This year’s gorgeous Children’s Book Week poster, with art by the amazing Yuyi Morales.
Happy Children’s Book Week, everyone! Publishers Weekly just spoke with Leonard Marcus (here
) about the origins of this 100-year-old literacy initiative, the longest-running one in our nation. Hooray for the books that help form thoughtful, empathetic, curious, bright people!!
In thinking about how best to celebrate this week dedicated to my favorite of all literary forms—books for children and teens—I thought I would set a challenge: to read 100 children’s books this week, and to give away 10 books to children, schools, or libraries.
If you participate and succeed, and send me your list of titles read and books given, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a fabulous prize (see below).
Everyone who works in children’s books is familiar with the Harry Potter conundrum. Written over a 10-year span, the books increased in complexity and emotional heft book by book as the characters aged up with their audience. Kids who read the first charming, magical romp when they were seven were 17 by the time the 700+ page final tome rolled around. Not a standard model for series publishing for children, the series nonetheless defined the childhoods of a generation of readers and captivated adults in equal measure.
If you’ve ever worked in a bookstore, you also know that Harry Potter conversations themselves are rife with tricky interactions. Many a precocious six, seven, or eight year old has read Harry Potter, leaving their parents confident that they are ready for something just as thick or written at an equal level (which by book seven basically means YA). It’s almost a bookselling cliché at this point—that everyone’s gifted grandchild has read Harry Potter years ahead of their peers and needs something new to challenge them at their “advanced level.” Continue reading
Dulph, Executive Director of the MCU
When you have bought children’s book frontlists for an expanse of time you have questions about magical creatures. A lot of questions and no answers. Why does the popularity of fairies and unicorns ebb and flow, while mermaids are always a solid, steady, second tier performer? Why does anthropomorphism render some real animals, like narwhals, into magical creatures, while others, like dogs, foxes, rats and badgers appear to remain talking animals? And what about food items, like hot dogs, potatoes, and spoons? Are they magical creatures or just food friends? It’s all very confusing. To try and clear matters up we are fortunate to be joined today by Dulph, executive director of the MCU (the Magical Creatures Union).
Hi there, Dulph. Thank you so much for joining us here today.
This is why they pay me the big money, to act professional even under trying circumstances.
We play music in our store, as many retailers do. It helps keep the energy level high, gives the staff something to sing (and sometimes dance) along to, and seems to direct and lift the mood of customers and our interactions. While some stores use a Spotify channel or another streaming service, we have always maintained a somewhat eclectic mix of CD’s that we also offer for sale. On any given day at 4 Kids, you might be treated to the cast album of a Broadway show, the greatest hits of Sesame Street, or the latest Disney collection in karaoke version. My own musical taste runs toward instrumental classical recordings and light opera, so depending on which staff member has store opening responsibilities, the musical mix is as varied as the midwestern weather forecast. (Oh, you like this one? Wait five minutes… we’ll change.) I have always encouraged the closing crew to select whatever they want to listen to during evening clean-up and restocking chores, which happen after the front doors are locked. It’s a great staff perk, but it does require that I remember to TURN DOWN THE STEREO before I pop in the first CD of the day…. or be treated to blasting ABBA songs, the current favorite of our high school employees. You’re not really awake until you’ve heard “Dancing Queen” at level 8….
Dr. Dolittle and the Pushmi-Pullyu.
Does anyone remember the two-sided animal from Dr. Dolittle, the Pushmi-Pullyu? It was a beast with two fronts, each of which stubbornly wanted to lead, so attempts to move forward in either direction went nowhere.
I am feeling a little pushmi and a lot pullyu about the current state of grammar in children’s books these days. There is a LOT of casual bad grammar floating around now—even in picture books, even in picture book titles
—and I am struggling, fellow readers. I understand that language is fluid, vegetable, ever-changing, and reactive, yet I was raised by grammar enthusiasts and taught school by English teachers whose rules were precise and immutable. It’s not that I never violate those rules; there’s a tiny rebellious thrill to be had by beginning sentences with “And” or ending them with prepositions. (A schoolmarmish thrill, sure, but rebellion is individual.)
