Monthly Archives: May 2009

To Market, To Market

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 15, 2009

Marketing departments at publishing houses have a daunting task, figuring out how to use shrinking budgets to create promotional materials that are actually effective for the publisher and useful to the bookseller. So what works? What do we love seeing in our bookstores? What gets tossed out without a further glance? Whereas a centralized bookselling corporation may have one buyer to please, indies range in size, scope, and individual buyer preferences.

Here are a few do’s and don’t’s Josie and I have put together from our perspective. Other booksellers’ mileage may vary, and we hope the comments section will fill up with feedback that helps you hardworking publishing folks. (Note: the format makes this post sound really bossy—Do this! Don’t do that!—but of course nothing in publishing and retail is that black-and-white. These are just observations and suggestions based on our experiences over the past 12 years. There’s always room for imaginative promotions.) So, our wish list for promo items, taken in alphabetical order:


Do: Allow us to re-order the kits if we run out.
Give us so few we can’t share with the customers most likely to want them.
Letting us decide what promo items we want and not just sending boxes willy-nilly. That’s very expensive for you, and good kits can end up going to waste needlessly. Also consider creating a web page listing all of your available activity kits and teacher guides for booksellers to reference when planning events and helping teachers.


Send event posters, if possible. We also like press releases and hi-res images of the author photo and book cover (300 dpi), so that we can use them in ads and our own event flyers. Another helpful attachment would be a complete backlist for that author, which keeps everything in one place and makes event ordering easy.
Make us fill out extensive author-request grids. (Okay, wishful thinking.)
Creating a flyer template (8.5" x 11") for touring authors’ new releases that bookstores could download and display. All we’d need to do is add our store name, date, and time. A professionally designed flyer usually trumps bookstore efforts, though not always, and it’s a very easy promotion.


Do: Send appealing bookmarks. Designers, think like a consumer: would you choose that bookmark out of a jar? Would your kids? Great bookmarks have appealing front-side images without a lot of text; no one ever picks up a cluttered bookmark that is obviously only a marketing tool. There’s nothing in it for the customer. Less is more with bookmarks, truly. Do put on-sale dates, backlist information, website, and/or author info, on the back; the back is fair game for any text you’d like. Again, think like a consumer, not a marketer. What would you or your children actually pay attention to? It’s often not quite the same thing that a marketer wants to get across, but it can still sell a book or series. An author’s signature can be a draw, and does double-duty as a giveaway at school events where not every child can buy a book.

Don’t: Design very dark or black bookmarks; for some reason, no one takes them. A pirate or vampire book could get away with a black bookmark, if it were  handsomely designed and had white and bright accent colors. Otherwise, a no-go. Other bookstore mileage may vary.

Consider: Trifold bookmarks for series books. Scholastic had a great promotion for its Weekday Fairies series: it was composed of several connected perforated bookmarks, one for each book in the series. Kids loved these and we sold a lot of Fairy books. Children also love quizzes and mazes; tie in a back-of-bookmark game to the book and kids might hang on to the bookmark for quite a while.


Do: Send autographed copies we can use for prizes or raffles. We love that, and usually build a promotion around it. Sells books! Do encourage reps to put post-it notes on galleys they particularly love or want to draw our attention to: "Boys will LOVE this!" or "Great summer read" are helpful, as well as more specific praise: "Rep top pick. I couldn’t put this one down." Holly Ruck was our first rep to do this, and we always paid attention. OH! And these two are crucial: Do put release month and year on the spines of ARCs. Many publishers have started doing this and we love you for it. Also, please please please put series numbers on the spines of your books, in easy-to-find, easy-to-read type. You would not believe how much time is spent by customers and frontline booksellers trying to track down which is the next book in a series.

Don’t: Tie ribbons around galleys or gift hardcovers. It immediately conjures images of overworked interns or reps, and all we do is reach for the scissors. The ribbons get mashed flat in transit anyway. Truly not worth the time and effort. And please don’t send them in the kind of envelope that explodes in a shower of newspaper pulp. Don’t worry about trying to find a doo-dad to throw in with the book; unless it’s a very clever tie-in, extremely cute, or useful, it just gets thrown out. We’ve seen a lot of Oriental Trading Company kinds of things; they really don’t add interest or value for booksellers, so save that money to use elsewhere, maybe on better envelopes. With ARCs, please don’t make us actually have to open the book to find the release date. Most of us shelve them by month for easy access, and when you’re trying to sort stacks of galleys, it’s a pain. And if the date is only on the back cover, pretty please make the type large enough for middle-aged eyes. Someone in the art department should make his or her mom try to read the info before approving it.

Consider: This is as nitpicky as it gets, but for those of you who list an author’s books in the front matter, please do two things: include all the titles (don’t do the old-fashioned thing of omitting the book the person is holding from the list), and list them in order.

— We haven’t seen nearly as many of these in recent years, but man, can they be effective. Customers love seeing a life-sized Olivia greeting them at the door, or a little Skippyjon Jones countertop standee. (I made up the latter as an example; I don’t think that was actually a promo item.) We had a beautiful Angelina Ballerina cardboard display that we kept in the picture-book section, always fully stocked, for years. Now, that’s effective marketing!

