Monthly Archives: October 2010

Indie Bookstores: ‘Come Write In’ with NaNoWriMo

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 29, 2010

Want a great way to bring writers — a.k.a. readers, a.k.a. insatiable bookavores — into your bookstore? Host write-ins all November long by partnering with the world’s best writingpalooza, NaNoWriMo. There are materials for participating bookstores, including a window cling, a press release, several web badges and links for your store websites, even a list of suggested books for a display.
For the non-obsessive writers among you, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a period of 30 days formerly known as “November” that involves frenzied nonstop fiction formulating with a total goal of 50,000 words by the 30th. The focus is on quantity, not quality. Producing 50,000 words in 30 days pretty much guarantees that your inner editor had better shut up, or you’ll never get there. What a liberating idea! You don’t need to be good; you just need to sit down and write.

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program website

This novel challenge (dreamed up by NaNoWriMo founder and freelance writer Chris Baty) began in 1999 with 21 writers, and has grown over the years from a personal project to an international phenomenon numbering, in 2009, 119,301 adult participants and more than 35,000 kids and teens in 1,200 classrooms. A few years ago, NaNoWriMo started a wildly popular international Youth Writing Project; 3,000 school and library groups are participating this year.The YWP (read a terrific article about it here) has its own very appealing website and resources for teachers.

S.A. Bodeen's THE COMPOUND, a NaNo novel

Jessica Burkhart's TAKE THE REINS

As the “Come Write In” press release says, “NaNoWriMo is the largest writing contest in the world, with participants in nearly 450 cities and towns around the globe. In 2009, over 160,000 people took part in the free challenge. And while the event emphasizes fun and creative exploration over publication, more than 30 NaNoWriMo novelists have had their NaNo-novels published, including Sara Gruen, whose #1 New York Times bestseller, Water for Elephants, began as a NaNoWriMo novel.” Wouldn’t it be great to know that part of that book was born in your store? Children’s book and YA writers who have produced published NaNo novels include Amelia Atwater Rhodes (Persistence of Memory), S.A. Bodeen (The Compound), Jessica Burkhart’s first Canterwood Crest title (Take the Reins), Sarah Dooley’s (Livvie Owen Lived Here), Ann Gonzalez (Running for My Life) and Denise Jaden (Losing Faith). (One disappointing note, though: NaNoWriMo, which values indie bookstores, uses links to Amazon instead of Indiebound in its media kit.)
Bookstores can get involved by hosting write-ins — daytime or evening writing sessions where participants can bring their laptops, preferably drink gallons of coffee, and write their little hearts out in fellowship with their writing comrades. Since participants pretty much put their lives on hold for a whole month, these get-togethers break the solitude of NaNoWriMo and reassure writers that, even if they are totally insane to embark on this writing journey, they are not alone.
They also have the coolest merch in their fundraising shop. There’s a new poster each year, new designs for tote bags and t-shirts and mugs, and — my favorite of all — merit badges. Real ones, like the kind your older sister had all over her Girl Scout sash. These aren’t for starting fires and doing community service, though; they’re for things like Caffeine Abuse, Word-Count Padding, Random Ending, and Victory.
This year also marks the organization’s first Great NaNoWriMo Book Drive, which enlists the help of people from all over the country to collect used books, send them to be sold at an independent online bookstore, which donates the proceeds to the organization and literacy efforts. The book drive guide says it best: “To run this book drive, we have partnered with Better World Books, a socially conscious online book store that has diverted 33 million books from landfills and raised more than $8 million for its nonprofit literacy partners by selling used and new books online. Better World Books provides the online book drive portal, sends free supplies, transports the books, and offers guidance for book drive coordinators.” Bookstores might consider starting a book drive in their regions this year or next.

