Monthly Archives: November 2008

Putting New England’s Children’s Booksellers on the Map

Alison Morris - November 10, 2008

As an active member of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council, I can tell you we’ve had a many a meeting in which the topic of conversation has come around to author events: how to attract the big ones, how to get on publicists’ radars, how to remind the book world that there are (believe it or not) a LOT of active bookstores in New England that could draw a sizeable crowd to children’s or YA author events.

For a long time our little corner of the country has been bypassed by many publishers when drawing up touring grids for their children’s and YA authors and illustrators. When they do send these folks north, they typically send them just to the Boston area (which is why our store doesn’t suffer from a lack of big-name visitors like others who are farther flung generally do). The fact is there are a LOT of stores in New England that are hungry to host events, and they’re in closer proximity to each another than they would be in almost any other part of the country, simply because New England isn’t all that big. A situation like this should make our region a touring dream, so why is it so often bypassed?

Over the years we’ve tried to come up with a map we could send to publicists that would show where stores are located, some point of contact at that store, maybe even some sense of what types of events a store can, will, and does host. Doing this on paper, though, always got too complicated. A paper map would have to be updated and re-sent too often. A paper map would get filed away and potentially lost to the frequent changes of staff in publicity departments. 

Hello, Modern Age! In more recent conversations it’s become clear that putting such a map online would eliminate all of the aforementioned problems. The information on the map could easily be changed or updated or added to. The map could provide direct links to stores’ contact information and homepages. The map would be accessible to anyone who could find it online — no more papers to keep track of! What a handy resource!

And now, what a handy REALITY! Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, with the help of Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., have put together NECBA’s Interactive Author Touring Map! They’s also written a very funny FAQ that tells you a bit about this resource and explains how additional stores can be added.

Finally some great bookstores are on the map! Authors, start your engines.

When It Comes to Illustration, the New York Times Knows Best

Alison Morris - November 7, 2008

One of the great pleasures and/or advantages to working in a bookstore is getting to see the New York Times Book Review a week early. This particular week that pleasure was doubled for me, though, as I was SO truly, TRULY pleased with the selections for the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008!! Many of them are books I’ve been raving about for months and it’s so gratifying to see them receive this level of recognition.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
You regular ShelfTalker readers have already heard me state my opinions on the stunning illustrations Melissa Sweet created for this book. The more times I read this book, the more I appreciate its bright pictures, its playful sensibility, its richness of content and color.

The Black Book of Colors
illustrated by Rosana Faría, written by Menena Cottin (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press)
I’ve been book-talking this title to teachers on every possible occasion because I think it’s so original, so striking, and so wonderfully primed to prompt interesting discussions on everything from descriptive language to physical disabilities. Spot lamination has never served so useful a purpose as it does here.

A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet
written and illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman)
Like his book Alphabet City, this new book of Johnson’s entices readers to start noticing the "accidental" letterforms that can be found in our everyday world, if we only think to go looking for them. This book, though, does double-duty — it also introduces its audience to bold and surprising artists and art forms.

Wabi Sabi
illustrated by Ed Young, written by Mark Reibstein (Little, Brown)
The range of of Ed Young’s talents seems to be neverending. He seems to be capable of evoking all range of emotions with just the flick of a brush or the right scrap of paper. The cut and torn paper effects he achieves in this particular book are both startling and beautiful — two things I’ve come to expect from his work.

We Are the Ship
written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun)
For years I wondered why Kadir Nelson was getting passed over for major awards and it’s been so gratifying to see that tide turning in the past few years. Look back at his illustrations for Ellington Was Not a Street (2004) or The Village That Vanished (2002) or Big Jabe (2000). His talents were overwhelmingly evident even then — I think it took entirely too long for the book world at large to notice. Just look at how the light hits one of the beautifully modeled biceps in this book or illuminates the folds of a jersey. Now notice the emotion that flows from this man’s paintings. Nothing short of remarkable.

Ghosts in the House!
written and illustrated by Kasuno Kohara (Roaring Brook)
Fresh and fun, the illustrations in this book are perfectly suited to an audience of preschoolers. You wouldn’t think a black, orange, and white palette would work this well, but such visual simplicity allows these ghosts to float right off the page — in only the friendliest of fashions.

written and illustrated by Suzy Lee (Chronicle)
I adore this picture book and think it’s one of the best wordless ones I’ve seen. Playful, joyful, surprising and fun — it captures all the cheekiness and joy of a small child coming face to face with the incoming tide. The only flaw I see in this book is is a design one — FAR too much of the art is lost in the book’s gutter! (Bad, bad, bad!!)

