Last week I highlighted our annual book display curated by the kids in the Teen Storytelling class at the Kealing middle school magnet program and promised to circle back with some of their recommendations this week. I mentioned that I love this display, and I really do. In the book world, we spend a lot of time talking about what we as booksellers, reviewers, educators, and authors think. But, ultimately, these books are for kids, and it’s important to listen to what’s resonating with them and why. So what are teens in Austin talking about these days? Well, here are a few highlights from what they have to say along with photos of some of their wonderful handmade cards, below.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu: “This book made me realize how serious of a problem gender inequality is. Seeing how difficult it was for Vivian to find the courage to fight back put my experience into perspective.” –Jette M.
When classic books with great covers get new cover designs, it is always a tricky businesses for their established reader base. Change can be good, of course. Visions of rejuvenated sales and bringing in a new generation of readers, of broadening a book’s appeal, are quality thoughts for any marketing department to be entertaining.
Lovers of the classic versions are prone to being unfair, just as they can be about films. I refused to believe that the 1984 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel could possibly have been necessary or worth seeing since nothing could top the 1934 version with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. When I finally climbed down and watched the 1984 version I discovered that it was a terrific film and brought an entirely new sense and sensibility to the story. Thus when I saw that HMH was coming out with new jackets for four Karen Cushman novels I called to mind such past personal failures of judgment and resolved to be fair. Here are the new covers.
It’s the time of year when our impulse bins overflow at 4 Kids Books & Toys. Lots of little items have started to arrive from orders placed at January gift shows, and our need for anything fresh, cute, and springlike overtakes all “open-to-buy” restraint. We are thinking about little trinkets to top birthday gifts, travel items for spring break, and the ever-important EASTER BASKET, which for children’s stores represents a second Christmas in sales. Impulse items, sidelines, mini ANYTHING… this is where bookstores can shine.
As advance reading copies pile into the store—those delicious packages full of promise!—booksellers start to see a few trends emerge, especially with teen and middle-grade covers. It made me laugh to scroll through a ShefTalker blog post I’d written almost 10 years ago, The Season of Windblown Hair, and see which trends were still with us and which had mercifully gone away.
Recent design seems to favor the handwritten font, a trend I actually like. It’s not brand-new, but it is everywhere! (Technically, most of these are not handwritten fonts so much as fonts that look as though they could have been drawn by hand.)
That’s just a small sampling! It’s starting to make books with traditional fonts look almost obsolete.
In my next trend post, I’ll highlight elaborate metal scrollwork on YA fantasy covers!
What trends are you spotting?
Although it is still technically February as I write this blog, by the time it posts it will be March. And March around here means spring (no matter the official dates on the calendar). When I moved to Texas and started buying, I scoffed at sales reps who warned me not to buy the snow books. “But everyone loves snow,” I exclaimed foolishly. But, they were all right and I was (mostly) wrong. Don’t get me wrong. We sell The Snowy Day like crazy all year long. But in any given year, our handful of snowy books get a couple of weeks of glory (at most) for people to play pretend snowstorm, and then it’s over. And I kind of get it now that I’ve been here a while (kind of). As much as it pains me as someone who grew up making cozy snow igloos in snowsuits, my Austin born kids haven’t been in an honest-to-goodness heavy snowstorm yet. Because of that, they don’t have the same sensory response to snowy books. They can’t recall the satisfying crunch of footsteps in the snow or the tingly sensation of skin thawing in a warm kitchen. And the little bit of winter we do get doesn’t last very long. In fact, as we head into March, I’m noticing that flowers are suddenly blooming on the trees.
At the store, spring is suddenly and palpably in the air too—from the adorably fuzzy chick peeking out of the barn display on our kids’ amphitheater to the Read the Rainbow display at the front of the section that’s bursting with color. I’ve written before about the stunning display work being done these days by the design duo of Merrilee Wilkerson and Staci Gray, and right now I feel like their cheerful spirit is giving me a little extra spring in my step.
Most YA taglines are not so bad. Unfortunately so, since The Scarlet Pimpernell is right in observing that “there is nothing quite so bad as something which is not so bad.” Great books deserve great taglines and when they don’t have them it is a miss. Take the tagline for Sally Green’s The Smoke Thieves.
Power. Money. Magic.
Which one are you fighting for?”
Personally it is none of the above. I’m fighting for a catchier tagline. There is a lot to be said, after all, for a memorable one. An example of a truly great one is Grave Mercy‘s “Why be a sheep when you can be the wolf?” I also commend Cinder‘s “Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time…” and The Beginning of Everything‘s great tagline, “Everyone Gets a Tragedy.” I love that. It’s both true and totally apropos to the book.