Picture Book Idea Month website badge

If you have lots of picture-book writers in your area, invite them to participate in their own version of NaNoWriMo. Writer Tara Lazar spun off the NaNoWriMo idea into Picture Book Idea Month, which charges writers with the challenge of, well, of what the title says: coming up with a picture book idea every day.
Are YOU participating in NaNoWriMo, as a bookstore or as a writer — or both? Let us know, and we’ll cheer you on!

Snapshots from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Vermont Visit

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 28, 2010

Laurie Halse Anderson in motion.

“Have you ever seen popcorn pop? That’s what it’s like in my head.” Laurie Halse Anderson is addressing a group of 150 middle-school students, one of whom has just asked the author where she gets her ideas. She adopts a cartoon baddie voice. “Mere mortals would be destroyed!” The audience laughs. The kids are riveted by her lively presentation, which is by turns funny, inspiring, and informative — a pretty good description of Laurie herself.
Halse Anderson (pronounce “Halse” like “halts”) is an author a wide range of kids can relate to, from budding authors to reluctant readers. She’s forthcoming about her early academic foibles, her bad spelling and back-of-the-classroom daydreaming. She tells anecdotes that make it clear she did not grow up in the kind of lofty, rarefied atmosphere one assumes might breed successful authors, but in a regular, struggling family, not flush with funds. She commends the great community college where her “brain turned on,” which led to a subsequent scholarship to George Washington University.

LHA talks to the kids about revision.

She talks about the importance of learning history, of knowing where we come from, of being shocked to discover that Ben Franklin and ten of the country’s first twelve presidents owned slaves. She talks about her passion for our nation and her hopes for the future: “We got a lot right [with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence], and we still have a little work to do until all people are treated equally and enjoy the same opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” She talks about researching history, and the writing process and revision, and the fruits of all that labor. And she does it passionately and purposefully, with kid-friendly pizzazz. In short, Laurie Halse Anderson is a school’s dream guest.
“I feel like it’s author Special Ops day,” she says, referring to the precision timing required to orchestrate her very full schedule of three school visits and a store event, to be followed by travel to her next destination, Boston. That’s enough to make most authors wilt, but Laurie seems as energetic at 5 pm as her morning self at 8am. It’s probably all the exercise; she’s a marathoner, splits wood throughout the cold season, and generally is in motion all the time (making it difficult for some booksellers to get good candid photos, ahem).

Students made this "Isabel" sculpture for Laurie.

It’s impossible to do justice to the day, but here are a few ‘snapshots’ of some key moments:

Laurie holds a student's copy of Chains. All those paper clips mark sections the reader especially liked or found important.

A student who can't bear to write in her books uses sticky notes instead. Can you say, "future editor?"

Laurie is facing an audience of about 100 fifth- and sixth-graders. “Has anyone read Chains?” she asks. Every hand rises; they have all read the book. Hooray! Not only that, but the school has made it possible for each kid to own his or her copy. This is a first; usually, multiple copies belong to the school. In the autographing line, I overheard one girl say, “Now they’re giving us books! How great is that?” Teachers shared how much the kids loved being able to keep their books, which also means the freedom to make notes while they read.

LHA reacts to a student's comment.

Same group. “Has anyone read Fever 1793?” A few hands shoot skyward; Laurie calls on a boy in a black shirt. “Sheer awesomeness,” he raves. She beams. “Did you have a favorite part?” He describes the scene where the main character, Mattie, is looking for her mother, and the people pretending to help her betray her instead. “That’s heart-pumping, right there,” he says. That kind of peer-to-peer review can’t be bought, manufactured, or forced; it’s priceless. We found out later that Sam is a new student at that school, and so his enthusiastic, confident participation — in front of 99 other students — both surprised and gratified his teachers.

The kid loves baseball, but he's rooting for Isabel in the series.

