Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Best Blog You (Probably) Haven’t Been Reading

Alison Morris - September 30, 2009

Gareth and I were recently at a party during which the topic of "names" came up in conversation, with people weighing in on what names they would or wouldn’t give to their own children, how they’d felt about their own names growing up, what deliriously UNfunny nicknames they were tortured with in high school, and so forth. When I asked if anyone present had seen Laura Wattenberg’s truly interesting book The Baby Name Wizard, which charts the popularity of names over time, making it a really interesting study in sociology, I was momentarily shocked to have at least three childless males respond enthusiastically to my question and say they loved reading Laura’s blog on

Ummm… Excuse me? My unvarnished reaction was complete befuddlement over the response of these gentlemen, even after I’d taken into the consideration the fact that one of them is a linguist. STILL! Linguists or not, these are men — nerdy men — with no children of their own, at least one of them still single, and they regularly read a blog about baby naming?? I had to investigate.

Before I file my brief report on Laura Wattenberg’s Baby Name Wizard blog, let me first just state that, NO, this topic does NOT have any specific relevance whatsoever to my own current personal life. Yes, I just got married, but that does NOT mean that Gareth and I have plans to "expand" the size of our family just yet, so you can stop your speculating, just as I am going to stop looking askance at any man who mentions loving Laura Wattenburg’s blog now that I understand this simple fact: it’s fascinating — perhaps even more so (or at least in more ways) than her book.

The topics Laura writes about are just plain interesting. They explore surprising or intriguing trends in our society, inviting readers to ponder what our choices of names are currently saying about our values, our behaviors, and the ways in which we are using and/or changing language. This blog is, in short, tailor-made for word nerds like me. And many of you. Which is why I thought it would be the perfect fit for ShelfTalker.

Let me give you a few examples of (very) recent posts that I loved reading and pondering and think you might enjoy reading and pondering too.

In her post "The Name of the Future," Laura looks at a name that was recently submitted to the Namipedia on The Baby Name Finder’s website, to which parents submit the names of their children for cataloguing/graphing/commenting purposes. (A recent clarification on what names can/will be included in Namipedia: "Any user-submitted name page can stay in Namipedia if there’s a good reason for other users to be interested in it," which sounds fair to me.) The name up for discussion in this post is Ily. Laura’s advice: "Pronounce it like Riley minus the R." The person who submitted this name explained that Ily’s mother "first had the idea for the name when a friend ended a text or email with the acronym ILY, meaning I Love You," to which my immediate response is a somewhat dumbfounded silence. I mean, really, it’s not a bad name, sound-wise, but how do I feel about names that are inspired by instant messaging? And why didn’t I see this trend coming? 4COL*, what names will be next??! (*Translation: "For crying out loud!") I am a little fearful of the other names that may well be coming down this particular pike but admittedly interested in seeing if/in what ways this trend continues. No doubt Laura will keep me posted. 

Another fun post to ponder is "Romantic Pen Names When the Author Is a Character." In this one, Laura looks at the rather mundane pen names female authors of romance novels typically choose for themselves, versus the much more romantic-sounding ones they bestow on their characters. Her explanation for the differences between the two makes perfect sense to me. Read the post and see if you agree.

Finally, one more post worth mentioning here if for no other reason than the fact that it’s certainly got something to do with children’s books. "Naming an American Girl" looks at the names given by American Girl to its characters and subsequent dolls/books/insert product here. These names are both realistic or "plausible," historically, and very current in their appeal. After so many years of shelving books starring these so-carefully-named characters, why haven’t I noticed this before? Hmm.

Clearly Laura’s blog warrants reading by many more folks than just those looking for the right baby moniker. Visit it, go back through the archives, and let me know if you land on any other gems the rest of us should make a point of reading! I will, meanwhile, be doing the same.

It’s Show Time

Josie Leavitt - September 29, 2009

I have much to do today. Chief among my tasks aside from work and doing my Chinese homework (not something one can rush through) is planning for the NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) Trade Show which I leave for tomorrow. I love this trade show.

