Monthly Archives: January 2017

Adopt a Classroom: Give a Year of Diverse Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 31, 2017

Grace Lin’s beautiful contribution to one of my earliest ShelfTalker posts—almost seven years ago—about the (literally) ivory tower of publishing. Not enough has changed since then. Click on the image to see a dozen more powerful pieces of art created by artists we invited to address the topic.

Greetings from chilly Minneapolis, which hosted this year’s Winter Institute (the bookselling community’s annual educational conference). I won’t recap the conference; Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness have posted terrific photos and highlights from the sessions, like the phenomenal breakfast keynote by Roxane Gay, who took the entire book industry to task not only for its continued lack of inclusiveness at a systemic level, but for complacently allowing inclusion efforts to stop at inviting people of color to participate  on panels, and for expecting people of color to lead the way and do the work of activism for us. (Read more of her comments here, thanks to Shelf Awareness.)
Gay’s rallying cry reinforced and galvanized passionate booksellers, who raised concerns and calls to action throughout the weekend, especially at the well-attended Town Hall Meeting. The wheels of righting racism grind exceeding slow, but many booksellers, publishers, and American Booksellers Association staff and board members are heading home with renewed determination, ideas, and fire in the belly to take meaningful action.
In addition to stepping up my own efforts to do outreach to make our bookstore staff more diverse, I’ve decided to focus energy on a program I’ve wanted to implement for two years. It’s an idea I first heard from blogger and literacy activist Edi Campbell at a conference on diversity in publishing. Brilliant in its simplicity, this is something just about any individual can do for a few dollars a month, and something any bookstore can help scores of individuals to accomplish: adopt one classroom and donate a book each month to the classroom’s library. That’s it! The donated books—celebrating the rich tapestry of people who share this nation—will be wonderful, engaging, and inclusive, and at the end of the year, the classroom will have a dozen new titles (two in September and December, and two in May for schools that end in May).
My plan for the store’s Adopt-a-Classroom Program is this:
We will introduce the Adopt-a-Classroom Program to customers and teachers, explaining how it works: customers will come to the store or use our website to choose one book each month to donate to a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school classroom. The chosen books must feature real or fictional characters who are traditionally underrepresented in literature, so that the recipient classroom library becomes richer, more inclusive, and welcoming for all students, helping them see themselves and others reflected on the pages of their books.
The bookstore will offer customers our educator discount for these purchases.
We will help match customers with classrooms in need if they don’t already have a classroom in mind.
For customers desiring some guidance on what to donate, we will have lists of recommended books for preschool and grades K-3, 4-5, and 6-8. We will also use as a resource our World Full of Color database of more than 1,300 books featuring main characters of color in a multitude of stories that are not primarily driven by issues of race.
We will invite teachers to share any wish list books with us (as long as those books fill the inclusive mission of this program).
This is just the kernel of the plan. There are so many ways to be creative and expand on the idea!
Once we have the information sheet written and designed, and the logistical mechanisms in place, I’ll post again and share the materials so that other bookstores can use them as a springboard.
Winter Institute colleagues, what plans are you bringing home to your stores?
P.S. It’s also almost February and Black History Month, so I wanted to direct people back to the September post, A Joyful Diversity Collection, which, among other titles, features many books about African-American heroes, explorers, inventors, scientists, artists, musicians, doctors, social innovators, and so much more. In these dark days, it’s even more important to add JOY, triumph, inspiration, and hope to your Black History Month displays!

