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The Stars So Far (9/22/14 Update)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 23rd, 2014

You’ve been asking, and I’ve been working on it, and now it’s here! The updated round-up of this year’s starred reviews for youth literature from BooklistThe Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksThe Horn BookKirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

So far this year, 789 books have received 1267 stars from these esteemed review sources. 

This is an insanely detail-laden process, and as careful as I try to be, there may be oversights here and there. If you want the cleanest version of this list, check back a week or two after each update, when I’ll have been alerted to anything that needs fixing.

Please remember: starred reviews are counted only when they have been officially published publicly by the review magazines. Often I receive emails about books that will be starred in upcoming issues; please only send me corrections if the review date has passed and the magazine or web review has already appeared to the public. {EDITED TO ADD: I have just been alerted to a problem with the Kirkus stars. Some titles receive online-only stars that do not appear in the Kirkus print index files. I will be tracking these down as best as I can, but would appreciate assistance for titles that received online-only stars from Kirkus.) Publishers, please alert me to any oversights at ebluemle at publishersweekly.com, including the review sources and dates for the starred reviews.  Thanks! Please do not send VOYA 5Q5P titles. I will post a separate list of VOYA “perfect ten” scores for 2014 in December.  

Finally, if you are purchasing books inspired by this list, please strongly consider using an independent bookstore. You can find online indies through www.indiebound.org. An independent bookseller (me) compiled this list on behalf of everyone who lives, loves, and works hard in the service of books and children. Thank you! 

P.S. Please drop a note in the comments section, if you like. Would love to know how and by whom this list is used. The feedback fuels the next assail.

SIX STARS

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99

Family Romanov, The: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. Random House, $18.99

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second, $21.99 hc, $17.99 pb

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Celebrating Good Staff

Josie Leavitt -- September 22nd, 2014

It’s sometimes easy to take good bookstore staffers for granted. This all changes when someone goes on vacation. My store is small with a very tight-knit staff of six, including Elizabeth and me, who co-own the store. Fall seems to be the season when folks go away and their absence is felt from the first day of their vacation until they return to work. It’s far more than just having someone else at work, it’s the realization of what they contribute that makes it hard when they’re gone.

Laura took her first real vacation two weeks ago, her first since she started last year. She’s a stalwart worker who wears many hats easily. It seemed to me that she was gone far longer than 10 days. Folks who needed help in the poetry section were done no real service by me in her absence. I’m on the sales floor more when someone’s away, which is a good thing, but it’s also hard. There are so many things that need doing at a bookstore other than selling books: ordering and returning books, planning events, paying bills and more bills, dealing with damages, following up on special orders, etc. Having a good staff means these things can not only get done, but I get help with them. When someone’s gone there is a void. I realized while I was working more to cover Laura’s shifts, that she’s great at working with customers with whom I don’t connect with as easily. I could no longer hand her customers I found hard or wanted to know about things, like poetry, that I didn’t know. She’s great on the phone and follows up on little details that I sometimes lose track of.

Working in a bookstore is fun but it’s also hard work. People who say, “I want to open a bookstore when I retire” have no idea how much energy it takes. The fun of having a good staff is that we fuel each other. One person’s energy can flag and someone else can help out and help rejuvenate the other. Plus, talking about books is galvanizing and wonderful fun. Darrilyn, who is away for the next two weeks, and I always have long discussions about the latest mysteries and which writer’s new book disappointed or thrilled. Sandy, who has recently returned from a jaunt to Italy, is unfailingly polite and fills the historical fiction void with ease as well knowing the best picture books. All our staffers are wonderful and that makes going to work all the more fun. So, bookstore owners, take a moment and tell your staff how much you appreciate them, before they plan their next vacation.

 

Free Books!! Take As Many As You Like!

Kenny Brechner -- September 18th, 2014

We all know that the biggest return on a book is sometimes had by giving it away. This is something we think about in different ways. When a publisher sends me a free finished copy of a book I always provide it the courtesy of reading any accompanying letter carefully and taking a close look at the book. If a giveaway promotional item strikes me as particularly creative and apropos we make sure to carry out its prime function: give it away to customers.

