Every book lover has a special place they prefer to read. The act of reading is a very intimate one, and deeply personal. For some it’s comfy at home on the couch, for others it’s in a noisy cafe, and still others prefer their favorite chair. I was thinking about this while I was chatting with a friend about books. We started talking, not only where you read, but how readers prepare for reading a new book. Starting a book is very much like deciding to spend time with a friend, and this often requires preparation. Continue reading
When it comes to bookselling ideas, interplay, and industry face-to-face connections, Winter Institute is the ultimate buffet. At the end of WI 11, however, we were challenged to focus on one idea from the conference that we wanted to focus on particularly and follow through on right away. Right ho then. First though, here is a list of some other notable ideas and aspects of Winter Institute that I am not going to mention.
Recently, I blogged about the flare-up over Scholastic’s pulling of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, and my feeling was that because the book is for such young readers, who will not have the context to read between the lines of the “smiling slave” narrative (nor, sadly, will many of the adults sharing it with them be aware of this problematic treatment of slavery), it was a thoughtful decision to pull the book, despite the chill of censorship such a move casts.
I had felt that the book carried some of the burden that arose with the controversy around A Fine Dessert, and that it was pulled in part because sensitivities and awareness are now at such high levels that the publishing community has started to catch up to a more nuanced understanding of diversity and the importance of authenticity and accuracy.
But many voices in the community have raised the question of whether the fact that the team behind the book are people of color influenced this almost-unprecedented removal of a book from publication. And that question stopped me right in the tracks of my own white privilege – the kind that is most insidious and invisible, the kind I almost never have to think about. That white authors and illustrators have a level of support and comfort in the halls of publishing that few artists of color do. I’ve been aware of the struggles of people of color to be published, of course, and aware of frustrations with an editorial approach that often shows evidence of comfort only with certain limited kinds of stories about people of color. But I hadn’t thought at all about post-publication issues. Continue reading
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Flying Pig Bookstore. When Elizabeth and I opened the store on November 23, 1996, I don’t think we had any idea that 20 years later not only would we still be open, but we’d be thriving. It’s been a glorious 20 years that we really want to celebrate. While the actual date of the party feels far away, the planning has already started and we have the spreadsheets to prove it. Continue reading
Back in 2002, I was one of a dozen students beginning our first semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. That long, intense week of lectures, readings, and workshops bonded us so strongly, we all still keep in touch, celebrating life and work’s successes and mourning losses together. Admittedly, it was an exceptionally fabulous group of people, but I’ll bet that can be said of most groups of children’s book writers.
Recently, a friend of mine went to her first MFA residency. It was a different program at a different institution, but I suspected that she would go through so many of the same things we did – high hopes and dreams, self-doubt, critique fear, exhilaration, and the midweek meltdown that comes as a result of exhaustion, an excess of emotional and intellectual stimulation, and the inevitable product of introverts experiencing people overload. So I sent her off with a gift that one of my classmates from that long-ago group had given to us at the end of our week together: a cartoon sketching out the Life Cycle of the MFA Residency. Continue reading
Inveterate fantasy readers could be forgiven for believing that the dangers present in their favorite genre are more mordant than those to be found in small-town independent bookselling. The truth is far darker than this naive presumption. When it comes to danger, incursions form unstable parallel universes, diabolical magic wielders, pandemics stemming from dubious science experiments, alien invasions and environmental catastrophes, pale in comparison to the terror of selling local theater tickets, especially when children are involved.
Like many bookstores, DDG volunteers to sell tickets on behalf of many community organizations. It is usually a safe and rewarding community service to offer. Local theater productions with a significant number of child actors in them is another matter. Once there are more grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and neighbors than there are tickets available well, there aren’t enough pitchforks to pass around.
The children’s literature world has been stirred up by Scholastic’s announcement on Sunday that they are pulling A Birthday Cake for George Washington from their line-up and offering full return credit for unsold copies. The nutshell for anyone new to this issue is that a picture book for young readers was published, and then recalled because it ended up altering and reinterpreting history in ways that made slavery seem like a sometimes proud and happy experience, without sufficient accuracy and context in the story itself for its young readers to understand the reality of that experience (though there is a note in the back matter clarifying some of the license taken).
Our small world is in an uproar of disagreement about this decision to pull the book; you can read some articles from various viewpoints:
- publisher Andrea Davis Pinkney’s original introduction of the book
- the Mt. Vernon account of Hercules’ history
- Birthday Cake author Ramin Ganeshram’s post about writing the book in CBC’s Diversity blog
- blogger Edi Campbell’s response to the recall
- the Kirkus review of the book
- Salon.com article on Birthday Cake, A Fine Dessert, and the responsibilities of writing for children about slavery
- Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog post about the controversy, which includes a link to this excellent Fusion article by Charles Pulliam-Moore
While the Internet is aflame with vilification and ire on both sides, what I want to talk about is the opportunity that this decision affords us in the future.
ARCs are objects that have a very particular Prime Function, namely to create interest in, and generate sales for, their on-sale trade versions. As both a frontlist buyer and a bookstore owner I consider ARCs invaluable and I take their prime function with actual gravity.
For example when I receive an ARC instead of a regular trade edition from a used book dealer when ordering an out-of-print book for a customer, my outrage is unfeigned.
There are many ways to maximize the prime function of ARCs. There are little things, like letting the store plush animals review F&Gs pertaining to their particular interests, as you can see to the right. The main route I have taken, however, is through literacy outreach in the classroom. I have done ARC review projects in local classrooms for more than 15 years, and I thought I would share my particular mode of operating them.
Every year we close the bookstore for a week after New Year’s Eve. Yesterday was my first full day of work since this annual break. And what a day it was. I was reminded almost immediately that a bookseller’s day is largely determined by who walks in the door. All of us have the best ideas of how our day will go and then projects get derailed by odd questions, customer unhappiness, and strange happenings. Continue reading
UPDATE: CONTEST EXTENDED UNTIL MONDAY, JANUARY 25! Great entries, everyone! Keep ’em coming. And I will reveal that the Grand Prize is… the new Kate DiCamillo ARC!!!
By the time you read this post, the ALA Youth Media Awards will have been announced. (In fact, why are you reading this at all? You should be out celebrating the winners, buying books that slipped under your radar, and ranting on Twitter about favorites that weren’t recognized. Still, we are so glad you’re here.)
At the time of the *writing* of this post, however, Monday’s winners are wrapped in a gauzy haze of dream and mystery. So allow us to present these awards instead: The fabulous Bulwer-Lytton award for the world’s worst sentence.