What We Can Do Now

lhawkins - January 30, 2017

Even kids whose parents keep them on a fairly low screen-time diet will likely have seen or heard something about the tumultuous events of this past weekend, as spontaneous nationwide protests sprang up in airports around the country. How can, or should, we in our role as children’s booksellers be of service to kids and families in a time like this?
We all have different approaches and different comfort levels when it comes to broaching subjects with our customers that are political or that may be easily politicized. What’s appropriate? What’s useful? Aside from anything else I may feel called to do on my personal time, I’m determined to do something this week at the bookstore to provide some small measure of comfort, insight, and empowerment to those kids.
Here are two actionable ideas being implemented at Spellbound this week:

Charlesbridge, 2015

First, our weekly story time will feature stories of immigrants and refugees. It’s always appropriate to share stories that foster empathy and compassion. Among the picture books we’re looking forward to sharing this week: I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, in which three students, newly arrived from three different countries, learn to feel confident and comfortable in their new school without losing a sense of their home country, language, and identity.

Little Bee Books, 2016

Welcome by French author-illustrator Barroux was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. It follows three polar bears who are in danger and in need of a new home. After being turned away by others when they were in need, the bears decide to be kind and welcoming when, after finally finding that home, a trio of lost monkeys comes along and is in need of a new home.

Nobrow Press, 2016

The Journey by Francesca Sanna is a beautiful book that’s received well-earned attention and critical praise since its release last year. A family leaves their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war.
How many stories we’ll get through at story time depends, as many of you well know, on the average age and attention span of the audience that shows up any given day.  Some more great choices on this theme that we look forward to featuring at this or upcoming story times include: We Came to America by Faith Ringgold (Knopf, 2016), Why Am I Here? by Akin Duzakin and Constance Orbeck-Nilssen (Eerdmans, 2016), Joseph’s Big Ride by Terry Farish and Ken Daley (Annick Press, 2016), and My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood (HMH, 2015).
The second idea that we’re acting on is inspired by an Instagram post from our indie colleagues at Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa.: providing free stamped postcards for kids and adults to, as the wise folks at Aaron’s put it, “let their elected representatives know how they feel about issues near and dear to them.” Being an active and engaged citizen and modeling that for kids is, like fostering empathy, always appropriate.
We’ll continue to look for ways we can make the bookstore a welcoming, enlightening, and engaging place for all.
What titles are ShelfTalker readers recommending this week, and how do you engage your young customers when difficult but important issues are top of mind?

Bringing History to Life

Meghan Dietsche Goel - January 27, 2017

In a glorious example of ShelfTalker synergy, my colleague Kenny Brechner just posted a terrific piece on selling active nonfiction yesterday. As proof of a trend perhaps, nonfiction has also been on my mind this week over in Texas.
We had the great pleasure of hosting Steve Sheinkin for school visits last week. His newest book, Undefeatedtells the riveting story of Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football team, true underdogs who became one of the most successful teams in history and who Sheinkin credits with inventing the game of football as it exists today. A member of the Sac and Fox Nation who co-founded the National Football League, the team’s star Jim Thorpe was also the first Native American to win an Olympic Gold Medal and is still considered one of the best athletes in history. But Thorpe’s journey was neither rosy nor easy, and the racism and betrayals he faced make this, in Steve Sheinkin’s own words, “one of the most inspiring” and “one of the most heartbreaking” stories that he has ever told. While he was here, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions. It was a great conversation about this important new book, and you can read the interview here. I also wanted to pull out something Steve said about making nonfiction appealing to kids. Continue reading

Wi12 Preview: Active Nonfiction Books in Theory and Practice

Kenny Brechner - January 26, 2017

As I’ll be packing for Winter Institute today I thought I’d also unpack some thoughts on  one of the educational session topics to be featured there, expanding active nonfiction sales. I’m really looking forward to that ABC session . Would that only be because I am on the panel? Not at all. Seriously though, it really is a great panel on an important topic.   I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to be on a panel with amiable luminaries like Tegan Tegani, Carol Moyer, and Sara Grochowski?
Right, so what is the definition of active nonfiction, you ask? The simple definition is “books in which the reader applies his or her reading to engaging in an activity.” From an adult perspective that could describe a travel book or a book on gardening. I would argue, though, that active nonfiction in children’s books differs from its adult cousin because of a fundamental difference in the nature of the audience. Young readers are never armchair travelers. An adult can read of a perilous ascent on K2 and savor the adventure in her mind. A fourth grader reading of the same adventure is sure to attempt to ascend the most perilous climb she can reach by foot, even if that turns out to be a mountain of pillows piled on a sofa. Thus I think it is fair to ask whether all juvenile nonfiction is active in an important sense.
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Your Thoughts on the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery, Printz, and More?