Do: Put as much thought into the shipping as the design and printing of these items. So often, they arrive with whole sections bent or creased, which undercuts the sharp appealing new feeling you’re trying to create with the piece. Also, make sure they (a) assemble correctly, (b) have clear directions, and (c) are sturdy enough, something a toddler would have a hard time pulling over.

Don’t: Send anything made of materials you wouldn’t let a baby chew on.

Consider: Displays for six titles. These work so well on counters at smaller stores.

CDs & DVDs
The multi-book samplers are usually well done, but we rarely listen to them, probably because a taste of honey’s worse than none at all. (You can quote me on that.) Single-book samplers with an author interview are better.
Don’t: S
d us your catalogs on CD unless you know we want them. I think this practice has died out in favor of websites and online catalogs, but in case you do these, don’t waste your resources on something that will get thrown out.
Consider: Sending a complete audiobook for titles you love. Nothing sells audiobooks in bricks-and-mortar stores like a recommendation from the bookseller. Also, any chance the prices could be a little more affordable for the common man? We hate losing sales to online vendors.

CONTESTS — Many booksellers do more with contests than we do. Our most successful contests have been generated from within the store, so we’ll let other bookstore folks comment on these.


Do: Send sticker sheets. These are always, always popular, especially when the book cover is one sticker and the rest of the stickers are cute images from the books. Creative pairings are wonderful; Harcourt’s promotion of Little Miss Matched socks with Linda Urban’s MG novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was imaginative and attention-getting, and did our work for us; the display practically created itself. Pins and magnets can be great, if they’re terrific-looking; otherwise, they tend to get tossed.

Don’t: Send bottles of glitter, body powder or other dust-type things. Inflatables and other items made of that vile-smelling plastic seem hazardous to your health and I wouldn’t let a child near them. (I might blow one up and suspend it from the ceiling if I love the character enough, but even that’s iffy.)

Consider: Less packaging for all promo items, and doing away altogether with those trinkets that make a person feel like factory workers overseas are being exploited for an item that won’t even get used.


Do: Send pencils, pens, or crayons, in enough quantity to actually give away. A great T-shirt always makes a terrific raffle item, too.

Don’t: Send three pens on a light-up lanyard. The staff probably won’t think to wear them, and there aren’t enough to share with a teacher.

Consider: Writing implements or erasers with your book title or cover image on them.


Do: Send good candy. We love it! We still remember the delightful "Fudge Bucks" from a Judy Blume promotion. And Workman had a golden ticket promotion that came with a gigantic Hershey bar perfect for sharing with your staff at 4:30 when everyone needs a little boost. Or send something that lasts beyond the promotion terms. Candlewick gave out a pretty painted wooden Maisy coin bank 10 or 12 years ago, and we still use it.

Don’t: Use way more packaging than you need. Large boxes with few galleys and lots of pretty packing material come off as wasteful and needlessly expensive. In addition, a lot of fancy packaging gets banged up in the mail, so it often doesn’t reach your booksellers in great condition.

Consider: Attaching something value-added to your promotion. We’d all rather get a plain old ARC and 2% than a cute imprinted carton. Honest.

— [Edited to clarify: here I’m talking about single postcards sent through the mail to alert buyers to a new release.] Bookseller opinion on these is mixed. Some booksellers hate them, but I actually do pay attention to postcards, though some get recycled immediately while others make it to a to-be-ordered stack. Here’s why:

Do: Make it pretty (i.e., well-designed) and keep it brief. Follow the bookmark rule: put a great image on the front and save the text for the back. Most effective text? ISBN, on-sale date, one-line teaser, and two or three great review quotes. That’s enough. A small, handwritten personal note instantly makes the "okay, I’ll take a look" stack. These often come from authors; it’s amazing what a difference a personal touch makes.

Don’t: Put too much text on the back; that makes a bookseller’s (and a reader’s) eyes glaze over. 

Consider: Choosing the larger-sized postcards; they do stand out in a crowd and allow for a cleaner, more readable, back side. Consider collaborating with authors more often, helping them with design, printing, and postage; let them add a note and signature before sending. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get the word out about a release.


Do: Ship them with adequate protection. Crumple-edged or crunched posters are a waste of your design, printing, and postage money. (This is why I never take posters from booths at trade shows; the chances of them making it home are practically nil without a tube, and I never think of bringing a poster tube with me. Hmm, maybe this year….)

Don’t: Fold them. Teachers will take folded posters because any poster is welcome, but for a key spot on a bookstore or school wall, rolled is best. Don’t waste your money on posters created more as marketing tools than art, i.e., posters with a few different books and a lot of text promoting them, and the publisher’s name in huge type. (Award books are an exception to the several-book-covers rule; those are good. But, a simple label like "Newbery Books," accompanying the covers is best, with the publisher info tastefully at the bottom in a slugline. The poster is more likely to be placed in a prominent location and looked at, and the books will sell on the basis of their covers, titles, authors, and reputation. Kids and their parents don’t tend to ask for books by publisher.

