Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Return of Ruth Chew!

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 28, 2013

For about 18 years now, I have been bemoaning the out-of-print status of Ruth Chew’s wonderful young chapter books about magic. When I was a school librarian, we had a well-worn set of the paperbacks, read to tatters by the second- and third-graders. This was pre-Internet bookstores, so I used to scour library sales for copies to snatch up. When we opened the Flying Pig, I kept wishing I could hand them to seven-, eight- and nine-year-old readers and their teachers. I blogged about the need for those wonderful transitional chapter books in a post called Ruth Chew, Scott Corbett, and the Case of the Missing Younger MG Books.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when I learned that they would at last be coming back into print. Random House will be bringing out the first two reprints, What the Witch Left and No Such Thing as a Witch, this fall. I caught up with Random House v-p and publishing director Mallory Loehr recently, for a conversation about her decision to bring back this much-loved series.
Elizabeth Bluemle for ShelfTalker: I’m very excited about the Ruth Chew books coming back out. How did that project come about?
Mallory Loehr: I’m going to tell you a couple of different things. One is that I’ve been the Magic Tree House editor for my whole career, and when I first started working with Mary Pope Osborne on these, and it was her first time writing a young chapter book, I said, ‘You have to read the Ruth Chews, because that will tell you what second graders are reading. You don’t have to have subplots, you don’t have to have anything complicated, really, at all. Go straight forward and just keep telling your story.’
I was obviously a big Ruth Chew reader. I read them all, I got them all from Scholastic. Then this past year—I have a second-grader. Last year, when he was a first-grader, I was looking for things for him to read, and obviously we had The Magic Tree House and all these wonderful books we have here, but I also have a child who’s scared of, like, everything, you know, so kind of going retro really works because I think some newer books have a lot of scary things in them. So going very direct works — Mrs Piggle-Wiggle! Pretty direct.
So I went and actually hunted. I had some Ruth Chews in my library that were tattered and falling apart, but I ended up ordering a whole bunch on eBay and reading a lot of them out loud last year with a six-year-old and a four-year-old, and thought, These are just as wonderful today, many of them, especially many of the early ones, and your second grader still isn’t asking for anything more. And these are very different, obviously, from Magic Tree House. There are some that are time travel, but most of them are that immediate, everyday magic.
So I actually started hunting around online and I found a website that said we now have an agent for this. And I want to say your blog came right on the heels of that. And the agent, Gail Fortune, is also a huge Ruth Chew fan. She said, “I don’t actually do very many kids’ books, but these were books that I just loved.” She actually found them, also. So these are all people that are out there looking for Ruth Chew. I contacted the agent and said, “Please send!” and she was just about to send them out, so she sent them to me. The agent had also gone and found the estate and all of Ruth Chew’s children.
We got the rights to all the books, every single one, and then they found an extra one. We are committing to printing ten of them. And all the others we got for e-books, because I feel like it will be parents who read them who will look for them, but I feel like for a kid who goes bonkers over them, you want to have all of them available. And we may end up doing all of them in print, as well.
And I have to tell you that the family had almost all of the original art! I was going out to the west coast and I called the oldest daughter, who is the keeper of the archives, and she took me through enormous amounts of artwork. Ruth Chew had lived in Brooklyn, I want to say on Church Avenue, in Prospect Heights, for almost her entire life. She had the original acceptance letter from Scholastic, she had the rejection letters from everybody…. I kept saying, I want to mount an exhibit of all of her stuff. Somebody should coordinate something with the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I could just see them having all of these pieces, and the whole history of it. And because so many of the books are set there. And of course at the time I lived in Park Slope. When I re-read the books when I was working with Mary, I was, like, ‘Wow! I didn’t even remember this and we now live in the place where these books are set.’
So I went hunting for them. The agent had found them and was putting together a whole thing and was sending them out to publishers and I remember not wanting to dilly dally. I thought, Someone needs to do all of them; you need to commit or not commit.
I emailed the family through the Ruth Chew website. Back on January 26, 2012, I sent an email through the website where I said I had just emailed Gail Fortune to ask for these rights. I had loved these books as a child and now am reading them to my own kids and think there’s a real opportunity to bring these back into print and as electronic books. I currently live in Brooklyn and am fond of the fact that they are set in my neighborhood.
EB: How did you decide which ten to publish, and which two to publish first?
ML: I had to say it’s actually a struggle because there are so many of them. And initially we were thinking to pub in the summer of 2013 and we had different titles that went with summer. And then we realized she has the witch titles, and that seemed so perfect for Halloween, to launch with her best witch titles. So we decided we had to take up that opportunity.
EB: And you’re doing The Witch’s Buttons, right? I remember loving that one as a little girl. Because they come to life, don’t they, the little buttons?
ML: Yes, I was going to say that the other thing we’re going to try to do, and it may not work every time, is that we’re going to try to use the basic — we’re going to get a new cover artist, but I want the covers to somehow remind you of those original covers. So I think we’re going to use a design that’s very similar whenever we can.
EB: Oh, nice, because I loved that cover. And I really did love Magic in the Park. Those were the two stories I remember best. I’m not sure I read What the Witch Left back then, because now having read the PDF you sent, I know would have loved that as a kid!
ML: It was the book clubs. Mostly the libraries didn’t even have them.
EB: I guess that’s true. I used to be the school librarian at City & Country in the West Village, and they had a great collection of them in the early 90s when I was there. I remember even then wishing the Ruth Chews were still in print, because they were paperbacks, and in tatters. Were they ever in hardcover?
