Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Mysterious Sales Spike, Revealed

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 12, 2014

Written by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, published by HarperCollins

Recently, the store has had a run on copies of The School for Good and Evil. The book has been out for some time in hardcover (published May 2013), and sold very well here in our neck of the woods, above average in its genre but with a quieter level of customer demand than, say, Divergent or The Hunger Games.
The School for Good and Evil came out in paperback back in April, but the demand for it here ramped up exponentially this past week. Suddenly, it seemed, every 10-year-old in the county wanted that book.
I couldn’t figure out what had made the difference. Had a movie or TV show based on the book just come out and I’d missed it? Had the title shown up on a Scholastic order form in some particularly effective, attention-getting way? I wasn’t sure, but I knew to stick a stack of copies on the front counter. Sure enough, they flew out the door even faster.
What gave? Finally, I received my answer. A fifth-grade boy came in with his mom looking for a copy of My Side of the Mountain for a friend’s birthday, and he spotted The School for Good and Evil by the register. “That’s supposed to be really good,” he said to his mom. “Want to get it?” she asked. “Sure,” he said. (Booksellers love that conversation.) This boy was the tipping point for me; I had to know how he had become interested in this title that showed two female main characters on the cover. Even though I fiercely believe a good story is a good story, and avoid gender-stereotyping reader preferences, 10-year-old boys aren’t always in the habit of diving for books with girls on the cover. (Not my world; I just live in it.)
“Hey, Kyle,” I said. “This book is really popular with kids your age right now. How did you hear about it?” His was the simplest of answers, and as a retailer with 75-85% of sales attributable to direct recommendations to customers, I should have anticipated it: “Rainey did a book talk.” Rainey is a girl in his class; the fifth graders had been doing book recommendations in their language arts class, and Rainey’s presentation on The School for Good and Evil had made everyone in the room want to read it. Word of mouth spread, and soon the whole fifth grade was running to bookstores and libraries on a mission.
Then Kyle charmed the socks off me by asking earnestly, “Have kids also been asking for The Hunger Games? And the Percy Jackson books? And Spirit Animals?” It was clear those were the books he had recommended to his classmates, and I was pleased to be able to tell him that yes, they had.
And when he and Rainey turn 14, I hope they want summer jobs handselling books at my store.

Young Readers and Writers

Josie Leavitt - June 10, 2014

Every year for the past five, we’ve hosted a reading celebration that’s run through our local PBS station. This past Saturday seven young readers from all over northern Vermont dressed up in their fancy clothes to read their illustrated stories. I love this story time for many reasons, but the main one is the variety of stories and the absolute loveliness of the kids.
Children and their families started streaming in about 20 minutes before the reading. They found seats and then browsed nervously. The mix of pride and fear was evident in all the readers who were mostly third and fourth graders. Elizabeth hosted the event with grace and a calming style that helped soothe all the young writers. She and I discussed the order of the readings and told the kids we would start from the end of the alphabet. This made it real. Kids started squirming. One child blanched, realizing that instead of going near the end (her name began with a W) she would be going first.
One by one, they read their stories, about horses, a Lego man, siblings, and being scared by noises; some of them whispered, some shouted, but all were proud, and they should have been. These stories were good, they were full of great images, both drawn and written, and complex plot lines with dialogue and humor. These were young writers and I was glad to hear their stories and be part of their event. newreaderreddressphoto 1photo 3

Getting Ready for Summer Reading

Josie Leavitt - June 9, 2014

photo-32It’s that time of year again: time to stock up on summer reading. Kids and parents are starting to stream in looking for books for camp, stocking up on the required reading of summer, and some eager teens are just looking forward to reading for pleasure again. Every year we make it easy for them to find these by making a special cart of books, but this year, Elizabeth got really creative. Continue reading

Let’s Compile the Anti-Anti-YA Reading List

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 6, 2014

Many of you will already have read Ruth Graham’s article, Against YA, with its finger-wagging subtitle, “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
While Ms. Graham’s perspective is of course a limited view of the richness and complexity that can be found in literature for teens, it’s not too hard to guess where some of her anxieties come from: the sense that our culture is gradually infantilizing itself and that grownups are few and far between. I’m just not convinced that adults reading YA literature is a sign of the impending immaturity apocalypse.

“Against YA” reads like most media coverage of children’s and YA literature; that is, written by someone outside the field who reads one or two titles and draws conclusions that make those inside the field roll their eyes (Ms. Graham’s own “adult” response to some passages she has encountered in books for teens).Adult readers read YA books for all kinds of reasons – nostalgia and escape may be among those impulses, and there is no shame in that, but there is also so much more in great YA. Through books written for young people, we visit different worlds, we connect with teens and young adults, we challenge our own notions of what it means to be a young person in the world today. And we encounter some damn fine literature. (Octavian Nothing, anybody?)