As a bookseller I always try and be mindful of recognizing when a meaningful moment to give something away presents itself. For example, after a classroom ARC review project I don’t normally leave the ARCs in the classroom. Last year, however, one student was so taken with a particular book that it was very striking. The teacher tried to assure him that a library might have a copy when it came into print. It hit me that there was no possibility, in this boy’s life, that he would be able to buy it. I slipped it to him and the teacher later told me that, though she couldn’t get into the details of his home life, it had meant the world to him. Not all giveaways are created equal. Nor is there any formula for recognizing the important ones other than learning from examples encountered in the course of experience.

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Help Shape the Diversity Evolution

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 16th, 2014

This blog post title may sound a little grandiose, but I don’t think it is. I can’t tell you how hopeful I am becoming about the prospect of real and lasting change toward meaningful diversity in the children’s book field. I’m trying to figure out how I can be most useful in this effort, and am enlisting your help.

Now, I’ve been blogging about this topic for years, as have countless other writers and editors and bloggers, but it hasn’t been until the past year that it finally feels like all of the individual voices and efforts have started to have a cumulative weight, some real momentum. And this real desire for change comes with a whole lot of questions about how to be effective.

Since National Public Radio’s three-part series on diversity in publishing (my part on bookselling diverse titles is here), I have heard from many, many people who appreciated the discussion. A few were parents who wanted to let me know they hoped their local bookstores would beef up their multicultural selection and that publishers would provide a whole lot more variety of content; others were listeners who wanted to know where to find my diversity database; the majority were authors of color asking for my help getting their books noticed by publishers.

And I honestly don’t know how best to help with that last one. I’m not an agent or an editor, and the jobs I do already take more time than I have. I suspect these writers, like all writers, represent a range along the spectrum from beginner to editor-ready.

How can I help these writers get their work seen?

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Laughter and Terror: Writers and Stand Up Comedy

Josie Leavitt -- September 15th, 2014

When I’m not working at the bookstore I teach and perform stand up comedy. I usually teach comedy in my hometown of Burlington, Vt., but this Saturday I taught a stand up workshop in Hadley, Mass. I had posted this class on my Facebook page, and was delighted when Ellen Wittlinger messaged me to say she was thinking about signing up, but was a little “terrified.” I’ve known Ellen for years and assured her that she was hysterical and would be a great addition to the class. Plus, a little creative terror can be good for the soul.

hardlove

I was thrilled that Ellen, author of one of my all-time favorite books, Hard Love, had converted herterror to trying something new, and we both whooped and hugged when she walked into the class. What I wasn’t expecting was for Ellen to bring her friend, Lisa Papademetriou. Lisa had co-written a book with my friend Chris Tebbetts, M or F,  a humorous take on Cyrano de Bergerac and what happens when the ghost writer falls for the boy. They arrived early and we chatted. I had only met Lisa once when she popped into the store and signed stock. The class administrator came over and checked them in. “I usually shelve these guys,” I blurted. Christine looked askance at me. I explained the whole bookstore-writer dynamic going on and she just laughed.

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Bad Grammar in Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 12th, 2014

This is a tough era for readers who care about grammar. I try to tread a fair line between absolute purist (“bad grammar is something up with which I will not put”) and 21st-century slacker (“me and her went to the mall instead of diagramming sentences yesterday”). And I’ll confess that age has softened me somewhat; there’s only so much flailing against the tide of widely accepted modern usage a person can do before starting to feel like a Victorian schoolmarm.

However.

I don’t think it is too much to ask for copyeditors to be the last bastion of correct usage. When I come across “shrunk” and “drunk” being used as simple past tense, I don’t expect copyeditors to necessarily know that they are past participles, but I expect them to know how they should be used.

