Monthly Archives: January 2009

Harper House Envy

Alison Morris - January 29, 2009

You might guess from Charise Mericle Harper‘s books that the interior of her house would be filled with whimsical accents and great design. And you’d be right! This quick post from me is just to direct you to Design Sponge, where you can tour the interior of Charise’s Mamaroneck, N.Y. home and (like me) cringe with fabulous space envy.

My interior decorating tip: hire Charise to do it for you. Or Melissa Sweet, because her house is arty and inviting also. Or Ashley Bryan, if you like the not-one-surface-untouched-by-fun look.

A Book Fiesta for My Birthday

Alison Morris -

Today happens to be my 33rd birthday, and with that in mind I thought I ought to post something festive. Two weeks ago I was trying to come up with a contribution for the "Yankee Swap" at our store’s annual post-holiday party and thought it’d be fun to throw in something handcrafted (though not too time-consuming). Having enjoyed Gareth’s and my last birdhouse project I had purchased another cheap, unfinished birdhouse that now awaited my creative touch and thought it would fit the "$10 or less" spending criteria," so I took out my glue and scissors and got to work.

An hour and a half later Gareth comes into the room, eyes what I’m working on and says, "Oh. You can’t take that to the Yankee Swap." Puzzled, I asked why not. "It looks too good. WAAAAY too good." As only one side of the birdhouse was completed at that point I thought he might be making premature assumptions about the end result, so I kept working. An hour later I was putting the finishing touches on the thing and reluctantly agreeing with him. While I hadn’t technically spent much money on this birdhouse, it now looked like it was worth a LOT more than $10… And I wasn’t exactly eager to give it away.

Most of the credit for this birdhouse’s beauty goes to illustrator Rafael Lopez, as it was an F&G of the forthcoming Book Fiesta! (Harper Collins, March 2009) written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Rafael that I took apart and glued to the walls and roof of my avian abode. I love its bright colors and energetic images of people (what else?) enjoying books — perfect for celebrating El día de los niños/ El día de los libros, Children’s Day/ Book Day.

Inspired by Dave Vissat’s Wild Wings Literary Lodgings I wrenched out the cheap little perches that came with the birdhouse and replaced them with colored pencils. Much more fun, I think.

Yes, it took some doing to get the star to line up RIGHT over the hole for that top perch, but it was sooo worth the effort.

I think the hardest thing about this project might have been choosing which images to use from the book. They’re all wonderful, and size-wise most of them fit the walls surprisingly well.

The biggest stroke of luck, though, was the fact that this book’s title (and exclamation!) consisted of just two words, each short enough to fit on one side of the birdhouse roof.

The day after I assembled this beauty I made a quick trip to Paper Source, two blocks from our store, where I purchased a $10 gift card that made a much more suitable Yankee Swap contribution in that it didn’t lead to fisticuffs among my coworkers. AND as luck would have it that gift card landed in the hands of our store’s biggest Paper Source fan (second to me, that is). With it she can buy enough fun material to cover her own birdhouse or… do whatever it is OTHER people do with pretty paper.

If I was a bird, I’d like to attend a party in this house, be it on my birthday or at any other time of year!

Why I Haven’t Had Time to Think Much About the ALA Awards Announcements

Alison Morris - January 27, 2009

9:15 a.m. on Monday, January 26 I arrive at the store and race through the Monday morning "restock report," in which I consider every children’s book that sold over the weekend and decide how many of each (if any) we need to reorder and from whom (the publisher if we don’t need it right away, a distributor if we do). 

9:45 a.m. I finish that report in just enough time to watch the ALA Awards press conference/webcast, during which I look up each title as it’s announced to see 1) if we have it in stock, 2) if I need to order more copies than what we have, and 3) if it’s available at our distributors at that exact moment. Send congratulatory e-mail to Melina Marchetta as soon as I learn she’s won the Printz Award. Receive immediate reply and realized the entire children’s book world is listening to/watching these same announcements. Even in Australia!! (Wacky.)

10:30 a.m. The press conference ends. I tell the lovely Lisa Fabiano at our store to send orders off to our distributors ASAP then place a quick call to Melissa Sweet and leave her a rushed message of Caldecott Honor congratulations.

