Monthly Archives: May 2008

Balliett, Spinelli, Barrows and Birdsall

Alison Morris - May 20, 2008

Wednesday, May 14th was our whirlwind day of hosting three author events, two of them truly "back to back." I took photos at each of these events and created a Flickr page to house all them plus future pics. (If I have time I’ll go back and add some older photos too.) You can check it out at

The events fun on the 14th started at 10am when I met Blue Balliett at Wellesley Middle School. There she signed stock for the store then ably entertained a crowd of a few hundred sixth graders with her photos of the real Chicago sites described in her books, and her  explanation of the elements that inspired her newest novel, The Calder Game. Like her books, Blue’s presentation contained something of interest for fans of art, fans of math, and fans of literature. As Diane Campbell, who heads the school’s English Department, said to me afterwards, "She was great!"

After Blue’s visit I scarfed down some lunch, spent about an hour at my desk, and assembled the necessary pieces for our afternoon events. Around 2pm three of us headed over to the Wellesley Free Library to begin setting up the book sales for our 3pm event with Jerry Spinelli. Librarian Mary Dalton and I were biting our nails a bit as the day had turned out to be the most beautiful one, weather-wise, we’d had in weeks. With sunshine and temps in the 70’s we had stiff competition from every basetball court, baseball diamond and nature trail in the area. Jerry himself quipped that when he was a kid the library was the last place you’d have found him on a day like this. BUT some 60 or so Spinelli fans nevertheless showed up in enthusiastic anticipation of Jerry’s presentation, which did NOT disappoint. The highlight for me was in learning about the real-life girl who had inspired the character of Amanda Beale in Maniac Magee. And the story that touched off his desire to write Milkweed. The kids in attendance asked great questions during Jerry’s Q&A. I left the library around 4pm, while Jerry was signing copies of Smiles to Go for his pack of fans, so that I could head off for our third event of the day.

My destination this time was Wilson Middle School in neighboring Natick, where four of us Booksmithies were MORE than ably assisted by our friends from the Morse Institute Library in setting up for our 6pm event with Annie Barrows and Jeanne Birdsall. This energetic duo was an absolute HOOT, and the 75 enthusiastic fans (most of them women and girls) who came out to get the inside scoop on The Magic Half, Ivy and Bean and  the Penderwicks were treated to about an hour’s worth of conversation, laughter and answers to their questions even before we moved to the book-signing portion of the evening. Jeanne and Annie began their presentation by reading from one another’s books, then tossed a few questions at one another, before taking many, many questions from the assembled crowd of spectators, many of whom sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them. I particularly liked one of Jeanne’s questions for Annie — "What’s your least favorite kind of praise to get for your books?" After thinking for a while Annie spoke of her mixed feelings about the response from one kid who said that Ivy and Bean and the Ghost Who Had to Go had given him nightmares but he’d loved it. The wonderfully comic and slightly irreverent Jeanne, meanwhile, said she’s put off whenever grown-ups refer to her books as "wholesome." Everyone giggled conspiratorially as the two confessed to the real-life people who had inspired the less-than-friendly (in some cases downright mean) characters in their books, and one girl wanted to be sure to set the record straight with Annie on the subject of twins, who feature prominently in The Magic Half. "I’m a twin and I don’t really like being a twin," she said. "It is NOT exciting!" This event, however, certainly WAS, leading me to say that we’d happily host this duo again ANY time they wanted to get together on this coast (Annie lives in California, Jeanne in Northampton, Mass.).

As for whether or not I’d agree to another triple-header events day like this one, this answer is YES. Absolutely. But only after we’d all had plenty of time to rest up from this particular one first!

Bookmarks for You Non-Corner Turners

Alison Morris - May 16, 2008

Recently, while poking around on Etsy, I stumbled across a listing that made me laugh out loud — a glass pendant from Archipelago Arts that proudly announces "My book club can beat up your book club." The pendant can be worn on the necklace or bracelet of your choice, or the seller will convert it to a stick pin or bookmark for you. Surely every member of your bookclub needs one of these as you prepare for your next rumble. Er… discussion.