Consider: Is this a poster you would put up in your child’s room? Classroom? Library?

are a mixed bag, literally.

Do: Make them as eco-friendly as possible. And pretty / handsome. The ones with great children’s book art get used again and again and again. They are expensive, but probably pay off in the long run for books you’re hoping will sell solidly well into the future.

Don’t: Bother with the junky stuff. Better to spend your money elsewhere than have crummy totes, the weird ones that feel like environmental hazards, have handles too short to sling over your shoulder, and/or feel creepy to the touch. We also dislike plastic bags with book cover art sent in quantities for the checkout counter, but some booksellers love them. (Poll a few of your accounts?)

Consider: Imprinting recycled paper bags (with soy ink; it’s everywhere now) instead of plastic. Not for trade shows, but for in-store promotions.


We got a terrific promotion from a publisher that had all the right elements, and all in a very small bubble envelope (no waste and inexpensive to mail): good bookmarks, a one-page sheet with an author interview on one side and an ordering promotion on the other, and — this was brilliant — a sheet of small square stickers listing release dates for that season’s titles. Booksellers could pop them onto our calendars and plan ahead so easily.

Thanks for letting us share our preferences. Now we’d love to hear from publicists and other booksellers. What have we left out? What floats your boats?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Josie Leavitt - May 14, 2009

Picture, if you will, possibly the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. Thirty children ranging in age from five to nine, all gathered at the Flying Pig, clutching their stories they are about to share with their family and friends. I was charmed, I was amused and mostly I was touched at the bravery and pride of these young readers. We were community sponsors for the annual Reading Rainbow writing contest. Our contribution was not financial, save $40 in snacks, and the rewards were many.

This year was the first year the Reading Rainbow folks, in conjunction with Vermont Public Television, used independent bookstores and not Barnes and Noble, as hosts for their annual celebration.This gave us a great opportunity to introduce a lot of new families to the store who otherwise might not find their way to us. There was no expectation for the families to buy anything. Sometimes I think that’s a great way for folks to meet the store: we were doing something for them and didn’t expect anything in return. An absolutely no-pressure visit. And they liked it, and so did we.

I had the delightful task of MCing the event. I got to introduce each reader and announce what they were going to read. Each child read the story he or she submitted to the Reading Rainbow contest. These children were adorable. Some spoke loudly, not nervous at all. One girl even stopped at every page to very gracefully show the art to the entire room much like a Vanna White in training. One girl who led with her belly, read shyly, almost in a whisper until she was done. Then she boomed, "THE END" and took a lovely theatrical bow and skipped to her mother. Another child, a boy, read a story about his friend getting stitches and said repeatedly, "the ambi-lance." I just about died of cuteness. 

We so often see our younger customers as readers that I forget they’re also burgenoning writers. To hear their stories was a window into their fears (not fitting in, sadly, was a prominent theme) and their joys (lots of new puppies and rabbits), and things they didn’t understand (just how did the armadillo get its shell?). It’s interesting — hearing their stories reminded me of what they’re thinking and understanding. While the five-year-old may be precocious, he likes a very simple, linear story that’s that’s funny, and maybe I’ve been doing him a slight disservice by recommending books that are more complex than he can handle. Just because he can read significantly above grade level doesn’t mean he should always read above grade level.

The parents already trust us because we respected their children’s achivements. Whether we convert all the atendees into customers remains to be seen, and really it doesn’t matter. We’ve already seen many familes in the store since the event. Personally, I can’t wait until next year when we get to do it all over again.

The Times, They Are….

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 12, 2009

"Come gather ’round people / Wherever you roam / And admit that the waters / Around you have grown…." (Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin’")

Searching for new-baby books to give lesbian and gay parents has long been a fairly ridiculous endeavor. In addition to classic baby shower gifts, booksellers try to help their gay and lesbian clientele by searching their mental lists for books featuring just one parent of the right gender, or baby books with animals instead of people (though even this is tricky, as many animal families in books are represented as heterosexual, as evidenced by the mother’s ubiquitous apron).

Until very recently, there was nothing beyond a scattered handful of picture books featuring gay or lesbian parents, and even those were aimed at children at least four years old. That’s a long time to wait to see anything resembling your own family show up in a book. In addition, those few existing books tended to be more of an introduction to life in an alternative family than a real story or romp, the kind children want to read again and again.

It’s hard enough to find books for very young readers featuring any kind of alternative familes: single parents (especially dads), adoptive families, kids raised by grandparents, kids in foster homes, kids in mixed-race households — even though nearly half the families in the country qualify as "alternative" in one way or another.* We need books for these millions of families — and anthropomorphized animals are an easy, but insufficient, substitute.

Like all overlooked minorities, gay families put up with their lack of representation in mainstream children’s books with uncommon patience and grace; after all, there are plenty of wonderful books to be read. But that’s not the same thing as also being able to see yourself in the pages and pictures of a book. Gay is the new Black.