ML: Some of them were, because I got some of them in hardcover. But it was really inconsistent. It wasn’t like you could go find them in a bookstore. I may be wrong here, but some of them may have been available in hardcover only in library editions. I want to say two of them were jacketed hardcovers, though.
EB: Are you doing simultaneous hardcovers and paperbacks, or just paperbacks?
ML: We may have to end up canceling the hardcovers if we don’t think we’re going to get enough out there. I like the idea of having both because I feel like there are some people who will be collectors who would love to have these. There will be library editions no matter what, but to do a jacketed hardcover would be really nice, and I’d love to do a printed case with the original art.
EB: I love that!
ML: Yes. So we’ll see. I’m shooting for it. If we do a hardcover, it will have that collector feel. Those are book-people details. You can see them saying, “I love this! Oh my gosh! Look, there’s the original cover right there, hidden underneath!” I want to just say they’re a labor of love — except that I also really think we’ll be able to reach a new audience with them.
EB: When I was re-reading them, I was struck by how simple and direct and plain the writing style is, and amused by how old-fashioned they were. They felt old-fashioned even when I was a little girl, and I loved that about them. I think kids love an old-fashionedy feel, often.
ML: Especially little kids, that first- and second-grader….
EB: There’s something very cozy about that. It’s funny; the writing is very very plain, and you’re right, there are no subplots; it’s very linear. And yet, they are so compelling to that age.
ML: Right. And there are ones that as an adult, you think, it’s not wildly exciting all the way, but somehow it really really works. Some of it is because of what kids’ brains are doing at this age, and what their own imaginations are doing.
EB: And we have to remember these are new ideas to those young brains. So the idea that you could be underground and maybe get trapped in the park underneath the tree — that was — I tell you, I read that book so many times. I was haunted in this really amazing way, just haunted by that Magic in the Park story. And I can’t really quite tell you why. And just the simple fact of the witch’s buttons coming to life [in the eponymous book], there’s something like Edward Eager’s Half Magic, simple everyday magic like you say, but even that is a fresh new idea to a little kid.
ML: And also really does put that everyday magic — almost more than anything else I’ve read — at kids’ fingertips, because it’s even more basic than the Edward Eagers. For those kids who do like Magic Tree House, who do like The A-to-Z Mysteries, it just is another — when they get into that stage where all of a sudden they’re reading a book a day.
EB: You know what else I think your son might love, that I wish you would also reprint, are the Scott Corbett Trick books. The Lemonade Trick is still in print, I think, but the whole series was so good!
ML: I’ve actually been reading one of them, too. I know, that was in your blog, as well.
EB: Yes, that blog post was all about ‘where are those books?’ Why have all the old ones disappeared? It’s not as though they lost their appeal. It’s one thing when a book sort of outlives its usefulness or appeal or charm, but those books and the Ruth Chews were perennial favorites when I was a school librarian, and it didn’t make sense that they’d gone out of print.
Now, I do have to ask, were there some revisions you did need to make in order to bring the books back into line with contemporary cultural understanding?
ML: Well, the ones that we feel like might need a little bit more stuff are the ones that we’re going to publish later on, or they may be the ones in the e-books. But we definitely, I want to say there’s one where they go to the Native American village and it’s at night, there’s something… We haven’t figured out what to do with it yet, but there are definitely some that we feel will need that.
EB: How many editors are working on the books? What is that process like?
ML: I worked in terms of the original acquisition, and then I had two other editors here who are reading through things and working together. They are now with the A-to-Z editor, because I feel that’s a good fit. Between the two of them, different things happen. In the books we’re publishing soonest, we all talked about it being okay to make tiny revisions. We cleared those with the estate, of course. None of it was a big deal; they’ve been wonderful.
Eve Sprunt is Ruth Chew’s oldest daughter, and she is in the sciences. She’s done amazing things and she said her mother always felt that girls should do English and art and boys should do science and math. Which was surprising, because another thing that’s wonderful about the books is the boy and girl characters and how well they work together.
EB: I grew up in a feminist household in the ’70s…
ML: Me, too.
EB: … and so I was kind of aware of those things in books, and I don’t remember if the boys or the girls were more active in the books, but it seemed to me like they were both active.
ML: They were both active. I didn’t notice anything that was really strongly in that direction in the ones I’ve read, but it made me think about that dynamic. The other thing is the free-range children, because these kids are running all over Prospect Park and Brooklyn, and you would NEVER let your children do that!
EB: I thought about whether that would ever get through editorial today, because the girls lie to the moms, they are going to other countries alone. I mean, as a kid, you love that freedom, and it does not lead you to go off into the park by yourself and meet strangers….
ML: Exactly. You don’t necessarily think it’s safe, or the idea in Magic in the Park where they’re fascinated by the old guy. You’d be saying, “No, stay away from strangers in the park!” Just some of those ‘where we are today’ things. But I think there’s an understanding that these books were written a long time ago.
EB: It can be funny to booktalk books these days because we have gotten so cautious about all of that. Some parents don’t like the Carl books by Alexandra Day because the parents have left the dog to babysit the child, and I think, ‘Hello, imagination!’
ML: And humor! I have a one-and-a-half year old, and that’s one of his favorite books.
EB: Of course. They love that.
ML: I know. And I don’t know how much he understands, but he pulls it out along with Dear Zoo and everything else.
EB: I think adults are so literal in some ways….
ML: There’s nothing wrong with being protective. I think it’s also having a reasonable trust of your kids and what they know.
EB: And what their influences are. The parental influence is probably 90% of what a child is made of, and outside influences are probably about 10%. Not even.
ML: I just read my kids Magic or Not? and the kids hitchhike. They let someone drive them somewhere. Reading it to my kids, I didn’t say, “Oh, we would never do that these days,” but I do find my kids will say things when you’re reading these books to them.
