Monthly Archives: March 2007

Scholastic Reveals Harry’s New Look

Alison Morris - March 28, 2007

Scholastic has released the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which has all of us at the store theorizing about what the images might mean. What do YOU think we’re seeing, and what do YOU think it means for Harry’s next (and final) adventure??

Here’s how the front will appear:

Here’s the art for the entire jacket, which will obviously wrap around the book (scroll down below to see it, if the sidebars get in your way):

I must say, I’m a bit disappointed in the cover. I don’t dislike the illustration Mary GrandPré has created, but I do find the design rather unimaginative. I certainly don’t look at the book and think, “WOW. Now THAT is a cover!!” It seems to me that this record-setting book should, above all others, announce itself to the world. Instead it says, “I’m the next book in the Harry Potter series.” For $34.99 I expect a little more fanfare.

That said, the American cover is still vastly superior to the British cover, as — blimey! — I really don’t like the illustration:

What do you think? Is either up to snuff? I’m curious to hear other people’s reactions.

Holy Tango of Literature

Alison Morris -

While it's true that I mostly read books written for children and young adults, I do sometimes find time to read "grown-up" stuff. I'd like now to call your attention to a book published for adults that is well-worth knowing about, even if your primary focus is books for the younger set.

Holy Tango of Literature by Francis Heaney is a brilliantly funny, terribly clever book of poetry that belongs in the home library of every word-lover, poetry-lover, humorist and middle school or high school English teacher. Here's how publisher Emmis Books describes it:

"Holy Tango of Literature is a unique and captivating collection mimicking the great writers of literary history. This devilishly witty book has a twist: Each writer's name is rearranged as a title, creating the subject for a parody rendered in the author's style."

Confused yet? I don't blame you. Perhaps an example will help to clarify things.

Heaney took Emily Dickinson's name and out of it created (found?) the anagram "skinny domicile." He then wrote a poem called "Skinny Domicile" in a perfect parody of Emily Dickinson's distinct writing style. It begins like this:

I have a skinny Domicile—
Its Door is very narrow.
’Twill keep—I hope—the Reaper out—
His Scythe—and Bones—and Marrow.

There's William Carlos Williams (I Will Alarm Islamic Owls), e. e. cummings (nice smug me), Dorothy Parker (Dreary Hot Pork), and many, many more — each of them the perfect homage to their subjects.

Now that you are opening another window to order a copy of this book via or calling me to reserve a copy at our bookstore, you may be both pleased and surprised to learn that the entire text of Holy Tango is available (gasp!) online. In a move that seems both crazy and (I have to say) rather brilliant, Heaney has convinced Emmis Books that he can sell more copies of his book by allowing everyone the opportunity to read it. The idea is that you will read these poems and become so enchanted by them that you will want to own the physical book AND want to purchase copies for your friends.

I'm fascinated by this notion, because it presents an interesting twist to the e-book concept that has some booksellers quaking in their boots, wondering if there will soon be anything left for us to shelve. Heaney's theory suggests that the physical books may still exist, but (in the case of authors who accurately predict their own reader-appeal) they may by and large be bought by the people who've already read them.

Is this the wave of the future? You tell me. And would you take this sort of risk with your own book?

I will say these things for the actual book-form copy of Holy Tango: it features high-quality French flaps, an excellent font, and wonderfully clever caricatures of the featured poets, all drawn by Richard Thompson. If you were given an actual book-form copy of Holy Tango, you should look under the front flap to discern whether or not the friend who gave it to you has (like me) discovered a terribly addictive Web site called the Internet Anagram Server (or "I, Rearrangement Servant").

When I first discovered Holy Tango and bought copies for poetry-loving friends, I included an inscription in each that began with an anagram of my friend's name and ended with an anagram of my full name (Alison Louise Morris) — Our Slim Rose Is a Lion. In the course of generating such inscriptions, I stumbled (thankfully) upon the Internet Anagram Server which considerably shortened the amount of time I had to spend scrambling letters, even if it did in some cases generate hundreds of possible combinations. If your own name yields such unwieldy results, I recommend clicking on the Advanced Anagramming link and limiting your options to two- or three-word combinations or combinations that include a specific word you'd like to be sure is part of your anagram. If you're lucky, your results might include a new name as befitting as that of our buyer and resident knitter, Lorna Jean Ruby (Unreal Yarn Job), or a campaign slogan as entertaining as that of our events coordinator, Janet Michelle Potter (Elect John Mitt, A Leper). If they do, be sure to share them with the rest of us here, online, and not just in your finished book.