Happily, there are some new offerings in the mix this season from sensitive and savvy publishers aware of the huge gap in the marketplace. I wish the editors at Tricycle Press could have seen my face when I opened their package containing two bright, glossy board books: Mommy, Mama, and Me, and Daddy, Papa, and Me, by Lesléa Newman; illus. by Carol Thompson (Tricycle, June 2009). Suffice it to say, I beamed. Then I got a little teary, thinking about how nothing like this existed when my nephews (with two moms) were born.

Twenty years ago, author Newman broke the children’s book barrier with her earnest and brave—and censorship firestorm-causing—Heather Has Two Mommies. It was a good and necessary start. (Note: the 10th Anniversary edition was revised to take out the section on artificial insemination, probably an understandable elision given the age of its intended audience, but still a bit of a compromise.)

These new books have no explanation or exploration of topic — just sweet, simple rhyming fun that follows a tiny tot through her day with two loving parents. "Mommy picks me up up UP, Mama pours juice in my cup. Mommy gently combs my hair, Mama rocks me in her chair" leads to a fun day in the park, then a nap, supper, book time, bath time, and, finally, bedtime: "Now I’m tucked in nice and tight. Mommy and Mama kiss me goodnight." It’s just like a regular baby book! And the art is unequivocally adorable. 

Daddy, Papa, and Me is similarly structured, but is more activity-filled. The characters dress up, paint, make paper airplanes, play with trucks, bake, throw a ball, sew, have a tea party, and run around in the park before collapsing on the family sofa. In this one, the toddler kisses her daddies goodnight in a wry nod to new-parent exhaustion. The dads’ book reads as more typically "gay" than the moms’ book; the tea-party illustration, while adorable, is a bit mince-y. I can’t wait to hear gay dads weigh in on it.

A picture book for slightly older children—Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Calef Brown (Atheneum, February 2009)—presents Gertrude Stein in all her salon glory as a literary figure and an arts afficionado, and also as a companion to Alice B. Toklas. Their relationship isn’t spelled out; it just is, the way the text mirrors Steins circuitous style without first explaining it. "Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude. / And Alice is Alice. / And Gertrude and Alice are Gertrude and Alice. / Well it’s like this. You walk up the stairs, and there they are. They are sitting in chairs / and there they are…." And where they are is hosting parties for artists and writers; we get to meet Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway, Basket the poodle. And Gertrude writes, and Alice types, and they visit museums and drive along the countryside. It’s a festive celebration of the life of an unconventional genius rendered in syncopated prose and inventive art; the Winter/Brown team is perfectly paired. (On a side note, I’d love to see Maira Kalman and Calef Brown collaborate on a he-said-she-said picture book. Work that out for me, wouldja? Thanks!)

Winter’s earlier picture book about Frida Kahlo—Frida, gloriously, memorably illustrated by Ana Juan—is one of my all-time favorite picture-book biographies, along with M.T. Anderson’s Strange Mr. Satie (fantastically illustrated by Petra Mathers). Those two books, along with the new Gertrude, fill me with joy; they prove that books about unconventional people have a wide audience of curious kids with a sense of humor and a lively interest in other kinds of lives. Hooray! (And, dibs on Elizabeth Bishop! I’m not kidding; the thing is half written. Writers, James Baldwin could use a great pb biographer. Just sayin’.)

And finally, one more notable mention: Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House (Philomel, May 2009). This is definitely a book intended to introduce a traditional audience to alternative families, and it does so with tenderness and love. Having a writer/artist of Polacco’s stature take on the topic will do a lot to reassure teachers and librarians who are on the fence about bringing books with gay or lesbian parents into their classrooms. It’s also an open-armed celebration of mixed-race and adoptive families; the two moms, called Marmee and Meema, have three kids, all ethnically varied and equally adored. I think this book will be most popular with "straight" families, though I’d love to hear differently. There are a few aspects of the book that strike me as a little stereotypical; for instance, a tea party where both women are wildly uncomfortable wearing dresses, but overcome that unease to please their kids. And I had a couple of aesthetic wishes: is it wrong that I wanted the larger mom to be prettier? It’s that old problem; if you only have a few representations of yourself out there, you’d prefer they err on the side of flattering. However, those are minor quibbles; the great good that this loving book will do far outweighs those nitpicky concerns.

This post is about books for younger readers, so I won’t go into books for middle-grade kids and teens where I wish same-sex couples existed as a plain old boring backdrop set of parents. You know, Ramona the Pest with two moms. Or I Capture the Castle where the character of the bl
ked writer is a gay single dad. Something you almost wouldn’t notice—unless you were a kid who had never read anything even remotely reflecting your life. (Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Uninvited may be such an animal; I’ll report back when I’ve finished it.)

Publishers, you’re sitting on a small gold mine, and now is the time to reach out with some great titles and as targeted a market as you’ll ever find. May your lists reflect the real melting pot that is America, and may the books be brilliant and sparkling, and not merely politically correct. There are some great starts here, and I’d love to see more.

Readers, what say you?

