Cutest Stocking Stuffer, Ever

Josie Leavitt -- November 10th, 2014

It’s that time of year when all bookstores are getting ready for the onslaught of the holidays. Seasonal book displays are out, sidelines are filling the counters in inviting, spontaneous ways, and the back rooms of all stores are filled to bursting. I spent much of yesterday receiving boxes of yummy doo-dads and trinkets. The fun part of this job is discovering what has been ordered for the store as I do none of the sidelines buying, so every box was a revelation of fun.

As I near my 50th birthday this week, I have come to accept that I can no longer get through any day, especially one at the bookstore (see Elizabeth’s plea to book designers about tiny fonts) without reading glasses. I have reading glasses on every surface and in every drawer. And I am forever misplacing them. Imagine my utter delight when I unpacked a box of Eye Bods. These are nifty IMG_4072paper weights that double as a place to hold glasses. They have personality and come in three colors, blue, green and white. It’s easy to spot a winning sideline when everyone on staff wants to buy one for themselves or for a near-vision challenged relative. Within moments of setting up my little Eye Bod man, I’m calling him Poindexter, we sold three. These embody the best of sidelines: useful, fun and double-purposed. They are the right price for a fun gift at only $9.99. Perfect for office Secret Santas and for filling the toe of a stocking or for the fourth night of Chanukah.

Retailers, what are some of the sidelines you’re just loving at your store?


School Book Fair Update

Josie Leavitt -- November 7th, 2014

As promised, I am reporting back on the in-store book fair we did with our local school. In my earlier post I spoke about working with one of our local schools on building community, shopping local and aiding the school with an easy fundraiser. We hosted a 10-day book fair at the store and have just now tallied all the numbers. I’m happy to report the book fair did well, but could have been better. Of course, I had very high expectations and was secretly hoping for a 10-day sales parade, and instead got a steady stream of customers.

The key to success for all in-store book fairs is the promotional effort that goes into them. In this instance, the school did everything right. All the families got flyers when school started and then again the week before the book fair, explaining how it worked. There was a wonderful article in the local paper about it, the kids all knew; even the visiting kindergarten class that week knew about the book fair. The PTO did a great job. We had it up on our website, Elizabeth made signage for the registers and the front door, so everyone coming in knew about it. We even dedicated our outdoor sandwich board to promoting the book fair.

The kickoff cocktail party with wine and cheese was packed. Lots of parents with their kids heaped their stacks of books on the counter. Folks were planning ahead that night and I thought that kind of enthusiasm would translate to every day of the fair. Not so much. It seems that with any organization, there is a dedicated core of supporters who really do a lot of the heavy lifting, and that was clearly evident with this book fair. We saw a lot of the same families during the 10 days who were working very hard to buy as many books as they could during the fair. They were great. They were cheery, appreciative and lovely. There just weren’t enough of them. We did have Halloween the last weekend of the book fair, and I wonder if that caused some families to lose focus in preparation for the holiday.

One of the best parts of the book fair was getting new customers into the store. There has been a big influx of new folks to town, so the book fair was a great way to introduce them to the store. And the goodwill the book fair generated was well worth it. Plus, we got a preview of what some of the hot series and books for the holidays are likely to be. In the end, though, I’m a tiny bit disappointed because I wanted to give the school a bigger check, but in the end it’s about patience, and when we do this again in the spring or next year, it will only getting bigger as it becomes a tradition.

Holiday Guide Strategies

Kenny Brechner -- November 6th, 2014

When it comes to Holiday Gift Guides there are several different strategies bookstores employ. The most common, and the simplest, is to use the Holiday Gift Guides produced by regional trade organizations. Others of us, whether from being gluttons for punishment, or through what Poe called “the mad pride of intellectuality,” produce our own in one form or another.

One such approach is for a store to produce, print and distribute their own catalog.  By far the best of these that I have ever seen, I say at the risk of imperiling my pal Elizabeth Bluemle with a surfeit of self esteem, is Pig Tales, that she produces for the Flying Pig.  It is sensational. I use a different, more efficient, but less exalted strategy. I make a guide called The Holiday Twenty which I produce for two area newspapers to use in their Holiday inserts. That guide, and those books, then become the focus of our in-store display, advertising and handselling efforts. We also have an online version to go with it.

