It’s time to corral the best MG and YA openers in this year’s offerings.
What makes first lines stand out? Sometimes it’s the beauty of the writing. Often, it’s the satisfying immediate revelation of character or situation or mood—surprise, dread, suspense, or humor— that slaps readers in the face, in a good way. Sometimes, it’s that elusive thing called “voice” — a freshness and authority that stands out from less distinctive writing. Continue reading
As I was reading the debate as to whether Bob Dylan was a fitting choice for the Nobel Prize in Literature, regardless of his being a great artist, it suddenly occurred to me to ask why it was that no children’s book author had ever won the award. If lyrics were a suitable medium for the award, how could children’s literature not be as well? One would think that enriching, sustaining, and supporting the lives of children around the world over time, and with literary artistry, would eminently suit the Nobel Prize in Literature. Why the absence?
This time of year, as the leaves are starting to change and we are just past the height of leaf-ogling tourist season, we usually find ourselves having a sales lull. Part of it is that holiday shopping hasn’t started in earnest, kids are fully into the demands of homework and fall sports, and the weather is gorgeous. It’s pretty clear that the corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin selecting, apple picking, horseback rides, and Halloween costume prep eclipse book browsing.
This is the time of year when all retail stores are gearing up for the rush that is the fourth quarter. It’s more than a question of guessing correctly what your customers will want. It’s about the other things that make for a smooth end of year. Of course having the hot titles and anticipating customer requests are an enormous part of the end of the year. There are always the unexpected hits of the season that leave everyone scrambling. How many people remember the popularity of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography that was utterly unobtainable the year it came out? While we cannot always guess at what will grab the public’s attention, we can be prepared in other ways. Continue reading
Community bookselling is one of those things which, like adolescence, is hard to define with precision but is nonetheless unmistakably real.
A perfect example occurred last Thursday. It was 11:00 and my stellar assistant manager Karin Schott stepped out of the store to pick up the deposit bag from the bank. She dashed back in a few minutes later, announcing, “Hold on to your socks, we’re going to have a crowd in a minute. I’m going to do an impromptu read aloud.”
We love snacks at the Flying Pig. There is a snack box in the back office that is often full of yummy treats, often brought back to the store from trips that staffers want to share. We’ve had Alaskan candy bars, real Swiss chocolates, and taffy from the Cape. We share our treats and have an unwritten rule that no one eats the last snacks, unless they brought it to the store. I have been guilty of eating the last bit of candy bar and not replacing it. Sometimes we leave notes expressing our sadness at the sorry state of the snack box. Often these notes are simply frowny faces when we’re almost at the end of something yummy. The other day I noticed a note in an Altoids tin. Continue reading
One day about twenty years ago, in the early days of the Flying Pig, a vigorous middle-aged woman walked up to the counter to make her first purchase. We needed to set up her customer account, so we asked her name. “Betty Miles,” she said. “Betty Miles!” I exclaimed. “There was a children’s book author I used to love by that name. She wrote a bunch of novels.” “Well,” she said, “That was probably me.” And it was.
It seems silly to say this, but maybe because I had grown up in Arizona and California, so far away from Vermont, and maybe because I’d read Betty Miles’ books so many decades ago, it had never occurred to me that I might run into a favorite author of mine so far from… my childhood? It was a lovely discovery, and I have hummed along happily for years with Betty as a customer, enjoying the sweet connection every time she walks in the door. But today I learned a new piece of information that rocked my world: in addition to those books I’d loved, it turns out Betty also wrote my very favorite story on the beloved anthem of my youth: the “Free to Be…You and Me” story, “Atalanta.”
I still have my copy of this vinyl record. Just looking at it makes me smile.
When I do book talks to teachers at after-school staff meetings there are two things* I always bring. One is a selection of books that are responses to particular areas of interest relayed to me from the teachers, fifth grade books on westward expansion, second grade books on animals, and so forth. The other is a sample of strong, very new, non-fiction titles pulled off our shelves.
I spent yesterday afternoon at just such a staff meeting. By the time I booktalked my way over to the non-fiction picture book pile I had reached a stream-of-consciousness handselling-zone that Gertrude Stein herself would have envied. Very much in the flow now, I found myself developing a new theme. Trade publishers were totally committed to their non-fiction picture books today. Gone were the days of lousy illustrations accompanying lackluster text.** A fact that was clearly evident in their employment of some of the best children’s book illustrators on the planet for this batch of non-fiction new releases. The great illustrations I was holding in my hands brought out wonderfully the appeal of their non-fiction topics when combined with high-interest thematic approaches and strong writing.
One of my closest friends just moved to Chicago from Vermont. Her move, while permanent, has an odd feeling of temporariness to it because she didn’t move with her partner, who will join her once they sell their Vermont house. So, my friend Kim is living in a condo with very little furniture and none of her children’s books. She doesn’t have an enormous collection, but the books she has, she loves. As a book person, it saddens me that she doesn’t have books with her, especially as we head into Halloween and the holidays, which are her favorite times for savoring a picture book. So, what I want to do is send her a book a week, roughly twelve weeks of books through Christmas, and I need suggestions from our readers. Continue reading
I have a good friend I text with fairly often. When she starts driving, she’ll pass the phone to her 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, who will continue to text. These texts charm me because Sophie is a sophisticated little texter. But the real charm is what we talk about: books. Sophie is usually handed the phone when they’re driving to the bookstore. The other day, my phone dinged to alert me to incoming text. The text began quite simply: “Hi, it’s Sophie on Mommy’s phone.” Continue reading