This year the show is in Hartford, Ct., not as New England-y as previous shows in Providence or Boston, but I hear the convention center is really great, and I’m not averse to change. There are many education opportunities this year — two full days without competition from the show floor being open. This is a great change. It’s always hard to be at s trade show and miss the floor, as many of did at BEA, because you’re choosing to attend or are facilitating, educational sessions. These sessions are where I get energized again. Great ideas are shared, as are frustrations. Being able to talk to other booksellers about the year thus far is fun and enlightening as you realize many have had the same struggles you’ve had with the economy and business.

There are many sessions to choose from, but the ones I’m planning on attending are: Up to Speed for the Holiday: Recommending Books from 0-60 in Under 70. This panel features many experts in the field recommending their favorite books of the season. I enjoy this kind of session, because there are always books that I’ve missed that I shouldn’t have. And I love hearing seasoned booksellers talk books because they’re so passionate about them.

For the next session I need to clone myself because both sessions sound good: There’s the session with Chris Morrow from Northshire, called Independent Opportunities for Print on Demand, a topic that has been discussed at the Flying Pig. I feel I have pretty good relationships with publishers, but the session Booking Lasting Relationships Between Booksellers and Publishers promises new ideas on how to sell more books.

Thursday night is the Children’s Dinner which is the highlight for me. I get to see all my friends in one place and the speakers are generally excellent. This year we’re lucky enough to have Shannon Hale, Shaun Tan and Mo Willems. It should be a great evening.

The unhindered day of education continues Friday, first with an author breakfast featuring Mary Karr, Anita Shreve and Sarah Vowell. I’ve got my tickets for what should be a passable meal (the breakfasts at any trade show always leave me craving protein) and three amazing speeches.

The education session after the breakfast is one I’m participating in: Enough with the Good Will. Come to it to find out how booksellers are getting innovative about money-making events. This is followed by the annual NECBA meeting. I would like to take a moment to thank Vicky Uminowicz and Kenny Brechner for their outstanding work as the NECBA Co-Chairs for the past two years. Their term ends with the trade show and they have worked extremely hard to keep NECBA vital and fun,  and I just wanted to give them a shout-out for all they’ve done.

There are many riches to this year’s trade show: Daniel Pink is the keynote speaker on Friday.  There will be a sneak peak at the show floor from 5-6:15, just enough to whet our appetites for Saturday’s full day of making orders and seeing what’s new.

Here’s hoping we all have a great show. I’ll be posting throughout the show to let folks know how it’s going.

Puppies and Candy

Josie Leavitt - September 28, 2009

I had a lovely Saturday at the Flying Pig. Customers streamed in and streamed out, all bustling about on an absolutely stunning fall day. I was working, quite contentedly, by myself, and as a consequence, I didn’t have to share any of the riches that come in.

First, let’s start with the puppies. Desmond, a three-month old Bernese Mountain dog, came in, all fur and exuberance, just wanting a little more socialization training. I was happy to abandon shelving to aid in canine education. Amazingly, half an hour after Desmond’s training, in came young Wesley, a very small nine-week old mini-Dachshund. He just likes to be held, and hold him I did. There’s nothing quite as nice as a warm puppy nuzzling in my neck with that oddly yummy puppy breath wafting up at me. As if the puppies weren’t enough, a teenage customer just brought in her four-year old Corgi, Rex, for me to meet. I love this — customers just bringing in their dogs for us to meet. It’s fun and there’s something really cute about all these dogs walking up and down our flying pig rugs. Dogs and bookstores generally make a lovely combination, as customers just love to say hi to any four-legged creature who walks in.

Generally, on a Saturday we can count on a puppy or two, but we don’t often get gifts until the holidays. Saturday, however, was a bonanza of chocolate. The first was a lovely box of handmade Vermont chocolates that a teacher sent us as thanks for arranging a visit with Shannon Hale. I need to repeat: I was alone Saturday. No one but me knew about the delicious candies. Usually, one box of candy would make the day special, but no, there’s more. A customer, whose book order I had consistently messed up, since March! and felt sufficiently horrible about it that I gave him the book with sincere apologies, came in to thank me for the free book with a pound of fudge. I was here by myself! The fudge actually comes with a tiny knife so you can just slice off a piece when you or a customer needs one. I may say I don’t share, but at 4 pm when customers are addled, nothing gets them focused again more than an unexpected piece of fudge (I love the Shelburne Country Store for knowing how we all eat their fudge). The last food gift came from the shopkeepers next door who brought by several squares of a new organic chocolate they’re carrying. Oh, it was a good day here.