In light of Tuesday’s comments about who among us does and doesn’t dog ear the pages of their books, I thought I’d visit Etsy and see what other craftsy creations people are coming up with in the bookmark department these days. You may find ideas for gift-giving or take inspiration from these for your own bookmark creations.

If you’re giving someone a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird anytime soon, perhaps it’d be fitting to tuck one of Knotty by Nature‘s Bird Bird Bird Linocut Bookmarks inside. Or maybe one of the cute "Birds in the Alley" creations from Mazer Design is more your style? I like their Knuffle Bunny-esque technique of layering drawings over photographs.

If you’ve got scraps of pretty papers and pages of manuscripts lying around your house, you’ve got the supplies for collaged bookmarks like those being sold by Collage Creations. Add a beaded string or a tassel if you want to get fancy.

Not inundated with paper but surrounded by trees? Rustic Blend lives in upstate New York’s Adirondack Park, which supplies ample material for birch bark bookmarks.

Of course if your at-home finds are more technological in nature, you might want to take a page from Debby Arem Designs. Debby does bookmarks made from recycled circuit boards. Good geekery!

Attach fabric buttons to some grosgrain ribbon and you can fashion bookmarks like those available from Jack and Jane. The one pictured at right is their "Helicopter Brigade" design.

I personally love the linen bookmarks from Finnish seller revontulitikku — especially the one stamped with the words "This is where I fell asleep."

If all of these are too bland for your taste or too cutesy for, say, your Stephen King tomes, I recommend doing your own "bookmark" search on Etsy. There appears to be a bookmark there to suit almost anyone — from fans of traditional tasselled types to fans of toe tags. Yes, toe tags. Trust a seller with a name like Oddball to put a new twist on the old mark. (Wouldn’t Quincy, M.E. have loved one of these?)

Percy Jackson Pens and More Praise for Rick Riordan

Alison Morris - May 15, 2008

This week, for our Rick Riordan event, our store once again had ballpoint pens printed to hand out to all the attendees. And just as last year’s pens matched the cover of The Titan’s Curse, this year’s pens match the cover of The Battle of the Labyrinth. I love picturing kids all over town carrying their own personal Riptides!

The text on our pens reads as follows:

If found please return to
Percy Jackson c/o
Wellesley Booksmith

The best thing about these pens is the pleasure of watching kids’ reactions to them. It’s a pleasure almost as great as watching their reactions to Rick’s presentations. For the second year in a row Rick wowed all of us with his humility, his candor, and his winning sense of humor. Throughout the almost three hours in which he signed books for 650 of his adoring fans, he appeared genuinely interested in hearing what every one of them had to say or ask about his books.

The fact is: authors don’t come nicer than this one, and I don’t think an author presentation could be more engaging than Rick’s. Every kid and parent in our crowd loved hearing him talk about his books and read from The Battle of the Labyrinth, just as every kid revelled at the opportunity to show off their knowledge of Greek mythology when Rick peppered the audience with questions.

Just ask the attendees at our event who had driven all the way up from Virginia and Maryland (!!) — this is a person for whom it is worth going the distance. (And darn if his books aren’t an absolute delight too!)

Turning Corners, Breaking Spines: Confess Your Reading Rituals

Alison Morris - May 13, 2008

When I was reading last week and silently comparing my own reading behaviors to those of others in my family it occurred to me that I’m unnecessarily kind to my ARC’s while reading them. I try not to break their lovely little spines, unless I’m trapped somewhere without a makeshift bookmark. I don’t turn down the corners of their pristine pages, and I try to keep from dripping, spilling, or leaving anything on them, greasy fingerprints included. (Unless I hate the book in question, in which case all bets are off.) I generally give finished books the same white glove treatment, though honestly? I don’t know why this is. It gives me great pleasure to see books on others’ bookshelves that look truly LOVED, their cracked spines and dog-eared pages sporting the evidence of pages that have been more just "perused." I don’t think of myself as being overly concerned with neatness and I don’t care if other people borrow my books and return them bruised — I just prefer not to do the bruising myself.