Rotating through Austin’s big cities, Texas Library Association likes to spread the wealth, so its annual conference only comes to Austin every four years. That means TLA has only been to Austin a handful of times since I’ve worked at BookPeople. I don’t know if I just don’t remember how busy it was the first couple of times or whether our programs have just grown to the point where we can accommodate most of the proposals that come our way, but now when TLA descends on Austin, it unleashes a literary whirlwind that makes the city seem like the nexus of the kidlit universe for a brief, glorious moment.
Andrea Beaty inspires the crowd.
Helping facilitate 16 children’s book events in 7 days with talents such as Alice Kuipers, Ann Braden, Dan Santat, Rhett Miller, Kate DiCamillo, Chris Van Dusen, Ashley Poston, Kathleen Glasgow, Tom Angleberger, Andrea Beaty, Raúl the Third, Adam Gidwitz, and David Bowles, we’ve certainly had our hands full. A schedule this complicated never goes off without a hitch of some kind, but although Tom Angleberger’s flight cancellation caused him to miss his school event, he made sure we got signed bookplates once he arrived so the kids still get something special to take home. Never underestimate the power of a bookplate in a pinch! Continue reading
I have to admit that I only take in life wisdom as a kind of intellectual secondhand smoke. It’s something I overhear or stumble upon rather than read or seek out deliberately. Still, I’m pretty sure that those who dispense the stuff often recommend getting out of your comfort zone, taking on challenges, and doing things that have personal value. That was just what I had determined to do this spring with school visits. My plan was to take on some events away from my Upper and Lower Elementary School comfort zone and bring authors into more remuneratively challenging terrain like Middle and High Schools. I had a two phase plan for this.
After 16 years as a shopkeeper, I have not exactly reached Yoda status, but I do consider myself pretty unshockable. I have witnessed countless tantrums (some by children, some not), been surprised by live animals in the store (remind me to tell you about the lady with the pet monkey wearing a little red cape – the monkey, not the lady) and even once, in the early years, was confronted by an attempted holdup. Why anyone thought that a children’s bookstore would have any actual money in the register on a Wednesday morning is a sad commentary on both the criminal mind and the state of our cash flow. When the unsuccessful robber pointed his gun (pistol? revolver? I should read more detective novels) and told me to empty the drawer, I actually laughed. I was told later by the very stern police officer that my response was totally wrong…. but then again, I’d like to see Officer Perfect handle a packed story time of two-year-olds at the end of a seven-day stretch of days too rainy and cold for outside play.
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If there’s one thing all booksellers search for, it’s the secret ingredient to a great turnout at every event, no matter how famous (or not) the author. We know people will have a great time when they come to an event; authors and books are fabulous, and authors invariably have great behind-the-scenes stories to share. The trick is competing with: nap times, soccer/baseball/insert-sport-here games, birthday parties, vacation travel, bad weather, good weather, school plays, music concerts, nearby festivals, forgetfulness, and general family mood on the day of the event.
But this past Sunday, we found a foolproof, absolutely irresistible lure for any author event.
I posted a couple of weeks ago about the intricacies of planning our school events. But as necessary as all those logistics are, they aren’t the fun part. The best part about going to school visits is seeing all the creative activities the host schools think up to build enthusiasm and make each author’s visit memorable. Last week librarian Erin Bartley and her students at Grandview Hills Elementary greeted Matthew Gray Gubler for his very first day of school visits with this awesome gallery of “misunderstood, delightfully different friends of Rumple,” which was such a charming way to celebrate this lovably strange character. That kind of pre-event effort makes a huge difference. Those kids marched into that event (many with banana peels on their heads) completely amped up to hear more about Rumple Buttercup.
When we host public events, we don’t have that kind of time with our audience in advance, so we have to take a slightly different tack. Of course the attendees for our events are 100% self selected, which helps. But if I’m honest, I’ve seen more than one event lose its audience over the years, despite the author’s best efforts—especially for the picture book crowd. The savage truth is that little kids love books, but they are also demanding and fickle, and they aren’t always excited by PowerPoint. Evening events can be especially tricky at the tail ends of long, active days. That’s why as bookstore hosts, it’s our job to infuse events with our own enthusiasm to help them succeed. Today, with a number of awesome events on the horizon, we took some time to prepare ourselves for the impending fun!