EB: They’ll be surprised by reading something like that?
ML: Yes. Actually, my seven-year-old read a bunch of a certain series and said, ‘Mama, I’m not going to read those anymore,’ and I said, ‘Why not?,’ and he said, ‘Well, they’re funny, but I think they use inappropriate words.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ And he said, “Well everybody calls everybody dumb and stupid too much. I just don’t think it’s good.’
EB: Aw, sweet.
ML: I thought, ‘Okay, my strange little child. The Chews need to be out there for you!’ He really doesn’t like meanness. I feel like having some of those books that are just a little sweeter and a little not trying to make a point in any way — not being pointless, but not having to be really funny, just being totally straightforward. That’s actually what I love about Magic Tree House. I mean, you’ve got all the history, but I just love the straightforwardness.
EB: And there’s a reason millions and millions of kids love those books. It’s funny, because we grow up and we develop literary taste and we want beautiful writing at every turn, and it’s not that they’re not well written, because they’re quite well written, but there’s a real argument for that straightforward style.
ML: Especially for a beginning reader, just learning to read, because it moves them forward in a way that for most kids beautiful writing doesn’t.
EB: I do think there are a lot of writers who write simply and well for young readers and they have a lovely turn of phrase, but it still manages to stay simple and direct.
ML: And there are some writers you just have to say, ‘You just don’t need to be so beautiful all the time.’
Really, the one phrase stands out. If every sentence, if every paragraph has something, a metaphor or a simile, it’s just too much. You don’t notice the ones that are really powerful.
EB: And I think it distracts you from the story. It can kick you out of the world. It was really fun to re-read the Ruth Chew stories and remember them. In some ways, it surprised me how little was provided in the way of description, because the stories were so vivid to me as a child. It reminded me how much a child’s imagination fills in the gaps that are left.
ML: It’s Technicolor. You fill it all in.
EB: Kids do that. We adults read shorthand. I think kids build the entire world. I love that. And I think that in the Ruth Chew books, it’s the same thing. That world is rich and complete.
ML: And I think some of that came from her. Some of it was that she knew it so well. I work with some writers who do big fantasies, and many of them overwrite — you have to overwrite in the first few drafts as you’re building a world; you have to know more than your reader and then you take a bunch of it out, but if you don’t know it, then it won’t sink in in the same way. And I feel like some of that was Ruth Chew knowing her setting. Where other people you might have to say, ‘You need to describe more’ to get it in their own head, she didn’t need to do that. She was there.
EB: And she does provide just the right amount of detail. I think kids will be so taken with that little marketplace in Mexico [in What the Witch Left], and the handwoven placemats. She’s very good at taking a few standout details of physical objects.
ML: Yes, she chooses just a few things, and then you fill in all the rest.
I was going to say, she also did way more illustration than they used in the books. There were times, it looks like she literally did 50 illustrations for a book and then they picked 35. And they also had some sketches that were four different versions of something. And she saved everything!
EB: That must have been really fun. So did you go through all those archives once, or will there be repeated visits?
ML: I actually went through almost all of it with Eve, just because you couldn’t help yourself. I brought the first two books—well, the first two books we were originally going to do—home with me, and she’ll be sending stuff, and we may send somebody out again to look through things. I don’t even know who they would talk to in order to get a museum, but this has reminded me, I’m going to talk to someone at the Eric Carle Museum. The quantity is just unbelievable, and her artwork was lovely and uncomplicated. Just like the writing.
EB: I remember loving her little simple illustrations. They were very appealing, and they fill a gap that I don’t think anything else quite fills.
ML: Yes. She was trained at an art school in New York; she did fashion illustrations for kids’ clothes. There’s a whole history of her.
EB: I would love to see a museum do a retrospective. You know, the other place, if the museums didn’t do it, is the New York Public Library. I saw a Hilary Knight exhibit there that was wonderful.
ML: There are just so many wonderful pieces. Ruth Chew’s daughter said her mother kept everything, and everything was labeled. Then, of course, you find out something’s missing. We’re trying to fill in, even if something’s missing, trying to find the cleanest copy of the book we can and scanning an image, because there are so many that we do have, if it’s one or two in a book it’s not a big deal.
EB: How many decades of writing and illustrating does that represent?
ML: She published through the 90s. [Her first book, The Wednesday Witch, was published in 1969.] I feel like her best books are in the first 15 books. I think some of the later ones, that weren’t set in Brooklyn, someone was saying, ‘You’ve got to do something different.” It also feels like she’s trying to be more modern, which weirdly dates them more.
[We were briefly interrupted at this point, and then began talking about our love of the same childhood books.]
ML: The ’70s were a great time to be a big reader.
EB: Yes, they were. We lucked out. We had Louise Fitzhugh, Ellen Raskin….
ML: Yes. And I do love Ellen Raskin. When I first met Mary Pope Osborne I went to her apartment. Her apartment building is where Ellen Raskin lived that inspired writing The Westing Game, because she had to pay her mortgage.
EB: And is that why they were competing for the giant fortune in that book?
ML: Probably. Probably.
EB: Wishful thinking.
[We segued into a long discussion of other specific books we had loved as children growing up at the same time, with very similar taste in books — i.e., anything with “magic” in the title, and for Mallory, anything with a cover by Trina Schart Hyman. We talked about books from the past that kids today still love. I recommended books for her family read-alouds, and Mallory recommended a wonderful out-of-print book called The Girl with the Green Ear.]
ML: I’m always surprised by what they really love. We happened to be at my parents’ house, that was my copy of the book, and I pulled it out and they love every single story in it. So often they love those older books.
EB: What a joy that you can bring Ruth Chews to your own children, as well as a whole new generation of readers!
Mallory, it’s been a delight to talk with you. We can’t wait to see the books.