It would make sense to conclude that these "preserve the dust jacket"-type behaviors have evolved from my life as a bookseller, but looking back I think I’ve always been this way. Was I destined, then, for a life of schlepping new books rather than those of the used or oft-loaned variety? Hmm… I haven’t the foggiest.

Another curious reading behavior of mine: When we get multiple copies of an ARC at the store and they get passed around among our booksellers, I ultimately want the copy that comes back to me for keeps to be the same copy that I read personally. I don’t care if other people read that ARC after me, and I don’t even care if it’s in a miserable, bedraggled condition compared to the others in circulation — I still want the copy I own to be the copy I read. Period. Will I pitch a hissy fit if that doesn’t happen? No. Will I usually even KNOW that the ARC you’re giving me isn’t the very same one that I read? No. Of course not. (Because I won’t mark my name in it — see previous neatness concerns.) But ideally if an ARC or a finished book is going to take up residence in my home library, I prefer to have actually read IT, meaning THAT VERY COPY, for some weirdly sentimental reason, I guess.

What about you — are you a neat reader or a book bruiser? And have you got any theories as to WHY that is? Do you have any other odd or intriguing reading habits to confess? Any conditions that need to be in place in order for you to start reading a book? Maybe a unique reading ritual? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Have a seat on this here couch and tell your fellow readers about them.

