdly busy buyer, though, I’ve lately been offering up the "first read" opportunity on almost everything to other people, knowing I’ve got too little reading time these days and that others should therefore get to read the hottest titles without having to wait several months for me to get around to them. I’d rather have the ARCs in people’s hands than at my house collecting dust.

Typically I know just who on our staff will be the most enthusiastic about the arrival of any one ARC, and I immediately offer it up to that particular person. Last week, though, a galley arrived at our store that I KNEW was going to kick up a considerable amount of ARC jealousy and calling of "dibs!" Sure enough, the second I announced to Lorna what I was holding in my hot little hands she squealed that SHE wanted to read it first! What was it? The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin — the long-awaited third book that continues the story begun in The Doll People. (I couldn’t find a final cover image for the book anywhere online, but I’ve scanned my galley and added the pic here, so at least you’ll have some image in your mind as I continue…)

After a brief conversation in which I explained that Melinda Lombardo (who recently joined our staff after 25 years as the children’s book buyer for New England Mobile Book Fairs) had been handselling The Doll People at a rate of about 5-10 copies per week since her arrival, Lorna conceded that Melinda could read The Runaway Dolls first. But THEN when I called the excited Melinda who said she’d pick it up the following day, Lorna decided that she could therefore take the ARC home with her that day, IF she promised to finish reading it that night and bring it back the following day. WHICH she did. Her report: Fun! Fabulous! Just as good as the first two books in the series.

Melinda has since finished the book too and has also given it her own thumbs-up. I believe Pat might be reading it next. After Pat I think either Kym or Lisa is in line to take a turn. Or maybe it’s Mayre…? I don’t remember the exact line-up. EVENTUALLY, though, the galley will make its back to me. (Hopefully at a time when I’m actually free enough to read it!)

While waiting my turn, though, I confess to having levelled the "first dibs" playing field a bit by secreting away the galley for Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat without mentioning its existence to anyone. I knew it was one book I could actually find time to read from cover to cover (i.e. about 20 minutes).

And what a sweet, sweet 20 minutes it was!! Fans of Love That Dog will NOT be disappointed with this continuation of Jack’s story, and will be thrilled to see the progress he’s making with his poetry, his appreciation of pets, and his awareness of alliteration.

Hate That Cat has since been read by Lorna and Pat and is currently being read by Deb, who will then pass it on to Kym who (to our horror!) admitted the other night that she’d never read Love That Dog! I immediately fetched a copy from the sales floor so that she could rectify the situation.

The next galley to burn its way through the lot of us? I predict it’s going to be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have, I admit, been holding the galley hostage until I head off on vacation next week, at which point I know I will devour it whole and then have a hard time shutting up about it, as that seems to be the effect it’s had on EVERYONE who has read it to date. In all my almost 10 (yikes!) years of bookselling I can’t remember so many booksellers getting so excited (or being so secretive!) about the same ARC. Except maybe in the case of books by Rowling and Pullman… And what excellent company for Suzanne Collins to be keeping!

In the meantime, I’m going to make as many people as possible read Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies, which I made the mistake of starting on Friday and had finished by Sunday afternoon. (Though I didn’t allow myself to so much as touch the book on Saturday, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to stray from my own writing!) I was completely taken in by Agnes and Honey’s story and can think of nothing negative to say about it except that I’m not wild about the title. Apart from that, though? No complaints! Only raves. And a remark that it seems a very relevant book to use right now for anyone keen to discuss the recent raid on the FLDS ranch in Eldorado, Texas.

If you’ve had this book in your one-of-these-days-I-WILL-get-to-it piles, I say move it to the top. I’m tipping my hat to Kristen McLean of ABC who, in a conversation on Friday, got me to do just that. Now perhaps my enthusiasm will help convince YOU.