The best gift, though, came from one of my favorite customers, who told me that her suspected cancer not only might not be cancer, but is contained within her kidney, so after her surgery, she’s out of the woods. So I sliced her off a piece of fudge and gave her a candy for after the surgery.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Alison Morris - September 25, 2009

A heartfelt thank-you to everyone who sent kind wedding wishes to Gareth and me, either here on the blog or on our Facebook pages or direct to us via e-mail. We tied the knot on Saturday, September 12th at a children’s summer camp, Camp Wing in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and we are now MARRIED! I am keeping my name so you needn’t start referring to me as “Mrs. Hinds” (though I won’t be offended if you do).
Those of you curious about the details of our wedding will, I know, want to see photos, but for now we’ve got very few of those, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for more satisfaction on that count. After our OVERWHELMINGLY talented photographers, Heather Gilson and Jon Almeda of One Love Photo, have sent us more pics I will most likely put together a post that includes a few more photos and wedding details, should you want to see such a thing!
In the meantime, this one shot will give you a sneak peek at our perfect (and perfectly rainy!) day. (Click to view it much larger on Heather’s blog.) If your jaw dropped at the loveliness and artistry of the shot then you’ll understand why Gareth and I were beyond thrilled when, after Heather Gilson and I struck up an e-mail friendship last year, she offered to photograph our wedding at a price that wouldn’t completely blow our (rather small) budget. She is a photography miracle worker and, as it turns out, no stranger to the book world. She contributed the photos to Chronicle Books’ Up to No Good: The Rascally Things Boys Do As Told By Perfectly Decent Grown Men, edited by Kitty Harmon and currently has another book in the works — this one wedding-related. AND her mom’s a former first grade teacher, so she knows all too well the joy and value of children’s literature. AND she’s just a peach. And a half! As is her other half, Jon Almeda, who now photographs weddings with her. Gareth and I had a blast hanging out with these two on our wedding day. They fit right in with our 115 guests (all beloved friends and family), and they were perfectly adept at keeping the wheels of our wedding day running smoothly, all of which is ALSO true of illustrator Anna Alter and her husband Bruno Trindade, who helped to coordinate Gareth’s and my wedding day, and whose wedding day WE helped to coordinate a few months earlier! Stay tuned for a post about THEIR special day. In the meantime you can read what Anna had to say about ours!

Naughty Kids, Flawed Kids, Unlikely Saviors

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 24, 2009

Today I had an attitude,
That’s what my parents say.
They said it was a bad-itude
And took my toys away.
So now I’m stuck here by myself
With nobody who cares —
I wish when they had attitudes
They’d send themselves upstairs!

I wrote this poem a few years back and sent it to a family magazine, which decided the premise did not strike an appropriate tone and sent it back with a note to that effect. Sincere regrets, etc. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t published—it is just a smartypants little poem—but I found the logic faulty: kids relish a little bad behavior and subversive self-expression in books; they’re a safe outlet at the least, and can be life-changers at the most.

I was an absurdly well-behaved child—due to parental insistence more than my own nature, I’m afraid—which is why, I suppose, I gravitated toward naughty kids in literature. I loved Eloise and the insouciance with which she strewed mild destruction in her wake. I loved the poetry of Shel Silverstein with its litany of dreadfully disobedient children, and John Ciardi’s cheerily doomed boys and girls in You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You (a treasure still in print, illustrated by Edward Gorey; don’t miss the read-aloud goodness of its Halloween poem, by the way). I couldn’t get enough of William E. Cole’s delightful (but now OP) Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls, a veritable menagerie of obnoxious children wreaking mischief and havoc. They refused to brush their teeth. They taunted sharks. They interrupted adults. They put MUSTARD in each other’s SHOES! And those were the good kids.