Three Rave Reviews and Cover Critiques

Alison Morris - May 12, 2008

Last week I was vacationing in beautiful Sandwich, Mass., with my family, where I managed to sneak in enough reading time to get me through three books, which I’ll review here only in abbreviated fashion, as my blogging time has been cut VERY short this weekend. (Blame my need to unpack, do laundry, clean house, and, oh… help run an event for 650 people! Thank you, Rick Riordan!!) Sometime in the next couple weeks I’ll post photos of my visits to Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich and Eight Cousins in Falmouth. Stay tuned for those.
Rita Murphy’s short, sweet novel Bird (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, October 2008) was the perfect accompaniment to the gray, rainy weather that began my beachside vacation. As is the case in Rita’s previous novels (and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them), this magical story has a beautiful, airy quality that’s tempered by a slightly sinister edge. I loved floating along with the main character, Miranda, a girl who’s been living in a towering old house ever since the wind blew her to its doorstep and its owner outfitted her with steel-weighted boots to keep her from being swept away again. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the secrets in this book unravel and, try as I did, I didn’t manage to solve the final mystery on its pages before its solution was revealed to me. (I love it when that happens.)
One further note of praise for Bird: I LOVE the jacket design for this book. I loved it before I read it (it was part of the reason I moved the galley to the top of my pile), and I love it even more having finished the book. I wish all covers could be this enticing and this well-suited to their material.
WHICH brings me to the second book of my vacation week: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, October 2008). I read it. I LOVED it. But… it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and I’ll explain why, in case some of you have the same wrong preconceived notions that I did. The reactions to this book that I’m reading and hearing from other folks had me believing this book would be older and more sophisticated than it actually is. It doesn’t help that the subject matter alone suggested an upper YA audience to me (kids in a cruelly governed society are forced to fight one another to the death in an event broadcast live on television — think Survivor meets Lord of the Flies). The first-person voice of Katniss Everdeen, the star of The Hunger Games, though, is much younger than the how i live now-type voice I was anticipating. I found myself thinking often of The House of the Scorpion while reading this book, not because the two are especially similar (they’re not), but because I think the audience for the two books (roughly ages 12 and up) might well be one and the same.
To some extent this meant I was a bit *less* riveted than I had expected to be (I WAS able to put the book down every now and again), but once I readjusted my expectations I found I was no less entertained than I’d hoped to be (just because I could put the book down doesn’t mean I wanted to). Ultimately, YES, I loved this book and I believe kids will devour it whole. But I don’t anticipate it having the adult cross-over appeal of, say, The Golden Compass or The Book Thief or (at the complete opposite end of the spectrum) Harry Potter.
I could go on and on about the various details up for discussion on the pages of The Hunger Games and the myriad ways that middle school teachers will find to use it with their students, but for now I’m reluctant to divulge any details, as I do feel that this is a book best experienced cold (as in, without having warmed to its secrets). I will say that I expected (and wished for) the politics of Panem (the book’s setting) to come more into play in this story than they ultimately did. I suspect, though, that that’ll happen in this trilogy’s subsequent two installments.
As for my thoughts on the cover, though: it does nothing for me, and it wouldn’t entice me to buy this book. I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND that it must have been difficult to come up with a spoiler-free design that would adequately suggest the overall feeling of The Hunger Games, but I think the results here say “stock fantasy novel” not “riveting entertainment.” I also think it looks more adult and more sophisticated than what the book really is. (In other words, 12-year-olds may think this book looks boring.) I KNOW it’s the kiss of death too make a book too young, and I’m not advocating for that, but making it look too old or too uninteresting doesn’t help when the book’s primary audience is a rather punchy and very visual set. And I will also say (and not that this is sort of a spoiler here)… the cover reinforces a red herring. And I HATE that! ARGH!! Hate it!
Soooo… Sorry, Scholastic. I know I’m griping about a hard-made decision here. I think you’ve got an absolute winner of a book on your hands, and I just wish the cover design for it suggested that. As it is the current one just doesn’t look kid-friendly enough to me. (Or bookseller-friendly, for that matter.) When I enjoy a book this much I want it to scream “FABULOUS!” but this one’s just not screaming to me.
As for my thoughts on the cover for The Battle of the Labyrinth, the fourth book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series? WHO CARES?? The book is going to be read by everyone who loved the first three books in Rick Riordan’s wildly popular series, and it will probably be loved by all of them too. John Rocco (who does the covers for these books now that, THANK GOODNESS, Hyperion ditched their original design for The Lightning Thief in hardcover) could have put Percy Jackson in pink tights and a tutu and readers wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. (Or would they…) One of the questions posed by a young reader at our event with Rick Riordan yesterday was whether or not Percy had gotten a haircut for some important reason, as this kid believes (as do his friends, who sat beside him, nodding their heads) that his hair looks shorter on the new book’s cover than it does on the other books. (Rick’s answer: no, the length of Percy’s hair doesn’t hint at any key clues or hidden secrets, to his hair-obsessed fans’ deep disappointment.)
But I digress. I loved The Battle of the Labyrinth. In fact, I think it might be my favorite book in the series so far. I say “so far” because there is indeed one more book coming (the fifth and final book about Percy’s adventures), hopefully about a year from now, though Rick says he’s very much still in the writing and revising stages. The news that was greeted with the most enthusiastic response from readers yesterday was Rick’s announcement that he will be writing ANOTHER series that’s set at Camp Half Blood, but focusing on a different group of demigods. We’ll see some familiar faces interacting with this new bunch, but get a whole new perspective on camp life. As one kid yelled out with unrestrained enthusiasm, almost befo
re Rick had finished his announcement yesterday, “YAY!!”

Love You Forever, Hate You Forever

Alison Morris - May 6, 2008

I call it the single most divisive children’s book ever written: Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I haven’t met a single person who DOESN’T feel strongly about this book. Either it moves you to tears and you love it, or it makes your skin crawl and you detest it (as seems to be the case with several of the commenters on last week’s post about books loved by everyone but you). I myself have been known to JOKE (and, truly I’m just joking here) that "How do you feel about Love You Forever?" should be our make-or-break interview question when we’re hiring children’s booksellers. (And, no, I won’t tell you which response is more likely to get you the gig.)

