Monthly Archives: March 2012

Getting Crafty at the Flying Pig

Josie Leavitt - March 30, 2012

Last night we hosted our first-ever craft event for adults. DIY expert Joanne Palmisano, who has a great new book out, Salvage Secrets: Transforming Reclaimed Material into Design Concept, led the activity. We decoupaged old lamps and made them into something delightfully stylish and lovely. I had never decoupaged anything, in fact I had to look up what it meant. It means to decorate something by glueing paper cutouts on it. It sounds simple and is actually really easy and so transformative. Let’s face it, some of the lamps we started with weren’t beauties, but by the end, they were really great looking.
Joanne brought all the supplies we needed, from the lamps, to the glue, to the really cool wrapping paper (a great way to spiff up a lamp and relatively inexpensive) and even an old dictionary. Joanne’s intern spent much of the week going to every Goodwill, Salvation Army and recycle place to find the 20 lamps we needed. They may not look like much, but by the time we were done, they had been transformed. Joanne was an excellent teacher and folks were put at ease right away.

Dana and Hadley work on their matched set of lamps

Folks, all women and including two sets of mothers and daughters, each picked out their lamps. The cutest thing was both moms and daughters choose matching lamps that were pink with one large lamp and one small lamp.  I am not a crafty person. I’m not good with scissors or glue, so I really just watched this event. People were so happy. The whole room was full of joyfully concentrating people and this is not something I see every day. All the lamps were different and clearly reflected the decoupager. It sort of amazed me what glue, paper and scissors was doing for the moods of all involved. I glimpsed a tiny bit of what if must be like to be crafty and be able to make beautiful things from humble beginnings.

Allison's finished lamp. She's eight and this is gorgeous.

I was struck also by the eagerness the women had for us to sponsor more events like this. Joanne had her very good friend, Shannon Quimby, another DIY expert, with her. The two of them see old things as a challenge. I see an old beat up suitcase, Shannon sees a dog bed. Joanne sees a truly ugly lamp and can envision it as a stunning lamp with very little effort. Their enthusiasm for turning the not-so-beautiful into beautiful was infectious. People were brainstorming other things we could do, like make picture frames and holiday ornaments from scraps and buttons.

The finished lamps were really quite remarkable. The lamp at the right was painstakingly done by an eight-year-old who cut individual flower petals from the gift wrap she chose. Joanne said that while tearing the paper might seem easier, it leaves a white edge, so everyone shared the seven pairs of scissors we managed to scrap together. In the end, the lamps were shellacked and ready to go home with their creators. People knew exactly where they would go and Joanne told everyone where to go to buy matching shades.
So often we don’t create anything in the modern world. We listen, we absorb, we surf the internet, but I’ve never had a store event where folks walked away with something they could use for the rest of their lives in their homes. There was something alien about this as I’m not someone who thinks about creating these things. It was lovely to see all these happy faces creating their beautiful lamps and feeling really good about taking something that might have been thrown away and making it into something they were proud of and couldn’t wait to display in their houses.


A Peek Inside ‘The Hunger Games’ with Movie Producer Jon Kilik

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 29, 2012

Jon Kilik. (Photo credit:; click image for source article)