Happy Noises and Kicky Feet

Josie Leavitt - February 27, 2013

I’ve been selling books a long time and there’s an art to letting customers browse unhindered by help. There are ways to know customers don’t want help: they flat out tell you, “I’m just browsing.” When I hear this it always makes feel like I’ve bothered them one too many times, or they’re just not used to being in a bookstore that actually offers help. It’s often harder to know with families with young kids when they might need help.
Yesterday, I learned for sure when not to ask a family for help. A young mom was in with her two kids. One was four and the other was just under one and in his stroller. I could hear them having a grand old time. The older boy and his mom were laughing at Shark Vs. Train and all I could see of the younger child were his happy, kicky feet bouncing in the stroller. I left them alone until the noises shifted and then I was over in a shot offering assistance.
Young families often come in just to kill time between appointments or, honestly, just to break up the day. I love it when they come in and spend quality time together at the bookstore. There is nothing more fun for me than hearing the sounds of a happy family just enjoying books. The flip side of this is when a family comes in and the little one doesn’t understand why he can’t get a book. This totally adorable boy was practically apopletic when his mom told him they were just looking. “But I need a new book! I need one!” He was lamenting fiercely about his bookless plight, but his mom didn’t cave in.
I did give him a sticker sheet, though. It’s tough being four.