Laurie bonds with her audiences over sports. Baseball and basketball have popped up here and there in her presentation, with enthusiastic response from the kids. (They groan as a group over her joke about the Browns. And “Hoya Saxa!” has been shouted out happily to her by someone.) So when a boy in a baseball jersey comes up to get his book signed, Laurie asks him, “Who are you rooting for in the series?” The boy scrunches up his brow and thinks for a moment, then replies, “I’d say Isabel.” Isabel is obviously not a baseball team, but the name of the main character in Chains. Home run!

LHA wows the afterschool crowd at The Flying Pig.

A boy gets his book signed, hugs it briefly to his chest, then raises it to the sky with a double fist-pump. “Yessssss!” he crows, and bursts into a run across the library, stopping once on his way out for another fist pump. That makes an author feel good.

LHA enjoys a student-made film based on CHAINS.

Two girls do a loosely narrative interpretive dance based on Chains, and another group has made a short film dramatizing a pivotal scene in the same book. Laurie is moved to tears by the fact that these kids in semi-rural Vermont had connected so deeply to her characters. Her A/V helper is a student named Brick whose status at the school is forever elevated by Laurie’s asking him to be her PowerPoint (actually, Keynote, for you sticklers) right-hand man, and when she mists over, he offers to get her a tissue, and then brings her a box. Awww.

"Books free minds," writes Laurie Halse Anderson on the half-title page of FORGE, as a boy uses his fingers to keep his place in the book.

The students at the three schools Laurie visited today are just a handful of the 500,000 kids (!) who have had the pleasure of hearing and meeting her in person. Half a MILLION kids. That’s a lot of influence, and there couldn’t be anyone better to wield it thoughtfully, engagingly, and brilliantly.
On the way out, we overheard one student say to a teacher, “Mrs. Muroski? Have you ever heard someone talk and then you just really feel like writing a story?” We could practically see the popcorn popping.

Kindergartners and Commerce

Josie Leavitt - October 26, 2010

Every year the Shelburne Community School kindergartners come to the bookstore. They walk over, hand in hand, from the school down the road. They pile into the store, one class at a time and settle in the picture book section on our comfy rug. It’s a cozy tradition.
This year, sixteen kids, all fresh-faced and earnest, excitedly arranged themselves on the rug. They looked up at me and said things like, “I’ve been here!” “I was just here last week!” and “Can you put this on my wish list?” One curly-headed moppet turned to me and said, with a gravity befitting a 60-year-old man, “You remember me, don’t you?” Well, not exactly, but I shook my head vigorously and said of course I did.
The kids were supposed to ask us about running a business in Shelburne and we were supposed to read a story. No one really cared about commerce except they all guessed that we had been in business for one hundred years! (Wow, some days it feels like that, but….) Really,  they just wanted the stories. I read two Halloween stories, with my most convincing BOO, and no one was scared. In fact, they all knew where the ghosts were hiding in the book (having read it recently), so it wasn’t very scary. That’s a good thing with kindergartners, I think.
Elizabeth was on hand when the second class came in.  The beauty of Elizabeth is she owns the store and has published books. The kids thought that was fairly amazing. It was especially nice when the kids noticed that they had read her books from the school library. Eyes widened as they realized the real author was going to read to them.  Their questions to her were a little more interesting, although the most sincere kid rushed to raise her hand and I was expecting some thought-provoking question, but rather, she just wanted to share, “I have a friend named Elizabeth.” The kids were adorable and it was great fun to have half the kindergarten come to the store. Wednesday the rest of them are coming in for more stories and fun.
The walk around town visiting all the places that children might like is always fun for me. I think it’s great that kids who might not have ever come to the store, pop by during school. They can see how the teachers support us, and that sends a small message that the Flying Pig is a safe and fun place for them. We were very quick to let them know that they could just come to the store to look at books, they never had to buy any books with us, they could take them out from the library first to see if they really liked the books.
As they were leaving (getting 16 five-year-olds out the door is a lot like herding kittens), I marveled at the simplicity of “Find your partner and hold their hand.” That’s all it took and just as easily as they entered, they left, happily burbling about the bookstore.