10:45 a.m. Race out the door to get in my car and head over to the Dana Hall School where we are hosting Jonathan Stroud for a school visit.

10:50 a.m. First stop at Dana Hall = their beautiful school library, where I’d left about 15 boxes of books last Thursday + a handcart that we could use to move said boxes. With the help of librarian Liz Gray I move those 15 boxes to another building.

a.m. Met by Jonathan Stroud and publicist Jennifer Levine (of Disney Publishing) while arranging the tables on which we’d be selling Jonathan’s books to Middle School and Upper School students during their lunch hour.

We sell books and Jonathan signs books.

12:30 p.m. I box up half the remaining books, put them on the handcart, and move them (plus Jonathan and Jennifer) over to the Middle School building where Jonathan gives a lively presentation, during which he discusses with students (and draws for them) the differences between a very "traditional" hero and the heroes in his new book Heroes of the Valley (Hyperion, January 2009).

1:15 p.m. We sell more books and Jonathan signs more books. (Thanks to librarian Sam Musher for her help at this point!)

1:30 p.m. Back to the library with books on the handcart to collect two boxes I left there. Back to my car to move it over to the cafeteria building and collect boxes we left there (thanks for boxing those up, Liz!) then over to the library to load my car with those other boxes and the handcart. 

2:00 p.m. Back to the store to unload all the remaining boxes + the handcart and put more books on the sales floor in anticipation of Jonathan’s event there in the evening. Answer questions regarding various and sundry phone calls that came in during my few hours away from the store. Reply to a couple of e-mails.

3:00 p.m. Go out and grab a bite of lunch. Place tired, frazzled phone call to M.T. Anderson and leave rambling message congratulating him on being awarded a Newbery Honor. Stop at CVS.

4:00 p.m.  Get back to store and respond to more e-mails and phone calls. Set up chairs in Used Book Cellar in anticipation of evening event. Have brief meeting with booksellers Pat Pereira and Jane Kohuth. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my coworkers?? Love them!) Call M.T. Anderson again and leave message saying "I know you didn’t actually receive a Newbery Honor and that you were awarded a Printz Honor but I’m rushing around like a crazy woman today and I was a bit frazzled and…"

5:00 p.m.  Receive call from very entertained M.T. Anderson saying I’m the only one who gave him the Newbery Honor today. Laugh. A lot. Swap opinions with him on various award winners until Jonathan Stroud strides into the buying office.

5:20 p.m. Hand the phone to Jonathan Stroud and, in so doing, introduce him to M.T. Anderson (who is, like the rest of us in-the-know people, a Jonathan Stroud fan) and experience a VERY surreal I-know-both-of-these-amazing-people-how-do-they-not-know-one-another moment. Hang up the phone and get back into "events hosting mode."

5:45 p.m. There is already quite a crowd gathering for our event (hooray! and thank goodness!) so bookseller Margaret Aldrich and I move more chairs into the Used Book Cellar and haul more books up to the sales floor. 

6:05 p.m. Jonathan begins his presentation to a crowd of approximately 40 very enthusiastic fans age 10-60? (A guess.) Nice to see so many adults falling under the spell of good so-called "young adult" fiction.

7:10 p.m. Jonathan ends his presentation and goes upstairs to sign books. I chat with LOTS of lovely, very appreciative people who gush to me about Jonathan and his books.

8:00 p.m. Event attendees leave. Margaret and I then gush to Jonathan about him and about his books. I gush to Jennifer Levine about how grateful we are to have had Jonathan visiting us for this really delightful day. Margaret and I pose with Jonathan for this photo, below.

8:15 p.m. We say good-bye to Jonathan and Jennifer, then move more books around and take down chairs in the Used Book Cellar.

8:45 p.m. I go back to my desk and read a few more e-mails. Discuss events with the lovely Lee Van Kirk.

9:15 p.m. I leave the bookstore, 12 hours after I started my work day.

9:50pm I arrive home.

10 p.m. I eat dinner (bless my fiancé for putting dinner on the table at such odd hours).

