Monthly Archives: February 2020

Austin Kids Take on the Battle of the Books!

Meghan Dietsche Goel - February 28, 2020

I’ve been hearing about Austin ISD’s epic Battle of the Books events for years from the middle school librarians we work with. I’ve always been curious, but I didn’t actually know what these literary competitions were like. For the past few years we’ve been donating ARCs for all the participants, but this time we were invited to attend a big regional match as booksellers, and I jumped at the chance. Honestly, it was a blast!

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Ruby Red Shoes: Virus Sage

Kenny Brechner - February 27, 2020

There are moments when one of the shadows which linger on the edge of stories leave their station and begins to approach us in earnest. Before going to the store today I swung by our Downtown’s health food store. I reached the front door at the same time as another customer.

Sally: Hi Kenny.

Kenny: Hi Sally.

Sally: Are you here to get elderberry extract?

Kenny: I can’t say I am. You sound like that should be my mission?

Sally: Oh didn’t you hear that elderberry really helps protect you from catching viruses? It’s been all over the news.  

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Scouting Trends from Toy Fair

Cynthia Compton - February 26, 2020

As I sit down (finally!) after four days in the aisles at Javits for the 2020 New York Toy Fair, I’m flipping through my notebook and order copies, trying to distill all that browsing into some trends in toys to report back to you this year. A couple of factors, however, are making this year a bit more challenging for the toy industry, so I’ll include those as well, and we’ll sort it all out together.

Every conversation that I had with a vendor this week included a reference to the coronavirus outbreak, its recent spread from China (where so many of the toy production facilities are located) to Europe (where so many toy company headquarters reside) and all points in between. Specifically, the continued closure of Chinese factories will at best delay production until they re-open, and at worst cause companies to seek other locations for manufacturing, a daunting and expensive gamble. Some manufacturers actually currently have more inventory than usual in the United States, as they tried to avoid potential tariff increases in December, and shipped more product than usual stateside. A flat holiday season, sales-wise, has kept some warehouses full, and that merchandise will be used early in the year. Other manufacturers were understandably vague about delivery dates; we heard lots of “we’re hoping for July delivery, but we’ll see” in response to customer queries.

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A Crystal Ball for Bookselling

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 25, 2020

Back in 2009, I wrote a ShelfTalker post called “Lost in the Pixels of a Good Book” about the surprising (and concerning) appeal of being able to access the world’s libraries at the touch of a button. Back then, digital reading was on the rise in a big way, with ebook sales more than doubling each year and publishing pundits predicting the demise of “p-books,” a ridiculous term invented to differentiate physical books from their audio and digital versions. (Happily, we still call those just ‘books.’)

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Top Reasons to Visit Toy Fair

Cynthia Compton - February 24, 2020

I’m spending four days at Javits Center with around 25,000 playmates for the 2020 New York Toy Fair, the largest trade gathering in the toy industry in the United States, and I’m having all kinds of fun. I’ll use my post on Wednesday to share some thoughts about current trends in play and popular items this year, but this evening as I rest my feet for a minute I’m going to try to entice you to join me at Toy Fair next year, with a few of the best reasons to put on your play clothes and skip work for a couple of days.

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Expecto Patronum!

Meghan Dietsche Goel - February 21, 2020

I’ve never been a theme park enthusiast, but ever since it opened, I’ve been very curious about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Last week, we ended up on a trip to Disney World / Orlando with a group of extended family who’ve never read Harry Potter, so our family peeled off from the crowd and seized the opportunity to head off to Diagon Alley for the day. For anyone who hasn’t yet made the journey through the Orlando version of King’s Cross Station, I highly recommend the trip.

I wrote last year about the Harry Potter compromise I struck with my oldest reader (then 6 ½). Eager to immerse himself in the wizarding world he’d heard so much about, we decided to get onboard at Platform 9 ¾ and head off to Hogwarts. It was a huge hit and felt perfectly pitched to where he was as a reader right then. However, we agreed that we’d wait about 6 months between installments. We read the second adventure in the fall, and while book 2 ratchets up the fear factor with whispery basilisk speak echoing through the walls and enormous spiders lurking in the woods, the 6 months between books has felt about right.

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Kenny Brechner - February 20, 2020

Receiving a package with a book in it is not entirely a noteworthy occurrence for someone who owns a bookstore. Every now and then, however, one stands out even before it is opened. I got one of that variety on Tuesday, a very thin package that came from Switzerland, a point of origin I saw no particular reason for. Another thing which stood out was that it came to my home address. Inside it were two items. One was this hand drawn card.

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School Visit Vicissitudes

Cynthia Compton - February 19, 2020

Dear Families at Avondale Elementary,

We are excited to welcome author Joy Storyteller, who will be visiting the third and fourth grades on February 13th. Joy is the New York Times bestselling author of four very popular middle grade books, and she will be speaking with the students about writing as part of their current unit on myths and legends. We are honored to have such a nationally known author visit our school, and thank our PTO for the generous grant that makes this special experience possible for our students. Ms. Storyteller will also answer student questions about her much beloved titles, and preview her soon-to-be-released book, “The Very Best Dragon Adventure,” which will be available in May.