Ivy and Beaners

Josie Leavitt - October 25, 2010

This past Friday we hosted Annie Barrows, author of the wildly popular Ivy and Bean series. Our event space was brimming with young girls ages 5 to 10 clutching their books, eyes wide waiting for the author. These Ivy and Beaners, as I started calling them, showed up early and were eager. And, it turns out, they were patient.
Annie Barrows is on a large tour with a very tight schedule. Thursday night she went to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Friday she was scheduled at a school in Plattsburgh, N.Y., four hours away, then she came to our store at four, which meant taking a ferry. Or, missing the ferry by three minutes, as the case was. She called the store and explain Continue reading

A Barbie Bonanza

Josie Leavitt - October 22, 2010

Wednesday evening we hosted the launch party for Tanya Lee Stone’s new book, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us. Tanya is one of the authors we’re lucky to have just around the corner from the store, so it’s always great fun when she’s got a new book coming out. A large crowd buzzed before the event, buying the book and having some wine.
Tanya’s research was extensive and it seemed that she had a great time doing it and had many humorous stories to share. She said that there was an even 50/50 split of folks who love or loathe Barbie, and everyone had a story about her. One thing I learned that blew me away was Barbie was really a feminist toy. There were many Barbie dolls that were cutting-edge for their time; one of them was Astronaut Barbie, who came out in the 1960s. Tanya explained that Barbie had every career imaginable, careers that were often inaccessible to women. Pretty cool fact.

Barbie collector, Peter Harrigan, author Tanya Lee Stone and photographer Karen Pike all pose for a picture.

On hand to join Tanya were the photographer of the book, Karen Pike, and Peter Harrigan, whose extensive Barbie collection was used for all the photos in the book. Peter has 590 Barbies in his collection and he was a wonderful source of information about all the accessories that the Barbies came with. What thrilled me was, all these people are Vermonters and they all came together to create a really wonderful and fun book.
Tanya really did some great promotion for the event via Facebook. She even beat us to creating an event invitation to send out to the Flying Pig’s Facebook fans. Facebook invitations are really a great way to promote an event. They look great, provide all the details, often with direct links back to the bookstore, and best of all, you can really tweak who among your friends gets an invitation. For the first time ever, I used the number of “I will attend”s to help me plan the refreshments and set up the room to accommodate the large crowd.
This event was loads of fun as all attendees had their own Barbie stories to tell. But perhaps the cutest thing of the evening were the questions Tanya’s young daughter, Liza, kept asking, like what page was Tanya favorite quote? Oh, would that be the page Liza was quoted? Why, yes it was. It was an adorable exchange between the author and her daughter.

Celebrating Boy-Girl Friendships — In Life and Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 21, 2010

When our family moved from San Francisco to Scottsdale the summer before first grade, my sister and I made friends with a brother and sister who lived about a half-mile away from us. Stephen was in kindergarten, his sister Libby was in third grade, and my sister was in fourth. Given the usual tendency of older siblings to vanish into their own world, Stephen (usually called Steve or Stevie) and I found ourselves thrown together for company, a lot. And it turned out to be hilarious fun. He was my very first best friend.

The fearsome foursome: (clockwise from left) Steve, Tiff, Libby, and me (the little disembodied balloon head).

The four of us played together every day during the summer, and every weekend during the school year, for five years. Our families took camping trips together, we built endless numbers of forts in the desert by our houses, we made movies with a Super-8 camera my sister was really good at using, movies that varied from wildly melodramatic to wildly funny (at least, we thought so).