10:30 p.m. I rave to you about working in an industry with people as talented and kind and intelligent and good-hearted as the wonderful Jonathan Stroud. I tell you that a father drove all the way up from Sandwich, Mass. (about an hou
and a half south of us) with his son for Jonathan’s event at our store because his kid woke him up at 5 a.m. to say he’d just learned that his "favorite author in the world" was going to be doing a reading in Wellesley that night and this dad couldn’t deny his son this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His comment: "I mean, if he’d said the guy was his favorite LINEBACKER it would have been a different story, but when he’s asking to see his favorite AUTHOR? Who could say no to that?" Then I tell you that another attendee at the event (a parent I’ve worked with in the past) told me tonight that she happened to stumble across my blog last week for the first time and she found so much she enjoyed reading here — especially "the post about that guy whose house you went to? The one in Maine with all the toys? That was INCREDIBLE!! What an amazing man!!" That would be Ashley Bryan, I tell her, as I put a copy of Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song in her hands and say, "He was just awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award today."

11:40 p.m. I upload photos of Jonathan Stroud and arrange them here so that you can all admire his smiling face and note that, frazzled or not, I too was still smiling at the end of this long but terrific day.

Midnight I’m still here but will be finished with this post any minute now…

12:07 a.m. Good night!

Thou Dost Request This Book Too Much

Alison Morris - January 23, 2009

Every parent has that ONE book they’re begged to read again and again and again and again and… Even those of us who aren’t parents have experienced this phenomenon in the role of teachers or siblings or babysitters.

There are plenty of reasons that reading the same books multiple times to a child is actually helpful to their development. Children find it reassuring to find that their favorite tales turn out the same way in the end, each time they listen to them. They generally ask more complex or insightful questions about a story after they’ve heard it multiple times. Once they’ve heard the book enough time to have memorized it, they’ll recite it or "read" it to you — an important step on the road to literacy. Reading and rereading the same books to a child is therefore a healthy practice. But boy it can be a pain in the… hindquarters.

With that in mind, I put this question to you today: What book were you/are you asked to read FAR too many times (for your happiness) by a child in your life? Was it a book you once loved and eventually grew to hate? Was it a book you didn’t like in the first place and therefore had to suffer through even from the start? Can you still recite it to this day, some X years later? Purge those tortured memories here and/or recite for us what you still recall from that particular book.

Standing with Our President

Alison Morris - January 20, 2009

Customers who’ve come by the store this week have had the chance to get their photo taken with President Barack Obama. We’ve had life-size replicas on display and available for sale and advertised that customers could come by with their own cameras and snap a picture of themselves with the Chief, to be included in next year’s holiday cards, on their Facebook pages, etc.

On the whole this entertaining experiment has been a great one, filled with fun (and funny) moments in which both customers and staff members have mistaken the looming figure behind them for a real person and done a double-take when they saw just WHO that person was meant to be. Last weekend Lorna repeatedly caught the cardboard Barack out of the corner of her eye and thought he was a customer. Finally she conditioned herself to the notion that the "person" standing in that spot across from the register was NOT real. This worked fine until a customer standing right next to the soon-to-be President spoke to her and she literally jumped, thinking for a moment that the fake Obama had become the real thing. Like a dream had become reality. Much like many of us feel has happened today.

At Last, These Books Have Come Along

Alison Morris - January 19, 2009

One of the more aggravating challenges of being a buyer is having to exercise patience between the time when you first buy a book for the store until the time when it finally arrives — usually about six months later. Last week I wrote an enthuasiastic bit for out store’s newsletter about three recent arrivals to our shelves and thought I ought to share that same enthuasiam here.

After each of the latter two I’ve included a "book movie" created for their promotion. In a recent post I remarked that I generally don’t like these trailer-style promos, but in the cases of non-fiction, like these, I think they can be very effective indeed. (Note also that since I was rather pointedly informed that the term "Book Trailer" is trademarked, I am not using it here, except in this sentence.)

And, because I hated to see this first book denied the joys of some multimedia accompaniment here, I’ve followed my blurb with a short documentary about its creator that I think is well worth watching.

