Monthly Archives: December 2010

Shopping Local, One Store at a Time

Josie Leavitt - December 10, 2010

I belong to the New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council and we’ve got a pretty active listserv. Last week the thrust of everyone’s emails was how to keep shopping local during the holiday season. I know that spending is a challenge for everyone during the holidays and customers are always looking for ways to save, and it’s no secret that a local independent bookstore cannot compete with Sam’s Club, Costco or Walmart on prices for certain books.

One bookseller, Ellen Richmond from Children’s Book Cellar, Waterville, Maine, had a customer say, rather loudly when she realized that the latest Wimpy Kid cost $13.95 (its list price),” I can get it at X for $6.99.” Well, yes you can, but what the customer didn’t realize was X doesn’t actually do anything for the community. So, Ellen struck back with a poster that graces her front door.  I couldn’t have said it better myself. Folks often forget just how much their local store (book or otherwise) does in their community, and a poster like this is a gentle reminder to all who enter just how entrenched the store is in their town. Every bookstore is fighting for book sales and the competition is fierce. Anything we can do to help remind folks that we’ll always give your dog a biscuit, donate to the Little League and bring authors to your schools can only help our cause.

So, keep it local and keep all the independents vital parts of your town.

A Holiday Wish List

Josie Leavitt - December 9, 2010

As we are solidly in the heart of the holiday season, I wanted to take a moment to make my wish list for all independents for the coming year (in no random order().
– My first wish is for all indie bookstores to thrive, and not just at the holidays, but every day, when sales matter even more.
– I wish that publishers wouldn’t send boxes, or massive Tyvek bags, of galleys in the month of December. None of us has time to sort them, much less read them. These galleys would be much more appreciated at the beginning of year when business is slow.
– Along those lines, could publishers resist the urge to have new books come out after December 15th? Seriously, I doubt any bookstore really has the time to properly receive new releases when they’re getting five times as many boxes in every day just to keep up with restocking the store.
– I wish that customers would spend less time talking about how much they love their e-readers. I hear they’re great, but I don’t go to the Toyota dealership waxing rhapsodic about my Subaru. And I hope that the world takes a deep breath and remembers what an actual book smells like and feels like in their hands.
– I wish I had more time in the day to be a front-line bookseller.
– I’m hoping someone can explain the whole Google Books thing to me and how it works to sell Google e-books on my web site while Google sells them for less on Google.
– Secretly, I’m still hopeful that Baker and Taylor will go back to using boxes that aren’t super-glued together with such strength that my staffers actually bargain for who has to break them down. They’re great for team-building, but that’s about it.
– I hope that children’s books continue to be a bright spot in the publishing world.
– I sincerely hope that reading a child a book, an actual book, at bedtime will never be supplanted by a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or other device.
– I wish high school students had less homework and more time to read just for fun.
– I hope that all my customers who are fighting cancer have a better year and regain their health in 2011.
– And lastly, don’t forget that even though booksellers work around books all the time, we all miss getting a book as a present.
– Okay, last one really. Thanks to all of you who continue to support your local bookstore. You have no idea how much you mean to us.