I’m not sure what is gained by shaming anybody about reading. If Ms. Graham is concerned that adults will become so enamored of the escapist, tidy-ending, light YA fiction she disdains that they will stop reading adult literature, all she has to do is visit a bookstore and ask the clerks what they’ve observed. At the Flying Pig, at least, adults who read YA have not abandoned their Alice Munro and Flannery O’Connor, their Rohinton Mistry and Tolstoy; they’ve just added something new to the mix.
Many wonderful bloggers have already responded well and thoughtfully to Ms. Graham’s article. What I’d like to do is to gather a delicious list of complex, literarily rewarding YA titles (which must be realistic fiction, since that is the genre assessed and addressed in the article) that challenge the assumptions therein.
Here are some of Ms. Graham’s issues with YA literature as reading for adults:
1)  “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.There’s of course no shame in writing about teenagers; think Shakespeare or the Brontë sisters or Megan Abbott. But the very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable. [… Crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.”

Wow. This last sentence is one of the most reductive lines in the article. Let’s get on that one posthaste. Come to think of it, though, doesn’t most adult literature present adult perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way? Readers don’t sit back and sneer, ‘What a grownup thing to think!” This us/them view of teenagers and adults is perhaps the aspect of the “Against YA” article that bothers me most. Yes, teenagers are younger, often less experienced humans, and adults are older, often more experienced humans. So what? We have all met teens who have astonished us with their wisdom and compassion, their insight and intelligence, their creativity and drive. And we have all met adults who … have not. But to get back to literature, let’s find those contemporary realistic YA books that present a rich, notuncritical, teen perspective. I’ll toss out Aidan Chambers’ Postcard from No Man’s Land for startersAnd how about Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, a nuanced book with a non-tidy ending? Or We Were Liars by E. Lockhart?
2) Even “the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. […I]f people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.”
Well, who could argue with a false dichotomy like that? Maudlin teen dramas vs. complex adult literature. How about we find some complex teen literature? How about Adam Rapp’s harrowing and brilliant, unforgettable and undeniably YA 33 Snowfish?
Readers, what YA realistic fiction titles — that you think reward adult readers as richly as teens — would you like to add to the anti-anti-YA reading list?

Berry Season

Josie Leavitt - June 5, 2014

It’s finally starting to feel like summer here in Vermont and with that comes the increase in requests for books about berries. There is nothing quite like the fresh berries of summer. In my area there are a plethora of pick-your-own berry farms that make a summer outing all the more enjoyable. It’s easy to forget that kids are still learning about food and the seasonal availability of fresh, local berries. The joy of berries is they are good for you and most children love them.
salOf course, Blueberries for Sal is probably my most favorite book about berries. In a humorous mix-up, Little Sal and Little Bear almost switch moms in the quest for blueberries. This classic book really captures the joy of picking berries and the sounds the berries landing in the metal pail with the now famous: Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk. I think at some point all of us who have gone blueberry picking have wound up eating our fair share of berries as well.
Continuing the theme of bears and berries, Jamberry is another book about the fantastical joys of jamberryberry picking in a magical land. Exuberant rhyme make this berry-hunting book a delight and will get kids ready for all manner of berry that might come their way.
One of the best storytime books is The Little Mouse, the Red-Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear, about a mouse and bear who both love berries. (I think bears are in peril of being maligned in all these berry books.) The illustrations in this book are lovely and the message about sharing is nicely redripehandled. The mouse wants to save his freshly picked strawberry from the bear, and the only way he can do that is to share it with the reader.
What happens once you pick all these glorious berries? You piepartymake a pie, of course. There’s a new book out this season,The Good-Pie Party, which turns the sadness of a girl moving into a celebration of friendship and the joy of sharing pie. There’s also the older book, The Blueberry Pie Elf, about an blueberry-loving little elf with a large appetite for pie.
What are some of your favorite books about the bounty of summer berries?

World Premiere: Two Tunes for Authors (and Editors)

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 3, 2014

Every year, my literary agent, Erin Murphy, and her crack team of co-agents and office gurus put together a retreat for their clients. The retreat moves around the country from one region to the next, and this year, it was held in Vermont. Sixty-seven talented, funny, crazy children’s book writers and illustrators descended on my unsuspecting state, pretty much doubling our population.
And why on earth might this interest you, dear Reader? Well, because among those authors and illustrators are eight musical souls who have banded together, literally, to reveal the inner workings of an author’s brain. (Psst: It’s scary in there.) The band is  called Erin Murphy’s Dog, and their motto is “In bocca al coniglio,” a faux-mild children’s-book-worthy appropriation of the galvanizing Italian phrase “in boca al lupo” (literally, “in the mouth of the wolf,” but it means “break a leg!”).
The members of the band are (l. to r. front row) Carrie Gordon Watson, Deborah Underwood, (l. to r. back row) Kristin Nitz, Jeannie Mobley, Mike Jung, Arthur A. Levine (yes, that Arthur A. Levine), Ruth McNally Barshaw, and Conrad Wesselhoeft.