Camelback Mountain (AP Photo/Matt York)

We sucked on rock salt pebbles sneaked from their water softener, played with their golden retriever, planned extravagant circuses and plays that we sometimes actually put on, spent hours and hours and hours in their swimming pool playing Marco Polo, spotted UFOs over Camelback Mountain, dealt with scorpions and rattlesnakes and jumping cacti (the typical hazards of our landscape), and admired our glamorous, laughing parents.
Golden eras don’t last forever, however, and divorce hit both families hard, as well as (a few years later) the untimely death of their mom, and, a few years after that, ours. But though my sister and I moved away from Arizona, we saw our buddies as often as we could when we visited our dad. Stevie and I weren’t great at keeping in touch (letter writing not being Stevie or my strong suit back then), but I loved seeing him at Christmas parties and catching up.
Yesterday, my sister called to tell me that Stephen had passed away, unexpectedly, a world away. I am still unable to quite believe it. He was 45, but I still see him as the wiry little five-year-old monkey who climbed on me the day I met him, calling me “Hey, baby, baby!” And the nine-year-old kid with the thickly-lashed clear blue eyes and goofy grin, always ready to play a prank on our sisters with me or find a new piece of wood to add to the forts, or sneak out in the middle of a desert night to hike around just for the fun of it, or ask embarrassing questions, or set up elaborate orange plastic Matchbox car racetracks with me for our Freakies cereal Freakymobiles. He was an early brother in my life, as well as a best friend, and the fact that he’s gone squeezes my heart.
All these memories made me think of those rare wonderful books in which authors get boy-girl friendships absolutely right. So I’m celebrating Stephen’s life by sharing some of my all-time favorite stories where a girl and a boy are best friends.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. Sure, Claudia and Jamie are brother and sister first, but they become best friends during their adventure running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and stumbling upon a mystery. Konigsburg gets the brother-sister dynamic perfect, with the kids calling each other on any whiff of fakey behavior and annoying each other as siblings do, while sticking by one another through every danger. When I read the book as a kid, Jamie reminded me of Stevie, both in personality and description. The illustrations even look like him.
Claudia and Duffy, by Barbara Brooks Wallace. Back in print through the Authors Guild program through iUniverse, this is one of a series of books about two best friends who get through very amusing (and sometimes slightly more bittersweet) mishaps and misadventures together. I just loved the personalities of these two kids. They were comfortably rumpled, flawed and funny — like real best friends — and, in this book, are dealing with what happens when a friendship starts to strain its seams and move in other directions. Duffy is a precursor to Hassan in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines: amusing, a little lazy, and extremely appealing. I can’t remember if I identified with his insouciant laziness or wanted to be his friend, but Duffy was great.
Peter and Veronica, by Marilyn Sachs. Another goodie from childhood, this was part of a series, which began with Veronica Ganz, in which the title character bullies Peter before they eventually become best friends. In P&V, they’ve worked it out and have funny adventures. What I remember most about this book, oddly, is a scene where they’re waiting for a taxi, and Veronica ebulliently sings out something like, “Anna Maria Alberghetti in a taxi, honey!” instead of, “I’ll be down to get you in a taxi honey.” In Arizona, taxis were quite exotic. It’s out of print, but still terrific.
The Big House, by Carolyn Coman. I love love love this gothic/comic middle grade novel about another brother-sister pair of friends. Ivy and Ray get taken in by a nefarious rich lady while their parents are sent to jail for fraud (Ivy knows they are innocent), and are each other’s best friends on the grounds of her large, cold mansion. They are fiercely loyal to each other; Ivy protects younger brother Ray by hiding/washing his sheets when he wets the bed. Mostly, though, they have a blast playing together. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an author capture the nature of childhood play (and fun and whimsy and goofiness and imagination) as perfectly as Coman does. It took me right back to the best parts of childhood.
Beyond the Mango Tree, by Amy Bronwen Zemser. This isn’t a lighthearted romp, but it’s an incredibly powerful story, and has one of my favorite characters in all of literature: Boima, a black Liberian boy who befriends a white American girl, Sarina, whose mother has “bad spells” and leaves her daughter outside tethered to a mango tree. Boima risks everything by climbing into the white family’s backyard and befriending Sarina. His generous heart and spirit are still very present with me, though I read this book years and years ago. While the subject matter might make it seem like a book for older middle-grade readers, I’ll never forget a librarian telling me that a third-grade girl who had never connected to a book before — never even finished one — devoured this novel, again and again. It turned her into a reader by speaking to her heart through this very special boy-girl friendship. It’s gone OP, which is a real shame.
Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. One of the Flying Pig’s long-time favorite handsells, this is the story of the daughter and the son of rival robber barons who are forbidden to become friends — and so, of course, do. They’re bonded by their love of the woods. This is my favorite Astrid Lindgren book, I think; it’s beautifully written and less oddly quirky than Pippi Longstocking. Before I am besieged with outraged comments, I loved reading the Pippi books as a child but always felt a certain distance from them. Ronia was immediately in my heart. This book so often becomes a treasured family read-aloud for families who visit the bookstore.
I polled some of my bookselling friends and colleagues for the titles of their favorite boy-girl friendship books, and they reminded me of so many great books! The following are excellent suggestions from booksellers Melissa Posten (Pudd’nHead Books), Carol Moyer (Quail Ridge Books), Leslie Reiner (Inkwood Books), Sally Bulthuis (Pooh’s Corner), Francine Lucidon (The Voracious Reader), Dolores Rojas (Rabbit Readers Children’s Book Club), Heather Lyon (Lyon Books and Learning Center), Sue Carita (Toadstool Milford), Carol Chittenden (Eight Cousins), Janet Bibeau (Storybook Cove), Susan Fox (Red Fox Books), Rondi Brower (Blackwood & Brouwer Booksellers), Andrea Vuleta (Mrs. Nelson’s), Donna Gerardo (Tilbury House Publishers), Liz Szabla (Macmillan), Alison Hendon (Brooklyn Public Library), and Kenny Brechner (DDG Booksellers).
Great Boy-Girl Friendships in Books (in addition to the ones above)