Sir Mix-A-Lot Remixed

Alison Morris - April 28, 2008

Inspired by my "Baby Got Books" t-shirt post of last Friday, Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, penned her own lyrics to the Sir-Mix-A-Lot hit and posted them on her terrific blog, Brooklyn Arden. With Cheryl’s permission I’m reprinting them for you here, with Cheryl’s original links included.

While I can’t say these lyrics are quite as brilliant as the The Book of Everything or The Legend of the Wandering King, two fantastic books Cheryl has edited, neither of those made me laugh quite as hard as this MUCH-improved version of a classic 90’s dance tune, so… Cheryl? Points for you.

And now… "Baby Got Book." Cheryl Klein-style.

[Female voice]
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her book. It is so big. *scoff* She looks like, one of those, librarians’ girlfriends. But, you know, who understands those librarians? *scoff* They only talk to her, because, she looks like a total bibliovore, ‘kay? I mean, her book, is just so big. *scoff* I can’t believe it’s just so thick. It’s like, out there. I mean – gross. Look! She’s just so … smart!

[Sir Reads-a-Lot]
I like big books and I can not lie
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks in with an big fat book
And glasses on her face
You’re all thrilled, wanna talk to her quick
Cause you notice she’s reading Dickens
Deep in the tote she’s carrying
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Oh baby, I wanna get with you
And read you all night
My homeboys tried to warn me
But that book you got makes me so horny
Ooh, Tolkien – elves!
You say you wanna get in my shelves?
Well, use me, use me
‘Cause you ain’t that average bookie
I’ve seen them readin’
To hell with their speedin’
She’s Zinn, Prynne,
Got it goin’ like Jane Austen
I’m tired of magazines
Sayin’ short books are the thing
Take the average intellectual and ask him that
She gotta cook much book
So, fellas! (Yeah!) Fellas! (Yeah!)
Has your girlfriend got big books? (Hell yeah!)
Tell ’em to read it! (Read it!) Read it! (Read it!)
Read that giant tome!
Baby got book!

(LA face with New York volume)
Baby got book!

I like pages galore
And when I’m in an indie bookstore
I just can’t help myself, I’m actin’ like an animal
Now here’s my scandal
I wanna take ’em all home
And ugh, double-up, ugh, ugh
I ain’t talking ’bout Dan Brown
‘Cause his books are made for clowns
I want ’em real thick and juicy
So find that juicy novel
Reads-A-Lot will grovel
Beggin’ for a piece of that cover
So I’m lookin’ at bestsellers
Patterson and them fellers
Give me Joseph Heller
And I’ll keep my women fine spellers
A word to the bookmarked sisters, I wanna get with ya
Good grammar’s my bit, yeah
And I gotta be straight when I say I wanna *read*
Till the break of dawn
Tolstoy got it goin’ on
A lot of simps won’t like this song
‘Cause them punks like to slim it and skim it
And I’d rather drink and think
‘Cause I’m glossy, and I’m saucy
And I’m down to be your Mr. Darcy
So, ladies! (Yeah!) Ladies! (Yeah!)
You wanna roll in my barouche? (Hell yeah!)
Then open up! Ain’t no doubt!
Even Pauly Shore got to shout
Baby got book!

Baby got book!
Yeah, baby … when it comes to females, Cosmo ain’t got nothin’ to do with my selection. Two hundred pages? Ha ha, only if that’s one chapter.

So your girlfriend reads like Ripa, with audiobooks on her speakers
But audio ain’t the same thing, it’s just cheatin’
My tall bookshelves they don’t want none
Unless you’ve got spine, hun
You can do side bends or sit-ups
But please don’t lose that brain
Some brothers full of folderol
Gonna tell you that your books ain’t gold
So they don’t beck you, reject you
And I pull up quick to recheck you
So Cosmo says it’s bad to be smart
That ain’t my library cart!
‘Cause your mind is open and your curves are kickin’
And I’m thinkin’ ’bout stickin’
To Paris and Lindsay in the magazines:
You ain’t it, Miss Thing!
Give me a reader, I’ll feed her,
Franzen and Pullman need her
Some knucklehead tried to dis
‘Cause Harry Potter’s on your list
Guy might read but he’s still a fool
Eight hundred pages so cool
So ladies, if lit’s your love
And you wanna make like Nabokov
Dial 1-800-READSALOT
And we’ll read those banned novels.
Baby got book!