Great First Lines

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 7, 2010

Sometimes, the only handselling a book needs is its opening line. When I picked up the ARC for Franny Billingsley’s Chime (Dial, April 2011), the first lines popped out and zapped me: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.” And the rest of the page is even better. That’s what I call a great opener.
For children’s literature aficionados, it’s hard to match the iconic first line of Charlotte’s Web: “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
I’m also a big fan of Frances Marie Hendry’s opening line to Quest for a Maid (a fabulous adventure novel for ages 10-14, in case you don’t know it): “When I was nine years old, I hid under a table and heard my sister kill a king.” (Nota bene: In a search for the cover image, I discovered that this unique gem of a book is OP. How can that be?! Probably because booksellers like me forgot to recommend it often enough. Argh.)
Avi’s provocative first line from The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is well-known: “Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.”
It’s not all murder and mayhem. Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy begins, “I am bit by fleas and plagued by family.” A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz starts thusly: “On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse singing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'”
How about M.T. Anderson’s hilarious beginning to The Game of Sunken Places: “The woods were silent, other than the screaming.” A better known Anderson blockbuster first line is Feed‘s “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” And another—he is a formidable formulator of first lines—comes from Whales on Stilts: “On Career Day Lily visited her dad’s work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.”
Hints of disaster and intimations of unusual worlds are always intriguing. We can’t help wanting to know what comes next.
Which sent me to some nearby 2011 galleys to see what unusual or particularly provocative first lines might await us next year. It’s a silly way to judge a book, of course; plenty of books with quiet first lines are absolute treasures. But book lovers are drawn to first and last lines; we can’t help ourselves. So here are a few new promising starts. (I’m writing at home tonight, not at the store, so I don’t have a full range of galleys to choose from, just a recent box of Harper ARCs, plus a few from Random House and Egmont. I hope you fine readers will chime in with your own favorites in the comments section.)
LARK by Tracey Porter (HarperTeen, 6/11) — “First he hit her, then he stabbed her with a small knife, but Lark didn’t die from this. She died from the cold.”
(Okay, yes, very violent, but the title character dies in the second line? That’s literary chutzpah right there.)
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver (Harper, 2/11) — It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”
(A cure for love? Love as disease? Definitely got my attention.)
FINS ARE FOREVER by Tera Lynn Childs (HarperCollins/Tegen, 7/11) — “At the moment I am sole heir to the throne of Thalassinia, one of the most prosperous underwater kingdoms in the world.”
(Underwater kingdom? I’m there.)
THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED by Dan Elish (Harper, 7/11) — “Like most of the students at the Blatt School for the Insanely Gifted, Daphna Whispers had her share of quirks.”
(A lot of set-up in one funny opener.)
THE STORM BEFORE ATLANTA by Karen Schwabach (Random House, 12/10) — “Jeremy DeGroot was determined to die gloriously for his country.”
(Name a boy who wouldn’t be interested to read further.)
BUMPED by Megan McCafferty (Balzer+Bray, 5/11) — “I’m sixteen, pregnant, and the most important person on the planet.”
(Well, allrighty then.)
FALCON QUINN AND THE CRIMSON VAPOR by Jennifer Finney Boylan (Katherine Tegen, 5/11) — Hum this one out loud to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”:  “Well the Sasquatch girls are hip, I love their fur all splotched with crud…”
(I will think of this line every time I hear the song now. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it makes me laugh.)
HUMAN.4 by Mike A. Lancaster (Egmont, 3/11) — “When Danny Birnie told us that he had hypnotized his sister we all thought he was mad. Or lying. Or both.”
(You had me at “hypnotized his sister.” And “lying.”)
FAERIE WINTER by Janni Lee Simner (Random House, 4/11) — “The woman who would become my mother backed trembling away from the man who would save her life, and I did not know why.”
(Neither do I, but I want to.)
KINDRED by Tamar Stein (Knopf, 2/11) — “The first time I meet an angel, it is Raphael and I am eighteen.”
(Personal bias at work here, perhaps: I love the name Raphael, and the reference to the Old Testament archangel interests me.)
BLOOD MAGIC by Tessa Gratton (Random House, 4/11) — “It is impossible to know who you really are until you spend time alone in a cemetery.”
(Really? I immediately want to test out this theory — and find out why the narrator says it.)
YOU’LL LIKE IT HERE (EVERYBODY DOES) by Ruth White (Delacorte, 6/11) — “When I was in the third grade on the California coast, a crazy man came into my classroom and started waving a knife around.”
(Something about the juxtaposition of third grade and a crazy man in the classroom is jarring in a way that makes me instantly believe it. I want to know what happened and how that affected the narrator.)
THE END OF THE WORLD CLUB by J&P Voelkel (Egmont, 12/10) — “The twelve Lords of Death were bored.”
(Simple, succinct, unexpected; sounds like something Christopher Moore or Terry Pratchett might write. I’m in!)
Good, aren’t they? What are your favorite first lines, either from 2011 ARCs or from books already out? (Please identify the books for people who haven’t read them yet. Great springboard to a new read!)

Ten on the Sled

Josie Leavitt - December 6, 2010

It’s not every day that we have an author event and that author not only lives down the road from us, but is also a good friend. Liza Woodruff treated us to her new book, Ten on the Sled, which she illustrated, this past Saturday. The book is a lively toboggan ride down a mountain with ten arctic animal friends. Adventure and hilarity ensues when animal by animal keep falling off the toboggan and into a snowball that’s racing the sled down the mountain. As each animal falls out, the book becomes a counting book. The rhyme is great, the book is a wonderful read-, the art is lovely.
It’s always fascinating for me when illustrators come to the store. Their process is such a mystery to me that I can’t help but be in awe of the work that’s involved in illustrating a picture book. She explained her process. First she gets the manuscript and then she starts with character sketches. Liza gave each animal a back story: the rabbit gets motion sick (although rabbit’s greenish tinge was nixed in the editorial process), the polar bear has a crush on the caribou, the fox is a safety nut, and the squirrel tries really hard to break up the polar bear and the caribou. These things manifest themselves in every spread, and add to the richness of the book as well as the laugh-out-loud fun.
Liza said she goes usually goes through three rounds of edits with the publisher from start to finish. From early sketches to gorgeous finished watercolors her work makes me smile and the amount of work that goes into everything still kind of wows me.
Liza plans a great event.  First off she baked these really cool looking polar bear cupcakes which were on theme and delicious. She also planned a great activity for the kids — making holiday cards. Quite simply they just had colored paper and made really cute cards they could give to someone for the holidays. Having a craft activity for a picture book makes such good sense because the target audience is too young to really sit through a longer event without having something to do, and it’s great for them to have something to take home.
Liza signed a ton of stock and it’s been a fun weekend of selling it. We’ll continue to sell all the books throughout the winter. And the length of a Vermont winter makes Ten on the Sled timely six more months, so that’s a win-win for all of us.