Harriet and Sport in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy
Jo and Laurie in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
The two families of kids in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons
Gianna and Zig in Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z
John and Marisol in Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love
Portia and Julian in Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away by Eleanor Estes
Jess and Leslie in Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia
Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series

Zummy and Lorrol in Blue Balliett’s Danger Box
Petra and Calder in Chasing Vermeer, etc., by Blue Balliett
Miranda and Sal in Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me
Zoey and Wheeler in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Beatrice and Jonah (aka Ghost Boy) in Natalie Standiford’s How to Say Goodbye in Robot
Amanda and Leo in 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
Willie and Lizzie in Jordan Sonnenblick’s Dodger and Me series
Raisa and Han in Demon King and Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
Ruthie and Jack in The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
Mildred and Jacob in Me & the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy
Mina and Michael in Skellig by David Almond
Reynie, Kate, Constance, and Sticky in The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Jeremy and Lizzy in Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Gabriel and Frita in The Liberation of Gabriel King by K L Going.
Max and Lola in Middleworld, by Jon & Pam Voelkel
Julia and Patrick in Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
Nawat and Aliane in Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Got some other favorites? What makes you love them?

When It’s Easy

Josie Leavitt - October 19, 2010

Yesterday, I just confirmed an event at the end of November, with Willem Lange for the picture book version of his beloved Christmas story, Favor Johnson: A Christmas Story. What makes this special is how quickly the event went from a reading and signing event to a true celebration of the Christmas spirit.
With three phone calls I made the event wonderful. I spoke to the contact at Food Shelf to find out what folks should donate. The need is great this year and anything non-perishable will be a huge help to the families who use the food pantry.
The second phone call was to Village Wine and Coffee Shop. Kevin Clayton, the owner, leaped at the chance to provide hot chocolate for the event. The third call was to the Open Arms Cafe, whose owner thought supplying fresh baked chocolate chip cookies would be a lovely addition to this holiday event.
So, in the span of 15 minutes, my event went from exciting (anything with Willem Lange is automatically fun), to cozy lovely, meaningful and full of community. No one needed cajoling or to be convinced to participate. It’s just so nice to live in a place where everyone is willing to help create a wonderful event, and in this day and age when sometimes everything can be a struggle, a simple “Yes, I’d love to help ” just makes my day.