The Little Yellow Leaf
written and illustrated by Carin Berger (Greenwillow)
From the time I first received the f&g for this book (sometime last spring) I’ve been carting around my copy, toying with the idea of framing any one of its pages, wishing I could own one of Berger’s original pieces of art, which on these pages forms the best possible example of "elegant simplicity." Clean, crisp, and bold — the pictures on this book feel very much like autumn does.

Pale Male
illustrated by Meilo So, written by Janet Schulman (Knopf)
Bless Meilo So. I was so surprised to see that she’d never won this award before, as her watercolors are always so bright and light and airy — making them the perfect style with which to capture a bird’s soaring flight over a busy city. Her splashes of color against an urban gray showcase the city’s startling touches of beauty.

illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi)
When my rep first showed me a sample page from this book, months ago, I immediately fired off an e-mail to Gareth with a link to Jillian Tamaki’s website, knowing the artist in him would be just as awed by her brushwork as I am. Art-wise this book is easily one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve seen.

And with those short observations, I tip my hat to the panel of judges for this year’s NYT Best Illustrated Awards AND to the illustrators of these fine, fine books, which we’re all so fortunate to have on our shelves this year.

Watch Jonathan Evison Warm the Hearts of Booksellers

Alison Morris - November 6, 2008

Earlier this year the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association asked author Jonathan Evison to write a short bookstore-themed fictional piece for their October newsletter, Footnotes. Jonathan is the author of the novel All About Lulu (Soft Skull Press, July 2008) and the founder and moderator of the Fiction Files, an online forum for literary discussion. 

With Jonathan’s permission I’m reprinting the piece he wrote for the PNBA here, because I know it’ll resonate with a lot of you booksellers (and librarians). Read it yourself below or click here to listen as Jonathan reads it to you.

Call Me Ishmael, or Tom Jones
Original Short Fiction by Jonathan Evison

For thirteen years I’ve been stocking the shelves at The Book Cathedral, and it is my love story.

You will probably not remember me by my name, but call me Ishmael. Or Tom Jones, or Tom Sawyer, or Elmer Gantry, or McTeague, or The Idiot, if you like. You may not remember me for my wispy hair, or brick-shaped loafers, nor for the wealth of cat hair clinging to the seat of my faded dockers. I distinguish myself by my love of books, and by never using the search function–I’ve no need of it.

Ask me who’s between Allende and Sherwood Anderson, and I shall tell you without pause, Martin Amis, between Sarte and Schulberg, Saunders, and at the end of the line, you’ll find Zusak, unless of course we’re out, in which case you’ll find Zafon. Blindfold me and spin me around in circles, then set me straight and run my fingers down the spines, and I’ll tell you when we get to Proust, or the shorter novels of Melville. Ask me where to find Silas Wegg and I shall point you to Dickens. Ask me where is Oskar and I’ll tell you he’s banging his tin drum between Golding and Graves. And if it’s Sancho Panza you’re after, you’ll find him chasing windmills with Quixote just to the left of Chaucer.

Ask me All About Lulu. Ask me For Whom the Bell Tolls. Ask me where A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or What Makes Sammy Run, and I shall tell you without hesitation, that the answer to the universe is 42. Or that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Or that A Good Man is Hard to Find. Or that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Or that You Can’t Go Home Again. I will show you the beating heart of Ragtime, drag you kicking through Hard Times, In Our Time, to Places I’ve Done Time. Through The Age of Innocence, The Age of Reason, to The Winter of Our Discontent. You’ll meet The Sleeping Father, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Bigamist’s Daughter, and Wittgenstein’s Mistress. I’ll lead you to the Shining City, beneath The Sheltering Sky, past Lions and Shadows, to The Dark Side of Guy de Maupassant-and if it pleases you, to the very Heart of Darkness, itself. I will tell you The History of Love, The Brief History of the Dead.

I will tell you The Secret Life of Bees. I’ll tell you A Tale of Two Cities that will make All the Pretty Horses whiny and All the King’s Men weep. I will explain The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, How the Dead Dream, and The Way of the Pilgrim, I will talk Of Mice and Men, Of Time and the River, of Leaves of Grass, until finally, at the end of night, when The Moon Is Down, the sun will also rise, and everything will be illuminated.

Now, ask yourself: are you going to get this kind of service on Amazon?

Short Post with No Politics, Some Silliness

Alison Morris - November 4, 2008

Since everyone has (or should have) politics on the brain today (VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!) I thought I’d go the completely opposite route, topic-wise, and serve up some short, sweet humor, in the form of one really silly sentence that will remain silly no matter who’s in the White House. 

This silly sentence comes from the delightfully ridiculous chapter book Sensible Hare and the Case of Carrots (Putnam, February 2008) by Daren King, who also authored the delightfully ridiculous chapter book Mouse Noses on Toast. Both ought to draw giggles and occasional snorts of laughter from the silliest set (say, first to third grade and/or overtired booksellers).