Our Successors

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 25, 2013

I love it when particularly avid young independent readers come to the bookstore, the kind about whose parents say desperately, “She’s read everything. EVERYTHING. She’s gone through all the books for her age in the library. Do you have anything good she hasn’t read?” This is a children’s bookseller’s happy place: the challenge of it, and the opportunity to nourish voracious readers’ appetites for great books and introduce them to new treasures. And the kids are so gratified to meet adults who love children’s books as much as they do. When you start talking about titles you both love, their eyes light up, any initial shyness drops away, and you’re off and running. Shared love of books creates instant friendship across generations, and in the bookstore, when you earn a kid’s trust by really knowing your stuff, you’ve not only made a loyal customer today, you’ve paved the way for your future.
“You’re hired!” is a phrase I often say to kids who spot a book on the shelves that’s been eluding us, or who recommend a great read to another child in the store, or who pipe up with a vital piece of title or author information we’re looking for. Happily, being “hired” generally makes them beam. And when there’s a super-reader at the store, that kind of rare reader you know will end up doing something that involves books someday, we put in our bid: “Some day, when we retire, you’ll take over the store, right?” It’s lovely that their answer is usually something along the lines of, “Omigosh! I hope so!” Our job is to keep evolving so that, when they do grow up, they really might be able to inherit the dream of running an independent bookstore — and putting riches into the hands of a whole new generation of “everything” readers.

Story Hour Runaround

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 22, 2013

story hour

At the tail end of story hour, a mom reads to the remaining tots.

We were short-staffed this week: one bookseller on vacation, another still recovering from a fall, and one out with the flu. The other three happened to be unavailable to fill in on Wednesday, which left me alone at the store. This is hardly a tragedy during winter time; one person can handle even a fairly brisk store as long as there aren’t flurries of customers needing help all at the same time, along with a ringing phone and gift wrapping requests. But Wednesdays are story hour days, so at 11 am this week, in toddled seven or eight little snowsuited munchkins with their mommies.
We gathered in the picture book section on the rug, and I told the children that JP, their usual storytime reader, had a sore throat that morning and was very sorry to miss them, but that she had picked out special books and I would be happy to read them. I also explained that I was minding the store alone and might need to interrupt my reading to answer the phone or help a customer, in which case I hoped one of the parents might fill in. The children were good with this. They’re 18 months to four years old; they’re happy to go with the storytime flow.
One of the books JP had set aside for that week was Too Purpley! by Jean Reidy. This book got lots and lots of giggles. If you don’t know the story, it’s a very simple, toddler-friendly premise: a little girl rejects all of the clothes in her closet for various reasons — some straightforward, some fanciful (“Too purpley, too tickly, too puckery, too prickly!” and a whole host of other lively, funny examples.) The kids were fascinated by the book and had to point out things about their own outfits. I was tickled that JP had chosen this particular book, because earlier in the week, the author had posted a wonderful anecdote on Facebook about an encounter she had with a very young reader. Jean Reidy has given me permission to share it with ShelfTalker readers, so here you go:

A 3.5 year-old girl came up to my table at CCIRA, saw the TOO PICKLEY! Board Book, squealed “TOO PICKLEY!” grabbed it, sat down and immediately started reading it. And I mean reading it – like sounding out words and such.
So, I said, “Oh my goodness, you’re a very good reader.”
And she said, “Thank you. Would you like a bite of my apple?”
So, I said, “Oh that is SO nice of you, but no thank you, I just had breakfast.”
She continued reading.
So I said, “Are apples your favorite?”
And she said, “Would you like to play with something in my purse? I have a pony.”
She obviously wanted to keep me quiet, so she could finish the book.

Don’t you love that?
While I certainly wouldn’t ever wish a sore throat on JP, my unexpected fill-in time at story hour was lovely. I adore reading to kids. (Who doesn’t?!) There is nothing like those bright eyes and delighted giggles and excited additions to the story as you read. I was able to get through two whole books before the phone rang, at which time a mom stepped in and took over. She read two more books, and then another mom pitched in. It was a wonderfully cooperative story hour all around. A little chaotic, perhaps, but really fun. And not a single one of us needed to offer anyone a pony from our purse.