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Uprooting Evil in School Purchase Orders

Kenny Brechner -- September 11th, 2014

The good news is that one of your elementary school educational partners has $5,000 of grant money to spend on a new Common Core resource area for reluctant readers and she is going to spend it with you. How can there be any bad news, you ask? Actually, there can be many layers goodnewswbadnewsof it. Your educational partner, as do many of her colleagues, has turned to direct solicitations from specialty educational publishers for most of the titles on the purchase order. Some have come from catalogs that have been sitting in a closet for 10 years. More importantly, some of these specialty publishers, such as Pioneer Valley Books, will sell to you only at the same non-discounted rate that they will sell to a school. Others are selling product at very high rates and are very labor-intensive to get. Worst of all there are those that won’t sell to retail bookstores at all. You want to keep the business, and you want to deserve the business. What to do?

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First Times

Josie Leavitt -- September 9th, 2014

Owning a children’s bookstore means that there can be a lot of firsts for young customers. There is something wonderful about being the place where milestones are achieved. All too often we don’t stop and notice what astounding things kids are doing because, well, they’re not our children. But at the bookstore, in a small space, often with customers we know, there is a wonderful opportunity to see what happens when something “clicks” with a kid.

Usually the first milestone is walking. There is nothing more fun than being at the store when a littleoliver one figures out that he can put one foot in front of the other and get from over here to over there. Parents stand by nervously or excitedly, depending on the baby’s wobbliness, as they watch their child walk over to one of the bookseller’s outstretched hands that have a book in them. I do love that kids will often walk over to the person who’s holding a book. What better way to reinforce that reading is fun? Of course first smiles are always great to a part of. I’m a fan of making little ones laugh.

There is something amazing about being present when a child becomes a fluent reader. This usually happens when a kid is picking out a book, usually a chapter book, but sometimes a picture book, and the light clicks on and suddenly reading just makes sense and the words flow freely and the struggle is gone, replaced by ease of reading and comprehension. This has happened time and time again in  our 18 years of business. Every once in a while this can happen with a  very young child, sometimes no older than three, who walks by books and starts reading all the titles. When this happens we all just sort of stand around stunned while a smiling parent realizes that somewhere along the line their little toddler has taught herself to read.

Other milestones that can happen at the store include a myriad of things. Potty training success happens a lot, although this one can be a little more fraught, as there are whoopsies, but that’s why we have mops (it’s actually funny, but every bookstore bathroom also seems to double as the utility closet) in the bathroom. Every milestone deserves a celebration. Paying for a book and working on manners happen every day. I can always feel a parent’s bursting pride when their two-year-old not only says “thank you” but makes eye contact while doing so.

Saturday, the milestone happened with my visiting cousin’s six-year-old son. Justin is a sweet boy who can read quite well, but couldn’t yet figure out how to tie his shoes. The entire family was visiting and all were busy looking at the store which they hadn’t seen yet. Justin was left to his own devices and he found a book on tying his shoes (which sadly was purchased by another child before I could jot down the title). He sat there quietly and then figured it out. We were leaving for lunch and we found him on the floor just tying and retying his shoes. His mom was beaming, his grandparents were choking up, and I was wondering what the fuss was about. “It’s the first time he’s done that.” I was told by my other cousin. Ah, that explained the joy and why we found him on the ground the rest of the trip, tying and untying his shoes.

 

An Amazon-Free Partnership

Josie Leavitt -- September 8th, 2014

We all can talk about Amazon as the scourge of the book business, the reason indies are struggling and that might be true, but there seems to be little people actually do about Amazon. Here in TVW Cover smallVermont, one small publisher, Common Ground Communications, is trying something unique to support indies: he is not offering former Governor Jim Douglas’ autobiography for sale on Amazon. This book promises to be a good seller in my small state. It’s not every liberal state that has had a successful Republican governor, so his story should be a good one.

Chris Bray is the publisher of the book The Vermont Way. And his decision to sell the book only in stores and bypass Amazon sends a strong message that sales to bricks and mortar stores matter. Chris, a long-time customer who actually spent time in the Statehouse as a representative, clearly understands that backing up the message with thoughtful, possibly risky action, is the best way to support local Vermont bookstores. Chris is all about collaboration. Maybe that’s how we can get back to supporting stores and selling more books.

