Going through a picture book frontlist kit is a bit like walking down a long corridor lined with ornate doors. We poke our head through every door. Many lead to the familiar places suggested by the book jackets which adorn them. Yet our expectations are often slightly askew, either pleasantly or otherwise. Every now and then, however, we cross a doorway and find ourselves in a markedly different place than we had been prepared for, a place whose quality grows stronger with every step.
That was my experience when I stepped within The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown yesterday. It is a picture book biography by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby. I knew right away I wanted to write about this book. Later in the day I realized something else unexpected, that my ShelfTalker pal Meghan Dietsche Goel had already written about the book, in the same context I was planning on! Denied! What now?
I was very excited for this week’s Paint-a-Story at the shop, both because I love Jon Agee’s There’s a Wall in the Middle of This Book, and because I could finally use some materials for our accompanying art project that I had stashed in the garage months ago — following a long, very satisfying rummage at our local hardware store, where the clearance shelves are a treasure trove of creative possibility for preschoolers and adults who like big messes. (OK, I was really there to look for a new garbage disposal… but how long can you do THAT?) As I have written about in Paint-a-Story Mondays; or, The Messier the Better, each Monday morning we gather with 25-35 preschool children and their grownups to read a picture book aloud and complete a “very messy” art project — sometimes experimenting with the materials or style of the book’s illustrator, and sometimes using found materials (and a lot of glitter and glue) to expand on the story and its theme. Our staff selects the book and provides the materials, but much of what is created by our guests is original, inspired, and worth oh-so-much-more than a refrigerator door gallery showing. Our objective is to be more concerned with process than product, believing that open-ended experimentation with materials within the shadow of good stories makes literature real and tangible to young people — truly, we believe this is true for readers of all ages.
The children’s literature equivalent of the Oscars—aka the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards—were announced on Monday morning, and 66 books from 23 publishers took home 77 awards (plus 10 adult titles from the Alex Awards). Forty-seven awards (excluding the Alex Awards) went to women; 30 went to men.
So many beautiful, enduring books were included, along with some surprising omissions. And oh, the humanity! Only two Newbery Honor books?! I loved the choices, and judges, our shelves also have room for a couple more! (Scroll down for a complete list of winners and honors, grouped by age range instead of separated by award.)
Readers, what books were you sad, surprised, and/or outraged not to see on these lists? I’ll join that conversation in the comments.
Several books took home multiple awards: one book, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen) took home three, and the following books each took home two: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial), The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (Scholastic/Levine), Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (Little, Brown), The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (HMH), What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper (Knopf), and When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Jose Ramirez (Atheneum).
Last week I chronicled the fun that our children’s booksellers had with a table full of picture book samples, and there were so many stand-out picks there that we can’t wait to sell. But as a children’s bookseller, one of the titles that particularly stood out was Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby’s The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown.
As we dip and weave through Margaret Wise Brown’s life, landing on small but illuminating moments on each page, a woman with pragmatic sensibilities, off-kilter idiosyncrasies, childlike wonder, an uncommon affinity for rabbits, and maybe even a dash of ambition comes into focus. Winningly odd and childlike in scope, it boils the life of this vibrant literary giant down into 42 pages—one for each year of her life—while very specifically not trying too hard to fit the entirety of that life into these pages at all.
As I write this it is 4:27 p.m. on Wednesday in Albuquerque, the first full day of Winter Institute 14. It is true that I’ve been here since Saturday doing clandestine activities for the ABA Board but we’re not going to discuss that or even acknowledge it. Our mission here is succinct. It’s all about today.
Pictured l. to r. are my delightful mentees, Jesper Provstgaard Kristiansen of Indeks Retail in Denmark, and new bookstore owners Dan Brewster of Prologue Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio, and Tina Greene-Bevington of Bay Books in Suttons Bay, Mich.
The official day started with meeting my three mentees before the Breakfast Keynote by Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani. Following her keynote, booksellers separated into 11 groups for a discussion based on the address. The discussions were each led by an ABA Board member.