We may live in a small state, but big things do happen here. On Sunday, we had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session with Hunger Games movie producer, Jon Kilik, who who addressed everything from why the Cornucopia is gray instead of gold to (sort of) why Peeta didn’t lose his leg.
Kilik graduated from the University of Vermont in the 1970s and still has strong ties to the community. He spoke to two groups of moviegoers at special ticketed showings at the Williston, Vt. Majestic 10 movie theater after the screenings. (To make the $20 ticket fee even more worthwhile, the event was a fundraising effort for the UVM Film and Television Studies Department, in memory of a beloved professor, Lucille Jarvis, and it raised about $5,000.)
Before the Q&A, we hadn’t realized just how impressive and varied is Mr. Kilik’s resume. He’s produced some of the most provocative, beautifully made, unconventional films of the past 25 years, including Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Dead Man Walking, Basquiat, Pleasantville, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Berlin, the upcoming The Comedian, and many more. He’s got nearly 40 films to his credit, from comedies to intense dramas to documentaries. His interest in telling true stories both faithfully and dramatically helps explain why The Hunger Games stays so close to the book. (Also helpful, of course, was Suzanne Collins’s role — she’s an industry veteran — as screenwriter and executive producer.)
What follows is as close a verbatim accounting of some of the questions and answers as my thumbs could manage on my iPhone. My fingers were flying! The audience members came up with some terrific questions, and I was impressed by Mr. Kilik’s thoughtful, good-humored responses. He was wonderful. I’ve paraphrased anything I wasn’t able to quote exactly, so you’ll be able to distinguish between what he actually said (in quotes) and what I took away from what he said (not in quotes). Often, he said much more during a response than I could capture. It was a treasure of an opportunity for someone who loves both books and film, and I’m still aglow at having been there.
For a more proper interview (and there are many out there!), check out this one in Vermont’s arts weekly, Seven Days.
Q: You’ve never made this kind of movie before [not sure if the questioner meant a movie for kids, or a dystopian action film]. Why did you decide to do this one?
Kilik: “I saw it as a future that we’re almost in today.” [He likened the story to life in high school, and spoke of its relevance to our society today.] “Although it takes place in the future, it’s not really science fiction. It’s allegory for our times. If it were just fantasy, I don’t think [the huge popular response to the story] would be the thing that it is today.”
Q: “How do you keep the audience from being complicit in the killing of the other characters?”
Kilik: “That’s the challenge of making this film. The author had a father who was in Vietnam when she was 12, and she had nightmares about not knowing where he was or whether he was alive. Suzanne Collins wrote this with that memory, and today watching the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan and then flipping channels to a TV show like Survivor, they all started blending together and she wanted to address that. It’s the fog of war, the nightmare of what it could be like. She was, like David Lean, trying to write an anti-war movie.”
[One audience member had used the phrase “survival story” when asking a question of UVM professor emeritus Frank Manchel, who introduced Jon Kilik. Kilik picked up on that.] “Yes, I’m glad you used that word, ‘survival.’ The Hunger Games is about survival, not killing. I think that’s an important distinction when talking about the story.”
Q: Will there be a second movie?
Kilik: “It will happen. I hope it gets made by the same group who made this one happen. The Hunger Games was made like a little indie film. We made the movie without any interference. [He spoke about how many studios had turned down the movie, thinking it was untenable because of the violent premise, and how Lionsgate, who bought it, really let them have free rein because the expectations for success were low.] “It was like dancing through the raindrops. Now that it’s a hit, a lot of people are going to want to get involved and try to be smarter than we were, and as you know, that’s always a disaster.”
Q: How did the book get in your hands?
Kilik: “[Hunger Games director] Gary Ross has two 16-year -old twins who told him about this book.” [There was a lot more here about how they rely on enthusiasm and suggestions from kid readers in their families, and in friends’ families. Yay, kids!]
Q: How did you get to be the ones to make the movie?
Kilik: “There were other directors that the studio who had the rights to it had a list of, but Gary was very aggressive about it.” He spoke about how much they wanted to do it, and how persistence and a good plan won out.
Q: How did you feel about the actors?
[Kilik was very enthusiastic and warm about the entire cast; I couldn’t type fast enough to catch it all. After many  accolades for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, he had some special words about the actor who plays Peeta.] Kilik: “In addition to Jennifer Lawrence—who carried the movie on her back — Josh Hutcherson is our secret weapon, the heart and soul….”
 Q: The movie stayed really close to the book, which doesn’t always happen. Why did you decide to do that when so many Hollywood movies don’t?
Kilik: “I’m always trying to find the most honest way to make the film. Follow the road that the author has set up for you and stay close. Follow that truth. And these are just great actors, too.”
Q: Why did you decide not to have the dead tributes in the muttations?
Kilik: “We were trying to make the movie as real as possible, not to take you out of the movie. It was starting to feel like something that was too big. It would have opened up a whole other set of questions. It’s the end of the movie; it’s got to end without opening up a whole lot of other questions. Did you miss it?”
Q: [pause for thought] I just noticed it.
Q: Why didn’t Peeta lose his leg in the movie?
[I was so distracted by trying to remember how much we knew about Peeta’s leg having been mauled by the muttations and subsequently amputated and replaced with an artificial limb, and when we knew it—that I can only paraphrase Kilik’s response. He basically said that they had made some decisions about that that would affect the subsequent movies.]
Q: The scene with Snow and Seneca Crane in the garden wasn’t in the book. How did you think of that?
Kilik: “There was a little bit of creative license. If we stayed to exactly what was in the book, it might have gotten boring. We wanted to define the antagonist a little more, and give the audience different settings like the Game Center and the rose garden scene. And that gives you a little more character development.”
Q: The book had so many of Katniss’s thoughts. I wondered how you were going to do that, whether you were going to use voice-over, but you didn’t do that. How did you make us know what she was thinking?