Wrapping in the Holidays

Josie Leavitt - December 3, 2010

The holidays always bring the inevitable question for booksellers: just how many books do you wrap for free? We are a small store and don’t have a wrapping station as the larger stores do. We also don’t have little elves who do nothing but wrap, like you find in department stores.
What we do have is an abundance of gift wrap styles to choose from. Some classic holiday-themed ones from snowflakes to a smart Hanukkah wrap. We’ve also gone green. Every style of our gift wrap is recycled and that seems to make a huge difference with our customers. Ironically, it’s led to more requests for gift wrapping. Because we have so many different styles of wrap we’ve developed a way to help customers decide what wrap they’d like. We’ve made a small poster board with samples of all of the wrap that we can show customers while we ring them up. This way, when we’re done ringing them up, they’ve decided which wrap they want. You know, you wouldn’t think this decision would take so long, but often this is the longest part of holiday transactions.
We wrap the first two items free and then we ask for fifty cents for all the next items, which we will then donate to our local food shelf. No one has balked at paying for the wrapping, in fact, some folks have contributed more, which is great. We ask that if folks have a lot of presents they’d like wrapped and the store is busy to come back in a hour or two. This is a simple thing, but it really helps us to provide help to the other customers in the store. No one really minds coming back. I think it gives them a reason to treat themselves to a cup of coffee down the street or to continue to browse in the store.
The staff has determined that I’m not a great wrapper, as they all practically leap over themselves to offer to help me when I’ve rung up a customer who wants something wrapped. It’s actually funny. And honestly, I don’t like to wrap, so I’m happy for the help. I have a tendency to either cut myself or actually uncurl curling ribbon, which then just hangs there limply and has to be redone. I know wrapping is wasteful and not good for the environment, but there is something lovely about a beautifully wrapped package, especially when it holds something as delightful as a book.

Being a Book-Aunt

Josie Leavitt - December 2, 2010

My youngest nephew turned eight today, and it was the first night of Chanukah. This kind of blending of two great events was almost more than I could bear. These two events on the same night meant only one thing: books, books, books!
I am blessed with two nephews who live practically down the street, who both love to read, so owning a bookstore is gift-giving serendipity. Chanukah allowed me to give my older nephew a new galley of the newest Bone book. There’s nothing better than giving a gift and watching a child’s eyes widen in delight as he utters a sincere thank you and heads to the couch to dive into the book.  Twenty minutes later we had the birthday portion of the evening.
Picture an easy-to-smile, bright new eight-year-old, who spies a wrapped box on the dining room table. As of now, he can’t tell what it is. Could it be a Lego set? Probably not, it’s too small. Clothes, not on your life. As he slowly rips into a corner of the present he sees the first Secrets of Droon book, and then his eyes positively glow when he realizes that his present has not just one, or two, or three, but 36 Secrets of Droon books, He practically quivered with joy and amazement and then burst out laughing, exclaiming, “I didn’t know there were this many!”
Did Elizabeth and I go overboard? Perhaps? But he’s moving so quickly through books that we were afraid he’d outgrow these by his ninth birthday. To see a child laugh with unbridled joy at receiving books warms my heart. He started thinking out loud about where on the bookcase the books would go. He’s never had so many books all at once and the prospect of a full shelf of his favorite series filled him with such joy. For the first time in his eight years he’s thinking about his burgeoning library: What books to keep, what books to donate, what books he’ll read again. These were all questions he was asking his mom as he stacked and restacked his new books. I think the fact that I saw him actually caressing his new books made me giddy.
Yes, toys are fun, but does anyone remember the toy they got when they were eight? Or, do we all remember the books we read as kids? I still remember reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle at nine and thinking this was the most marvelous thing I’d ever encountered. I still remember all the “Cures” she had. And secretly I wished that I had the “Won’t Take a Bath Cure” for my brother when I was growing up. I don’t really remember a single toy, outside of my Snow White watch, I got as a child, but I remember the Nancy Drew books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all the Great Brain books that lined my bookcases. I can recall everything about these books still, some 35 years later. And I feel privileged to help my nephews make some lasting memories.