This post is strictly my personal opinion about something I care deeply about—children’s books—and view as having saved my life as a child. I have loved children’s books for 57 years, 28 of them as a bookseller. It is no accident that children’s books are filled with portals leading to other dimensions, wardrobes and tesseracts, Platforms 13 and 9 and ¾, Neitherlands and multi-verses maintained by nine lived enchanters. These passageways are metaphors for those real-world portals into other dimensions, books themselves.
We know from books of wonder that accesses to magical portals are periodically threatened by a variety of evils. These ills are sometimes the results of mistakes made by heroines and heroes, other times by ill will or the return of an ancient malice. We know too what must be done. Mistakes need to be set right, access to the portals preserved, whether through some manner of renewal, or by the beating back of a constricting malice. That is the heroine’s task.
Last week I blogged about what some of our local teens are reading, but I also like to check in with our teens toward the beginning of the year to see what they’re looking for, what they’re sick of, and what they wish they could tell publishers. So what’s on their minds? Well, as a group they definitely don’t love covers with real people on them these days, are tired of tropes and predictable plot lines, and (most of them) are enjoying the YA horror trend, as long as it doesn’t get too gory or steamy. Take a look at what they’re loving (and hating) below, and check in with them throughout the year on their blog or come into the store and peruse the book display they curate all year long.
What do you prefer? Series, duology, or standalone? How many books is too many?
CONSENSUS: Series, within reason:
- “Shorter series. I often like duologies as long as the second book can hold its own up against the first. For series, more than six is definitely a NO.” –Aurora
- “Trilogies work. They offer enough room for authors to resolve plot holes in their work, and it’s not so long that the writing gets stale.” –Gustavo
- “I prefer trilogies, but there can be exceptions like Harry Potter. Duologies are fine, but they often feel like one big book.” –Ivy
COUNTERPOINT: “Standalones are great. It’s hard to remember the first book when the sequel comes out!”—Xander Continue reading
I’m not sure why I started watching Veronica Mars back in the day. I was already 40, and it’s a very very teen show. Still, I was hooked by the distinct characters, the sharp writing, the intriguing unfolding of the whodunit, the fierce and funny grit that actress Kristen Bell brought to her role, visuals of the California landscape of my youth, and by the issues of race and class that the show at least flirted with raising. There was something wonderfully different about Veronica Mars, and I had that same feeling of intrigued discovery when I read Lamar Giles’ YA murder mystery, Spin.
Don’t let the somber cover fool you; there’s plenty of humor and even lightness in this story of a young DJ whose life is cut off just as her career is on the rise.
Last week I highlighted our annual book display curated by the kids in the Teen Storytelling class at the Kealing middle school magnet program and promised to circle back with some of their recommendations this week. I mentioned that I love this display, and I really do. In the book world, we spend a lot of time talking about what we as booksellers, reviewers, educators, and authors think. But, ultimately, these books are for kids, and it’s important to listen to what’s resonating with them and why. So what are teens in Austin talking about these days? Well, here are a few highlights from what they have to say along with photos of some of their wonderful handmade cards, below.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu: “This book made me realize how serious of a problem gender inequality is. Seeing how difficult it was for Vivian to find the courage to fight back put my experience into perspective.” –Jette M.
When classic books with great covers get new cover designs, it is always a tricky businesses for their established reader base. Change can be good, of course. Visions of rejuvenated sales and bringing in a new generation of readers, of broadening a book’s appeal, are quality thoughts for any marketing department to be entertaining.
Lovers of the classic versions are prone to being unfair, just as they can be about films. I refused to believe that the 1984 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel could possibly have been necessary or worth seeing since nothing could top the 1934 version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. When I finally climbed down and watched the 1984 version I discovered that it was a terrific film and brought an entirely new sense and sensibility to the story. Thus when I saw that HMH was coming out with new jackets for four Karen Cushman novels I called to mind such past personal failures of judgment and resolved to be fair. Here are the new covers.
It’s the time of year when our impulse bins overflow at 4 Kids Books & Toys. Lots of little items have started to arrive from orders placed at January gift shows, and our need for anything fresh, cute, and springlike overtakes all “open-to-buy” restraint. We are thinking about little trinkets to top birthday gifts, travel items for spring break, and the ever-important EASTER BASKET, which for children’s stores represents a second Christmas in sales. Impulse items, sidelines, mini ANYTHING… this is where bookstores can shine.
As advance reading copies pile into the store—those delicious packages full of promise!—booksellers start to see a few trends emerge, especially with teen and middle-grade covers. It made me laugh to scroll through a ShefTalker blog post I’d written almost 10 years ago, The Season of Windblown Hair, and see which trends were still with us and which had mercifully gone away.
Recent design seems to favor the handwritten font, a trend I actually like. It’s not brand-new, but it is everywhere! (Technically, most of these are not handwritten fonts so much as fonts that look as though they could have been drawn by hand.)
That’s just a small sampling! It’s starting to make books with traditional fonts look almost obsolete.
In my next trend post, I’ll highlight elaborate metal scrollwork on YA fantasy covers!
What trends are you spotting?
Although it is still technically February as I write this blog, by the time it posts it will be March. And March around here means spring (no matter the official dates on the calendar). When I moved to Texas and started buying, I scoffed at sales reps who warned me not to buy the snow books. “But everyone loves snow,” I exclaimed foolishly. But, they were all right and I was (mostly) wrong. Don’t get me wrong. We sell The Snowy Day like crazy all year long. But in any given year, our handful of snowy books get a couple of weeks of glory (at most) for people to play pretend snowstorm, and then it’s over. And I kind of get it now that I’ve been here a while (kind of). As much as it pains me as someone who grew up making cozy snow igloos in snowsuits, my Austin born kids haven’t been in an honest-to-goodness heavy snowstorm yet. Because of that, they don’t have the same sensory response to snowy books. They can’t recall the satisfying crunch of footsteps in the snow or the tingly sensation of skin thawing in a warm kitchen. And the little bit of winter we do get doesn’t last very long. In fact, as we head into March, I’m noticing that flowers are suddenly blooming on the trees.
At the store, spring is suddenly and palpably in the air too—from the adorably fuzzy chick peeking out of the barn display on our kids’ amphitheater to the Read the Rainbow display at the front of the section that’s bursting with color. I’ve written before about the stunning display work being done these days by the design duo of Merrilee Wilkerson and Staci Gray, and right now I feel like their cheerful spirit is giving me a little extra spring in my step.