Dark theater + iPhone + distance = this photo. Apologies. (We were actually much farther away than the photo indicates.

Kilik: “The book is very much first person; it stays in Katniss ‘s head. When you see it, it’s very first-person narrating style and editing style – you are really in her shoes. We kept pushing the camera into the actors until it felt real. You’re really in her face constantly. It’s very visceral. She’s got such great expression that even without the sound on you can see what she’s feeling.”
Q: Why did you change the way Katniss got the mockingjay pin?
Kilik: [Acknowledges that this was one of the changes they talked a lot about with Suzanne and the other writers and producers. In the end, he said, they just went for a certain kind of storytelling efficiency.] “The movie’s two hours and 20 minutes; we wanted to keep it tight and not introduce a lot of extra characters. [He talked a little more about these kinds of changes.] “Knowing how many fans there were of the book; the fear of getting it right when you respect the material and want to do the best with it and if you just miss by a little bit it’s going to be a problem.”
Q: In the book, the Cornucopia is gold, but in the movie, it’s gray. Why?
Kilik: [laughs, nods] “It would have been nice golden, but it was the type of metal we had to work with…. Yeah. It might have been nice a different color.”
Q (this is the one I asked): In the midnight showing on Thursday, there were lots of younger kids, nine and ten years old, in the audience. In that showing, there were cheers when some of the ‘enemy’ Tributes were killed. I was hoping there would be some conversations in the car on the way home, but what would you say to those younger kids who are watching the movie to help keep the larger themes in mind?
Because I had asked the question, I didn’t want to be rude and look down at my phone, typing, while he answered, so unfortunately I don’t have any verbatim quotes on this question. He spoke again about its anti-war message, and the fact that it’s a story about survival, and that kids are rooting for Katniss and Peeta and are seeing the other Tributes as the enemy in that context. That it’s a war, and that’s what war does. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t really address the question of what age kid should be going to see this movie, but the question that came right after mine, from a little girl around seven or eight in the row behind me, answered that one pretty definitely.
Q: I was wondering, how did the kids get hurt in the movie but not in real life? I didn’t understand how that happened.
[And that really says it all about how old an audience member should be to see this film. There was a collective audience gasp and “awww/ohhhhhh” of realization at this. It was heartbreaking and exactly that bucket of cold clear water people who get caught up in national trends need to keep in mind. Children have gaps in experience and knowledge and development, some of which don’t even occur to us. I fervently hope parents will pay attention, talk to their kids about this stuff, and not just get swept away by the “everybody’s going to this movie!” mentality. Argh.]
Kilik: “That’s the magic of movies. It’s make-up and special effects.”
In a way, it was the most appropriate possible question to end the Q&A. I’m sure there was a lot of conversation in that family’s car on the way home, both about special effects, and about the meaning of a movie meant to excoriate war by showing war. And for those of us in the bookselling and movie industries, selling a story to children, it keeps fresh that all-too-easily blurred line where content and commerce collide.