If I felt guiltily gleeful reading about over-the-top naughty characters who got away with things my parents decidedly would not have tolerated, I was alarmed and fascinated by the overtly obstinate. I never exactly identified with "terrible, horrible" Edie, Isabelle (the "itch"), Maureen in The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House, or bully Veronica Ganz, but they fascinated me, and I understood that they were, by and large, misunderstood (and what child can’t relate to that?).

The Secret Garden‘s Mary was shockingly pinchy and sallow. Although I wasn’t generally a sullen child, I certainly had my moments, and I appreciated Mary for being as ugly as I felt in my most unpleasant incarnations, or at least a close contender. I could feel the tonic powers of Dickon’s rosy cheeks and cheerful whistle—and, of course, the garden itself—on Mary’s prickliness, and it worked on me, too. Robert Burch’s Queenie Peavy is also angry for good reason; she misses her dad, who is in jail, and the shame and public teasing from other kids is a lot to bear. Her experiment with being "good" for a day has unexpected results.

I wasn’t lucky enough to be a child when Katherine Paterson’s brilliant The Great Gilly Hopkins came out, but reading it as an adult made me feel like an eleven-year-old again. Gilly is a much tougher cookie than I ever was, and I loved her for it. She said "no" when she meant "no." She acted mean when she felt mean. She stole money—from a blind man! She was horrible, and very, very human. I was astonished that Paterson "allowed" Gilly to be so bad, to be—worst of all—callously, ignorantly racist. These were brave decisions for an author to make, because they are so alienating to readers. And yet Gilly is lovable; her defiance comes from pain, she is smart and funny and a secret optimist, so when Paterson takes Gilly step by step through her slow transformation and unfolding, we believe it, and we forgive her. She learns how to be strong without destroying others and walling off her own heart.

There was a less well-known character who was as prickly as Mary, as difficult as Gilly, and as angry as Queenie: her name was Kizzy. She was the tough, lonely main character of Rumer Godden’s The Diddakoi—retitled Gypsy Girl in a re-release that is now also, sadly, OP—a "gypsy" girl on her own in the world and bullied to the point of collapse. It was an upsetting book to read as a kid, to experience children’s cruelty at its worst, but Kizzy’s resilience was inspiring and hard-earned, and her story (much like Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses) paints a picture of both true compassion and its ugly opposite. These were indelible images, indeed, for middle-graders trying to navigate the waters of who they want to be.

Finally, there were the funny flawed girls. There was something wonderfully reassuring about kids like Harriet (the spy), Barbara Brooks Wallace’s Claudia, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, and Constance C. Greene’s Al, four comfortably rumpled girls whose imperfections were sometimes funny, sometimes not. Their ill-advised choices or unlovely thoughts weren’t sugar-coated, but they came to realizations about themselves and others, and apologized, and were forgiven, and redeemed themselves, and moved on. I think that’s what was so appealing, in a nutshell: these girls proved that there was life after mistakes, that love wasn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. These were real kids, stumbling clumsily along, with as much laughter as crisis, and tender, vulnerable hearts beating underneath the bad behavior. When you’re a kid, and your brain is still transitioning from concrete, literal thinking to being able to see and tolerate shades of grey, redemption (untidy as it may be) is both nourishing and necessary. It’s a tasty dish for adults, too.

Who were your favorite "bad" boys and girls, and why?


(Thanks to Liza Woodruff for the perfect sketch.)

Books mentioned in this post (* = in print):

*Eloise (and series) by Kay Thompson, illus
by Hilary Knight (Simon & Schuster)

*Books by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins)

*You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi, illus. by Edward Gorey (HarperCollins)

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls by William E. Cole, illus. by Tomi Ungerer (OP)

Terrible, Horrible Edie by Elizabeth C. Spykman (coming back in print from New York Review of Books 5/18/10)

Isabelle the Itch by Constance C. Greene (OSI)

*The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase, illus. by Peter Sis (Yearling)

*Veronica Ganz (also Peter & Veronica) by Marilyn S. Sachs (

*The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illus. by Tasha Tudor (HarperTrophy)

The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden (later titled, Gypsy Girl) (OSI)