*A few statistics: In the 2000 census, married couples numbered just over half of all family types in this country (51.7%, a drop of 3.5% since the 1990 census; presumably we’ll see that number drop even lower in next year’s census). In 1976, there were 300,000-500,000 children with a gay parent; click here for more info.

To the Moon We Go!

Josie Leavitt -

This July 20th marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I was four and a half when Neil Armstrong took his famous walk. I remember it because my Mom let me stay up late to watch. For folks who are not as old as I am, there are five of my favorite books that celebrate this event and the moon in general.

Two very good picture books are in the offing for younger kids who are curious about the lunar landing.  One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh, with paintings by Mike Wimmer, is for kids ages 4-7. Realistic paintings help bring the flight of Apollo 11 to life in a very clear way, and using  NASA transmissions help to make readers feel like they’re there.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca offers another view of the flight for the younger reader. The simple, matter-of-fact text does an excellent job of conveying the drama and tension inherent in landing on the moon. There was real drama in this, and Moonshot has a nice mix of tension and joy. The endpapers have richly detailed information for kids craving more, and the front endpapers have great diagrams of the spacecraft. Both books should please the curious young astronaut.

Older readers have a choice of three books. One Small Step: Celebrating the First Men on the Moon by Jerry Stone  is an "ology" style scrapbook, chock full of tabs to lift, cards to open and maybe the coolest lenticular cover I’ve ever seen. Great photos and diagrams make this something to pore over. 

Mission to the Moon by Alan Dyer comes with all the bells and whistles that a real space enthusiast could want. A poster in the back of the Lunar Module would be enough, but there is a DVD that has the real footage from the Apollo 11 landing and highlights from other landings. The NASA archive has been used to supplement the facts with 200 photos of all of the Apollo flights. Secretly, I love the big photos of Mission Control. I’ve gone around the house saying,"GO/NO GO," about dinner for far too long.

For the who wants more facts about the moon as well as the landings, Stewart Ross’s Moon: Science, History and Mystery should satisfy. From ancient myth to possible life on the moon, this book really does cover it all in a photo-rich and informative way.

I had no idea when I was sitting on the living room floor in 1969 that men landing on the moon would be still be so awe-inspiring.

Three Doses of Artistic Inspiration

Alison Morris - May 11, 2009

Looking for some arts- or crafts-related inspiration these days? Allow me to help by sharing these fun things, two in video form, that have recently crossed my own artistic path. (And, no, for once these did not come from Etsy!)

The blog recently did a feature on Coraline-inspired crafts that have been popping up online, and while I found it fun to see what things the movie’s (or book’s?) fans have been creating, I was especially happy to learn about the behind-the-scenes videos (click on "Films") that are posted on the Coraline movie website. Each features a different artist or person involved with the film talking about how they created and/or worked with the set pieces and puppets used in the Coraline movie, which they’re calling "the first handmade film shot in 3D." I particularly enjoyed this video below, in which we meet Althea Crome who knitted the teeny tiny sweaters worn by the tiny Coraline puppet in the movie. Amazing!The website also has a PDF of the knitting pattern for Coraline’s star-studded sweater, so that you can knit one of your own. (And, yes, this pattern can be used to knit adult-sized sweaters — not just teeny tiny ones.)

Now we go from talk of "crafting" to talk about fine art. (But I promise things here will be no more dry!) I know you will all be amazed and entertained by this great video of Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Vik Muniz talking about his art:

Finally, for those of you who like edible crafts best, take a look at this Where the Wild Things Are cake that was featured recently (as an example of a NON wreck) on Cake Wrecks. (Thanks to Carin Siegfried of Baker and Taylor for bringing it to my attention!)

A quick search on Flickr shows that other bakers are also finding inspiration from this same source, and some bento-box makers are too! I am in awe of these two bento boxes made by Anna the Red and posted on her blog Anna the Red’s Bento Factory.

Let the artistic rumpus start!

Small Town Life

Josie Leavitt - May 7, 2009

I live in a small town. The store is in a slightly larger town. My world revolves around these two towns, wich have a combined population of just over 10,000.  Sure, there are times I long to be able to order dinner to be delivered, or even have lunch delivered to the store, but these are minor inconveniences compared with living among my customers.

Perhaps I’m feeling old this spring as too many of our teen customers have driven themselves to the store. They come in proudly swinging car keys on their finger and then they tell me where they’re going to college. These are kids who used to sit on the floor of the old store and grunt. Yes, my favorite grunter is off to college and is responsible for taking up two parking spaces every time she comes to the store. For every kid going to college, there are new kids and families we’re getting know since our move to Shelburne.

Shelburne’s population is more than double that of Charlotte’s, where the store was for 10 years before we moved three years ago. So we’re talking just over 7,000 people, and some days it feels like I know them all. I’ve taken to carrying a small notebook with me wherever I go. Here’s what happened yesterday just going about my day. On my way to work I stopped at Village Wine and Coffee across the street from the store. I go there every day. They have a drink named after me, The Josie; a double shot iced skim latte (an absolutely fabulous drink). If it’s below 10 degrees I get a hot Josie, and the folks behind the counter *know* this.