In any case, for those of us in this guide-producing subculture the end of October marks a busy time of finalizing picks for different categories and blurb writing. Having just gotten my copy done I stand ready to share my picks in the categories that are relevant to children’s books.

The gift book of the season is clearly The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. If you are not sure why,  it is either because you haven’t seen it yet or you have deeper personal issues than those which can be properly addressed in a Holiday Gift Guide. I can assure you that it does not matter how many other boxed sets of the Lord of the Rings you already own, this hobbit-sized version is completely desirable and must be possessed by any right-thinking person. The imprinted titles on the spine, the well designed box, the agreeable price, the tasteful use of color and Tolkien Runes, all conspire to demand that Tolkien lovers be given this edition as soon as the Holiday Season allows. They cannot wait any longer than that. (Honorable mention to the very fetching Moomin Deluxe Slip-cased Anniversary Edition!)

We have four picture book picks. There were a very high number of exceptional wordless offering this year, but I tried to maintain some balance to meet different handselling scenarios. This year our picks are as follows:

Sparky, by Jenny Offil

Delightful illustrations, subtle humor, charm and unexpected tugs on any but the hardest heart strings make this story about adapting to the nature of a pet one of the finest picture books published this year.

Jim Curious, by Matthias Picard

This wordless three-dimensional picture book provides a truly jaw dropping undersea adventure. It comes with two 3–D glasses because Jim Curious is an experience made for sharing.

The Book with No Pictures,  by, B.J. Novak

Unless you are worried about having too much fun, sharing a picture book sans pictures with the young readers in your life, The Book with No Pictures is a perfect fit. Laughter and imagination are sure to accompany every reading.

Full Speed Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go, by Cruschiform

The best science-based picture books take one simple concept and develop them to spectacular effect. In Full Speed Ahead, each spread lists a speed on the left and then some animals or machines that go that speed on the right. For example, three things moving 2 MPH are a Tegenaria spider, an Excavator, and a person walking. With every new spread the speed increases. It’s sensational fun, at whatever speed you read it, not to mention educational!

For novels, I went with two YA and two middle grade. Namely…

Death By Toilet Paper,  by Donna Gephardt

Ben Epstein has lost his Dad. He and his mom are living on the financial edge and are about to fall off if the “Grand Plan” cannot be implemented before they are evicted. Full of humor and tenderness, this deftly told story will engage its young audience deeply, and with warmth and support.

Half Bad, by Sally Green

Here we come to a book that grabs readers from the first moment they enter its pages. Half Bad affords the sublime fascinations of an alluring, unsafe narrator set in a deeply grey political landscape whose powers are determined to be black and white at terrible cost. Its readers find themselves carried and then swiftly captured in an irresistible current of intrigue and imagination as visceral as it is elegant.

The Glass Sentence, by Sylvia Grove

The Glass Sentence features a highly imaginative and engaging premise which is clearly related and accessible, while also possessing roots grounded intricately in social and political history and cartography. This tightly knit and compelling world offers deep satisfaction for all readers of interest who will regale themselves with its dire actions, complex villainy, highly absorbing characters, and sublimely engaging interior and outer landscapes.

Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige

All is not well in Oz and Dorothy and her lackeys are the reason. A terrific romp through a classic fantasy world with a narrator that modern teens will relate to, Dorothy Must Die is big fun from start to finish.

I’m always interested to see, make note, and take stock of the books publishers are spending money on for the Holidays. The core of our Holiday handselling, however, lies in the books we stand behind the most ourselves. And in this regard, producing a gift guide clarifies the mind wonderfully, quite as much as the smell of tubs of burning slow-match did for Jack Aubrey before going into action.

Concise Critical Capsule Captures Crown

Kenny Brechner -- November 5th, 2014

It is time to announce both the winner, and to reveal the regal grand prize, of the Compelling Contest which ran here on October 23rd  challenging the alliterative acumen of its amiable antagonists.

There were some terrific entries here, but one of them stood out: Karin Thogerson’s recap for The Fault In Our Stars.

Cancer couple courtship culminates in cryfest.

The two runners up were Kate Braasch’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! entry:

Public plug prohibits pigeon piloting public pick-upper. Premeditating and pesky pigeon persists and petitions piloting. Pensive pigeon’s prayer precluded; possible portage post? Parable pleases people and pigeons proportionately.