*The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illus. by Louis Slobodkin (Harcourt)

*The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins)

*Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch, illus. by Jerry Lazare (Puffin)

*Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (Yearling)

*Claudia (and *Claudia and Duffy and *Hello, Claudia,by Barbara Brooks Wallace (

*Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary (now with a very cute cover) (HarperTrophy)

*A Girl Called Al (the rest of the series is OP) by Constance C. Greene, illus. by Byron Barton

My Favorite Handsells

Josie Leavitt - September 21, 2009

There are lots of great books out there. Every day booksellers have the opportunity to literally place books in the hands of customers. The art of handselling is just that: an art. It involves quickly assessing what the customer wants, even when they’re not sure, and more quickly finding a  book for them to consider.  Often I will just hand the customer one book to look at. I find sometimes that pure confidence in your choice makes it easy for the customer to trust the selection.

My favorite books to handsell change with each season, but there are some that I just love season to season.  I’ve tried to pick one from each section.

A board book that I just love selling is Good Night, Gorilla. Charming art and a very clever story, full of humor, make this one an easy choice for people looking for a baby book that isn’t Goodnight Moon.
Perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, Sector 7 is a wonderful adventure. There is something so magical about this wordless book. Every time I show it someone I discover something new. Because it’s wordless, it works for a myriad of ages from toddlers through adults. Every once in a while, I have to really walk someone through the book, because they don’t trust a book without words, but once I get going, usually they’re right there with me.

Moving to chapter books, I have two that I love to recommend. I think of these as less common than the usual chapter books out there. I absolutely adore Johanna Hurwitz’s series that begins with Pee-Wee’s Tale. Take a guinea pig who teaches himself how to read by reading the newspaper on the bottom of cage, throw in a Central Park adventure and you’ve got a great book for emerging readers.  The other series I love to give to new readers is animal-based as well, More Favourite Animal Tales by Jill Tomlinson. This is a collection of three of the books; they are also available as single stories (there are six stories in all). These feature animals having real human emotions. I like that both of these are series books, so kids can really sink in and enjoy.

The middle grade section brings two very different handselling options. The first, Shug, is a fun book to recommend to girls (and boys) who want a little romance but aren’t ready for more than a first kiss. The book rings so true that kids actually handsell it better than I do. For kids who want more of a fantasy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is one of the all-time favorite handsells at the Flying Pig. I came to the book as a adult because my partner Elizabeth read it 25 times when it first came out in the 1970s, and it’s just so good.

There are so many young adults books that are great, but there is one that I consistently go back to when kids are looking for realistic fiction that is well written and deals with tough topics realistically, and that’s Sarah Dessen. Dreamland is my favorite book of hers because it takes the topic of abuse and really sheds a light on it. I always suggest that parents and kids read this one together. Another book that’s great fun to hand to readers looking for something different is Feed. Nothing sells a book better than the first sentence of this book: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
These are just a few of my favorite go-to books — books that don’t often disappoint customers, that I feel really good recommending and selling.

I’d love to hear from other booksellers about some of their favorite books to handsell.

Justifiable Reading Time

Alison Morris - September 18, 2009

Pasted below is a perfect gem of a poem by Raymond Carver, to which I think many ShelfTalker readers will be able to relate. This one originally appeared in All of Us: The Collected Poems.


Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.

Fall Leaves, Treats, and a Kid Named Gianna Z

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 17, 2009

Remember those friendly middle-grade novels where kids have everyday problems and their parents, while flawed, are not only functional but are also loving, funny, exasperated, and kind? Well, there’s a new one in town, folks, and it’s charming.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner follows a disorganized middle-grader, Gianna, through the trials and tribulations of her attempts to complete a major seventh-grade requirement in her state: the dreaded Leaf Project. The kids are required to collect, identify, and present (in any way they choose) 25 different species of leaves. It doesn’t sound that hard, and the kids have at least a month to do the project, but Gianna has a little problem with procrastination and distraction. (Oh, I love her; she is so familiar, with her lost permission slips and crumpled homework, her forgotten gym shoes and 11th-hour project efforts. Honestly, she brings me back to my entire childhood.)