So, I’m waiting for my drink and in succession three people come up to me. "Do you have the Updike poetry book?" "Yes." "Are you sure?" Well, I haven’t actually had my coffee, but we had the Updike when I closed last night. Out comes the notebook. Updike for Sheldon. Someone else asks if new Percy Jackson is out yet and could I save one. I make another note: Olympians for Reg. Then Gail comes over and tells me she’s decided to order that bird book for her nephew after all. She doesn’t remember the title, but I do, I think. I make another note. I’ve been out and about less than five minutes and I’ve already taken three special orders.

Some friends and I went to dinner last night. We were in a booth and a friend stopped to chat on her way to her table. We asked how her niece was doing in her battle with cancer. And for the first time in months, the news was good. Immediately, Elizabeth and I recommended some books for her to read to keep her spirits buoyed. I made a note to set them aside.

A family of new customers was three tables away. The older girl, no more than seven, shyly caught my eye and then whispered to her mother, "It’s the Flying Pig lady." And then everyone waved hello. It was cute. Although after 13 years, sometimes I tire of being called "the Flying Pig Lady." There are times when I’m weary, that I wished we called the store the Lovely Gazelle. "Oh look, it’s the Lovely Gazelle lady." Sounds so much prettier than the Flying Pig Lady.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This Just In!

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 6, 2009

In one of the most enjoyable exchanges of wit, wisdom, and (s)wordplay to be found in our field, several worthy children’s literature figures came together for almost a month of debate about which book among 16 stellar 2008 contenders would emerge as the crème-de-la-crème in SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Today, the last title standing was crowned:

And the Winner Is….

I won’t spoil it for you, especially since Lois Lowry’s final judgment essay, "Cop-Out," is glorious, leading you to the victor in an amusingly circuitous, pretend-vindictive trail of reasoning. For those one or two of you who may not have followed this prodigious battle, the judges included Roger Sutton, Jon Scieszka, Elizabeth Partridge, Meg Rosoff, Rachel Cohn, Ellen Wittlinger, Tamora Pierce, Ann Brashares, Tim Wynne-Jones, Coe Booth, John Green, Nancy Werlin, Linda Sue Park, Chris Crutcher and Lois Lowry.

As in a tennis tournament, there were rounds, and judges faced the daunting task of pitting these 16 brilliant books against one another:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
Ways to Live Forever, by Sally Nicholls (Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic)
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
The Trouble Begins at 8: Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West, by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster)
Washington at Valley Forge, by Russell Freeman (Holiday House)
Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve (Scholastic)
Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,
by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,
by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion)
The Hunger Games,
by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
The Porcupine Year,
by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins)
by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
The Underneath,
by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum)
The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary,
by Candace Fleming (Random House/Schwartz & Wade)
by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)

Is that list a book lover’s paradise, or what?!

As Lois Lowry said, in her aforementioned tour-de-force essay, "They were all winners. Please, could we just agree on that at the outset? Well-written, brilliantly researched, handsomely designed. I wish I’d written each one of them…. So it is clear that the judging of this tournament is completely subjective. Criteria don’t exist when you weigh gold against gold."

If you haven’t already, treat yourself to the archives of each face-off and its debate and comments. The entire SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books is an encapsulation of what is so fantastic about our field — the sheer exuberance of great minds at work and the books they produce and the quality of their critiques, and all the snark and humor and insight and generosity and beauty inherent therein.

So, though I am not an official judge, I pronounce the brains behind this endeavor Uber-Masters of New Contests, and hereby crown them with thanks.

P.S. At our store, we made a display of the contenders and a sign using the very funny SLJ Battle Logo, and have sold a lot of books from it! The display can also serve double duty as a place for great summer reads.

When Titles Go Bad

Josie Leavitt -

I’ve been selling books for 13 years. And in those years I’ve helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of people find the books they’re looking for. Sometimes they know what they want, but more often than not they just know they heard about it on NPR and really have no idea what the title is. But they think they do. They cling to their ideas, often repeating the same phrase over and over again, hoping that on the tenth hearing of it, suddenly, I’ll understand what they’re talking about.

A loose collection of words is always not enough information for the bookseller to guess what book you’re talking about. I once had a woman say, in all seriousness, "It’s about sisters, two-word title and the first word is," wait for it, yes, "The." She actually said, "The," like she had bestowed the Holy Grail on me. I looked at her and said, "Seriously? ‘The’?" After extracting more information from her we realized she wanted Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.  Three word title, no "The." Happens all the time.

For kids’ books we get a lot of enactments. When grown men start hopping around because they can’t remember Peter Rabbit, I pretty much love my job. Goodnight Moon brings lots of great examples, "You know the one everyone has." "The one with the room."  I love how everyone mispronounces Roald Dahl and calls him Ronald. They say, "You know that giant orange book by Ronald Dahl." Series books prove to be a challenge to everyone because they can so often get confused with other series books. Just today, in fact, with the release of the final Percy Jackson book by Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian, I got permutations of Percy’s Olympics, "You know, the one all the kids want" and finally one poor, struggling parent asked for "Artemis Olympics."