Great Adult Sidelines

Josie Leavitt - February 21, 2013

Children’s bookstores are in a unique place for sidelines. Because most children come to the store in the company of an adult we have a captive audience. While most children are delightful, many parents like to browse the store without their kids following them around. Time is limited for this kind of browsing, so we make the section fun and easy to browse while still keeping an eye on the little ones.
The first attraction of adult sidelines are the greeting cards. I realized last week how much people love the New Yorker cards. We had just restocked the cards and people started stocking up like they’d never be back in again. Having good card lines can really help a bookstore’s bottom line. People often don’t think anything of buying six to eight cards at a time and with a better discount than books, the profit margin is excellent. And it’s easy to display lots of cards in a small space, thereby increasing the odds you’ll have a card that customer will love. The other really great thing about cards is they keep people in the store longer. I love nothing more than listening to people laughing over the New Yorker cards. The cartoons are captivating and friends swap cards back and forth sharing the joke.
We are lucky to have found this next sideline. They’re felted nesting bird houses from Dzi. I saw birdhouse these at the New York Gift Show over the summer and we took a chance on them. They’re made in Nepal by artisans earning a livable wage. So it’s a win-win for everyone: a unique gift that does good work. People loved these the minute we put them out with a delight that was infectious. As one person would buy someone else would ask what it was and then the purchaser’s enthusiasm created another sale. Folks bought six of these for the holidays to give as gifts to their rightbirdbird-loving friends. Parents bought them to hang in their kid’s room, artists put them in their studios. They are so lively and bright that they immediately brighten up the store and by hanging them by the register people have to walk the length of the store to see them up close.
The last great adult sideline that’s really fun teadcukieto carry is the Tea Duckie. It’s for tea lovers with a sense of fun. It’s a tea infuser that’s a rubber duck who floats in the cup. It’s simple, adorable fun. Since many readers seem to be tea drinkers, it’s a natural pairing for a bookstore to stock. These little guys are very reasonably priced and they made wonderful stocking stuffers as well as hostess gifts. And really, they’re just cute.
Sidelines need attention. They have to arranged in a way that’s visually appealing. The display needs to change frequently to keep things looking fresh and new. The allure of good sidelines are they bring people into the whole store and if you’re the store that introduces them to something they’ve never seen before, you’ve made a repeat customer who will expect that every visit. That’s the challenge of sidelines, and the fun.

Books You Don’t Want to End

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 20, 2013

I’ve always had trouble remembering the endings of books—which I have decided is simply a case of denial, the result of wanting a particular book world not to come to a close. But there are also books I just plain don’t want to finish, because I’m enjoying them so much. I suspect this is a fairly common phenomenon, that feeling of not wanting a good book to end. But do others find themselves slooooooowing way down while reading, or reading only a few pages at a time—in essence, sipping the book instead of gulping—to make it last? I have been doing this a lot lately, and worse: I have found myself simply not reading the last volume in a series. (I always buy the last book; I just avoid reading it, and look at it guiltily on my shelf.)
I hadn’t realized slow-reading and series-end-avoidance were an encroaching habit of mine until recently, when I picked up R.L. LaFevers’ Dark Triumph, the April 2013 sequel to a book I *loved* last year, Grave Mercy, about a female assassin in 15th-century Brittany trained in a convent by nuns to do Death’s work. It is SO good, and is a favorite handsell. When the ARC of Dark Triumph arrived recently, I chortled (a slightly more dignified version of ‘squealed’) and snapped it up and handed the second copy to another staffer, Sandy. (I’d asked for two copies, since she is equally hooked and no good would have come of the one-copy fisticuffs.) I rushed home and began reading and immediately sighed happily, because the book begins with the same vigor and narrative propulsion and effortless writerly authority that makes Grave Mercy so darned good. But then … I put it down after only a couple of chapters. Not because I didn’t like it; quite the opposite. I don’t want to be done with it. So I am going little by little, one breathtaking, action-packed, beautifully written snippet, a chapter or half chapter at a time.
Slightly more unsettling is my reluctance to finish series I love. Giant confession: I did not read Mockingjay, though I loved the first two and have every reason to believe I’d love the third. Nor have I broken the spine of the final volume of Patrick Ness’s incredible Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men, though I have a gorgeous edition in my bedside bookcase, waiting.
My most recent avoidance is Eternally Yours, the third in a fantasy trilogy by Cate Tiernan that is one of my all-time favorite YA/crossover fantasies and most successful handsells. The first in this trilogy, Immortal Beloved, has a title that can be a hard handsell at first (it doesn’t suit the sharp humor and prickly nature of the heroine and story), but once readers get their hands on it, as with Grave Mercy, they are hooked. And I mean hard. We often have people mention, on subsequent visits to the store, that they loved a book we recommended to them. But Immortal Beloved is the only book I can think of where people actually telephoned the store specifically to thank me for a book recommendation. It’s happened three times with this one! So one would think I would not be able to resist the allure of the third in the series. And I can’t. In fact, it’s so alluring I won’t pick it up.
Maybe it’s like being so attracted to someone you can’t ask her out. You don’t want to be disappointed, and you don’t want the beautiful dream of the relationship to end.
Readers, do any of you do this? And if so, what books do you read slowly? What series haven’t you finished, even though you loved them?

