When the Spoiler Is the Hook


Kenny Brechner - April 20, 2023

Handselling a book whose reading experience would be materially diminished by spoilers can be a particularly difficult challenge for a bookseller if the book’s intrinsic strength is related to elements that would be inconsiderate to broach. For example you might ask why reading Sarah Everett’s The Probability of Everything brought up for me the topic of circumventing damaging spoilers, and all I could morally say was that it is an amazing book and you should read it yourself straightway and find out.

Sure, to promote the book one could just elide the dynamic surprise element or go big on description so as to say that its brilliant and novel use of an unreliable narrator is used as a lever to humanize the impacts of inhumanity with remarkable force. By tightly maintaining focus on its insightful and resilient young narrator the story extends from the personal to the cultural and communal with far-reaching effect. And so forth. One might feel more latitude if pitching the book to an adult who is purchasing it for a young reader, but it would still be wrong. Nonetheless, the susceptibility of The Probability of Everything to having its reading experience diminished by spoilage is a tricky but ultimately happy constraint. After all, having a book to share the power of whose impact on the reader would rival that of the earth’s on being struck by a giant asteroid is a rare and desirable responsibility.

The book also made me ask myself if there are other great children’s books which have a similarly fraught relationship with spoilers?  Sure, there are many books with an important secret. You could certainly thoughtlessly spoil Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, Marie Lu’s Warcross, or Melissa Albert’s Hazelwood, but it is easy to talk about and promote those books without doing so. A book like Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon is a toughie to be sure, but I can’t think of another book in which the spoiler is the hook quite as strikingly as it is in The Probability of Everything. What are the most spoiler sensitive books you’ve promoted?

Roald Dahl: What’s at Stake?


Kenny Brechner - March 3, 2023

The recent large-scale alterations of Roald Dahl’s texts in the U.K .is a dangerous precedent that deserves our attention. The ill-advised purpose of this particular form of censorship is the same as that animating other ongoing efforts to restrict, ban, and challenge children’s books in schools and libraries, to protect children from perceived harm. Yet the peculiar dangers inherent in this particular methodology of elision and alteration are important and noteworthy.

In the case of Dahl’s books, hundreds of passages “relating to weight, mental health, gender and race were altered.” According to the Guardian, “The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it worked with Puffin to review the texts because it wanted to ensure that ‘Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.’ ” The language was reviewed in partnership with Inclusive Minds, a collective working to make children’s literature more inclusive and accessible.”

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Hannah on ‘Homeland’


Kenny Brechner - February 17, 2023

I’ve known Hannah Moushabeck since she first appeared on the New England childrens bookselling scene in 2011 as Odyssey Bookshop’s new kids’ buyer. She has gone through a number of book facing career iterations from then to now, as a rep for Flying Eye, Quarto, Chronicle and finally to SImon and Schuster, where she is currently ensconced. A more thoroughgoing, amiable, talented and insightful book person is not on offer. It is the simple truth that Hannah is beloved in the New England bookselling community and thus, while it is always of interest to see a bookseller clamber over into an author’s chair, word of Hannah’s production of a picture book was particularly marked.

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Talking About ‘That Flag’


Kenny Brechner - January 16, 2023

Amidst a cavalcade of new picture books seeking to engage children in difficult issues I noted that, in her recent interview here, The Year 2023 singled out one book in particular, That Flag, by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. Reading the book I found myself agreeing with The Year 2023. The book is exceptional in conveying to young readers the role character and humanity plays in a story imbued with a charged and volatile narrative. To find out more I caught up with the book’s author.

Kenny: One aspect shared by many great picture books is that they make something difficult to create look effortless. How did you begin to conceptualize this story as a picture book? What, if any, challenges did you encounter finding and maintaining the center of your narrative while holding space for your characters’ multiple points of view?

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An Interview with The Year 2023


Kenny Brechner - January 3, 2023

Though I’ve interviewed each coming new Year for over a decade, my interview with The Year 2023 was a first. As you may know past years had required me to travel to the Glade of Years, but The Year 2023 was different. Today, for the first time ever, The New Year came here to the bookstore for our interview!

Kenny: Thank you so much for taking time from your overburdened schedule to visit the bookstore.

The Year 2023: It was decreed that I should do some book shopping to pick out a gift for the outgoing year.

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The 2022 Stocking Stuffer of the Year Award


Kenny Brechner - December 1, 2022

Meet the Council of Wishing Animals. They are the reason I am confident that the 2022 Stocking Stuffer of the Year Award will scrape off the patina of shame which has confounded this prestigious award for the last seven years, transforming it from a long standing bastion of spotless integrity to an exercise in iniquity. The awful truth is that each of our judges since 2015 defiled their sacred responsibility by selecting themselves as the award winners!

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The Return of Pajama Night!


