My favorite events these days are the ones involving collaboration with partners. Those events offer a variety of venues, audience members, and excellent causes. Recently, I was lucky enough to be part of a lovely, lively event created by several community partners. Kids, families, and teachers who participate in our local Champlain Valley Head Start program were invited to a celebration to kick off a “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” initiative, and it involved six organizations creating the party, including Head Start, the University of Vermont’s ‘Kiddie Cats on the Move’ Program, the Vermont Department of Health, the Children’s Literacy Foundation, Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, and Sherpa Kitchen, a local Nepalese and Himalayan restaurant.
Now that the fall buying season has begun in earnest, I once again brought a big stack of picture book samples to our biweekly BookKids team meeting to see what people gravitated to. Now, this batch only reflected a handful of recent mailings, so it certainly doesn’t represent anywhere near everything on the fall lists, but we had a lot of fun diving in! So what does it sound like when a bunch of booksellers tear through a table of new picture books? Well, there’s a lot of page turning, punctuated by effusive, declarative statements, such as “I LOVE foxes.” But it’s the spontaneous read-alouds and debates that we’re all really in it for.
The biggest hit today had to be Pokko and the Drum. I only got as far as the first page before I demanded people drop everything and listen. It’s a fantastic first page.* “The biggest mistake Pokko’s parents ever made was giving her a drum. They had made mistakes before.” You see, Pokko’s parents have a history of buying regrettable gifts for their cherished frog daughter (the llama was particularly ill-advised). They’ve stupidly done it again, and now they’re stuck with the ear-shattering consequences. As hilariously matter-of-fact statements chronicle each new development in their family drama, Matthew Forsythe keeps it deceptively simple in the art as well, letting his expressive froggy faces do the humorous heavy lifting.
Illustrated details throughout add to the fun, showing the parents’ squashed legs sticking out from under the llama that has destroyed their house or depicting their double sided family bed, with their pillows at one end and Pokko’s at the other—which is where she would sleep, if she weren’t marching about on top of their shared coverlet, banging on her drum. I also loved the sly moment where one of Pokko’s band mates eats the other, where we get a glimpse at the casual savagery all too common in the eat-or-be-eaten world of children’s books. The difference here is that Pokko will have none of it, stopping the action on a dime to boldly berate the perpetrator before continuing on, business as usual. All in all, it’s an unpredictable delight from beginning to end. Continue reading
Awareness of bias adds a subtle undercurrent of tension to one’s reading experience. In the case of As Many Nows As I Can Get, a YA debut by Shana Youngdahl which is coming out this August from Dial, the danger came in the form of positive bias. Shana is a professor at the local University of Maine at Farmington. Even worse she is a long-time customer, and a decidedly good egg, who I know and like.
My predisposition to like the book was strong. It is also true that I was shamed and embarrassed to have had the existence of the book first brought to my attention by a third party: Summer, during our interview with her two weeks ago. The need for me to take strong steps toward critical objectivity was obvious at this point.
Our 2019 summer reading program enrollment opened a few weeks ago, but this week and next are the busiest for sign-ups, as the Memorial Day weekend approaches on racing wheels (it’s Indy 500 weekend, and all things zoom toward Sunday at 225 plus MPH). Our schools finish this week and next, and the neighborhood swimming pools open this Saturday, provided the rain ever stops and the high school lifeguards pass their certification classes. Our summer program has been tweaked a bit over the years, but with 1400 annual participants or so, it is now a regular fixture in the community, and seems to just unfold every year like the towels on the pool deck.
Our program is mostly free to join — we do require the purchase of one book of any type or price range to sign up for each participant (so yes, we sell LOTS of books just by announcing the program) and is open to readers and pre-readers through adults. We group our readers by the type of program they wish to enroll in, not by level, which makes the program more open-ended for both kids and adults. Here’s how it works:
This is our program for pre-readers, or those children who are enjoying picture books read aloud by their parents, older siblings, or caregivers. We ask that these readers produce a picture or some piece of artwork (we’ve received dioramas, clay models, Lego creations, and have heard original songs) about the story that we can display on the walls of our store. For three-dimensional work, we take a picture and print it, posting these contributions with the book title and author/illustrator indicated on a sticker in the bottom right corner. As the summer goes on, first the doors, then the back wall, then the side walls of our store become covered in pictures in crayon, markers, colored pencils and paint. Some kids dictate a brief review, and some label their pictures with character names, usually added afterwards in pencil.