‘Tis the Season?

Josie Leavitt - October 18, 2010

As readers of this blog will know, I have been away from the store for the last few days. While I was gone I got an email from a staffer asking if she could set up the Christmas books. Christmas — really?  It’s not even Halloween yet, but apparently our store was full of shoppers who were looking for holiday books. It’s October! I thought about it for a little bit, and then caved and called the store and told them to go ahead and set up the holiday case. One staffer was actually dancing when she heard the news. I’m still stunned that it’s not even November and we’ve already got the holiday books up.
When we first opened, 14 years ago, holiday books went up the week of Thanksgiving. I always tried not to rush the seasons, because it irritates me when I go to other stores in August and the Thanksgiving candy turkeys are on display. What’s the hurry? Why can’t we wait to have holiday books out when it’s actually cold out? Apparently, our customers can’t. So, neither can I.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been receiving holiday books since late July. For some reason, the publishers think that all bookstores have room to house holiday books for months before they go out on the shelf. So now, rather than having box upon box of books stored for a holiday months away, we now have them on the shelf, where our early-bird shoppers can actually see them, and better yet, buy them.
I’m curious: when do other bookstore put out their holiday books out, and when do customers start asking for them?

Busman’s Holiday

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 15, 2010

What do booksellers do on vacation? Browse in other bookstores, of course. We swear, it’s an addiction. We were on the tip of the Cape this week, and wandered into the nearby joints on Commercial Street in P-Town: Now, Voyager and the Provincetown Bookshop.

The front table at Now, Voyager Bookstore in Provincetown.

The front window at Provincetown Books

We love indies best for what they carry that no one else does — the quirky little gems, the regional treasures, the staff picks. And we like to see what’s in the window. (Sorry these photos aren’t the best. Both bookstores are WONDERFUL.)
After a bracing walk on a windy beach, we were determined to find a bookstore-and-restaurant combo we’d happened upon a couple of years ago. It turned out to be in Wellfleet.

We found the  used bookstore around back, which today was staffed by a congenial woman named Denise, who showed us a photo of the man who opened the bookstore back in 1934.
What first caught my eye inside this store were the bins of old comic books—hundreds, if not thousands, of them.

Just a fraction of the comics offerings here.

They have everything from my childhood favorites like Casper and Little Lotta and Hot Stuff and Scrooge McDuck and Archie to hordes of superheros, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Dark Shadows, scores of horror comics, and even comic books based on TV nature shows. I found a great Mandrake the Magician for my magician father’s birthday next month.
It was my good fortune also to find an early Molly Bang book, The Goblins Giggle and Other Stories, on

The Bookstore & Restaurant. (View from the water side)

whose flap copy she is described as “a talented young artist.” I love that! It’s fun to see a Caldecott artist’s book from before she was well-known, and to know what success her future would hold.
The bookstore/restaurant is situated right by a beautiful harbor. What a stunning place to go to work every day!

Partial view across from the Bookstore & Restaurant.

And what are we reading on vacation? Well, truth be told, on vacation we like to read (and do) things that are not necessarily our everyday fare. So below is a photo of Josie with a new serial killer book by one of her favorite genre authors, Chelsea Cain. And what did I decide to bring to the beach that day? A New York Times acrostic puzzle book. I never get to do those at home, and there’s something very soothing about acrostics.

Josie, happily clutching Chelsea Cain's new galley, The Night Season.

Elizabeth, indulging in some puzzling fun at the beach.