(Little in the middle but she got much book) [4x]

Whose Reviews Do You Use?

Alison Morris - April 24, 2008

A confession: I rarely read reviews of books I haven’t already read myself. Kirkus recently gave Gareth’s new Merchant of Venice graphic novel a glowing, starred review and the celebration of that news at our house got us talking with other book world friends about various review sources and the question of who reads them and how much it influences their purchasing.

As you know if you read my post about peeking, I don’t like to have key details of a book given away to me in advance. On a more practical note, though, as a buyer I have the incredible luxury of being able to see most books and buy them based solely on my own opinions of them, at least in the case of picture books. In the case of novels, reviews could theoretically be influential to my frontlist buying, but the timing of them generally makes that help impossible. Usually when I’m meeting with my sales reps I’m buying books that haven’t been critically reviewed as yet, so I’m left relying on the advice of my rep, my knowledge of an author’s prior books, and (first and foremost) my gut instinct.

Sometimes I will skip a book in my frontlist ordering only to read rave reviews of it later and then decide to order it for our store. But generally the books that get the most review attention are the books I was most likely to have bought in my initial frontlist round. So, again, reviews don’t influence my buying much.

If our customers read reviews with any regularity I’d obviously have to pay closer attention, but by and large the few who do are librarians who often do much of their ordering directly from Baker and Taylor or Follett — distributors who can do the processing/cataloguing for them that, sadly, isn’t a service our store can offer. It’s really only a handful of our customers who come in the door looking for titles reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, let alone PW or The Horn Book or Kirkus or Booklist or SLJ or Kliatt, which shares its own home base with our store, in Wellesley.

For me, too, the review sources I find to be the most reliable are PEOPLE I know personally. At our New England Independent Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council meetings it’s always the "title sharing" portion of the day that I find the most useful. It’s particularly helpful for me to hear reviews from booksellers whose tastes tend be similar to mine, because I know that if if they liked a book, odds are I’ll enjoy it too. Or if a book sells well in so-and-so’s store, it’s likely to sell well in ours. With critical reviews, unless I know who’s reviewing a book and am familiar with their likes and dislikes, I have no sense of whether or not I’m likely to agree with them, so it’s hard to know how much stock to put in their reviews.

But… that’s just me. What about YOU? Do you regularly read reviews and if so to what extent do they influence your purchasing (either for yourself or your library or your bookstore or… fill in the blank)? Do you pay attention to the names of reviewers so that you have some idea of their general preferences or does that not matter to you? What’s your favorite source these days for book reviews and why?

Let Clay Entertain You

Alison Morris - April 22, 2008

What do you consider art? That’s what the producers of the clever program Creature Comforts apparently asked random folks before putting their thoughts together in this VERY clever bit that should appeal to all writers, illustrators, and artists by any other name. (My favorite character is the dog who talks about print-making.)

Originally a five-minute film by Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame, Creature Comforts became a British television series by Aardman Animations Ltd. that featured Claymation animals dubbed with the voices of everyday people commenting on whatever topic they’d been asked about in "man on the street" style interviews. CBS piloted an American version of the program last June but cancelled it after airing just three episodes. Animal Planet begins airing the show this week (Thursdays at 7pm). On their website you can watch 10 very entertaining Claymation shorts about how you can make the world a better place by adopting more eco-friendly habits. I’ll embed one below, but encourage you to visit the Animal Planet site to watch the others, as they’re the perfect Earth Day entertainment!

A Gold Star for Sarah Nixon!

