Monthly Archives: December 2011

Book Talk Nation

Josie Leavitt - December 5, 2011

Several weeks ago the Authors Guild contacted us about participating in a new program called Book Talk Nation, which brings authors to bookstores around the country with one phone call. Last week we hosted the inaugural call with Katherine Paterson, who was being interviewed Tanya Stone.
This program could be genius. Essentially, the sponsoring store, in this case, the Flying Pig, hosts the event, though no one from the store participates. It’s like a massive free conference call, with all the participants calling in from their own home, including the author and the interviewer. Listeners can then buy books from the Book Talk Nation web site designating how they’d like each book to be signed. Then, the bookstore orders the books and the author comes in and signs. The Authors Guild provides mailing labels and the sponsoring store mails out the books.
This deal gets even better, because there’s a chance for other bricks and mortar stores to participate as affiliates thereby earning a commission when one of their customers buys a book through the Book Talk Nation web site. So, picture if you will, 50 people (that’s how many there were for Katherine) from all over the country calling in to hear the author interview. Anyone listening can order a signed book to be mailed to their house; how convenient this is for book lovers and how potentially lucrative for the bookstores. 
Thursday’s event with Katherine sold just over 20 books. Now, this might not sound like a lot, but it’s 20 I wouldn’t have sold otherwise. And it’s an author event where I know exactly how many books to order because they’ve all been pre-ordered. So, imagine how big this could get. 
This is easier than a Skype visit, although a smidge less sexy, but listeners have a chance to ask questions via email. What I love about this program is it’s reminding people that Amazon offers nothing like this. Increasing contact with authors can only help drive business to stores. The fact that all participating stores get a fairly large cut of the purchase price of each book makes it a win-win for all involved.
The next event is tonight through RJ Julia Books and this link will get you there, ready to listen to Judy Blume and get books signed in time for the holidays.

Pat the Seat Next to You, Christopher Paul Curtis and Jack Gantos – Here’s Crystal Allen!

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 2, 2011

Want my number-one pick for the sleeper tween novel of 2011? How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by debut novelist Crystal Allen deserves a Bubba-sized readership. It’s fresh, extremely funny, and compulsively readable, with a huge heart and a comically mischievous spirit.
Remember the first time you read The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, and laughed out loud at the scene where Byron gets his lips stuck to the side-view car mirror kissing his reflection on a cold day? Or the first time you met Joey Pigza and were swept pell-mell into that Gantos narrative rush? That’s how I felt sinking in to Lamar’s Bad Prank —the delight of discovering a bright new voice with killer storytelling ability and a particularly buoyant sensibility.
I loved getting to know Lamar, the lively thirteen-year-old narrator of this book. Lamar is a great bowler, but—despite his big talk—has no game when it comes to girls. He’s also an asthma-inhaler-carrying prankster, and tends to act before he thinks. He’s got a basketball-superstar older brother whose trophies fill the family mantelpiece and a dad who loves both boys but doesn’t seem to see bowling as the equal of basketball. Lamar’s got a best friend, Sergio, with whom he trades lightning-quick repartee and secrets. And he’s got a new love interest who happens to be an old acquaintance; she knows all too well Lamar’s history as a brash boy who’s played one too many jokes on an unsuspecting girl and goes for the laugh when sometimes he shouldn’t.
When Lamar learns that his bowling idol, the great Bubba Sanders, will be coming to visit the local lanes, he is bursting with enthusiasm and grand dreams of impressing Bubba with his mad bowling skillz.
But all of these relationships and dreams collide and falter when Lamar, in need of cash, gets roped into some ill-advised bowling hustling by a local ne’er-do-well kid. One bad decision leads to another, and soon Lamar is in over his head. Things fall apart in a big way, part funny, part awful and inexorable, and Lamar ends up needing to clean up his act and make amends to, well, not only everyone in his immediate circle, but pretty much the entire town.
I love this book. The characters are memorable and real. Great lines abound. It’s wonderfully written, with enormous kid appeal.  It celebrates both community and individuality (reminding me of Because of Winn-Dixie in this regard). It’s bursting with personality and strikes a great balance between lauding the funny, charismatic qualities of Lamar’s brashness while chastening those aspects that aren’t as wonderful (some insensitivity to others, the impulsiveness that gets him in trouble). I had one small quibble with an aspect of his penance that seemed narratively tidy — but the book is such a feel-good story and I was rooting so hard for Lamar, I really didn’t care.
The Junior Library Guild selected How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, but other than that kudo, I don’t think this novel has come near to reaching its potential audience. I hope you’ll all run out and read it immediately and recommend it to other readers. There’s a new author in town, and she’s written one heck of a great book. Give to fans of the authors mentioned here (Christopher Paul Curtis, Jack Gantos, and Kate DiCamillo), as well as Lisa Yee and Neal Shusterman.

It’s Not a Boy Read or a Girl Read

Josie Leavitt - December 1, 2011

Yesterday I got an envelope from Penguin. It was a one-page, full-color sheet designed for quick handselling. Usually, these sheets push the latest books from the publisher,  and are often not all that useful, but this list was surprisingly well rounded, making it a good resource.  Sometimes these “cheat sheets” come in very handy during the crazy times of the holidays. At the end of a long day there are times when my brain leaves me when someone asked, “What can you recommend for a kid who has read all the Twilight books?” I’ll admit that sometimes I just can’t think of anything, so having a quick reference of five titles per genre is a great device.
The hand-out has 14 categories ranging from the obvious: picture books, middle grade, babies and young adult. My favorite category is “Fans of the Paranormal.” The hand-out features current books as well as series books. This is especially helpful for families who know that their child likes a series, but doesn’t know what the next book might be.  The hand-out has covers which is a great way to help a bookseller, or parent, find the book.
As much as I really like this, and I will use it, one thing I didn’t like was the repeated breakdown of books by gender. I even got two sticker sheets that had ornament-type stickers that say: “Great book for a boy reader” and “Great book for a girl reader.” The stickers will never make it on a book in my store. A massive pet peeve of mine is the division of books along gender lines. Honestly, there’s no reason to categorize books along gender lines.
I see it every day when a customer says,”He won’t read about a girl,” when handed a book with a female protagonist. This infuriates me. Why won’t a boy read about a girl? Or a girl read about a boy? If kids are told at an early age that it’s not okay to read a book that feature the opposite sex, what are we telling them? That those books aren’t worth your time reading? That it’s not okay to read about boys or girls and that you must only read about your own gender? By limiting access or reacting in a such a way that no boy will risk reading about Ramona, and no girl will read The Great Brain? What a pity that would be.
Someone came in today and was buying Clementine and Ivy and Bean for her son and I was so taken aback that I realized it’s never happened before. The parent clearly got it. Her son found the reading level of those books to be exactly perfect for his reading level and he liked the stories. What this eight-year-old boy understands is it’s about the story, not whether or not they are male or female. Imagine if kids didn’t read about opposite genders: boys would have never read Little Women and girls might have passed on Harry Potter.
What kills me is the kids don’t start off feeling this way. It’s often the adults in a child’s life that subconsciously steer kids away from opposite gender books. Admittedly, not all boys are going to want to read princess books (although some might) but something like  A Girl Named Disaster is sure to appeal to both sexes. As a bookseller, the challenge, especially this time of year, is to just put great books in the hands of customers, whether or not they feature same gender protagonists. The way I like to do this is explain some of the plot without mentioning gender. Once the adult thinks the story sounds good, they’ll buy it, because like that one boy today knew: it’s about the story.