And Margaret’s Blueberries for Sal entry:

Moms and moppets maneuver Maine mountain, making menu of mazarine morsels. Mischievous mayhem materializes: moppets misplaced! Maternal mistrust materializes — maybe a monster! Mercifully, mutatis mutandis, mistakes are mitigated.

And what of the regal reward? Karin will receive the amazing new giant morphing wind-up dinosaur car, modeled by DDG’s own Karin Schott! Drum roll please…


Thanks to everyone who entered!


Saving the Day, Indie Style

Josie Leavitt -- November 4th, 2014

Independent bookstore owners are very collegial. We all understand that we need to work together to thrive. This ethos extends to the daily referral to customers of trying another indie for a desperately needed book, to helping out with events and just getting together for a drink to talk about the business of books. It’s not every day I get to feel like I’ve donned a cape and swooped in to save the day.

Yesterday morning I got a call from another bookstore owner whose store is about forty minutes away. She sounded really unhappy. (About as unhappy as I was three years ago when I was down three staffers for a huge event, and she came to the store and helped with register during the event.) I asked what was wrong and she said through a wry chuckle, “I didn’t get my Wimpy Kid books. Did you?” Today is the big release day for  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul. Embargoed titles now arrive so close to the release date that a missed shipment means a store won’t have books in time for an early morning release party, as my friend had planned. I hadn’t gotten any shipments yet, but I told her I would call immediately once the UPS delivery had arrived. About an hour later I could hear the groan of the hand truck’s tires as my UPS man, Bart, brought in the 11 cases of Wimpy Kid books I’d ordered. I received the books and I called my friend back.

Once I accounted for the 180 books sold to a school for our event with Jeff Kinney, and took out my photo-33special orders, I was confident that I could offer her two cases of books and still have plenty for what my customers would need. She was ecstatic. I set her 64 books aside for her. She arrived in short order to pick them up. And, in true indie fashion she showed up with presents that the whole staff could enjoy. Homemade carrot cake muffins that were big enough to be lunch and a bottle of my favorite wine (which leads me to conclude that she must have shopped locally at the wine store across the street). I shared the muffins and took the wine.

The books were offered at the same discount I purchased them and a check was handed off and she took the two cartons and could rest a little easier knowing that her 7 a.m. release party would actually have books. There have been times we’ve all needed help from other stores to bail us out of tough situations. Once we needed more event books ourselves when Kate DiCamillo was speaking and two local stores helped fill the gap created by a missing box of vital books. Mis-ships happen and generally it’s not a crisis, but the day before a huge release, it is. It felt good to be able to help.

And, the muffin tasted great at the end of the day with a glass of wine.

Book Designers: Aging Booksellers Cry Mercy!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 3rd, 2014

ISBN picFor the love of all things typographical, this is a plea to the folks who design book jackets: PLEASE choose font sizes visible to the naked middle-aged eye for your series numbers, prices, ISBNs, and any other text necessary for retailers. This goes double for the marketing info you include on ARCs — what is the use of them if we can’t actually read the intended audience, age range, price, and promotional plan jammed into that skinny strip? And series numbers on spines that are nearly invisible (either because of font size or muddy colors that blend with the rest of the spine) don’t actually serve booksellers OR readers.

As you may not be aware—living as you do amid the clear-eyed, 20-something population that comprises Manhattan’s publishing and design elite—the average age of the indie bookseller is something like 173. We cannot see 6- and 7-point ISBNs even with our reading glasses on, or while using one of those humiliating wallet magnifying cards. This makes for some comical fun when our scanner is on the fritz and customers are waiting for us to hand-enter information. Likewise, forcing booksellers to peer helplessly at a spine to figure out which book is number 6 in the Em Square Saga does not help the cause of any publisher.

Continue reading

Flashlight Time

Josie Leavitt -- October 31st, 2014

On Halloween, it only seems fitting to talk about reading with flashlights. No, this is not a scary post, but rather one about a mom and her reading twins. My friend, Deb, has twin eight-year-olds: a boy, Henry and a girl, Lisa. They are readers, and Deb is a single mom with a full-time job. Hers is a busy house and the kids are rambunctious, but really good.