A Gift Certificate Conundrum

Josie Leavitt - March 28, 2012

We issue gift certificates, like almost every other store in the country. Yesterday there was a customer exchange that made me think very hard about my policies and how flexible (or not) I should be.
A customer came in while I was at lunch and explained to my very patient staffer that in 2005 she was given a notecard from her students saying there was a gift certificate waiting for her at the Flying Pig. She never came in to claim the certificate. This was back before we switched to the ABA-sponsored gift card programs; the certificate was paper and we held it in the desk drawer for her for a full year and a half until we moved the store. Back then these certificates expired in a year, which was clearly written on the certificate. We always allowed them to be redeemed up to three years later. This three-year time span is now the law.
Now, seven years later, the teacher comes in with the original card, but no actual paper certificate, which we show as having been written and possibly picked up.
My initial inclination was to tell the customer that the gift certificate had long expired and could not be used. But I posted this situation on the New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory listserv and was frankly stunned by the number of folks who said they’d accept the gift certificate, even though there was no actual certificate and it was seven years old.
I was so torn about this. In a perfect world, I’d happily accept on faith that we had held a gift certificate for a teacher seven years ago and just let her use it. Perhaps it’s the sudden dip back into winter this week, but I’m tired of being taken for granted. It has cost me money to have my accountant keep carrying this unused gift certificate on my books. I know we received money for this, I’m not disputing that, but there are rules for things.
Things expire and are no longer good. If I can accept that when I clean out my car and find an expired gift certificate for a restaurant, why can’t my customers? Why should I bend the rules, the very clear rules, for one customer? But then I hear the voice of customer service, that says, just let her use it and move on.
I was reminded anew of that statistic that retailers hear: when a person has a good experience they tell three people, when they’ve had a bad experience, they tell twelve. This weighed heavily on me as I tried to make a decision that felt fair to both of us. Elizabeth and I decided in the end to issued the customer a gift certificate for half the original amount. This seems really fair to me. If that mythical restaurant honored any part of my expired gift certificate I’d be thrilled.
The customer didn’t thank me, nor did she acknowledge that we were doing her a favor and honestly, going above and beyond. She wanted to have us hold the gift card for her behind the register. I popped it in the mail instead.

Credit Squeeze, Or Isn’t Paying the Bill On Time Enough?