Successful School Visits 101

Josie Leavitt - October 14, 2010

This fall we’ve been blessed with great authors doing school visits, so I thought I’d take a moment and talk about what makes great visits. School visits are a wonderful way for authors and students to really get to know each other. More students are exposed to an author at school than might come to the store for an author event. I’m going to list the things that have helped us have great visits, and plan better for our upcoming visits.
• If you’re working with the author directly, be very clear on the timing. When authors plan, they can often plan many months ahead, as Cynthia Lord did this September. She planned four to five months ahead for her school visits with us. This allowed us to really work with the teachers, before they left for the summer, on arranging her visit. Cynthia also sent out a detailed letter to the schools she’d be working with, detailing what she planned to do and what she needed. When an author is that prepared, there’s really nothing you need to except make sure she gets to the school on time.
• Know the publicist’s name and contact info. I keep a file for each author who’s visiting schools. I’ve got the author’s name, contact name at the publisher, titles of all the books, school contact and phone number, school address and the author’s audio/visual needs. I then email my school contacts several weeks before the event with the A/V needs to make sure they have what’s needed. I email the publicist a detailed itinerary for the day of the of the visit with the school contact name, phone number, address, and meeting area.
• If you escort the author, make sure you’re a little early for everything. I try to remember that the author’s whole day hinges on me getting her where she needs to be on time. I also try to give the author some down time. It can be very grueling to do a day of school visits and everyone needs to recharge their batteries, so I always give the option of some alone time where the author can have a cup of coffee in peace.
• Treats are always appreciated. Gifts of thanks go without saying. We try to give every author a gift of some sort as our way of saying how much we appreciate their hard work. Lunch is always on us. Again, folks need to eat, and who doesn’t enjoy a good lunch in the middle of a long day?
• Set a reasonable schedule. This is where communication is key. Listen to what the publicist or the author says about what they can/like to do. Most authors won’t do more than 2-3 visits a day, so don’t plan five without checking first. Allow room between schools or classrooms for a bathroom or snack break. No one likes to go all day without food. Always have bottled water handy.
• It’s really helpful to have several months to plan. Schools are less and less flexible with “curricular interruption” than they used to be, so as much advance planning as you can give really helps the teachers fit the book into the curriculum before the author comes. I’ve always tried to make sure the kids have read at least one book of the visiting author before he or she arrives. I think it’s important to the author to have an engaged group of students, and it makes the event more fun and meaningful for the students. Work with the teacher ahead of time to find ways to make the author’s books work within the curriculum.
• If the visit is on short notice you need to remember that all writers can speak about the writing process, so even if your visiting author’s book are fantasy, as was the case with Catherine Jinks, you can still get her to speak about writing. Catherine led a writing workshop with a group of eighth graders that had them creating their own story and building a really good plot. The kids were jazzed about it, and I’ve heard from the teacher that they are all still working on their versions of the story. Cynthia Lord taught fifth graders about using a writer’s notebook that the kids now use every day.
• Get books into the hands of the students before the visit. This can be a complex process. Making sure the school has allocated funds for each student to get at least one copy of the author’s books requires some fancy planning, as schools can’t just give 100 kids a book any more. If the school can’t fund a massive purchase of books then it’s in the bookseller’s best interest to generate an order form to send home with every child at least six weeks before the visit, so books can be ordered from the publisher in time to be delivered to the kids. Order forms are easy to generate and they take the pressure off the school to fund every book purchase.
• Ask the teachers if they need any support from the bookstore. Sometimes a teacher resource guide or even extra bookmarks can help give the teachers the tools they need to really make a great event.
• Reconfirm everything a week before the event. Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding times, length of presentation, A/V needs,etc. Keep your cell phone on the day of the event. The bookseller is the hub of the school event, and if anything goes wrong it’s usually your fault. Be available to pitch in where needed.
• Lastly, stay for as many presentations as you can. You’ll learn a lot, it’s fun for students to see you in their school, plus after 14 years of bookselling, I still get awestruck when I meet authors.