Bless our customers for trying so hard and for their goodnatured patience as we try to find the right book for them. My favorite all-time mangled title was "Jesus’s Feet." The customer kept repeating it with more urgency every time, "Jesus’s Feet. It’s Jesus’s Feet. It’s a bestseller, you know, Jesus’s Feet. " Well, I looked for that and then it occurred to me that she wanted Walking the Bible. Once we hit on that, the customer and I had a great laugh.

So, bring me your mangled, your botched, your half-heard titles while taking the kids to soccer and I’ll do my best to decipher your code and together we’ll eventually get you Girl with a Pearl Earring, not "Dutch girl turned to the side."

Periodically, I’ll post some of the doozies I hear, but please share with me some of the great mangled titles you’ve heard.

Rescued Treasures

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 5, 2009

As booksellers, we see and hear it all the time: that gasp of recognition, the soft "Ohhh!," the excited "Oh my gosh!" when a grownup encounters a long-lost friend in the form of a book. To witness a gruff 65-year-guy get mushy about Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, or a grandmother reminisce about The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, or a mom or dad sharing one of their own old favorites with their brand-new children — these are some of the small moments that make being a children’s bookseller the best job on the planet.

Customers love the real deal, the books that touched a chord in their own childhood hearts and still manage to be favorites with each new generation. When we opened our store in 1996, we wanted to make sure that books with enduring appeal had priority on our shelves. Let other stores carry the movie and TV tie-ins we didn’t have space for; we would always be a place you could find Harry the Dirty Dog and The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. And for the most part* by far, that approach has paid off. (*I admit we’ve had to beef up our superhero tie-in selection, or risk disappointing a lot of little boys.)

But for every worthy book we love that lasts through the decades, we’ve also seen others come and go. There were some individual titles that sparked back into life — Wende Devlin’s charming How Fletcher Was Hatched — and then died out again. In our 12 bookselling years, the marvelous Melendy series by Elizabeth Enright has been in and out of print a few times—currently in print, thanks to Macmillan’s Square Fish imprint. There have been great re-releases of books by Astrid Lindgren, Don Freeman, Eleanor Estes and Ezra Jack Keats, among others. Now that they’re back, I want them to stay! And there’s the rub — those books have to move, just as newer books must sell to earn their place in warehouses. But they generally have smaller promo budgets to back them, and many publishers are still looking for ideal ways to harness the relatively inexpensive power of the Internet to reach the school and library markets.

Back when I had eyes bigger than my stomach (must have been a LONG time ago, ha), I imagined starting a small publishing company to bring back some golden oldie favorites. I wished — no, yearned — for certain titles to find their way back into print: Ruth Carlsen’s delightful Mr. Pudgins, Scott Corbett’s entire Trick series, the Ruth Chew chapter books, and many more —all perfect for those insatiable new seven- to nine-year-old readers. To that end, several years ago, I started a thread on the Child_Lit listserv, asking those fine folks which books they’d like to see back in print. The responses poured in; I still have a thick file of replies from teachers, librarians, parents, and other booksellers.

Top requested titles? The Mummy Market, aka The Mother Market in the U.S (pictured at right) and the Ruth Chew books. Though my small publishing dream took a backseat to the bookstore, fortunately, there are many publishers, large and small, bringing books back into print. And so my next best bet is to harangue, cajole, urge, and plead for a few more kind, sharp-eyed, promo-savvy publishers to see the magic in these books, whose popularity and worthiness has already been proven, and whose readers are today’s Baby Boomer older parents. Boomers, as we know, do not shy away from nostalgia; nor do Gen X-ers.

 And so now would be seem to be the perfect time to capitalize on all that nostalgia we Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers are so fond of. There are at least 78 million of us, and we want those happy memories, even at a cost.’s June 2008 online issue had an article about this market for our palmy pasts, noting that "…[T]wo things seem remarkable about the current craze for nostalgia. First, it’s likely to get even bigger as 78 million baby boomers with $2.5 trillion in spending power grow older and more wistful for the "golden days" of their youth. If consumers look back most fondly on their early 20s, as some research suggests, then aging boomers should drive a renaissance of all things 1960s-related. Even more noteworthy is this: Younger people seem to be just as nostalgic. Sprott found that his research participants responded to nostalgic advertising themes even though their average age was only 21. And those folks who turn out for a Play Date evening of Chutes and Ladders? They tend to be in their peak earning years, not their golden years."

So publishers, hear our plea! Scan your archives for the true gems that deserve a second chance. Bring them out and then let everyone know about them! And please let them build their audience more slowly than your frontlist titles. I know there are obstacles. Backlist, even brand-new backlist, isn’t as sexy as the "great new thing," from a marketing standpoint. Therefore, promotional budgets are small. Rights can be a problem to track down and obtain, and might explain why some series are available in part but not in full. And I’m sure there are other considerations, too, about which I know nothing. But with the kinds of relatively free advertising opportunities available online (websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and the word-of-mouth power of blogs, I’d think a campaign targeting tech-savvy teachers, librarians, booksellers, and baby boomers could help drum up the volume of sales needed to keep these books alive. Or consider bringing them back as P.O.D. titles, but with terms that we smaller stores (who will be handselling them like crazy) can afford.