Josie Leavitt - March 26, 2012

I know times are tough for all the publishing companies, with Borders closing and leaving them hanging for payments for a long time. Every store that closes affects publishers’ bottom lines in profound ways. But I’ve had it with publishers basically threatening me to pay before the bill is due or not applying my credits.
I received an email from a publisher (which I will not name, as no one from the company has gotten back to me on my short time frame) that essentially said, pay what’s due for March 31st now, or we will not ship your books.
Here is the email: Payment has been received to clear the invoices due 2/29/12 but not the 3/30/12 due.  Please provide payment details for the current due invoices as soon as possible.  Shipments remain suspended until the account is fully up to date.
I received this email on March 22, more than a full week before the payment of $877 was actually due. So, to summarize, my account is fully up to date, I owe nothing, and yet this publisher is not shipping any orders and is treating me like I’m late to pay my bill.
I hate this kind of business tactic. I want to say to this publisher: how about the benefit of the doubt? I’m not even late and yet, you’re acting like I’m 90 days late and I’m seldom late more than a day or two. But if the check isn’t in the lock box by the last of the month, this company puts any bookstore on credit hold and refuses to ship my books. What kills me is I get these nasty little emails every month, although this one was overt in saying no books will ship until they get payment details. Usually, the emails just serve as reminders that the payments are expected. In February, I even got one reminding me that it was a short month and I should adjust my check accordingly.
I know these credit reps are just doing as they’re told, but this utter lack of faith is destroying my relationship with certain publishers. I tire of being considered a deadbeat when I’ve done nothing wrong. I am weary of wondering if the books I’ve ordered will ship if the check is 24 hours late.
Oh, and don’t get me started about the publishers who won’t apply credits without monthly written approval from me. So, monthly, I write emails (some, though, need to be faxed) saying please apply my credits to my outstanding balance. Why do I need to do this? Shouldn’t it be obvious I want the credits applied, especially since the credits are based on returns that I sent in?
Why are publishers making it harder and harder to do business? Every meeting with reps has them asking, pleading in some cases, to order more backlist, but why am I going to subject myself to being treated like a deadbeat on a monthly basis for payments that aren’t even late? Ironically, the smaller publishing companies are the most relaxed about payments, even though they’re the ones who can least afford it.
It’s a tough market for all of involved with bookselling. Publishers are out thousands, millions of dollars in some cases, and bookstores are struggling with tighter margins and a shrinking customer base. Without sounding trite I can’t help but think: Why can’t we all get along?

A Taste of Summer

Josie Leavitt - March 23, 2012

It always amazes me how the weather drives business at the bookstore. The unseasonably warm weather in Vermont has had a very interesting effect on our shoppers.
The first is, folks are coming with creemees. Creemees,Vermont’s soft-serve ice cream, are a seasonal favorite, usually available only in the summer, not March. The Country Store next to us has fired up its machine and is doing a brisk business. Kids have been flocking there for their after-school  treats and then they come here to browse. It’s easy to tell who’s had a creemee, they tend to wear it on their shirt, have sprinkles on their chin or more cutely for the younger ones, have a dot of ice cream on their noses. As much as I like the creemees and what they usually symbolize, there’s something profoundly wrong about people having them in the middle of March. But kids who’ve just had a creemee are more patient browsers and happier with their books.
The gardeners are having a hard time with the warmth. They come in the store and are practically twitching with their need to dig in the dirt. No one quite believes that they can actually begin to get their gardens ready. Usually, this time of year, all the gardens are still covered in snow. Memorial Day is the traditional planting time; that’s when the garden is safe from frost. Currently, the smart gardeners are spending a lot of time raking and not actually planting anything. But they want books, lots of books, about gardening and making things grow. As a non-gardener, I find their zeal adorable. Two of my co-workers are avid gardeners and they both have been finding it hard to work with the weather being so lovely. I give them credit for leaving their flower beds and coming to work on time.
The other type of customer we’ve had are the ones who’ve set up their lawn furniture and are looking for a good book. Beach reads, normally taken on vacation, are now being read in the back yard. Most customers just keep saying, “It’s March! Can you believe it?” Of course, the nature of a New Englander is to be a weather voice of doom. Some folks think it’s fun to talk about the threat of a late spring dumping of snow. Others are long-range thinkers who say we’ll have a 100-degree July.
Regardless of the long-term forecast, it’s been a pure delight to have a bit of real spring a full four weeks before normal. And, anything that gets folks reading and being outside makes me happy.