They shop at the store and came in a few weeks ago. Harry was disappointed I was out of Star Wars books (how that happened, I’m still not sure). Liza had camped out in the middle grade section and was going through exclaiming,”Read it, read it, loved it” at all books. This girl had read everything, so it was fun to challenge to introduce her to books she hadn’t read. Eight seems like the perfect age for longer books that are part of a series, so she left with Fablehaven and The Book of Elsewhere.

As I was ringing them up Liza was talking about what book to start at flashlight reading that night. I asked, “What is flashlight time?” Both kids started smiling. Deb explained that after bedtime, once they’d been all tucked in and the light turned off, each child was allowed to read with a flashlight until he or she fell asleep, or Deb noticed the light was still on. They don’t have headlamps, or flashlights with an on off button, but rather the kind of light that if your hand presses the bar, the light stays on. The beauty of this is when the child’s hand drops off in slumber, the light no longer stays on. This is genius and seems smarter and safer than a light that’s always on.

I love this idea. The mom knows her little readers are going to stay up reading (and read all over the house, at all times), so she’s made it part of their routine, rather than getting mad at them. They stay up a tiny bit later and get to have some stolen reading time that is part of bedtime. Reading has been made important, and fun, at their house ;I can’t think of a better way to support young readers.

The Power of Working Together Locally

Josie Leavitt -- October 30th, 2014

We are less than a month away from the real start of the holiday shopping season. Once again, it’s a shortened time because Thanksgiving is late this year. This year, though, Small Business Saturday, on November 29th, looks to be enormous for my town. Why? Because all the stores are working with each other to create massive buzz about why it’s important to not only support smaller stores, but to support the ones in Shelburne, Vt.

Last month I wrote about Keeping Business in the Village and what we had done to promote our village to shoppers. In November we are launching an all-out campaign to reach beyond our town and get folks in the rest of the area to come down to Shelburne to shop for the holidays. The beauty of this has been two-fold: there is a core of dedicated business owners who have the time to coordinate this (I am not one of them and am grateful for these energetic souls) and are doing most of the heavy lifting. They regularly communicate ideas and promo thoughts, and have been working with advertising sales folks at radio stations and the local papers to secure us good spaces. This kind of effort is wonderful. And it’s really smart to only have three people “deputized” to do this for the group rather than each person researching, reaching out and reporting back. Things are streamlined and efficient.

Not only are things easily handled, but because there are so many stores participating, this whole effort is not expensive. For a contribution of $200, each store will be featured in flights of radio spots on two different stations, and ads in four local papers. The graphic designer already has everyone’s logo and store write-up from the brochure, so there’s nothing for stores to do but chime in about the radio copy and suggest tweaks. For us this is huge. It saves us to just work and not design ads, gather logos, etc. There are so many details to coordinate and we’ve proven how well we all work together because the brochure was a huge hit and seemed fairly effortless.

The great thing about working with other business owners are the ideas folks come up with. The first idea that would have never occurred to me is a massive raffle for over $500 in gift cards. One lucky winner will get all the $35 gift cards from each store. This is a very sizable prize and one that will keep folks filling out raffle forms in all the stores and what a fun prize to win during the holidays. I never think of these things and if I did, a one-store raffle isn’t all that impressive, but a raffle with 12 stores is much more attractive.

The last thing that’s going to work is that all the stores will be using the same ad copy on their email blasts. The level of thought that’s going into this is impressive to me. The four coordinators of this effort have really thought of everything. They know that this kind of solidarity and continuity reinforces the message that Shelburne businesses are working together to support each other. Small Business Saturday is a huge day for stores like mine and by the collaboration with 11 other stores, it should be an amazing day.

I’d love hear other ideas of what your town or village doing to get ready for Small Business Saturday.

Two Rural Maine Schools With One Author Who Cares

Kenny Brechner -- October 28th, 2014

Few authors make as much of a difference in their communities as does acclaimed Maine children’s author Cynthia Lord. Aside from being a wonderful writer, and the recipient of many notable awards, including the Newbery Honor for her first book, Rules, Cynthia is also one of the hardest working, most professional writers I know. Cynthia does many full-day school visits around the country, and she provides well developed, interactive programming both in the classroom, and in the auditorium. These visits are part of her professional life, and have a business side to them of course, but Cynthia is more than just a total pro. She cares deeply about young readers and, recognizing that there are rural districts in Maine that lack the resources to bring her in for a full day of school visits she has worked with me on special occasions, volunteering her time to bring a dynamic experience to area children who would never be able to experience it otherwise.

