Books That Spark Empathy

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 14th, 2016

One of the great miracles of books is that a few marks on paper can spark lasting empathy and compassion deep in our souls. Tragedies like the Orlando massacre have origins beyond a simple lack of empathy, but I can’t help wondering if a child nourished with plenty of worthwhile books is more likely to view others with greater tolerance and acceptance. I flip-flop between thinking that’s a naive view and knowing how powerfully books can help shape minds and hearts.

Let’s compile a list of our favorite books that stir empathy most beautifully. I’ll start:

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf — A peace-loving young bull, stung by a bee, accidentally misleads human onlookers into thinking he will be a great fighter. In the ring, however, his gentle nature reveals itself. A striking, funny, lovely book about letting people be who they truly are.

Crow Boy by Taro Yashima — A painfully shy schoolboy has trouble making friends until his teacher sees a talent no one in class has noticed before. Perhaps less well known than some of the other books on this list, this Caldecott Honor book is a beautiful homage to the value of looking beyond surfaces.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino, illus. by Isabel Malenfant — A little boy loves the orange dress in his classroom’s dress-up box, and his male friends think this means he can’t play astronaut with them. But Morris shows them that being a boy isn’t limited to such narrow definitions. A sweet, quirky book about joyful individuality.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illus. by Louis Slobodkina — A shabbily dressed girl new to school claims she has 100 dresses at home and is ridiculed by her classmates, who don’t know anything about Wanda and her life. Perhaps still the most powerful book for young readers about bullying, from the point of view of a classmate who didn’t speak up, this Newbery Honor novel is short, memorable, and oddly gentle for a book with so much impact.

George by Alex Gino — George, a fourth-grader born a boy, has always known she is truly a girl. Inside, she is Melissa, and Melissa really wants to try out for the role of Charlotte in the class production of Charlotte’s Web. Most importantly, she wants her friends, her classmates, and her mother to see her authentic self. (There are also several wonderful books about the trans experience out there for teens: Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Luna by Julie Ann Peters, and more.)

ShelfTalker readers – what books have had the most profound impact on your own developing sense of empathy, as a child or as an adult? I’ll post a complete list with responses next week.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to everyone in my great big beautiful LGBTQIA community, and those who care about us.

A side note: very strangely, when I was gathering titles and images for this post, my Ingram database searches didn’t bring up any of the titles with gay or trans content. I’m not sure if there’s a glitch in their system, but someone needs to check out the database.

Work and Tragedy

Josie Leavitt -- June 13th, 2016

The attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday morning that left 50 people dead and scores more injured made work yesterday a bit of a challenge for me, my staff and my customers. It was a challenge for me because I am a member of the LGBTQ community, and locally we are still reeling from the murder of a transgender man three weeks ago in what is being considered a bias incident. I am also on the Board of the Pride Center, so as news of the horrific attack unfolded, the Pride Center kicked into high gear planning a vigil. Here’s the thing that I forget sometimes: work doesn’t stop when there’s been a tragedy. Nor should it. There is something about bookstores that comforts people during times of crisis. Continue reading

Publishers as Event Partners

Josie Leavitt -- June 10th, 2016

All bookstores strive to host fun, engaging events that will draw a large crowd. We all know that these events are a lot of work, can be expensive to pull off, and require a lot of advertising. So it was a thrill to find out that Scholastic had chosen our store as a stop on its Summer Reading Road Trip. This genius promotion is a bevy of fun events all in one, with not one, but three local authors. The more I read about the help Scholastic is providing, the more excited about this event I become. Continue reading

Why the (Amazon) Conversation Needs to Change

Kenny Brechner -- June 9th, 2016

The nature of our conversation about Amazon needs to change. It needs to become less about individual bookstore transactions and more about facing a common threat to our community’s well being. I knew that. But when a crisis involving my bookstore developed, when the earth began to open under my feet, I understood it with conviction and experience. I’ll share what happened and then offer a thought on two elements involved that I think are worth noting.