Howard Dean and Kate O’Connor on Doing the Impossible

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 22, 2012

I’m not sure a bookstore event gets any better than hearing two articulate, funny, grassroots Presidential campaign veterans talk about the focal points and foibles of the current election year. Former Vermont governor / 2004 Presidential candidate Howard Dean joined his longtime aide, Kate O’Connor, in Shelburne Monday evening to talk about her chronicle of life on the campaign trail —the good, the bad, the goofy, the exhausting, the exhilarating.
Do the Impossible: My Crash Course On Presidential Politics Inside The Howard Dean Campaign is a fascinating, surprisingly entertaining journal of the game-changing effort to get American voters engaged in politics and discourse. The Dean campaign focused on the coalition of individuals rather than deep pockets and big business, and used what was then a nascent social media to get the message out. It was a revelatory approach, and paved the way for future campaigners like, oh, President Barack Obama.
And then it all blew up in Dean and O’Connor’s faces with a media frenzy  — occasioned not by hypocrisy, scandal, abuse, or deceit, but by a moment of jubilance whose rawness startled some viewers — and was played by the media more than 600 times in four days. (CNN actually apologized later for its role in that.) And that was another hard-earned lesson on the trail: the power of the media to build or destroy, fast.
These lessons and others made for riveting listening, especially when the conversation turned to the 2012 primaries. Both O’Connor and Dean were thoughtful (and very amusing) about the vast learning curve they encountered in their own campaign, and thoughtful and insightful about the new challenges facing those embarking on the quest eight Internet-changed years later.
To be able to ask questions about the political process of two people who ran a viable, even game-changing, campaign for President is a rare opportunity, and made us grateful to be booksellers so that we had an excuse to invite these guests. We also love Do the Impossible because, while it has national import, it is such a Vermont enterprise: by and about Vermonters, and published and printed in Vermont by Northshire Bookstore’s new imprint, Shire Press.
We know an event has been good when attendees seek us out to thank us for hosting it. We know it’s been great when they exhort us to contact the Speakers Bureau and get our guests on the road so that other audiences can benefit from their wisdom and inspiration. For bookstores and libraries wanting an incredible evening, we have to agree: Run, don’t walk, for this one!

The Hidden Perils of Bookselling

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 21, 2012

Spy vs. Spy © Antonio Prohias from the Mad Magazine comic strip. Spy vs. Spy Omnibus 9781401232375

People often have a somewhat idyllic version of the lives of booksellers, one that involves, say, lots of reading in cozy chairs with cats curled up in laps. This may happen off-hours for many folks, but the truth is much, much more lively. Even dangerous.
Take Josie; yesterday she threw out her shoulder setting up 85 chairs for an event. Or me; my shin is four shades of purple from wrestling a 60s-era wood-and-metal table across a large room.
We’ve already chronicled the lurking menace of certain distributor boxes—something we face at least a couple of times a week—but you may not be aware of the constant danger of sprained ankles as we sprint after customers who have left behind sunglasses, wallets, checkbooks, bags, receipts, and even book purchases, racing to get to them before their cars pull out into traffic.
Paper and cardboard cuts don’t really count as dangerous, but almost nothing hurts as much in a small, sharp, relentless way, and therefore they deserve some consideration here. Curling ribbon incidents are not as benign as the name suggests: one slip of the sharp scissor blade against the thumb and you’re courting stitches. Wrapping those happy little birthday presents by the boatload on Saturday mornings does not come without cost.
Tripping over toys or slide-y board books on the floor of the baby-book section when you’re walking with an armful of shelving is another risky venture, as is approaching a knot of teenage girls furtively huddled together over a book in YA. (Hey, girls can be scary when they’re laughing, probably at you.) Getting whacked in the behind by the puppy gate while dashing out from behind the counter is always fun, and there’s nothing quite like that moment when a toddler holding a ball his mother has said he cannot take home is forced to give it up. We recommend ear plugs.
Then there’s the thrill of having your nose or shoulder clouted by a book spinner that has suddenly been … activated … with vigor by a customer on the other side. Or wheeling, carefree, into a middle-grade section you can navigate with your eyes closed, only to find (via your sudden surprising impact with the floor) that a five-year-old has decided to move every bookstore chair into that section’s entrance.
When young people apply for work at the store, they think it’s going to be an easy ride. A little shelving, a lot of ARCs and galleys, and a few cute kids who need recommendations for a good read. Little do they know they might get tendonitis from re-alphabetizing the picture books or pull a glute muscle stretching to a high shelf for The Hunger Games 30 times a day.
How about the terror of confronting the unknown? And by this, of course I mean heading into the restroom after someone has just exited after a longish stint. You DO NOT KNOW what awaits you there. Similarly, opening the store refrigerator is a jeopardous enterprise; iced coffee with milk only lasts so long before curdling, and that cheese stick lodged in the back behind the yogurt? Hazmat.
You watch shows like The Deadliest Catch and think, Sure, those guys have some ice and weather to deal with in their quest for crab on the Bering Sea. But they aren’t booksellers.