Kenny Brechner - November 11, 2022

It was curiously appropriate that Rick the Rock of Room 214 headlined the return of my favorite annual event,  Jammie Night, from its three-year pandemic hiatus. After all, Rick is the story of a triumphant return and nothing could have been more apropos to the glorious renaissance of Jammie Night.

Jammie Night, aka Prime Time Reading Night, which takes place at Mallett Elementary School, has ingredients that would be the envy of any event. For example, it is comprised of an actively shared love of reading, widespread community support, partnerships, great authors, a great crowd, amazing decorations, and pajamas.

Here’s how it works: the Mallett community comes back to school at 6:00 in the evening – parents, kids, teachers, librarian, principal, all dressed in pajamas for an evening of read-alouds. I produce a children’s book author. The evening starts with that author reading her book to the assembled throng in the gymnasium, which has been lavishly decorated around the book’s theme. Afterwards, families can either go listen to one of five different community readers in five different classrooms, read together in the gym, or purchase a book and have the guest author sign it. The evening ends with the author reading a second book to the whole audience and then concludes with goodnights and more book signing.

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‘In Every Life’


Kenny Brechner - October 21, 2022

There is an excitement peculiar to beginning the assessment of a picture book frontlist from a major house. Will there be a great book to discover? Will there be a fantastic new voice to encounter? Will a favorite author/illustrator deliver the goods again? Will there be a book so ill-considered and executed that it will stun and defy belief?

After 32 years of frontlist picture book buying, I don’t expect to encounter something  wholly new. I expect wonder and unexpected twists and turns, but not a previously unimagined structure executed with sublime force. The first F&G in Simon & Schuster’s Winter 2023 list was In Every Life by Marla Frazee. She is a personal favorite as both an illustrator and an author illustrator, so my expectations were high. Meg read it first, and clutched the F&G after she was finished, looking teary eyed. “I don’t know what to say,” she said handing it to me.

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An Interview with Autumn


Kenny Brechner - October 5, 2022

When I arrived at the glade for my annual interview with Autumn, she marched right up to me and spoke before I could even greet her.

Autumn: I’m enjoying them!

Kenny: Them?

Autumn: The fruits!

Kenny: Fruits?

Autumn: The fruits of my command!

Kenny: Your command?

Autumn: Have you noticed anything odd about this year’s Fall books for young people, Kenny?

Kenny: Well I must say that it is a crazy strong season for picture books.

Autumn: Ah. I see that you are not entirely bereft of wits and sense.

Kenny: Are you saying that you commanded a great season of picture books?

Autumn: I am indeed. In my estimation the world stands in need of the particular comfort provided by a great picture book and I commanded a bountiful harvest of them.

Kenny: I agree. But how could you command publishers to produce particularly excellent picture books?

Autumn: That I will not reveal.

Kenny: Hmmn. How about revealing the fruits of your command themselves?

Autumn: Gladly. Let’s start out with Sophie Blackall’s Farmhouse. Nothing surprising in a great picture book from her but this one is particularly good. The quiet, enduring power of Farmhouse is accentuated in all its complementary elements. The resonant palette that heightens the beauty of its illustrations is mirrored in the unexpected ending which infuses the fine writing before it with fresh poignancy. Farmhouse is an all ages tour de force for the heart and mind.

Kenny: Totally agree!

Autumn: Next I’d like to mention A Bear Far from Home.

Kenny: Oh what an unusual book that is! I loved it.

Autumn: As you should. Picture books recounting bits of medieval history are often a little flat but this one is filled with immediacy and resonance. Such an immersive narrative perspective. I think we can all relate to the bear’s rope, the odd constricted freedom of getting back in the water.

Kenny: Absolutely and what other picks can you share?

Autumn: Is a more darling, more magical friendship book imaginable than Briony May Smith’s The Mermaid Moon?

Kenny: No!

Autumn: No indeed. What a delight it is to be immersed in simple warmth, wonder and a bit of adventure. Speaking of delightful, what a pleasure it is to find a familiar theme made unexpectedly exceptional as we find in That’s Not My Sweater.

Kenny: Well spotted! Usually sibling books are a highway to tired tropes but That’s Not My Sweater is so original and unexpected.

Autumn: It is a treat, to be sure. Speaking of unexpected, the high-concept high wire traversed by The Little Toymaker is remarkable for being a big success.

Kenny: I see what you mean. The theme of a child who makes magically renewed toys for adults could have so easily gone wrong.

Autumn: Yes; it is particularly rewarding to see a difficult narrative carried off as though it were simplicity itself. Talk about aiming at and then hitting the mark. So genuine and heartwarming.

Kenny: It is! Do you have any more picks for us?

Autumn: I’ll share one more with you, after all we should close with a bedtime book, and Mushroom Lullaby is an exceptional one. Pure wonder to wander through. The perfect precursor to the wanderings on pleasant dreams.

Kenny: Thanks so much, Autumn. I’m so glad your command bore such splendid fruit.

Autumn: Happy to help.