Leading the pack of OUTSTANDING new additions to our shelves is Tales from Outer Suburbia (Scholastic) by the overwhelmingly talented Shaun Tan, best known for his wordless graphic novel The Arrival. This book for ages 10 to adult (and, seriously, you adults should all be sure to read this!) is an odd, beautiful, thought-provoking, and entertaining assortment of short stories, each illustrated in a different style, showcasing the remarkable range of Tan’s artistic talents. For several months now I’ve been toting around the galley for this book, anxiously awaiting the day when I can get it into the hands of everyone I know. FINALLY the book is out and that day is here! Be sure to come in and thumb through its remarkable pages. I know you’re going to be amazed at what you find there! 

Another new book I can’t say enough about is Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song (Simon & Schuster). Now in his 80’s, Ashley is a veteran author/illustrator whose passion for storytelling and overwhelming enthusiasm for life have made him a legend in the children’s book world and beyond! This account of his life in picture book format pairs bright photos of Ashley and his home with photos of his art, his childhood, and the experiences that have made him the person he is today. The lengthy text tells the truly remarkable story of the life Ashley’s led, from a childhood in Harlem to an education in the arts (when few African Americans were considered "worthy" of such a privilege) to the beaches of Normandy to travels throughout the world to a tiny island off the coast of Maine, where I had the joy of visiting him in September of 2007. You can see photos from that visit on my blog, and you can get to know Ashley better by reading this wonderful book, which is probably best-appreciated by those ages 8 and up. 

One more quick plug: If you’d like a beautiful commemoration of Barack Obama’s swearing in as our 44th President, pick up a copy of the book Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit (Simon & Schuster). In it, Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator Kadir Nelson has paired select passages from Obama’s speeches with beautiful sketches of Obama, his family, and his supporters. This small, jacketed picture book is a lovely salute to our new President and a momentous event in our nation’s history.

A Handful of Highlights from Candlewick’s 2009 Spring/Summer List

Alison Morris - January 15, 2009

It has occurred to me on many occasions that right after I’ve read a publisher’s new list I should just jot down a few quick notes about books that surprised or impressed me — especially when they’re by less-familiar talents. For once I actually remembered to do that! What follows are seven quick picks from Candlewick’s 2009 Spring/Summer List.

Leslie Patricelli‘s got a simple new picture book on the list that works like a charm. It’s called Higher! Higher! (March) and stars a girl whose requests to be pushed "Higher! Higher!" on the swings take her to some VERY impressive heights! The scences on these pages are rendered in Patricelli’s usual blocky and colorful style, but they tilt at a dizzying angle, making it feel like you really might be leaving the ground. What fun!

I also loved John Lechner‘s picture book The Clever Stick (July), in which a clever (but silent) stick has to find his own voice, metaphorically. You might think it’d be hard to feel much sympathy for a stick, but…? Not this one.

Stan Fellows‘s watercolor illustrations for The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen (March) are STUNNING. This bright and beautiful book will make the *perfect* gift for birders of age. (And poetry fans too!)

First-time author/illustrator Tony Fucile will have kids rolling on the floor with his picture book Let’s Do Nothing! (May) in which two boys attempt to do just that (with zero success). Comic genius!

The same reaction should greet Alison McGhee‘s Song of Middle C (illustrated by Scott Menchin, May) in which a piano-playing girl finds that even her lucky underwear can’t save her from stage fright during her first recital. As the child in this book would say, "Hoo boy!"

Young gumshoes and budding secret agents will love the laughs and suspense in The Dunderheads (June), a lengthy picture book written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by David Roberts (what a pair!). Here, a pack of mistreated students finds a way to steal back the items taken from them by their tyrannical teacher who thinks they’re no better than (of course) dunderheads. The distinct personalities and unique talents of each student all but guarantee that this memorable pack will amuse both children and adults. And oh the details in David Roberts’ illustrations! My favorite is a movie poster for East Side Anecdote, which parodies a film I feel quite certain I’ve seen before… someday. Somewhere.