Fortunately, Gianna is surrounded by organized friends and family; her male best friend, Zig, is her portable memory at school and helps her stay on track while studying at home. Gianna’s mother, a veritable model of organization, has a hard time understanding Gianna’s well-meaning but haphazard ways. As if the usual school requirements weren’t distracting enough, Gianna’s grandmother has started to have increasingly alarming little memory moments; she leaves her teeth in the refrigerator (no biggie) and forgets she’s put cookies in the oven (biggie). SPOILER ALERT: Usually, a close relationship with a grandparent in a novel is a sure harbinger of grief ahead. The more loving the grandparent, the more likely he/she is to die by book’s end. Without giving away too much, let’s just say that the author here takes a less-trodden path.

Gianna has a great outlet for her energy and anxieties: she’s a runner on the track team, a star sprinter. But unless she can bring up her grades and complete the leaf project on time, she won’t be able to compete in a very big meet. The obstacles between Gianna and her completed leaf project are many; some are comical (a scene where she essentially steals a leaf from the principal’s yard is very funny), and some are more serious (a running rival has it in for Gianna and her project; Gianna has a legitimate excuse for one lost deadline when her grandmother goes missing). There’s a budding romance that starts when her feelings for Zig start to confuse her.

What I love about this book is how solid and fun and comfortable it feels to be in Gianna’s world. Even though she struggles mightily with her own failings, trying to find the strengths within them, her life is essentially a solid, relatively safe one, and there’s something so appealing about that. There are quirky details, too, treated matter-of-factly; Gianna’s family runs a funeral parlor, and occasionally her dad picks her up from school in the hearse (at least the back is always empty; it would show disrespect to make the deceased run errands).

Messner (shown at left) is wryly observant but always warm in her portrayal of her characters. She herself is a seventh-grade teacher in addition to being a writer, which gives her school scenes and kid dynamics that added ring of authenticity. The characters are well-rounded and memorable, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Gianna is a great kid you’ve surely met somewhere in your life. It was frankly a surprise to me how well the author wrote about a disorganized character, since she is one of the best-organized people I’ve ever met.

Earlier this month we hosted Gianna Z‘s launch party, since the author lives not too far away across Lake Champlain, in a town which (sadly) has lost its independent bookstores. The party was a pleasure. Kate Messner and her family brought delicious "Grandma’s funeral cookies" (a version of Mexican wedding cookies), and candy corn, and we had drinks and more cookies. She had a raffle for teachers and librarians; the prize winner received a future free author visit from Kate.

She also brought leafy branches she laid out on two tables in the front of the room for kids and adults to identify after her reading (which was excellent, by the way—clear and engaging and just long enough) and she came prepared with prizes for everyone who identified any two leaves out of the three or four types. The tables were humming with activity. Turns out it’s not THAT easy to identify leaves. We used tree identification booklets; Kate brought several of these, an amazing little resource called Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves by May T. Watts, one of a group of pocket field guides worth investigating. (At left, a group of leaf investigators.)

Kate also brought her son’s incredibly well-organized seventh-grade Leaf Project notebook from a few years ago, which was fun to leaf through (arr arr), and her younger daughter proved to be a valuable ally in the leaf identity challenge. A mere seven or so years old, she was an expert on the subject and helpfully guided our group through some tricky identification questions involving numbers of lobes.

This event was terrific not only because it had a good turnout (thanks in part to Kate, who supplements bookstore promotion with her own mailings and social networking skills), but also because the atmosphere the author created was one of collaboration and warmth. Not only did she thank the bookstore for hosting the event, she praised independent bookstores as a vital and necessary and valuable part of the fabric of a community. She also took the time to introduce to the audience several authors who were attending her reading, a gracious gesture that spoke volumes about her generosity—a trait she shares with her characters.

Art Books for the Toddler and Beyond

Josie Leavitt - September 16, 2009

This week has been a tremendous week for books about art for young children.  Amid the boxes that have flooded my store (have I mentioned the tractor trailer truck from Hachette last week that unloaded so many boxes, my staffer kept saying, "This must be a duplicate order"?) I have noticed some downright lovely books featuring art.