The Power of the Handsell

Josie Leavitt - March 19, 2012

This is a simple post about the power of passion in book sales. I have read and fallen in love with two adult books, The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One.  Yes, I handsell books every day, but every once in a while there are books that just captivate me to the point where I hand them to customers even before they’ve mentioned what they’re looking for.
I love this part of my job. Folks have come to rely on us for recommendations every day. But when anyone on staff has a book she just loves, well, it makes easier to sell. Passion sells books. If  I walk into another kind of store, say a kitchen store, and someone approaches me and says how much they love this new kind of pan and they’re clearly in love with the pan, I will be much more inclined to consider the pan. It doesn’t really matter that I came in to get a new spatula. It’s the same thing when the wine store owner stops me and tells me how much I’m going to love this new wine he just got in. I buy the wine because I trust him.
Bookselling works the same way. I read a lot of books, we all do, but when I wake up in the morning eager to read rather than get ready for work, well, now, that’s a good book. I think it’s good for customers to see me go crazy for an adult book or two. Too often folks forget that even though we’re children’s book specialists, we also read and adore books for adults.
What’s been great is to see how many more copies of each of these we’ve sold in the last few weeks. I came to each book differently. Carry the One is written by one my favorite writers, so I leapt at the galley when it was offered and couldn’t wait to sell when it came in. Weird Sisters, I hate to admit, had elluded me until several weeks ago. I decided to read it because so many customers had asked if it was good or not. I had a galley from last year that I just missed, and now am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. The good thing is, as with the Anshaw book, I just loved it. What is ironic is that both of these books are bestsellers and have gotten rave reviews, but my love of them has helped their sales soar and has justified buying them in carton quantities.
Are there any books that you are particularly enjoying this season?

Ruth Chew, Scott Corbett, and the Case of the Missing Younger MG Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 15, 2012