Perfectly Pinkalicious

Josie Leavitt - February 19, 2013

Saturday afternoon we were overrun with mostly little girls in pink. They had come to Shelburne Town Hall to meet Victoria Kann, creator of the wildly popular Pinkalicious series. Victoria was on tour for her new book, Emeraldalicious. The kids were ready and so were we.

Every time a prolific author comes to visit and we move off site, I’m struck by how many titles one person can write. These three tables were a riot of colors in support of the Pinkalicious franchise. We had I Can Read books, picture books, activity books, sticker books, paper dolls, and more. All the children seemed to hover over the right kind of book for themselves. Usually, at these events we don’t sell a lot of the early readers, but we sure did Saturday. The kids were so excited and honestly, what’s cuter than scores of little kids in pink with wands and sparkles?
Victoria was a consummate presenter. She had the kid’s attention from the moment she stepped up to the microphone. She asked if the kids knew what pink was and all the kids shouted YES. Then she asked if they knew what emerald was, and there was silence. Finally, one kid said, “Um, no.” The moment she started to read Emeraldalicious, every little child was rapt and silent. I have never seen a quieter, more attentive crowd for a reading. Even the smallest fans just listened. It was glorious. One moment that I particularly loved was when Victoria lost her place and admitted to occasionally getting nervous during readings. I think it’s really great for kids to see that even authors can get nervous.
The signing line was long and Victoria needed no help managing her fans. Usually, authors like to have someone helping with the line, but Victoria deftly handled the crush of a little kids and families. An hour after the signing began, the last, very patient family left and Victoria signed overstock as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen.
We have a tradition that authors get to pick a book for themselves after events. Victoria refused. She said, “You’re an indie bookstore. You need to save all you can.” She choose a card instead. Lovely.
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Labors of Love

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 15, 2013

Two lovely Valentines from yesterday:
First, I was invited to share my books with families at a special school fundraising event in a town about an hour away. Two of the children at the school are facing expensive medical challenges, and so an enterprising group of parents created a raffle and author storytime to raise some money to help. There were baskets of toys and books donated by local businesses, parents, and community members, and other raffle prizes. There were tables filled with Valentine-y treats for children to decorate and eat. There was an adorable little girl, age five or six, who earnestly counted out the exact right number of raffle tickets to give to each purchaser. And there were families. The reading was really fun, the kids were hilarious, and I got to judge, impromptu, which of several children had the greenest-dyed teeth from his Fun-Dip packet. I donated my visit, of course, and slipped signed books into the book gift basket, and bought raffle tickets I had no intention of redeeming. The two young children in whose honor the fundraiser was held were there, and it was great to see that there was no big deal made of the reason for the fundraiser. All the kids were just playing and having fun. I don’t know how much money was raised, overall, but the little baggie in the raffle ticket box was bulging with bills. I hope it was a bundle!
Lund Hanging HeartsSecond, we have been running a little fundraiser of our own, our annual book drive for a fantastic program started by the Lund Family Center. The Lund’s Kids-A-Part Program aims to keep families connected when a parent is incarcerated and works to lessen the negative effects of separation during a very challenging time in a family’s life.
See those red paper hearts hanging from the ceiling in the photo? Each heart has a picture book title on the back. Customers buy one of the books (at a discount), and we collect the donated books and give them to the Lund folks, who get them to the parents. The parents record themselves reading the book, then the children get both the book and their parent’s recordings of it. That way, they can have the comfort of hearing their parent’s voice reading them a story at bedtime – or, really, any time. Isn’t that a lovely idea?!
We are so happy to support this creative and meaningful program!
I hope you all had as lovely a Valentine’s Day as we did.