For the youngest child, there is a stunning ABC book, My First ABC from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This ABC book is sturdy, and like the best board books, the text is spare and the art is big.  This is not a board book based in snobbery or elitism. It is based on the simple format ABC: a letter and a picture with extraordinary examples. For A there is the Apples painting by Paul Cezanne. K is Mother’s Kiss by Mary Cassatt. P is a peacock from a 1610 painting, Krishna Dancing from the Garden of Delights. Art lovers, illustrators and parents yearning for a little something different will find this book a treasure. Babies will like the pictures, which show different examples of things they might already know. And the pages are just as good to chew as other board books.

For children just a little older there is the artist study book, Monet’s Impressions: Words and Pictures by Claude Monet. This slender, yummy book is something to spend time with. Designed for younger readers with thick picture book pages, each page features a sentence and an art piece. It’s not as simple as the alphabet book, some of the phrases are meant to be puzzled over. For example the phrase "Light spilling everywhere" is accompanied by the painting Landscape at Zaandam. The light isn’t as obvious as it could be, and the painting draws the viewer, making you seek out the warmth of the sun. I don’t know that all kids will have patience for this book, but for parents who take the extra effort and encourage their kids to just look and not get impatient, I suspect this book could become a requested favorite.

Then there’s the "let’s sneak art in" book, Mitzi’s World: Seek and Discover More Than 150 Details in 15 Works of Folk Art. by Deborah Raffin and paintings by Jane Wooster Scott. Mitzi is a charming black and white little dog wearing a red collar, traisping through some really lovely folk art paintings. The objects to find vary from easy to a little more challenging. I particularly like the catchy rhymes that direct the reader on what to search for. Not only are there many things to look, but all the seasons are represented as are different settings, country, farm, city, etc. Kids who might be a little young for the Where’s Waldo books will love this, as will parents and grandparents who favor folk art  There is some really great end matter that explains the different styles of folk art and asks what kind of styles were used in the book. 

Lastly, there is a book for older kids, Looking at Pictures: An Introduction to Art for Young People, Revised Edition by Joy Richardson. This book uses art from the renowned British National Gallery. The layout of the book is from the prospective of filling and organizing a gallery. Children who may be thought of more as inventors will actually pore over this book. There are fascinating details on restoration, repairs and using modern techniques to learn more about each piece. Charlotte Voake has added illustrations throughout to point the reader toward some informational tidbit or art technique. This book is a great sampling of what the world of art history can hold — it’s not just old paintings, there are stories to be told. Each choice of the artist has a reason and they are presented with humor and insight that will make the curious want to know more.

I certainly wish my exposure to the great works of art had started when I was a baby. How lucky kids are today to have such riches before them. And I’m keeping my review copies of these books because they’re everything I wanted from Art History but never got — the fun stuff.

The Best Book You’ve Read in the Past Ten Years

Alison Morris - September 15, 2009

We’re currently conducting an interesting exercise at Wellesley Booksmith that I thought some of you might like to participate in as well. This October marks the 10th anniversary of our store’s opening, and as such our front window will be featuring our staff’s individual selections of the best book each of us has read in the last 10 years. (Not the best book published in the last 10 years, mind you, the best book we’ve each READ in the last 10 years. This means we don’t have to get picky about publication dates!) We plan on asking our customers to write to us about their "best in 10" choices too, and will publish their responses in our store’s biweekly newsletter — one or more per week for the next year, just to keep the celebration going. 

I’m going to keep this post very short, because I know what’s happening right now — the jukebox of your brain is flipping rapidly through its ENORMOUS storehouse of titles, as you try (what a challenge!) to decide which book is the best YOU’VE read in the last 10 years. I myself have had at least 48 hours to ponder this question and… I’m still debating. My current frontrunner is Jim the Boy by Tony Earley, but I waver every few minutes, thinking maybe I should replace it with another favorite, of which I’ve simply got TOO many!

But how about you? Can you narrow the available choices down to just ONE book you would feel comfortable calling "the best book you’ve read in the past 10 years?" If so, please tell us what it is and (if you want to enlighten us still further) why that was the one you chose!