I’m reprinting two sentences from Sensible Hare below. The wonderfully silly sentence is (in my opinion) the second one. The Ottoman mentioned below is an otter who lives in a cupboard at the back of Sensible Hare’s office.

Ottoman shared the cupboard with a spiderweb and a thimble that he had decorated with a price ticket and two dabs of paint. He had named the thimble Thimble, after his grandma, Thimble Otter, who had been named after a thimble.

On that ridiculous note, go vote.

From the Page to the Presidency

Alison Morris - November 3, 2008

In an August post I asked what character you’d most like to see in the White House. While I was visiting Tenacre Country Day School recently, and admiring the students’ book-inspired pumpkins, I had the pleasure of seeing which book characters the school’s fifth graders would most like to send to Washington. Wonderfully creative school librarian Esther Frazee had had the students in fifth grade nominate a character who they thought would make a good President "based on personal qualities" and record their reasons for why. Later each student gave a three-minute speech to their classmates in which they articulated their character’s strengths. After the speeches, an election was held in which students were each given a ballot and voted for their top two choices.

I learned about all this from a fantastic display Esther put together in the school library, showcasing the students’ nominations. I thought the fifth graders’ arguments were so creative that I had to share some of them here and (as usual) I’ve included lots of photos! Click on each one to view it larger.

The year’s race was a very close one, with Freddy the Pig, nominated by Patrick Henderson, winning by just two votes (see photo at the start of this post)! Patrick’s very persuasive arguments in Freddy’s favor are as follows: "Freddy the Pig makes all of his stories have happy endings so why would you want anyone else? He has experience in being a leader. He has his own bank, he writes great poems, he owns his own newspaper and he has his own detective agency. If you want happy endings then you want Freddy. If you want a smart and bold person then you want Freddy. If you want the fiction world to work right then you want Freddy. Remember this is not a non-fiction world or a science fiction world this is a fiction world where miracles can happen. If you want happy endings then Freddy is the person that can have that happen. So stand up and vote for Freddy and get one step closer to happy endings." (Pasted below is a photo of Patrick’s actual nomination card.)

And just who will be accompanying Freddy to the White House? Esther explains: "Patrick asked if he could address the class and at that time he asked Sophie Cloherty and her candidate, Percy Jackson, if she would like to be his vice-president. Percy had come in second in the voting."

And just what qualifies Percy for this position? Sophie’s arguments appear on the card below. (WARNING: SPOILER!!) My favorite bit (AGAIN, SPOILER!) is this: "Percy is half human and half god and he has the power to control water because his dad is the god Poseidon which would be useful if the country is ever under attack from the water. He could also stop hurricanes and other disastrous water related things." All very persuasive points!

I love, love, love reading the reasons that each student printed on their nomination cards. What follows are a few other nominations, as I think you’ll enjoy reading them too.

Balto, real-life dog celebrated in several non-fiction books, nominated by Annie: "I think Balto would make a great president because he is really smart and even if he doesn’t want to do something he will still do it."

Bartimaeus of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, nominated by Isaac: "I would like to nominate Bartimaeus, a demon, for his courage and experience (5,000 years of it)."

Clarice Bean, star of picture books and chapters books by Lauren Child, nominated by Madison: First note the slogan "With Clarice Bean there’s no be’n mean." (Love it.) "She has the concentration of a fly but that hasn’t stopped her so don’t let it stop you!"

Mary Anne, the steam shovel half of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, nominated by Sean: "I am nominating Marry Anne [sic] because it is nice of her to dig holes for people. Marry Anne also puts lots of perseverance into her work."

Odysseus (duh), nominated by Graham: "When things go really bad he makes a promise not to let anybody be left behind or Die. [I] also think he should be president because he is really creative. Once he thought up the trick of hiding an army in a wooden horse to sneak into a city."

Skiff Beaman, protagonist of Rodman Philbrick’s The Young Man and the Sea, nominated by Carley: "Skiff is really smart and is good at making money because when he and his dad were poor he went out in a boat caught a tuna and sold it for five thousand dollars. Skiff could easily raise money for our country."

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to photograph ALL of the students’ cards or record the details of their nominations, but I can at least list a few of the other candidates who were in the fifth grade mix:
Curious George
The Little Engine That Could
Roy of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Mullet Fingers of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Calvin of "Calvin and Hobbes"
Miss Rumphius
Horton of Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
Mr. Fox of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
Harry Potter
Susan of The Chronicles of Narnia

Here’s a photo of the full display as it appeared
the library on the day I was there:

Didn’t these students do a fantastic job?

Anyone else there holding such elections in your schools/libraries/bookstores? If so I’d love to hear the results!