Reshma’s new book is Brave Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More and Live Bolder
. It was expected that the discussions would be centered on a general application of that principle to bookselling; however, the keynote was based strongly on gender-specific character development with boys trained to be brave and learn from failure while girls are trained to be handcuffed by perfectionism and a counter-productive adherence to empathy at the cost of progressive personal engagement and development.
I decided to take Reshma’s advice and go with bravery over sterile perfectionism and brought forward a topic I have thought about for many years: the gender divide in children’s bookselling. If you spend time working in elementary schools you will be aware that there are very few male teachers in the building. The same is certainly true of engaged male children’s booksellers. This is so despite the vital importance of children’s books as an economic driver to bookstore sales and customer loyalty.
Late January brings frigid temperatures and ice storms, a ubiquitous layer of sidewalk salt crunching underfoot in the entryway of my store where it was tracked in by little boots and the wheels of strollers, and a calendar marked with appointments as publishers reps all present their spring/summer seasons lists. The phone calls begin right after New Year’s: “Cynthia, I’m headed to town in a few weeks. Is Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon better for you? I will send a box of catalogs and samples, but the mark-ups are already in your inbox.”
Publisher rep appointments are a spot of sunshine in the bitter grey days and swirling snow of January here in Indiana. The store is quiet, we are a bit flush with cash from the holidays, and we really miss seeing our colleagues from the bookselling community. Sales reps, like the Pony Express, bring us packages and treats, but they also bring news.
It’s so exciting to encounter authors right as their careers tremble on the edge of shooting off into the skies. It might be a grand splash of an arrival, with national bestseller repercussions, or it may be a quieter arrival, in which the school and library world suddenly seems to have discovered and fallen in love with an author en masse. When you read a fresh book and know that it’s going to be a game-changer, it’s a brilliant feeling. It’s like a low thrill that builds in your blood and grows stronger and stronger as your joy and delight in a book is shared by more and more readers. I have that feeling again! More on that in a bit.
I have always been drawn to fictive and vanished books, manuscripts alluded to in other works of fiction or history which are in fact either wholly imaginary or else once truly existed but no extant copy has “escaped those waves of time, which have wrecked the bark of Menander, and left of Sappho but a few floating fragments,” as Andrew Lang put it. So when a good customer stopped in to request my assistance for a project concerning fictive books I was delighted to help. I even went so far as volunteering your assistance as well!
My customer is looking for the names of fictive or vanished children’s books which are marked by strong exposition in their references rather than simple offhand mentions. Let’s consider vanished books first. My favorite literary reference to them is in Clark Ashton Smith’s The End of the Story in which a young traveler is visiting a monastery in rural France, which happens to have an exceptional library. He is regaled there by an enthusiastic abbot as follows.
I *loathe* our annual inventory weeks. There is nothing about handling every single book and unsold sideline in my shop that “sparks joy,” nor do I feel compelled to fold the baby lovies and receiving blankets into thirds and stand them in upright rows on the display rack.* Frankly, I have been looking at some of this merchandise since the leaves changed color, and I’m sick of it. Brand new titles with shiny jackets and tempting cover blurbs are arriving daily, and as always, the holiday season put me behind in reading galleys and ARCs. Some of those gorgeous new books are complete unknowns (admittedly, I made some buying decisions STRICTLY on Edelweiss markups and friend “likes”)… and they flirt like cute strangers in the coffee line, smelling all good with their new ink and paper cologne, and looking crisp and fresh with their unopened covers and bright white pages. (Even those earnest ecru paged deckle-edged titles, normally not my preference to pick up and caress, have a certain unshaven scruffy appeal.)
Ah, friends. We recently had a bone-rattler at the bookstore, one of those terrible (and fortunately rare) interactions that makes us wonder why we ever got into retail in the first place. More on that in a moment. Fortunately, it came on the heels of two amazing, wonderful interactions that make us deeply grateful to have a little store in the heart of our community.