When I was seven, eight, nine years old, the world was full of novels meant for readers my age. These books were longer than the adorable Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, perhaps a little longer than Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books, but they had lightness and child appeal and there were endless numbers of them filling my Weekly Reader book orders. It seems to me that, as a bookseller, I’m often trying to find books like those. No, actually, I’m trying to find those particular books.
I’m thinking here of the Scott Corbett Trick series (gosh, I loved those!), the Ruth Chew magic books (ditto!), the Mrs. Coverlet titles by Mary Nash (with great characters, including older brother Malcolm with his “overactive conscience”), loads of stand-alone titles like Ruth Carlsen’s Mr. Pudgins (one of the all-time great books in the history of child-appealing younger middle-grade fiction), The Case of the Marble Monster and Other Stories by I.G. Edmonds (this one is fantastic for school and library use), The Moonball by Ursula Moray Williams, Professor Diggins’ Dragons (hello, Lisa Dugan) by Felice Holman, Ramshackle Roost by Jane Flory, and on and on and on.
As a school librarian in the early 1990s, I often wished for a set of the Ruth Chews and Scott Corbetts. The Lemonade Trick lasted the longest in print, but even it finally succumbed to the pressures of the mid-list. Publishers have tried to bring back some of these gems; Hyperion did a wonderful but I suspect financially unviable trial run bringing back “Lost Treasures,” which included the Mrs. Coverlet books and other books I had loved as a kid (The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier, which I read several times, though it’s for an older crowd, 10- and 11-year-olds). I think the problem with these reissues from a marketing standpoint is that they don’t get the publicity dollars of a sexy new title, so no one really knows they’re available again, and they die on the vine without ever getting the kind of big push that might ignite popularity with a whole new generation. It’s also possible that some of these books are dated in ways that are problematic and would need to be dealt with somehow, as happened with the Dr. Dolittle books and continues to be an issue with the Little House titles.
I also wish there were a way to publish lighter, shorter books for tweens. I remember absolutely loving Jean van Leeuwen’s I Was a 98-Lb. Duckling, which I read times several at age 11 or 12. Despite its brevity, it was a great friendship and budding-romance story, and it happened to be hilarious. A strong reader, I loved thick books that promised to never end, but man, was it also fun to dip in for a quick afternoon read. But I digress.
So, how about these young transitional MG books? As I think about it, it’s not so much that we have fewer of these kinds of books around. In fact, in the past six or seven years, I’d say the field is better off than it had been for many years. Perhaps it’s that the books I miss had a sparkle to them, a freshness. They lay somewhere between some of the more recent formulaic series that lack those qualities (I am not pointing to the Magic Tree House here, which kids loooove; we booksellers are very grateful for and appreciative of this series), and longer, often more serious, books that are a step too difficult for most typical seven- or eight-year-olds. I’d like to see more brief, sprightly, wonderfully written, delightful, funny stories for this age. Dick King-Smith has loads of them, but even many of those are starting to vanish into OP land.
Publishers, why DO these excellent series drop off and go OP indefinitely? Could you see bringing one or more of these backlist titles back into print and promoting them with activity kits and posters? If there are no new advances to be paid, could that money not go toward some creative publicity?
Teachers and booksellers and librarians, which transitional chapter books (young middle grade books) would you most like to see back in print?

Fifty Shades of Special Orders

Josie Leavitt - March 14, 2012

It started happening Sunday afternoon. We were getting calls from women wondering if we were carrying the book Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not sure how many women read the New York Times article about the supposedly erotic novel that’s sweeping the nation. I was thankful for that article, because I at least knew what folks were talking about. What they wanted to know was: when was I getting the book? Well, of course right now the book  is impossible to get. Random House bought the trilogy for a whopping seven-figure deal. That amount alone tells me this book is going to fly off the shelf, because of the marketing money they’ll put towards it. It’s not coming out until April 3rd, and people are counting the days.
But then I started to think about the book and the nature of living in a small town. Would folks feel comfortable coming to our small, very personal bookstore and getting a sexually explicit book from us? Judging by the special orders we’ve taken in the last three days, I’d have to say yes. Of course we are talking it up because there hasn’t been the kind of book before: a book that has been dubbed “mommy porn” and that has entered the mainstream with such fanfare. We certainly aren’t going to judge any customer for wanting the book. The great thing is the book doesn’t have a bare chested man on the cover. It’s just a tie. So, it doesn’t look like “that kind of book.” The buzz is fantastic, and there is an almost triumphant sense that it’s about time for this kind of book to be readily available for women to read. Men who want erotica have things to read in magazines that are available everywhere. Women who want to read erotica have to search a little harder. To have an erotic book be at the local bookstore, one that doesn’t generally sell erotica, could be a very liberating experience.
We have already ordered 15 copies of each of the trilogy, and I know that’s not going to be enough. It’s been really fun to talk about the book with customers who’ve heard about it. The only thing that’s difficult for us is we haven’t read the book yet, but all of us at the store have vowed to “take one for the team” and read it so we can more knowledgeably talk about it with our customers.
One thing that I know is going to be loads of fun with this book is the array of mangled titles and descriptions we’ll see. I can hear them now: Fifty Colors of Grey, Five Grey Ties, Shades of Something, The Tie Book, You know, that book, etc.
I cannot wait.