The Best Thing About Being on a Panel?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 16th, 2016

On Friday the 13th, three panelists and a moderator sat in a room at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and talked about strategies for selling diverse books to bookstore and library patrons. As everyone who’s ever sat in a panel discussion knows, you learn a lot from your fellow panelists and moderator. That’s the first bonus. And the biggest prize is the surprise of the people you meet after the panel, people passionate and patient enough to wait in a bit of a line to talk to the folks at the table.

I think and talk a lot about diversity in children’s books, so it is a delight to meet people doing great and varied work in the field. After the panel, I met two women who are working on a book about the first African-American woman to run for Congress, who also happened to be the first African-American woman to become a commercial airline pilot. One of the two women was her granddaughter! She held a fantastic photo of her grandmother, who had that look of so many amazing women in the 1930’s — lean, tailored, confident. I cannot wait for this book to be written!

I also met a woman who is working to bring in a very interesting series of self-described “anti-princess” books from Argentina “for both boys and girls,” as they say on the covers (hooray!). These are colorful, sidebar- and comics-filled picture-book biographies about real-life strong women in history. Slim paperbacks feature both well-known and little-known heroines, from Frida Kahlo to Juana Azurduy (a military leader who fought for South American independence from Spain in the 1800’s). I think kids would find these books very appealing. There may be a few tweaks needed for an American audience (I’m really just thinking about an illustration or two in the Juana Azurduy book), but I love the bright, colorful approach and fascinating heroines. These aren’t books that scream “library” to kids, and that is also a terrific thing. (Note: my California-days Spanish isn’t strong enough to read my sample copy fluently, but the parts I could read were simple and interesting.)

Also in line was Amelia Case, a chiropractor from Chicago who has written a series of books called “Princesses with a Twist,” about life for Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, etc., after their weddings. It’s a life where Cinderella branches out as an entrepreneur who builds a glass-shoe factory (I was relieved to discover that there’s a tempering process in the factory that makes the shoes pliable, soft, and comfortable. In that case, I wouldn’t mind a pair of those glass sneakers.) It’s also a world where Snow White overcomes her understandable fear of apples and creates a booming business. The princesses are friends who support each other and solve problems together. I confess I wasn’t wild about the art in the books, but I like the snappy premise and collaborative spirit behind this project, which raised $30,000 in a Kickstarter campaign last summer. Who knows? This could, like the Little Mermaid, have legs.

The last, most patient visitor to the tables was a woman in a beautiful green and white, elaborately tied head wrapping, who publishes books by Muslim and spiritual authors. (The press seems to be of the newer hybrid, partially author-supported variety.) They are working on their first children’s books, and in addition to their nonfiction titles, Niyah Press publishes a gorgeous calendar called “Beautifully Wrapped,” which has the most extraordinary photos of beautiful, real women — young and old, humble and fancy — from around the world. I was so taken by the photographs! They are truly special. And I will be looking forward to books featuring Muslim children; there are far too few of them.

It was so refreshing to hear about things happening both within and outside traditional publishing realms, and exciting to look forward to the fruits of so many passionate creators!

My Kind of Town!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 13th, 2016

IMG_6711Chicago, Chicago, it’s so good to be back in the windy city for BookExpo! I arrived on Thursday afternoon too late for the show floor, so I can’t report on that just yet, but I did arrive in time for a couple of fantastic book parties.

Candlewick hosted a truly phenomenal slate of authors and artists in a cocktail party at the Hubbard Inn: Aaron Becker (Return), Kate DiCamillo (Raymie Nightingale), Jason Carter Eaton (How to Track a Truck), Carson Ellis (Du Iz Tak?), Paula Garner (Phantom Limbs), Dean Hale and Shannon Hale (The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation), Richard Haynes (Slingshot and Burp), Oliver Jeffers (A Child of Books), Megan McDonald (Judy Moody and the Bucket List), John Rocco (How to Track a Truck), Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Also An Octopus), and Sam Winston (A Child of Books). Wow!!

BookExpo is the place where I get to see some of my favorite book people, just once a year. Catching up with old friends at the Candlewick party filled my heart with happiness. I also FINALLY got to meet John Schu in person, aka Mr. Schu, aka @MrSchuReads, who is not only extremely young, but as enthusiastic and warm and wonderful as his book reviews. He is such a passionate advocate for children’s literature, and it was a joy to chat with him.

We also got to see the city from a spectacular vantage point at Sourcebooks’ beautiful party at 360 Chicago — a building so tall it makes even other giants of the Chicago skyline look comically small. There’s a feature on the observation deck called the Tilt — a row of glass windows with side handrails to hold as the windows tilt gently toward the ground and you find yourself looking down, down, down 94 floors, 1,000 feet above Michigan Ave.


Tomorrow, I’ll be sitting on a panel to talk about diversity in children’s books, and will have a chance to see the show floor, see more old friends, and discover new books. Hope to run into many of you there!