Erin Murphys Dog

Photo by EMLA agency mate Tara Dairman

The band performed to a wildly appreciative crowd of agency mates, and two of the songs were particularly amusing for anyone involved in the children’s literature field. So it is my great pleasure to announce the world premiere of “Editorial Delay” and “YA Cha-Cha Blues.”
Not only are the songs clever and funny, they offer other gifts. In the words of band member Mike Jung, “These songs have it all – intensely complicated ukulele chords, 12-bar blues wizardry, freewheeling choreography, author/editor humor, and a broad variety of Muppet-like facial expressions. Also, a lot of love, because I love these people with all my heart. IN BOCCA AL CONIGLIO!”
Big thanks to Erin Murphy’s Dog for permission to post these videos, with extra gratitude to agency mate, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, who did the three-camera video recording of these songs and synced the sound and color-corrected on the fly to meet this ShelfTalker deadline!
Erin Murphy’s Dog Performs “Editorial Delay” (music by Deborah Underwood, words by Deborah Underwood and Arthur A. Levine) from e.E. Charlton-Trujillo on Vimeo.

Erin Murphy’s Dog – YA Cha-Cha Blues (words and music by Conrad Wesselhoeft, in response to a conversation he had with agent and super knitter Erin Murphy about how the writing life can be back and forth … and back and forth) from e.E. Charlton-Trujillo on Vimeo.

Bravo! Bravo!
Adoring fans are welcome to leave comments (but not flowers or flung underwear) below. As Erin Murphy’s Dog would say, “Arrroooo!”

BEA Wrap-Up

Josie Leavitt - June 2, 2014

I got home from Book Expo Saturday night and have had some time to think about the show. I am left with several conclusions: indies seem to be doing better, the trade show seemed smaller this year, children’s authors and illustrators know how to have fun. And there is still much to do.
I gauge my sense of bookstore health by talking with friends and colleagues. Usually, if business is bad or people are mad it’s the only thing we talk about at parties and at the breakfasts. This year, folks seemed happy. The long winter was finally over, and to spite the horrid weather in the Northeast, most booksellers were optimistic about the rest of the year. There was little grousing, except about Amazon and its tactics with Hachette. Bookseller friends remained cheery throughout the show. All the breakfast speakers were surprisingly good, though the actual breakfasts were found to be lacking, protein mostly.
Savvy booksellers paced themselves on the number of galleys they took. Mostly there was talk aboutelephanttote how to get a particular tote bag. I missed my chance, but for some reason many people asked me about it, as if I had a magical power to make them appear at the Macmillan booth. So cute, but alas there seemed to be a limited number that were given out Thursday and then gone. This was actually a really smart move on the publisher’s part. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted this bag. And it just gets you ready for the book, which is equally good.
The show floor seemed small to me this year. There were many rows with carpeted areas that had no booths. It does seem to me that the show is getting smaller every year. I spoke with some publishers who had heard about BookCon expanding to two days and they were already thinking about how to afford that extra day. While I don’t know the number of attendees at this year’s BookCon I do worry a tiny bit about letting the public in to see all the fall books. Not that they shouldn’t get as excited as we are, but I want to capture those sales for indies and not have them pre-order with Amazon. So, my thought for next year is to give them a discount code for IndieBound so they can pre-order and save 10-20% on the books.
Children’s authors are a generally really fun bunch to hang out with. The auction on Wednesday night had them putting on a talent show. The show was good, but the acoustics worked against them in the cavernous River Pavilion of the Javits Center. Unless you were seated right in front, it was nearly impossible to hear any of the hilarity that was coming from the stage. Shannon Hale wore a brown polyester pant-and-shirt combo that her mother made in the 70s – that alone should have won a prize for most flammable outfit. Jarrett Krosoczka choreographed the rousing finale set to the theme of Footloose. It all ended with the audience joining in the dancing. Much money was raised for ABFFE and we all had a great time. I loved the range of authors and illustrators who willingly took a risk and performed for the joy of it.
I mentioned the Amazon-Hachette dustup in Friday’s blog and this still looms large for booksellers. We do need to be beating a drum more loudly about this one. Amazon’s bully tactics with Hachette, slowing the delivery of their books and making it difficult to buy some e-books again suggest that perhaps Amazon has been given, or more accurately to my mind, taken too much power in the industry. It seems like we’ve all stood around and watched them try to monopolize their business as bookseller, publisher and distributor. Rather than the constant urging of shopping local, perhaps it’s time we tried to stand up to this behemoth to start changing things.