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 24, 2017

For children’s book people, the ALA Youth Media Awards are more exciting than the Oscars — and, at least for the past few years, a whole lot more diverse in their recognition of the award-worthy. Twenty categories honored 70 books, one video, and four audiobooks, and singled out four extraordinary people in our field. This was a joyous year with gratifying recognition for distinguished work and, in my case, few surprises. 
What did you think of the awards? What surprised you? Which books were overlooked that you’d had high hopes for?
(A brief discussion and full list of the awards below.)
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A Community Bound by Books

Meghan Dietsche Goel - January 20, 2017

Storytimes at the bookstore are always a hoot, and always different. We do them three times a week, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning. Regularly attracting between 30 and 60 people for an average reading and surging into the hundreds for some of our most popular events, they bring both delightful, essential energy into the store and a whirlwind of chaos that leaves trails of books and toys in its wake.
The core of our storytime program centers around our multi-talented bookselling team, which includes the renowned “BookPeople Preposterous Puppet Show Players,” but we also love turning over the stage to all kinds of guests who bring their own love of books and unique approaches to the art of storytelling. Sometimes it’s a theater previewing a children’s literary adaptation, a Baby Signs instructor engaging with the tots, or a music school doing monthly class demos. Our partners see it as a great platform for connecting with new families, and our readers get free samples of fantastic local programming available for kids.
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The One Ring on Inauguration

Kenny Brechner - January 19, 2017

The inauguration tomorrow has commanded our attention to the point that it would be out of touch to write about anything else. Such singularity hearkens to Tolkien’s One Ring, the nature of whose power Galadrial showed Frodo when “She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark.” This is the essential nature of the will to power: it robs us of a multiplicity of worlds.
As every fantasy reader knows, multiple worlds and parallel dimensions are a core principle of both fantasy and science fiction, whether navigated by a physics box as in Blake Crouch’s recent Dark Matter or a nine lived enchanter as in Diana Wynne Jones’s classic Chrestomanci, the movement between adjacent worlds is intrinsic to reading because it is a metaphor for it. The operation of Crouch’s box, the power of Chrestomanci, is an extension of the reader’s power to choose and navigate between the parallel interrelated worlds which is literature. The hero’s journey is the reader’s journey, one might say. Not only is that journey worth fighting for but is related to and informs real world struggles against its suppression.
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The Starred Review App

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 17, 2017

Our astute staffer, Sandy, often makes casual remarks at work that lead to blog posts. (Lucky for me!) Recently, she’s implemented a new system for organizing Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) in our office bookcase: instead of simply arranging them by publication date, Sandy looks up reviews and arranges them in stacks by starred reviews received. One star, two stars, three stars, on the top shelf, followed by the books that have yet to receive stars.
There are some flaws in the system: books continue to earn stars over the course of weeks and months, of course, so no stack of ARCs is guaranteed to be accurate past the moment of shelving. And there’s very little time in the bookselling day to revisit ARC placement. Still, when the timing works out, it’s a very helpful way to make sure critically acclaimed books are seen and read by staff before publication.
Today, when we were receiving a batch of new ARCs, Sandy remarked, “I wish there were an app that would ding whenever a book got a starred review.” My world lit up.
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An Interview with the Year 2017

Kenny Brechner - January 12, 2017

It is a fair question. The obvious one, I mean. Here it is January 12 and my annual interview with the new Year has not appeared yet. Why? What happened? Until this morning I had no idea myself. My interview was scheduled for New Year’s Eve, as usual, when I received this terse note.

It was with some trepidation that I approached the Glade of Years for my rescheduled interview. Here is what I discovered.
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