Alison Morris - April 21, 2008

Last year around this time I posted photos of the Boston Marathon as it made tracks past our bookstore. Unfortunately I was stuck in our windowless basement buyers’ office today when the runners went by (too much work to do!!), but thanks to the microchip on her shoe I was at least able to track the path of our bookseller-turned-librarian (and self-professed "peeker"), Sarah Nixon, whom I blogged about in last year’s Marathon post.

Today Sarah is featured in the "Supercool Library Worker Spotlight" on Library Journal’s LJ Insider blog. Hooray!! And here at ShelfTalker she is the recipient of my what is only the second gold star I’ve given out to date. (The first one went to author Mary Amato.)

As if her everyday accomplishments and establishment of Fit Girls weren’t enough to earn her her "Supercool" and "Gold Star" status, today Sarah (age 43) ran the Boston Maraton in 3 hours, 5 minutes, and 25 seconds. Out of the 8,935 women who crossedthe finish line, Sarah came in 99th!! And of the 2,980 women to finishe in the Masters Division (ages 40-49), Sarah came in 17th. AMAZING!!

As if all that wasn’t enough, Sarah raised over $10,000 for cancer research today, with her 13th run as part of the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge. AND this year she got kids involved with fund-raising for Dana Farber too, by creating a Dana Farber Middle School Challenge at Blake Middle School in Medfield, where she’s a library assistant.

The BIG question of the day, though, is whether or not Sarah won the literary/running bet she had going with a fellow runner! Here’s how Sarah describes the bet on her blog:

We are racing gun time, not chip time. That is, whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner. If I finish first, then he must read Jane Austen’s last novel, Persuasion. (the Austen novel of my choice – I’m guessing that at some point in highschool he had to read Pride and Prejudice ). And if he finishes first, I will read Gravity’s Rainbow (his favorite novel) by Thomas Pynchon.

SO, Sarah, you Supercool Gold Star — do I see Thomas Pynchon in your future or will Jeff soon be cozying up with Persuasion? Do tell!

High PRASE for Linda Urban and Her Daughter

Alison Morris -

Last month when I posted about my most recent trip to Montpelier, Vt., and my visit to The Flying Pig, I didn’t mention that there had been one other book-related stop on my brief Vermont tour: Linda Urban‘s house! Before spring gives way to summer and the content of my photos looks like a metereological impossibility, I want to show you where the author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect spends her (wintry) days.

Can you make out the house in the photo on the left? It’s that red thing peeking out from behind those snow piles, which were caused by (what else?) repeated snow plow trips up the driveway and shoveling trips up the sidewalk. Ah, the joys of life in New England… (Thank goodness spring has finally arrived!!)

(On a slightly related note, Linda pointed out Norma Fox Mazer‘s house to me — she lives just a couple doors down from Gareth’s mom! The world gets ever smaller…)

Linda and I had met for breakfast on the morning I snapped these photos, and our trip to her house was an impromptu one, meaning she hadn’t "tidied" before my visit and therefore did NOT want me capturing its interior in its usual state. (Though, really, I don’t think she had anything to worry about. I thought the house was extremely neat and organized by household-with-young-kids standards!). Linda did, though, allow me snap some photos of her daughter’s handiwork, which I just had to share.

On the right is the book Piglet Goes to School No. 2. (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?)

Linda has recently started putting out little premade, blank books in a basket on the kitchen table. When her kids (ages 3 and 6) come down for breakfast or in from playing outside, they pick up a book plus crayons and start filling the pages. I love this!

What I love even more, though, is the fact that kids (as we all know) notice just about everything. As anyone who has ever read aloud to a child knows, they don’t miss a beat, a page, a trick, a syllable, or, as you’ll see here, a marketing strategy.

One day, while drawing one of her many books at the kitchen table, Linda’s six year-old daugher asked Linda what she thought of the book she’d just made. Linda gave it an enthusiastic one-word review, and her daughter transcribed it on the back of the book under the heading "Prase" (a.k.a. "Praise"). She has continued to do this with (as best I could tell…) all of the books she’s created since.