My favorite conversations in the bookstore are the ones in which I’m not involved, but happen to overhear in the aisles. This week has been a busy one at the shop, as our schools are finishing up the year, and there’s lots of present buying for both graduations and teacher gifts. The final big “invite-everyone-in-your-class” birthday parties of the school year took place this weekend — no Indy mom schedules a party on Memorial Day weekend, as we have THE RACE — so the gift shopping is brisk as kids will have two and three celebrations each day, it seems, in the month of May. There has been lots of bustle and chitchat in the shelves, so I’m sharing a sampling of my eavesdropping with you:
Between a four-year-old and his mom: We need to get a gift for your friend Thomas. What does he like? He likes me. And jelly beans. Yes, and it’s his birthday, and we will take a present to his party. What should we get? Lunch. I think we can go home and eat right after we buy a gift. Can you help me pick out a present for your friend? No, he really likes playing with my things, so we can just get something for me, and he will be a sharer.
We were lucky enough this month to host Mitali Perkins for her new book Forward Me Back to You. She was in town primarily for school events, and we invited her to join us for a special conversation with educators to talk about her book with the Anti-Defamation League through the lens of their landmark No Place for Hate® program. Designed to help educators build inclusive, respectful environments where every student can thrive, the program has been implemented in all Austin area schools. We’ve done a few of these author receptions for participating educators now, first with Jewell Parker Rhodes, then Erin Entrada Kelly, and now Mitali Perkins, and I love them. They’ve all been different, but each one has produced truly thoughtful discussions about the power of books to expand necessary conversations; navigate complex territory; and build caring, confident, culturally literate readers.
With a background as a school counselor and a passionate commitment to building empathy and combating bias in our schools, ADL Austin’s Education Director Jillian Bontke is one of my favorite moderators because she reads with her heart wide open and dives right into the messy human dynamics that make stories like Forward Me Back to You resonate so deeply—qualities that made her a wonderful partner for Mitali Perkins who always wears her literary heart on her sleeve (and in person is much the same). The conversation that followed was a passionate and slightly tearful exploration of family, identity, community, and advocacy. Continue reading
Every now and then it is nice to feel like King Eric the Victorious. Eric, a 10th-century King of Sweden, was described as a person “that hath borne over long time a difficult burden and, casting it down at length where he would have it, breatheth free and seeth all fair before him.” That’s a bit how I feel now that our ARC House program is finally up and running. Phew! It’s been two years in the making.The ARC House pictured below now lives in the Cascade Brook School Library here in Farmington. All seven Mt. Blue Rural School District School Libraries now have one.
Theses houses were were paid for by a grant I received from the Rotary Club. They were built by Mt. Blue High School students with the assistance of Rotary Club members. Here they are letting the fresh paint dry in the bowels of Mt. Blue High School last week.
Early summer is teasing us here in Indiana — we have cool damp mornings when we dress the kids in sweatshirts and pants, followed by warm sunny afternoons when the carpool conversation consists of asking those kids WHERE THOSE CLOTHES ARE NOW as we pick them up in their t-shirts and gym shorts. Jackets are scattered on the playground like the petals from the tulip poplar in bloom (our state tree) now washed to the pavement in one of our many spring rainstorms.
Dandelions are popping up in every road median, and so, too are the job applicants. Our 4 Kids summer college crew is back, a little traumatized by finals and battle-weary from the spring semester, glad (we think) to spend their days just straightening the leveled readers and wrapping birthday gifts. “Oh! Cynthia! I meant to tell you about my lit professor this year! He said that the smartest people in the world work in libraries and bookstores…. and I told him that I work in one, and he smiled at me and told me to say ‘thank you for saving civilization.’ And can I have Thursday off to go to the Slayer concert?” (For more on our seasonally rotating payroll, see Summer Staffapalooza.)
When the Wonder Woman movie came out a couple of years ago, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d been expecting an hour and a half of battle scenes, which usually leave me cold. But in addition to appreciating the fact that there was a lot more story in Wonder Woman than I expected, I also finally understood what generations of boys and men must experience when they watch superhero movies: the chance to project themselves into the action and feel the thrill of triumph as personal.
The fight scenes in Wonder Woman, while still never going to be my favorite part of a movie, were ten times more interesting and fun to watch because there were women doing the kicking and leaping. It felt unexpectedly empowering.
So why does the current trend of girls with weapons on fantasy covers make me a little uneasy?
Today is your day.
It’s time for returns.
You’re off and away.
You have reports in your hand, poured some joe in your cup. Dragging basket or cart, you must fill it up.
You’re not on your own, but you know what you know. Those books that aren’t selling, they just have to go.