What Makes a Good Book Buyer

Josie Leavitt - February 14, 2013

On Wednesday, I wrote about what makes a good sales rep. Today, I turn my attention to what makes a good book buyer. Buying books is part art, part budget balancing, part good preparation, and part listening to your gut and your sales rep.
– Good book buyers are prepared. They’ve read through and marked up the catalogs before the meeting. If they are lucky enough to get a sales kit ahead of time, they’ve looked at all the materials. Obviously, all the galleys can’t be read, but they can be looked at and shared with staff. Picture books can be read ahead of the meeting. One trick I learned from a fellow bookseller is to read through the picture books and then go through the catalog (or computer) two days later and what you remember is what you should buy.
– Being a good buyer is more challenging in this computer-ordering age. I find it much harder to buy books on the computer, so I really have to focus and set aside the time after work (there seems to be no way to order books at the store without getting continually interrupted). I have yet to develop a good strategy that works as well as dog-earing catalog pages with a note of the number of books to order online. This is my challenge for 2013.
– Buyers should know their store and their customers. A good buyer is one who will order one or two of a seemingly bizarre title because they know a specific customer will love it. Be true to your store. Sometimes this can mean passing on a lot of books. Be firm. Nothing is worse than buyer’s remorse, especially when it turns into a mass of returns six months later.
– Listen to your rep, or read through their Edelweiss notes. No one knows the frontlist better than the rep. They know if someone is a regional author and that knowledge can help sell books. Their notes are chock full of great information.
– Take your rep out for a meal or coffee. Get to know them as more than a rep, but as a person. Often this helps make buying sessions more fun. Be mindful that commission reps often don’t have the expense accounts of publisher reps, so offer to pay for your meal, or better yet, take the rep out.
-I spoke with Nikki Mutch, my Scholastic rep, and she said there are two things she likes to see in a buyer. The first is to be prepared for the meeting. “Know what I sell,” was how she put it. This makes sense. I can imagine nothing more frustrating than a buyer who really has no idea what the kinds of books the publisher is offering. The other thing she said was, “Be conversational when talking about books.” This harkens back to be getting to know your rep. A lively conversation about books can be really fun and certainly makes a meeting more entertaining.
– One other thing to add is, be kind. Book buys can be tense affairs if people are mean or judgmental about the books they’re passing on. Gently say no, if you can. Be firm in your answer, but just as you wouldn’t say ick when hearing the specials at a restaurant, you may think it, but you don’t say it.
– Make a good order. Returning more than 50% of your order six months later is bad for the rep and expensive for you. Really think about what you’ll need, knowing you can reorder as you need it.
– Be thankful for the galleys. They are a treasure.

What Makes a Good Sales Rep

Josie Leavitt - February 13, 2013

In this day of computer ordering, it’s sometimes hard for booksellers to have a relationship with a sales rep. But there are so many good reps out there, I wanted to make a list of what makes a good one, and why all booksellers should push to have one.
– A good rep stays in touch, even when it’s not buying season. They communicate backlist offers, share interesting book-related tidbits when they come across something they think is interesting. Getting to know your rep is the best way to have a relationship, not just with the rep, but with the publishing company as well.
– Reps are understanding about life getting in the way of business. The last few months have been very distracting for me at the bookstore and my reps have been wonderful about my lack of focus. With the rescheduling I’m doing, no one is making me feel bad, they’ve all been wonderfully understanding.
– Reps can save you. Sometimes, event books don’t arrive when expected. We are having an event with Victoria Kann, the author of the wildly popular Pinkalicious series on Saturday. I noticed that we were missing the newest book that I know I ordered in the fall on Edelweiss. Well, my rep tracked down the problem to an incorrect setting for canceling back orders and the books are on the way, for today. I thought I had done the order, and with Elizabeth’s move it’s been hard to keep all the balls in the air, so I assumed everything was done.
– Reps are your friend. If you take the time to get to know your rep you’ll find they not only are interesting book lovers with strong opinions about titles, they are people who might love the same music as you or share the same hobby. Yesterday, I had an interesting email exchange with a rep about my life changes and her cat’s brain surgery. We both wished each other the best and have followed with each other. I’m actually Facebook friends with several of my reps and I love that. It’s a great way to get to know them as people and they’re such fun.
– Reps can help you not make ordering mistakes. This is a huge one for me. As more and more work gets shifted to computer-ordering only, I find that I miss titles as I scroll through pages and pages of books on the computer at night after work. My reps have often called or emailed and said things like, “Did you mean to skip the new Rick Riordan?” Um, no! Thanks for catching that.
– Reps can lobby for you with the publicity department. This is HUGE. To have an advocate inside the publishing house telling the people booking the tour of the author you’ve been trying to get for years, can be extremely helpful.  While it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the author, it does mean that you’re now on the publicity radar and that’s an enormous boon.
– Reps can also help you with the credit department. Sometimes, just getting the right name of who to speak to can be enough to clear up any snafu that might be happening.
– Good reps read most as much of their list as they can. Their opinions on the frontlist titles is invaluable. Listening to them can help make you a better buyer.
Thursday’s blog will be about how to be a better buyer, because the rep/buyer relationship really only works if both sides are prepared and ready.