No matter how you feel about it you can’t deny the fact that this book strikes a genuine chord with people, one way or another. The book’s popularity certainly suggests that a large percentage of the public adores it and sings its praises to others. How else could you explain the fact that its worldwide sales hover somewhere around the 15 MILLION mark, according to Robert Munsch’s website? (15 MILLION!! Incredible!!) More than 7 million copies have been sold in the U.S. alone. When PW compiled a list of the All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books in the U.S., Love You Forever was the fourth bestselling picture book in paperback.

As we draw ever closer to the next Presidential election, and worries mount about another Red States/Blue States deadlock, I say we divide along completely different and much less heady lines here: When it comes to Love You Forever, are you a lover or a hater? (And if you have some thoughts as to why, include those too.)

A Castigation of Dunces

Alison Morris - May 5, 2008

Not sure what to do with those books you didn’t like? Here’s an entertaining suggestion.

Our AMAZING gift buyer Alexa Crowe is part of a book group in which its members don’t all read the same book — they individually read whatever books they want to then come together, talk about what they’ve read, and swap books if one person wants to read the book recommended by someone else. In their group, when someone hasn’t liked a book, they make the book sit in the corner, LITERALLY. They walk the book over to the corner, set it on the floor "facing" the corner, and then leave it leaning there, presumably until it’s learned its lesson.

I think little paper dunce caps would make a nice addition, don’t you?

Anyone else have clever "shame on you" ideas for dealing with these literary disappointments?

The Book Loved By Everyone But You

Alison Morris - May 1, 2008

Since so many people appear to have enjoyed confessing to the books they’ve never read and/or their tendencies to peek ahead, I thought I’d continue this Post Secret-esque theme and invite you to confess something else — the books you know you were "supposed" to love but didn’t. You know — the books EVERYONE loved, EVERYONE thought were the best of the year, EVERYONE told you you "had" to read, so you DID and then wondered what the heck all the fuss was about.

I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this subject for months now — at least since last September, which I heard a great piece on Public Radio International’s Studio 360, in which newlywed co-producers Hillary Frank and Jonathan Menjivar set out to produce a story on whether or not Jack Kerouac’s On the Road still resonated with readers. In order to do the piece, though, Hillary had to read the book — her husband’s beloved, dog-eared, foot-noted copy of the book — for the first time. Her reactions to it and the conversation the two have about it is LONG overdue for a mention here. So overdue, in fact, that I’m embedding the audio in this very post, so you don’t even have to click elsewhere to read it. And, YES, the Hillary Frank mentioned here is indeed THAT Hillary Frank — the author of the YA novels Better Than Running at Night and I Can’t Tell You.

This everyone-loves-it-but-you theme has been haunting me in recent weeks as I keep seeing glowing reviews for a forthcoming book that I have a lot of problems with. I’ve got some objections to elements of the book’s storyline and writing, but mostly am bothered by the fact that I think this book is being marketed to entirely the wrong audience. It’s frustrating for me (somewhat baffling, really) that it keeps receiving reviews that make little or no mention of the things I find so problematic about it.

I asked some of my colleagues about their experiences with this "everyone loved it but me" phenomenon. One of them confessed that she HATED The Kite Runner, which she had listened to on audio. (Her words: "I think part of it is because it was on audio, but I think it’s got stilted writing, an okay story, and you had to have read it while it was timely to appreciate it.")

Another colleague said Eat, Pray, Love really didn’t do it for her: "And when I found out how it ended, it pissed me off."

A colleague piped up to say she hated Doctor Zhivago.

One of our reps confessed that he hated the ending of The Giver by Lois Lowry. (He was enjoying the book until he reached that point.) He also added that he REALLY didn’t like the movie Juno, which seems to have made onto almost everyone’s list of recent film favorites.

What about you? What books have you read that didn’t live up to their hype? Normally I don’t invite this sort of negativity, especially when I know authors are looking on, but in this case I think it’s safe enough, because (as we’ve already established here), everyone ELSE thinks these books are great, right? So, who cares about one little dissenter?

Except for me, of course. I care. So go on and confess your "I REALLY didn’t like such-and-such" book here, please. And feel free to make up a fake name for yourself if you’d prefer, to make your statements anonymously.