There’s an example of such "prase" in the photograph on the right. The reviewer quoted here (was it Linda? her husband?) called the book "Awasome." [sic]

The "prase" on another of these books announces it to be "darling."

And who could resist the one that critics are calling "nice work"? (I wholeheartedly agree with that review!)

Want more fun bookmaking ideas? While I was searching for links for my recent Mud Pies and Other Recipes post, I came across a fantastic blog devoted to the subject of bookmaking with kids! Be sure to check it out and give its authors your "prase."

Do I Hear $35? $75? SOLD!

Alison Morris - April 17, 2008

Gareth and I recently got gussied up to attend a fundraiser for Otherworld, the wacky (and wonderful) weekend event I blogged about last September. In addition to dinner, dancing, and lots of socializing, the evening’s entertainment included a silent auction, for which I donated what else? Books.

My first donation inspiration began with my thinking that Inga Moore’s stunningly illustrated (and unabridged!) edition of The Secret Garden would make a wonderful gift for anyone, young or old, and would therefore be a great auction item.

I thought this donation ought to be more than just a single book, though, so I planned to pair it with one of the button bouquets I’ve been making for gifts of late.

My donation bouquet, though, needed a vase, and when I went looking for one I found the PERFECT ($1) vase with a Secret Garden-like twist! I couldn’t believe my luck!! (Thank you, Christmas Tree Shops.)

Now I had a book and a vase, though, with no ideal way to display the two together, so I chose a nice antiquey-looking tin planter ($5) to situate them in (you can see the side of it peeking out from behind the vase above). While on that same vase/planter trek, I also found a great "grow" flower pot ($2), which I thought needed to be included in the mix, and a pair of gardening gloves ($1). Brilliant! Except that all of these items sat rather low inside the planter and could easily rattle around in there. So… I solved that problem by lining the planter with some dried moss ($3). And while I was buying the moss couldn’t resist purchasing a fake bird’s best + robin’s eggs ($2), so…  What began as a simple book became, a few dollars later, quite a whiz-bang auction donation, if I do say so myself! Nice enough, at least, to photograph and share with all of you.

My "bigger" donation monetarily, though, was $100 worth of great books for 5-8 year-olds, the approximate age of most Otherworlders’ children, or at least of those who’d be attending this year’s fundraiser. It was a challenge to narrow down my endless list of favorites for the 5-8 bracket, while also trying NOT to choose books that would suit only one end of that spectrum (as in "good for 5 but not so great for 8" and vice versa), and trying TO choose books that most people would be unlikely to have in their home libraries already. In the end I came up with what I think is a pretty solid (and very kid-friendly) selection.

Here’s a list of the books that made it into that basket, along with a lovely Wellesley Booksmith totebag, of course:

The End of the Beginning by Avi

The Van Gogh Café by Cynthia Rylant

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Houndsley and Catina by James Howe, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

Vile Verses by Roald Dahl, illustrated by 20+ illustrators

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

How Big Is It? by Ben Hillman

So… What do you think? Worth a bid?

Wearable Carle Art

Alison Morris - April 16, 2008

Once again Repro Depot is featuring some great fabrics for use by all you kid lit lovers. The samples below are all from the Very Hungry Caterpillar Collection featuring the work of (obviously) Eric Carle!

For the traditionalist, here are some familiar images, presented as panels:


Here’s a slightly more "mod," a bit less colorful motif:

My personal favorite is the fabric below. The only thing that would make this design cooler (for clothing use, at least) is if it were eyelet fabric so those foods sported actual holes. But I suppose that would make it less versatile. And a lot less suited to pillowcases, which is how I picture putting it to use, if I ever find time to fire up the old sewing machine.

This is delightfully dotty:

Available in three colors of bright:

Crazy counting fun (also available in three colors):

It’s like wearing painted tissue paper… only comfortable. And a lot less risky!