One important note: covers are vital. Most wouldn’t need an update—you don’t want to lose that nostalgic thrill of recognition on the part of your buyers—but others might need a visual facelift. Look at the success that Quentin Blake’s re-illustrated covers have had on the Edward Eager and Roald Dahl series. Since 1996, I have been hoping for a similar revitalization of most of the E. Nesbit covers. (Side note: I still dearly miss Nancy Eckholm Burkert’s edition of James and the Giant Peach, and while I like Blake’s paperback art for Half Magic, I am happy for the original N.M. Bodecker art on the hardcover edition. I think there’s a place for both versions in the marketplace.)

Later this week, I’ll be doing a post on upcoming releases of back-in-print books and the publishing houses that specialize in them. In fact, this will be a recurring theme in the ShelfTalker blog.

Readers, what books would you LOVE to see back in print? Booksellers, which ones do you just know you could handsell? Teachers and librarians, which out-of-print books are you dying to have back in your classrooms, and what’s the best way for us to let you know about them?

Here’s the trick to posting a comment: you may have to try several times, no kidding, but it will eventually go through. It’s that blasted code you have to enter; I try using ALL CAPS until it goes through.  Also, the comment will always cut off after a double quotation mark " — so use single quote marks ‘ instead of doubles, and you should be fine.

Whose Cereal Wins I Think I Know

Alison Morris - May 4, 2009

I promised a final Bookish Breakfast Cereal Contest wrap-up, and at long last here it is! As previously mentioned, Gareth and I narrowed the entries down to two finalists: Grape Nuts of Wrath (submitted by Erin McInnis, Nancy Mills and John Hamilton); and Robert Frosted Flakes (submitted by sflax and WouldBe).

From there I said we’d choose one winner, and we… sort of did. First, Gareth did sketches of the concepts we came up with for both cereal boxes. Those looked like this (click to view larger):

From there we tried to think like marketing pros and decide which cereal name we liked best, based on which really seemed like it would work as a cereal concept. (We basically took THIS approach because by any other approach we liked both suggestions equally!)

Thinking this way Gareth said he’d vote for Robert Frosted Flakes because he thought it was useful to have a mascot. (Obviously he parodied Tony the Tiger here, because Tony is, after all, the official Frosted Flakes mascot.)

Image-wise, I think the art Gareth created (milk being poured into a [dust] bowl) is funnier, but I would up voting for Robert Frosted Flakes too, but only because the marketing slogans/box text I coined for that one made me laugh harder than the ones I came up with for Grape Nuts of Wrath.

As you probably noticed above, for Robert Frosted Flakes, I thought Robert the Tiger (Tony’s long lost brother?) could be saying, "Whose bowl this is I think I know…"

For Grape Nuts of Wrath the best I could up with was "Put more than dust in your bowl!" or "Tired of dust? Fill your bowl with Grape Nuts of Wrath!" or "Turn your Dust Bowl into a Grape Nuts of Wrath Bowl!" Looking back maybe we could have just made Tom Joad the mascot for this cereal and had him spouting one of these little slogans, but… that seems almost more tragic than funny.

In the end, Gareth chose to do a cereal box design for Robert Frosted Flakes and spent about two hours attempting to create the art digitally, so that it would have flat color (like cereal boxes do) and look really, well, commercial and "cereal-box-like." What he got for his trouble is a lot of frustration — enough so that I wound up saying, "It’s not worth it! Just break out the watercolors!" WHICH he did, with these results:

Ta da!

Okay, maybe that wasn’t as fancy a finished product as you were hoping for, but I hope you’re still plenty entertained.

And now for some wacky cereal-related trivia… Do you KNOW who created the original design for Kellogg’s mascot Tony the Tiger? Martin Provensen!! WHO KNEW?? (Whoever wrote the Provensens’ entry on Wikipedia is who.) I stumbled on that fact while I was looking up something about Alice Provensen — AFTER Gareth had already re-designed Tony the Tiger as Robert. Weeeeeeeeeeird. Also weird is the fact that Tony once had a family. Yep. There was a Mrs. Tiger. AND a daughter named Antoinette. I hadn’t a clue.

And while we’re on the cereal subject, note that the deadline for the Cheerios Spoonful of Stories Children’s Book Contest is July 15, 2009. (Thanks to Fuse #8 for that link!) As the contest rules state, "One (1) Grand Prize of $5000 cash will be awarded. In addition to the cash prize, the Grand Prize winning story submission will be offered to a reputable Children’s Book Publishing company for possible future publication." The rules also state that publication is not guaranteed, but hey, when is it ever?

I know many of you have been sitting there coming up with some very creative marketing schemes and slogans for both Grape Nuts of Wrath AND Robert Frosted Flakes. Please entertain the rest of us by sharing them!