The school libraries in the greater Farmington area are among my most important customers. Our town is under considerable financial strain. The school budget necessarily faces significant cuts. The School Library book budget, for example, is slated to be cut in half in all seven schools. There is a robust local group called Support Our Schools, which has a closed online forum with more than 800 members. An active dialogue concerning the library book budget being cut in half developed on the Support Our Schools forum. The idea began to be discussed that, given the shrinking dollars it might be necessary to switch business away from DDG to Amazon and that Amazon Smile might be used as a fundraising source. I had never posted in the group before. The time had come. Here is my post.
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Tech Failures and Humor

Josie Leavitt -- June 7th, 2016

Almost all bookstore use computers to keep track of their inventory and to sell books. We generally don’t think much about the computers until they stop working, and then we realize just how reliant we are on them. Last week I mistakenly updated my anti-virus software and found, almost immediately, that all three computers at the store had lost their network connectivity. Not being able to access the inventory or the cash register function of the computers certainly puts a crimp in the ability to sell books efficiently. I am known as the IT person for the store, so I set about to remedy the problem. Continue reading

Unpredictable Pairs: Surprising Publishing Coincidences

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 6th, 2016

It happens often in children’s publishing: suddenly, a topic no one’s written about in years (or ever) manages to surface in more than one book. Sometimes, there are enough coincidental titles they constitute a mini-trend. Last November, I wrote about The Year of the Yeti; a few years ago, it seemed every YA book cover trumpeted The Season of Windblown Hair, among other trends. And there was one year when I served on a book committee, and three or four MG and YA novels involved severed hands as major plot points.

Lately, I’ve noticed some modest two-book coincidences. Celestial-body home visits, club feet, and free-verse Tuskegee Airmen are just a few of the past several months’ coincidental releases.

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DDG’s 25th Anniversary Party

Kenny Brechner -- June 2nd, 2016

If there is anything that calls upon even the most feckless of us to pause and reflect it is the 25th anniversary party for one’s bookstore. At least that’s what I found. We pour effort into our lives into particular vessels, and some hold the effort more than others.

A community-oriented bookstore is a particularly retentive vessel. It is in the knitting, I think. There are so many strands, friendships with customers, community partnerships, school partners, staff friendships, a cornucopia of joint efforts and gestalt rewards offer so many layers of interwoven meaning to strengthen the innate character of our enterprise which is, after all, sharing books, sharing vessels of meaning.

In 25 years you’ve had plenty of time to talk Russian literature with someone you once picked out board books for. You’ve helped pick out a get well card for a customer and then discover that the card is for someone who has become very dear to you over the years so that you pick one out for her yourself and send it along. It is little wonder that the bookstore captures the effort poured into it so well and so dynamically.

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Quick Reminder: June Book Blast Begins Today!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- June 1st, 2016

Hi, avid readers.

If you want to add your name to the book-a-day June challenge, go here: June Book Blast.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go here: E’s Invitation to Join the June Challenge
(I’ve also updated the post to include the rest of the books I read in May.)

Remember, you can bulk up on books some days and not read on other days. That’s how life is. And just for kicks, try zipping outside your usual genres once in a while to challenge yourself.

Happy June Reading!


Random Customer Comments

Josie Leavitt -- May 31st, 2016

One of the great things about a bookstore is working with customers. People come in looking for books, obviously, and often there are hilarious exchanges that occur in this process. In addition to these funny moments, people feel comfortable sharing, and sometimes oversharing, what’s going on in their lives as they inquire about specific books. I often find myself doling out advice on a range of topics from marriage advice to finding the best realtor to well, just listening.  Continue reading

The Great June Book Blast Challenge

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 27th, 2016

Want a great way to cut down on Netflix binges and catch up on all those books and ARCs you’ve been meaning to read, especially now that Kenny has shared some of the season’s top picks? Take the June Book Blast Challenge with me! The goal is 30 books in 30 days, apportioned however you like. (Here’s the Google Doc link: As in the May’s Book-a-Day Challenge, all books in all genres count toward your total. Continue reading