Working with stores and talking with us about things like discounts, shipping and setting up events well before the book comes out is a great way to get the stores invested in the book. I even suggested that Chris waive shipping if invoices are paid within 30 days, which he is doing (following the example of other small publishers like Godine). So here we have a book that will likely be a hugely popular book in my state, that is comes with free shipping if you pay your bill on time and is only available in physical stores. No one can buy it on Amazon. I can barely wrap my head around what this means. It will be very interesting to see if I see any customers who haven’t shopped in our store in a while because they’ve gotten a Kindle.

Working together with a small press to drive sales into the bookstore is so refreshing. Chris really wants to support the indies, and obviously, wants to sell lots of books. I have no idea how many sales he’s risking by not offering the book on Amazon, but the fact that he’s willing to take that chance and work with indies exclusively, means I’ll work harder to sell the book. This is what a publishing partnership looks like: both publisher and bookstore on the same page (pardon the bad pun) working together to sell a book while supporting what’s important.

A Season for Elephants

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 5th, 2014

I was looking at our face-out display of picture book New Releases today and noticed a whole bunch of cute elephants staring back at me. This happens sometimes; something’s in the zeitgeist and all of a sudden there are 84 moose books coming out in one season, or seven authors have written poetry collections about bugs, or every fantasy novel seems to feature a severed hand. I’m not as enthused about severed hands as I am about elephants (although those severed-hand books, from a publishing season at least 10 years ago, were actually really good). But elephants! They were one of my two favorite wild animals growing up, and what’s not to love about them? In their small size, they are nothing short of ADORABLE, and as they age, they acquire an enviable depth and wisdom. They’re like people, only better.

So here are the world’s newest elephants, at least on the picture-book page:

Always by Emma Dodd (Candlewick/Templar) — In this sweet, silvery book for little ones, a baby elephant feels its parent’s love and warmth no matter what it encounters in its everyday adventures. Very simple and lovely, and the shiny silver accents on the pages add a little magical sparkle.

Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox; illus. by Emma Quay (S&S/Beach Lane) — This one sends tiny tots to bed with rhymes that start off lively and giggle-inducing —”I could eat your little ears / I could nibble on your nose” — and end up quiet, “There comes a time for sleeping / and our sleepy time is now. / So fall asleep, my angel / with a kiss upon your brow.” Mem Fox (Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes) Fox has a gift for read-aloud rhythms, and the art is cozy and joyful. Some readers could find this story a little claustrophobic (cf. I’ll Love You Forever and The Runaway Bunny), but most will welcome its snuggliness.

Moses: The True Story of an Elephant Baby by Jenny Perepeczko (S&S/Atheneum) — Full of photos and interesting facts about elephants, this book introduces young readers to a playful, mischievous real-life little pachyderm rescued and relocated to a reserve for orphaned animals in Malawi. This book departs from usual nonfiction by anthropomorphizing little Moses to the extent of recounting “thoughts” and dialogue, which is a little odd. Children privy to the separate author’s note at the end will be sad to learn that Moses died unexpectedly young after an operation — but this is well handled and can be a springboard for discussion.

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato (Henry Holt) — It’s not easy being a very small, cupcake-loving elephant in Manhattan, but Little Elliot finds confidence and stature (not to mention a new friend) when he helps someone even smaller than he is. Curato’s art provides the wow factor here; the rich, retro feel and color palette of these illustrations are striking. Plus, the elephant has subtle polka dots, which makes me indescribably happy.

And as if those aren’t enough trunks coming at you this fall, it looks as though September 2 will bring two more elephant stories, that I will come back and report on when they arrive. In the meantime, here’s the title info and cover art:

My Bibi Always Remembers by Toni Buzzeo (Disney Press)

 

 

 

 

 

The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey by Sophie Strady; illus. by Jean-Francois Martin (Chronicle)

 

 

 

 

 

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And now I’m going to put this out into the zeitgeist and see what the wind brings back: for next season, I’d like seahorses. Red pandas would be good, too, but really, seahorses.