One of the benefits of the slower first quarter in the store is the opportunity to move things around, change sections, and try something new. As inventory is sparser, and we’re honestly doing quite a bit of “fluffing” out shelves, in which we spread out fewer items to make the store look full and inviting. Great titles and sidelines that were overlooked at the holidays have a chance to shine in the gentler late afternoon sunshine of February, and this shopkeeper has the opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of her staff, as they wrap items (in Valentine’s Day paper!) that were received early last fall for 4th quarter.
Reading is, generally speaking, a cozy act. It’s an activity of immersion, in which the outside world falls away while we are deep in the sea of story. Some of my happiest childhood memories include the perfect pairing of a book and a snack, and uninterrupted hours in which to enjoy them. My grandparents lived on a lake in Indiana—you can hardly NOT live on a lake in Indiana; there are about 1,700 of them—and I used to take a book, a glass of lemonade or iced tea, and cold celery stalks with peanut butter or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out to their little people-powered pedal boat and paddle my way over to the tiny lake next to ours where no power boats were allowed, and spend hours pedaling around the lake, reading in the sunshine.
Our boat was smaller and a little lower to the water than this one—I liked to trail my left hand along the top of the water as I pedaled, right hand holding my book. (Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr)
It was bliss. But while peanut butter makes for a sustaining reading meal, it was not my absolute favorite reading snack. That was…
From Little Red Riding Hood to Maurice Sendak’s Pierre to William Steig’s Doctor De Soto, the risk of being eaten has long been one of the most persistent threats in stories for children—although it’s also a fate marked by astounding reversals. The lion regurgitates its prize or a woodcutter cuts a grandmother from the wolf’s belly, letting readers glimpse the darkness at the heart of the forest, yet escape knowing that all is not hopeless in the end. While being gobbled up isn’t precisely the biggest danger facing most kids these days, it represents something primal about living in a world that can chew you up and spit you out if you forget to pay attention.
‘Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner’ by Finn Buckley, Michael Buckley, and Catherine Meurisse
This life lesson has, sadly, yet to be learned by unworldly Lenny the Lobster. When his fancy dinner party invitation arrives in the mail, he’s elated. Lured in by the prospect of an elegant party like the trusting fly into the spider’s parlor, his inability to read the room quickly leaves our hapless lobster at the mercy of a ravenous, lobster bib-wearing horde. Luckily, Lenny isn’t alone! He’s brought the reader with him to this ill-fated soirée (and a knowing narrator to nudge things along). Continue reading
The three-week stretches during which frontlist buys tend to congregate on our calendars like a row of teeth, with only one or two gaps between rep appointments, is always a bit of a gauntlet. Can we think of Edelweiss as a form of exercise in which steady immersive usage improves one’s performance? That’s a toughie but I’m thinking probably not. Use may make master but overuse makes for surliness and inattention.
In any case, I’m hustling today to get through all the sales kit materials for my Penguin Young Readers Group Summer 2019 rep telephone call tomorrow morning and I figured on taking this opportunity to revisit the Anatomy of a Frontlist, and make a 2019 edition. The original post contained a list of what I hoped to find in the F&G box. I reworked that list for today’s post. Here’s the 2019 version.
- At least one book, hopefully two, that I absolutely love and can handsell to the nines. Ideally it would be an easy handsell, whose interplay of text and illustration is gestalt and intrinsically engaging. A true store favorite like Sophie’s Squash.
- Around five strong books which fill evergreen needs at the store, great new baby gifts, sibling anxieties, birthday books, books that have a moose in them, solid new entries by established authors and whatnot.
- Some really strong nonfiction titles that have both school library and in-store appeal.
- Something totally unexpected that I learned from and will be fun to show customers.
- A friendship renewed. At least one next in a series book whose predecessor we handsold like crazy, an ARC we can’t wait to read ourselves, not simply out of hedonism, but as a public safety matter. It is our duty to make sure the sequel is safe for the future handselling on which the series depends.
- Finally, recognizing that most of the books will fall into the category of being not so bad, and being mindful of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s observation that “there is nothing quite so bad as something which is not so bad,” I hope that one of the books will be spectacularly ill considered, a la Bronto Eats Meat, just for the edifying window it provides into the industry and humanity in general, and the appreciation for quality titles which we should never take for granted. All right then, off to the task at hand.