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Storytelling: Another Third Place

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 18, 2020

Image from, a nonprofit group dedicated to racial justice, resiliency, thoughtfulness, and empathy.

Technology simultaneously connects us globally and isolates us locally. All that time spent alone on our devices can deprive us of face-to-face social interaction that feeds our souls and creates a sense of true community. Back in the 80’s, author Ray Oldenburg (The Great Good Place) introduced the idea that places like cafes, bookstores, libraries, barber shops, clubs, churches, parks, and other inclusive public venues provide an essential role in the social fabric. If home is our ‘first place’ and work our ‘second,’ these ‘third places’ offer relaxed, welcoming opportunities for us to gather, meet and make friends, exchange ideas and stories, and share joy, laughter, and meaning with one another.

I’ve always thought of my bookstore as one of those third places, and recently, it struck me that storytelling events—in which people tell true, first-person stories, as in NPR’s Moth Radio Hour (or, you know, all of our ancient ancestors around a fire for millennia)—transform any space into an incredibly special third place. Nothing connects people as deeply as sharing stories.

Last week, the Eric Carle Museum was the venue for a beautiful evening of storytelling: On the Flip: I See Color, organized by EmbraceRace, an Amherst nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources on racial equity and information for families, educators and citizens.

Show producer and storytelling coach Susanne Schmidt with EmbraceRace co-founder
Andrew Grant-Thomas, getting reading for the evening at the Eric Carle Museum.

As they define themselves, EmbraceRace is “a multiracial community of parents, teachers, experts, and other caring adults who support each other to meet the challenges that race poses to our children, families, and communities.” Their goals are to “identify, organize – and, as needed, create – the tools, resources, discussion spaces, and networks we need to meet 4 goals:

  1. Nurture resilience in children of color
  2. Nurture inclusive, empathetic children of all stripes
  3. Raise kids who think critically about racial inequity
  4. Support a movement of kid and adult racial justice advocates for all children.”
Goodie bags for the storytellers included totes, candy, and mugs from EmbraceRace and a storytelling notebook and “I Told” T-shirt from Sue (you can see the shirt held by one of the storytellers in a later photo).

The evening was a fundraiser for the organization, and was attended by a multigenerational audience of friends, family members, supporters, and public leaders from around the region. It was a warm, exuberant, moving evening of stories from a variety of tellers with origins all over the world, including Venezuela, Tibet, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam. The youngest teller was 12 years old. There was laughter, there were tears, there were painful revelations, and there was a lot of resilience. It was beautiful.

Nothing builds empathy and community like walking in someone else’s shoes, seeing the world through different eyes, and all of those other metaphors that mean we have been able to live someone else’s experiences for a few magical moments.

Nine tellers and several show organizers gather for a post-show moment.

While I volunteer at (and deeply love) the Moth Story Slam in Burlington every month, it was this show that really made me want to bring first-person storytelling to my bookstore. Gathering a group of people together with diverse histories and experiences in an open, welcoming environment that invites honest sharing — well, that is the whole apple right there.

So stay tuned for an update after we’ve held our first storytelling evening at the store. In the meantime, the lovely co-sponsors of On the Flip, Amherst Media, New England Valley Voices, and Good Talk Media, will be making video available from the Eric Carle Museum evening, and I’ll update the article when there’s a link!

They did it! Brave storytellers celebrate an evening well done.

I also recommend getting in touch with EmbraceRace if you are a teacher or school administrator or otherwise involved in diversity education efforts, or a parent looking for great resources. Co-founders Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud could not be lovelier, more helpful and wonderful people. Thanks, all, for a great evening!

P.S. Book addict that I am, I couldn’t resist asking the Eric Carle Museum info desk staffer what they were reading: Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation by Sunaura Taylor, which they said was really interesting!

A Tale of Two Minnows

Kenny Brechner - February 13, 2020

Today’s post involves two instances of sharing something with a bookseller.

When talking about DDG’s store mission, one phrase that always comes up is sharing a love of reading with our customers and our community. Here’s an example of why that phrase is the coin of the realm here.  I was chatting with a customer named Ellen recently about favorite books we had read and re-read as children. I mentioned that While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away, by Mary Nash was a book that I had never tired of disappearing into, that it still makes me happy just to picture it in my mind’s eye. I shared some of my deep Mrs. Coverlet thoughts with her, how much I loved The Toad and what a great villain Miss Eva Penalty was. I also shared how I had never been able to settle whether book one, While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away, or Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, book two, was my favorite. In my heart, I explained, I knew that book one was a better book, but book two was maybe a little bit more fun as it had more Toad and Miss Eva. Ellen declared that she empathized with this sort of titanic intellectual exercise.

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