I love the poems in Avis Harley‘s African Acrostics: A World in Edgeways (July). Accompanied by bold (and sometimes very entertaining) photographs by the multi-talented Deborah Noyes, the playful pieces on these pages more than ably capture their subjects, in wonderful language that make them a true cut above the most poems I’ve read in this form. I predict that teachers will go ga-ga for this one.

Of course there were other books on the Candlewick list that I enjoyed in addition to these, but at least this gives you a quick peek at what what they’ve got in store for the upcoming season.

Those Underappreciated Backlist Gems

Alison Morris - January 14, 2009

Connie Rockman posted an interesting comment on my "WHEN?" post last week that went as follows: "My all-time favorite is one of Jim Murphy’s lesser-known but most fascinating titles – Across America on an Emigrant Train [Clarion Books, 1993]. Also a ‘who’ book because it’s based on the diaries of Robert Louis Stevenson about his journey to visit his lady-love in California, but he paints a very realistic picture of our country in 1879. The hazards of air travel today pale by comparison to the hazards of rail travel in the 19th century. A great read."

I was struck by the similarity  between Connie’s statement and an experience I frequently have in our store when a customer asks me to recommend a non-fiction book for an adult. Almost invariably this non-fiction fan mentions having enjoyed The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. When I ask if they’ve read any of Larson’s other books, about 80% of them say they’ve read Thunderstruck, but only about 2% of them have read Isaac’s Storm, which I think (and I know others who agree) is his best book.

Reading Connie’s remarks got me thinking about all the authors who reach the spotlight with the publication of one book, when there’s a gem (or several) in their backlist that are continually overlooked. Sara Pennypacker has deservedly reached the spotlight of late for her Clementine series, but my favorite pieces of her writing are the wildly entertaining Stuart’s Cape (which I was devastated to learn is now out of print!) and Stuart Goes to School. Apart from needing to be reissued with much bigger print (MUCH bigger print!!) and a thicker spine, I see no reason why these books shouldn’t have benefited from the recent uptick in Pennypacker passion, but their current lack of widespread availablity certainly suggests they have not. Hmmmm.

Think about the times you’ve said to someone, "If you think THAT book by so-and-so-who-just-hit-the-big-time is good, you should go back and read THIS book." Now would you please take a moment to champion those backlist gems here? I know some of you have been DYING to announce to the world that YOU knew so-and-so was going to hit the big time when you first read their book _______, even though no one else appeared to be aware of it. This is your chance to say "I loved them when" or (possibly better) "I told you so."

Signs o’ the Times

Alison Morris - January 13, 2009

Not sure what to do with all those publisher catalogs you’re tossing in the recycling bin or the F&G’s you’re occasionally allowed to keep after sales calls? Recycle ’em by turning them into signs for book displays! I’ve been doing this for years, and the results are eye-catching display signs that can sometimes do double-duty by also getting customers interested in the books whose images were incorporated into your sign.

What follows are some examples of signs (either letter-size or legal-size) that I’ve made for our store, like the one above, which is perfect for your next display of insect lore. Each of these signs was created by cutting out an image from a book catalog or part of an F&G then gluesticking it to a larger, colored piece of paper (preferably fadeless, so the sign will continue looking good for quite some time) and gluesticking words on top of that — either words I wrote out myself or words I printed out using one fitting font or another. (One of my favorite resources for downloading free fonts is After I’ve put together the pieces I want, I run the sign through our little legal-size laminator, which makes the finished product look more professional AND keeps it from getting mangled when we toss it back into "sign storage" until the next time we use it.

This National Poetry Month was too tall to fit well on the scanner, but I think you’ll get the idea…

This self-explanatory sign is one of my favorites:

Here are two variations on the same summer theme:

A sign for fall:

And a sign that gets plenty of play at our store, come winter:

I think I originally made this one for a display of vegetarian cookbooks. Might be time to put it to use again.

Don’t have any great pictures to use as jumping-off points? The right fonts and colors can make a sign work without any other embellishments, like in this sign (cut off a bit by the scanner!), which we’ve displayed alongside dragon-themed books:

and this one, which I made for a display of vampire books:

Anyone else have any favorite sign-making techniques? How about suggestions for spicing up in-store displays? Bonus points if your ideas involve recycling.