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.

The Back to School Book of the Century

Kenny Brechner - August 29, 2022

It is a strong year for Back to School picture books. If it were a normal year two charming and clever books, Puppy Bus and Little Yellow Bus, would vie for the crown of Best New Back to School book. Yet this is not a normal year because it contains the arrival of Rick the Rock of Room 214.

The aspirations of the rocks in our lives have been the subject of deep philosophical contemplation for us humans from time immemorial. Consider Sisyphus. We understand that he felt a sense of futility in repeatedly rolling a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down. Yet how did the rock feel about it? Julie Falatko pulls back the veil on the inner world of rocks in her sensationally entertaining new picture book, Rick the Rock of Room 214. Rick’s there and back again adventure off and back on The Nature Finds Shelf of Room 214 is the sort of riveting exploration of aspiration, heart, wisdom and experience which philosophers have sought to decant for eons.

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The Waldo Party Returns and the Baby Departs

Kenny Brechner - August 11, 2022

As reported last week, the bookstore recently became possessed of an evil toy baby who an opportunistic local merchant divested herself of in the guise of giving us a prize to give away at our Find Waldo Local party. Though we were initially leery of handing on this evil being to an innocent child, the baby persuaded us to carry forward with that plan.

Nonetheless, as the party approached we found ourselves still beset by doubts as to the wisdom of our actions. Someone suggested having a seance to speak with the baby directly and clarify matters. This seemed like an excellent idea, though Meg did put forward that a tarot reading might be safer. But time was pressing and so Meg, Nick and I gathered together for the seance, of which a transcript is below.

Meg: Oh, thou Baby, mighty perfidious one, we summon thee to speech.

Nick: Oh, formidable one, Changeling of Babylon, we call upon thee.

Kenny: Oh, Bringer of Calamity, oh Infamous Infant, we adjure you to open your mind to us.

Baby: I am here. What ails your flaccid minds?

Meg: We seek assure that no ill shall befall the receiver of you as a Waldo party prize.

Baby: As to that, limpid ones, I was in Alexandria before the library burned, in Pompeii before Vesuvius spoke, in Chicago before the fire caught, on the Titanic before it sank, and I am here still. I am fine. Nothing ill has befallen me. There is nothing to fear.

Meg: Oh, thou Baby, mighty perfidious one, we thank you for assuaging our pathetic fears.

Nick: Oh, formidable one, Changeling of Babylon, we thank thee for dispelling our unworthy concerns.

Kenny: Oh, Bringer of Calamity, oh Infamous Infant, we commend you for inducing us to renounce our facile moral anxiety.

And so we carried forward with our original plan, both for the party and for the baby. I must say it was really nice to see the party return after its two-year absence. Things started out with kids picking up their coloring contest supplies.

Here is a young lad handing in his entry.

Next, it was time for cake.

While the kids were noshing and drinking, Meg and I scrabbled to do the contest judging.

Then it was time to give away all the prizes… including the Baby. The Baby spoke with my voice and lo, it had a new home.

We got a nice note with the photo below from some of our prize winners the next day.

The Baby had been right. All was well. And all would remain well. Forever.

What to Do with an Evil Changeling?

Kenny Brechner - August 1, 2022

Whether it be Melmoth’s nefarious wanderings or the fatal accordion in Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, the holder of a cursed object, entity or destiny, if they are not enjoying the balm of ignorance and are aware of what they hold, become also owners of a profound moral dilemma. Should they pass the evil on and be rid of it? And so it has befallen us here at DDG.

This macabre predicament originated in a most unlikely way during, of all things, preparations for our Find Waldo Local Party. We have participated in Find Waldo Local since its inception at Candlewick 10 years ago, the year after its invention by that justly renowned bookseller, Carol Chittenden. As part of our party preparations I sent Nick out to collect prizes from participating merchants. I feel strongly that every child should leave the party with some sort of little prize.

About a half hour later Nick came in the back door, his face ashen. “We have a situation,” he said. “Look what I was just given. I’m totally freaked out.” I knew what we were dealing with right away. This was not a normal doll, it was a changeling. It raised all sorts of issues.

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Secrets of ‘The Secret of the Shadow Beasts’

Kenny Brechner - July 5, 2022

Diane Magras is a middle grade author with the gift of writing books with real heft and dimension within a breakneck adventure story. Her newest book manages to incorporate some of her established strengths and interests and weave them into a wholly different setting. I knew from spending a pre-pandemic day with Diane in area schools that she had real command over the historical dimensions of her books and was not surprised to see her evidence that same command over the fascinating world she set her terrific new book in.

Kenny: In Secret of the Shadow Beasts you adapted the strong affinity for medieval settings and weaponry you displayed in your two Madwolf’s Daughter books, into a modern environment with a gaming element. The pandemic  has been all about adaption. How do you think young readers will connect with that element of the book?

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A Literary Mirror

Kenny Brechner - June 6, 2022

We spend so much time as booksellers and book buyers parsing degrees of interconnection between books, assessing comparables in Edelweiss and on the floor, that we sometimes encounter elements that bind books together which are somewhat novel. Take imaginative play, for example.

Imaginative play as the subject or backdrop of books has a long and interesting literary history. It is a history wide ranging in tone, audience, and genre, from classics like Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, Edith Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, to modern classics like Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks and Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory. From Holly Black’s children’s horror tour de force Doll Bones to Carol Johnston’s deliciously disturbing adult intellectual thriller Mirrorland, imaginative childhood play, with its intrinsic elements of exploration, discovery, creativity, and transformation, continues to be rich literary soil.

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