Take this last October 16th for example. Cynthia did a whirlwind tour with me of Jay Elementary School and Livermore Falls Elementary School, doing two presentations in each school, one for kindergarten to second grade and one for third to fifth. This is made possible by the broad age range of her work. She has a delightful picture book series featuring Hot Rod Hamster, along with a Hot Rod Hamster I Can Read book, a charming new chapter book series called the Shelter Pet Squad, to go along with her three terrific middle-grade novels, Rules, Touch Blue, and Half a Chance.

Getting the books out for sale. Myself, that is, some of Cindy’s books, and her alter ego, The Lord coffee mug.

Cynthia in the act of demonstrating her surprising and remarkable superpower while I go over the pre-order checklist to make sure everyone got their books..

In short these four presentations were absolutely electrifying with a whole auditorium full of kids with their arms raised to answer questions and give their input from start to finish, from the K-2 set helping Hot Rod Hamster choose his way through race day or having the grade 3-5 students working on developing a story idea and plot structure for a novel whose protagonist is desperate to have a dog but who has the obstacle of an allergic parent standing in the way.

A K-2 presentation gets under way.

Waiting to have a book signed.


Personalizing a book that came in from home with a special note from the family for Cynthia.


District librarian Cheryl Mills wrote to me afterward. “Thank you so much for bringing Cynthia Lord to our school. Her visit generated LOTS of enthusiasm and excitement. The students fell in love with Cynthia and are still talking about her in conversation!!!! Her books are flying off the library shelves. What a great experience for our kids.”

Before we left for the day, special ed teacher Susan Wiles brought in Scholastic paperback copies of Cynthia’s picture books that she sells to raise funds in an in-school bookstore. Susan has been running the bookstore every Friday for the past eight years. All of the books are $1.00 and she collects box tops in order to continue buying books. The students in her classroom help out every Friday by picking up students in the other classrooms, stocking shelves, taking care of sales, and setting up/taking down the books. Cynthia graciously signed all the copies of her book that the bookstore had and then ran out to her car to donate copies of the Hot Rod Hamster picture books Susan didn’t have!

Cynthia with Susan Wiles. Superpowers indeed!

Quick! Support the Indiegogo for We Need Diverse Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 27th, 2014

This just in from the Department of Putting Our Money (and Social Media Efforts) Where Our Mouths Are: the We Need Diverse Books campaign has put together an IndieGoGo fundraiser.

Even if you can’t contribute financially at this time (although every little bit adds up), please don’t miss the wonderful short video featuring kids and children’s book authors and editors—including Matt de la Peña, John Green, Grace Lin, Marie Lu, Lamar Giles, Tim Federle, Jacqueline Woodson, Cindy Pon, and Arthur A. Levine—and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues, who may be in a position to contribute.

Here are some of the great initiatives you’ll be supporting:

1) Diversity in the Classroom: Your donation helps bring diverse authors to classrooms that really need author visits!

2) Walter Dean Myers grants for deserving authors and artists of color whose work deserves a wider audience. (More info in the PW article here.)

And here are some of the perks you can receive for donating:

(1) Signed prints from some amazing artists!

(2) Agent critiques!

(3) Swag packs full of bookmarks, pins, and other goodies, including a poster in the super swag packs.

Over the past several years, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and talking about this vital need in children’s books, and have felt pretty deeply immersed in the value of seeing ourselves and others reflected authentically and widely in the books we offer to youth. So I was surprised to discover, in the video, an aspect of this conversation I hadn’t really thought about. It came from Matt de la Peña, who was not an enthusiastic reader as a kid and didn’t discover the power of books until his basketball skills led to a college scholarship. There, he encountered the first book he ever read that moved him nearly to tears (watch the video to find out which one!). He said, “Books became my secret place to feel.”

I think this must be the case for so many young readers, especially for boys whose feelings are not encouraged to be shared. And how are books going to touch these tender souls wrapped in their outer protective layers if those books don’t speak to a variety of emotions and situations that resonate with readers? We need diverse books! For so many, many reasons.

Thanks for everything you readers do to support and learn about and educate others about this great ball of momentum for truly multicultural literature!