Connecting with Kids

Josie Leavitt -- May 11th, 2016

The life of a bookstore owner has many perks: free books, great customers, meeting authors, and more. But for me the best part is making connections with children. Kids come to the store every day and there is real joy when these children become regular customers. To become part of a child’s world is a gift. Watching a little one learn to walk, read, and get comfortable in the bookstore is such fun. The best part is when the kids get to know me. Continue reading

The Art of Returns

Josie Leavitt -- May 10th, 2016

There are two keys to successful inventory management: buying the right number of books and knowing what books to return. There is an art to both that is grounded loosely in hunches and some data management. Books are one of the few retail items that can be returned, often without penalty, to the publisher or distributor. The ability to return books allows stores to take chances on books they might not otherwise bring into their stores. It also allows for stocking up on event books without under-buying for fear of being stuck with extra books. But returns are not without cost, or hassle. Continue reading

BEA Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz Panel Preview

Kenny Brechner -- May 9th, 2016

Friday morning the BEA Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz panel will be held, and as I am moderating it, I thought a preview was in order. As you may have had occasion to notice, most of us like to feel that the things we choose to spend time on are worthwhile. That will be an easy task for everyone attending and participating in the BEA Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz panel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no genre that is more important to get right than Middle Grade. As booksellers the ratio of handselling to adults buying for kids and to kids selecting for themselves is more equal in Middle Grade than it is with any other children’s genre age group.  It truly is in the middle and getting it right is of enormous importance in terms of relationship-building with middle grade readers as they will shortly age into a period where suggestions from a stranger are not quite the thing.
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Elizabeth’s May Book-a-Day Challenge

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 6th, 2016

Because I’ve been traveling for work a lot lately, I am way behind on my reading. As books and ARCs pile up in what we Flying Pig folks refer to as “towers of knowledge,” I find myself in need of a concrete, publicly accountable reading goal that I can rope fellow “behinders” in on. So I’ve created a Google spreadsheet called “Elizabeth’s May Book-a-Day Challenge,” and invite those of you with similar piles to join me.

Picture books count, yes, but otherwise, there’s no page-count grace given with the challenge, because there’s no page-count relief for the number of books waiting for us. The goal is one book per day. Period. And you can’t complain, either, because we’ve already had a week off; it’s already May 6 and I’m letting you off the hook for May 1-5.

Seriously, though, you can use the challenge any way that works for you. If it’s half-a-book-a-day, that’s fine. If it’s an audiobook every three days, you fly that flag. I’ve always been a quick reader, so I’m hoping one book a day is doable, especially if I disable Netflix and HBO Go on all of my devices. (House of Cards Season 4 will have to wait until June.)

The link to the May Book-a-Day Challenge is:

You can add your name and fill in books once you’ve finished reading them. I’ll stay honest, too. If you miss a day, don’t worry. We’re all human (except for Kate Messner; I’m convinced she has cloned herself in order to accomplish as much as she does in a day).

This weekend, I’ll be snuggling up with Crystal Allen’s The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown, Kwame Alexander’s Booked, and Meg Medina’s Burn, Baby, Burn. What will you be reading this weekend? You can answer even if you aren’t taking the challenge. I’d love to know!



Customers as Sensors

Kenny Brechner -- May 5th, 2016

CanaryInACoalMine_2We often think of sensors as warning us of danger, from canaries in coal mines to modern alarm systems. They can also be very helpful, of course, turning lights on for us at opportune times. At a bookstore customers act as wonderfully complex sensors with an almost unlimited range. Last week was a notable one at the store in this regard. Two incidents particularly exemplified the rewards and the perils which can come, on either hand, from receiving the words and actions of our patrons.
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Authors at the Airport, Mice at the Expo

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 4th, 2016

IMG_6549When scouting possible locations for a fundraising event featuring 21 authors, you wouldn’t immediately think of the airport as a potential venue. But in a small city like Burlington, it’s not only feasible, it’s fantastic. Big windows, lots of light and space for setting up, and a series of available rooms for author panels and presentations —plus free parking for the event— made the Stern Center’s annual gala beautiful and unique.

I’d noticed a lot of civic things happening lately at our mighty little Burlington International Airport, so when I had a chance to meet its newest owner, Gene Richards, I asked him what was going on. “This airport was built with taxpayer dollars,” he said, “and it should be available to the community that built it.” One of his favorite recent events was a dinner to celebrate the Refugee Resettlement Program. Food from many international cultures were shared from family to family. It was a way to bring new Americans and longtime Vermonters together. Love that!

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Scaring Staffers

Josie Leavitt -- May 2nd, 2016

I think I’m a generally good-natured boss, one who is patient, understanding and kind. This is how I usually am at work, until I’m very tired, then things kind of fall apart. Most of the time I’m very well rested and a delight to be around (if I do say so myself), but the last few weeks of working just about every day had finally taken its toll on Saturday. I was supposed to be off, but a staffer had a flight snafu and couldn’t come in, so I had to work. I was exhausted, cranky and short-tempered, and I practically terrorized my youngest staffer, Lizzy, who had the poor misfortune of working alone with me. Continue reading

The Hard Work of Bookselling

Josie Leavitt -- April 29th, 2016

So often people romanticize bookstore life as one of sitting comfortably, usually in a rocking chair, reading all dweightlifting-sportsman-cartoon-illustration-illustrations-strongman-athlete-41896524ay. This image, while lovely, is very far from the truth of bookstore life. The first thing I tell people who think we read all day is, well, actually, if you see staffers at bookstores reading, the store is likely to go out of business soon. We are busy all day and store work is surprisingly physical. The days can be long and there is a lot of hauling of boxes and many steps taken on a regular day, but throw offsite events into the mix and you really don’t need to belong to a gym. Continue reading