Entering the Blanton Museum of Art takes you into a peaceful atrium of serene blue walls and striking sculptural drama. Dangling from the ceiling, the immense Siphonophora immediately catches your eye—a beautifully strange sculpture inspired by a sea creature that simultaneously functions as one entity and as many. When we entered on our way into the galleries in the quiet morning, the space evoked feelings of peace and connection to the natural world. But over the course of the day, as I saw the space fill with yoga mats and then the chatter of children on field trips, it transformed from an environment of stillness to one pulsing with energy. And I think that reflects my evolving understanding of the role a museum like the Blanton fills in our community.
I was there last week to launch a new collaboration between BookPeople and the Blanton to bring thoughtful illustrators like Javaka Steptoe into conversations about the role of art in picture books—and then use those conversations as a jumping off point for further art exploration. The Blanton uses books to facilitate art interpretation in their field trips already, so adding the voices of some of the illustrators seems like a natural and exciting next step. Continue reading
One thing many booksellers have in common is a weariness of answering questions about the publication date of the third book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller trilogy. It is a weariness shared by others connected to the book as well. The author is sick of being asked about it, the publisher is sick of being asked about it, and readers are sick of asking booksellers about it. It has been over 11 years since my former Penguin rep, Peter Giannoni, mailed me an ARC of book one,The Name of the Wind, telling me that he thought I would like it (true) and that the author had written all three books while he was in grad school so there wouldn’t be a wait involved beyond the usual one year between each release (not true).
At this point, seven years out from when I read book two, Wise Man’s Fear, it seemed time to get some hard facts about the cause for the continuing absence of book three. The way I decided to approach this was to pull together a list of possible causes, and then ask someone who would know for sure if any of them were true. Fortunately Bast himself, one of the book’s characters, agreed to review the materials and give his assessment. First of all here’s the list.
It is mud season in Indiana, as evidenced by my store floors, my dogs paws, and the spectacular crop of dandelions in our front yard that is still a bit soft to mow. The area farmers are out making huge piles of debris in the corners of fields that are too wet for plowing, so most late afternoons there’s a haze of smoke as they burn the sticks and branches blown down in spring storms. We’re not quite ready to open the swimming pools or drag the patio furniture out of the garage, but we’re all ready to be outside. Its a perfect time for kids and their grown ups to put on some boots and go investigate the crawly things under rocks and logs, and an even better time for a store display about worms.
Everyone has an opinion about book covers: what sells, what kids will never pick up, what kids will pick up but their parents would never buy for them, what trends are in danger of oversaturation. Booksellers especially have opinions, because we see first-hand, all day long, how book covers (even their spines) affect how people select and reject books.
Because we see SO MANY COVERS coming and going, we have a lot of comparative data. We spot design trends quickly, and note which ones work and which ones fall flat. Covers affect our bottom lines as much as they affect a publisher’s, so we’re all invested in the same outcome: a cover that perfectly suits its book. Easy, huh? Not so much.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of a front row seat as long-time Spellbound customer Joanne O’Sullivan made the journey from submitting a manuscript to celebrating the publication of her debut young adult novel. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the joys and frustrations of the whole process.
The fiction corner of Teen Lit (we separate fiction and fantasy).
Last week I wrote a little bit about the fun of previewing new books at conferences like Children’s Institute. And that’s always a key part of these gatherings. But one of the big topics this year was the importance and resurgence of backlist, both as a sales trend and as one of the core ways stores express their points of view. We all put our own spin on our frontlist selections, but you’ll often see a good amount of commonality in the new arrivals section of any store at a given time. It’s really the backlist that indie stores choose to carry, and how we present it, that speaks volumes about our personalities.
I was on a panel about the topic, and I found it interesting to think about the ways we highlight backlist at the store. Because our store is physically large, we work staff selection rows into each section to cut through the density a bit and make sure our customers know where to look for personalized recommendations no matter where they are.
Community manifests itself in many ways, a point illustrated by two recent occurrences at the store. The first involved DDG’s Deserving Reader Award, which goes to a student selected by a local school who is a big reader but doesn’t have the resources to buy a book of their own. A recent award winner took the nature of the award a step further. In every way deserving of the award simply for her own love of books Mindy, a local fifth grader, volunteered to help a struggling second grade student at her school learn to read. What made Mindy’s recognition even more special to her was that a ShelfTalker reader who had attended a pre-publication event with author Kwame Alexander had Kwame sign a copy of The Playbook to a DDG Deserving Reader. She then mailed that copy to me which we gave to Mindy along with her award and gift certificates. That outreach by our community of readers really meant a lot.
Like most children’s stores, we rely on regular story times and authorless events to keep our regulars stopping in. Here at 4 Kids, we host an unchanging weekly schedule, as follows:
Tuesdays: Stories & Snacks
Thursdays: Silly Songs & Stories
Fridays: Gymboree Art Class
Wednesdays are reserved for private play groups in our party/event room, “special events” and large order deliveries (because I still *believe* that I can direct when pallets will arrive… see me later about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and my plan to Whole 30 just any day now…)
The most popular of our events is the Monday morning Paint-a-Story session, and I’m posting today just as this event is finishing up. So yes, I do see that there is blue paint in my hair and gluey fingerprints on my skirt, and yes, I meant for my manicure to be green. Thanks for noticing. We didn’t start out planning for this to be such an art-travaganza, but it owns that moniker proudly. Each week, about 30–35 kids attend with their moms, grandmothers (lots more of these lately, that’s another post, I think) and nannies. There’s another dozen or so “pumpkin seaters,” or babies in carriers and strollers, and the occasional dad.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Gorin.
The three best moments in a children’s bookseller’s life (at least for this bookseller) are:
- Seeing a child light up with love for a book (often involves book hugging);
- Seeing a child who used to think of himself or herself as a “non-reader” fall in love with books, usually triggered by one special gateway title or author;
- Seeing an auditorium full of kids shout and cheer with joy about books, reading, authors, and their own possibilities.
I got to experience all three of those things the other day when Kwame Alexander and his guitarist accompanist, Randy Preston, took the stage at Burlington High School, performing for around 600 kids from 11 area elementary and middle schools.
One thing I frequently struggle with as a children’s bookseller is naming and arranging sections within the store. The whole purpose of having different sections is to help shoppers find what they’re looking for, yet lately I find myself questioning the usefulness of some of our labels. And by “our” I mean not only Spellbound’s but the industry’s.