You Know You’ve Arrived When…

Alison Morris - March 26, 2007

I thoroughly enjoy my daily subscription to The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor from Public Radio International, which many of you probably hear during your daily commute. Did you know you can receive the text of the program via e-mail? In your inbox each day will arrive a poem + interesting historical events and author birthdays that correspond to each day. 

I was both happy and impressed to see Kate DiCamillo's birthday featured in yesterday's issue, as The Writer's Almanac generally includes relatively few contemporary authors and illustrators of children's and young adult literature. Seeing Kate's name alongside those of Flannery O'Connor and Gloria Steinem suggests to me that Kate has truly reached the status of "household name," at least in those households that include young readers, or have in recent years. Or maybe it just suggests that Garrison Keillor is a Despereaux fan? Either way I say hooray for The Writer's Almanac for thinking Kate's birthday deserves as much mention as those of  Joseph Campbell, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Frost (today's celebrants).

Want to find reasons to celebrate your favorite children's and young adult books EVERY day? I recommend purchasing a copy of the Celebrating Children's Books calendar put together every year by Peaceable Kingdom Press. Each month features an illustration by a different children's book illustrator, and scattered throughout are birthdays of well-known (or at least moderately well-known) children's book authors and illustrators. Looking ahead at my own copy of the calendar I can tell you who you should be celebrating and/or sending cards to in April: Trina Schart Hyman (4/8), Hardie Gramatky (4/12), Frank Remkiewicz (4/14), Garth Williams (4/14), Melissa Sweet (4/19), David Kirk (4/25), and Ludwig Bemelmans (4/28).


The Kindness of Strangers

Alison Morris - March 22, 2007

Whereas last Friday found me reveling in the joy of a new snowfall, last Saturday found me bemoaning its effects. For a solid hour I shoveled heavy, ice-encrusted snow off our front walk and the length of our driveway, wishing Gareth hadn't left for the weekend and wishing we weren't new to both our street and our neighbors. By the time I'd shoveled out my car I was exhausted and still facing the worst part of the chore — the end of the driveway, where passing snowplows had deposited a daunting pile of ice guaranteed to require another hour's worth of digging.

I'd just started tackling the beast when what should appear out of nowhere but my snowplow in shining armor! A guy I'd never seen before pulled up at a tricky angle (on our busy street) and scraaaaaaape! pushed half the ice pile away. He then backed up at another tricky angle, made the traffic wait for him, and came back in the opposite direction to scrape the other half of the ice pile away. I stood watching him, stunned and slightly embarrassed, until he smiled and waved to me, at which point I put my hands together as if in prayer and shouted "Thank you! Thank you!"

HOW COOL IS THAT?? As my fairy god truck pulled away I saw the words "Tom Taverna, General Contractor, Watertown" written on the side and immediately resolved to do something nice for the man who had, in a matter of seconds changed my neighborhood from urban isolation to the friendliest little spot on earth. I figured I'd send the man a thank-you note, a gift certificate, a lifetime supply of books about nice people. But when I marched inside and began the task of finding him, I got nowhere. No Tom Taverna in any online searches of the surrounding area or on any contractor listings. No Tom Taverna in the phone book. Tom Taverna is (poof!) gone! But let's pretend for one moment that he isn't.

If you were blessed with the kindness of such a stranger and could send them ONE book that would sum up the significance of their good deeds, what would you choose? My own first choice would be Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, which is hands-down the book I've given to more people than any other, in part because it's so short they'll actually find the time to read it, bust mostly because it's the book that still speaks to me the loudest, no matter how many times I read it.

I use "speaks" figuratively, but in fact the story of Seedfolks is told in the first-person voices of 13 different characters, so the word seems like a fitting choice. AND it seems like a perfect segue to the other "nice people" thing that I was fortunate enough to be part of last weekend: the book launch party for Lemonade Mouth, the newest novel by local author Mark Peter Hughes.

Like Seedfolks, Lemonade Mouth is told from multiple first-person perspectives, in this case those of five high school musicians and misfits who join together to form a band and wind up learning about a lot more than just music. The book is fiendishly clever — funny in all the right places and ultimately a meaningful story that teens will no doubt take to heart. What better kick-off for the book could there have been, then, than Mark's book launch party featuring the performances of several high school music groups and the return of Mark's own band, Exhibit A. (The man doesn't just write. He rocks.)

Accompanied by wonderful bookseller Margaret Aldrich, I went to sell books at Mark's party last Saturday evening and to soak up the sounds that filled Natick's Broadway Dance Center. Throughout the evening I was struck by the fact that everyone in attendance seemed to be the Tom Taverna type — nice people who were more than happy to dig out their cars, dig out their neighbors, and show their support for a wonderful local talent and his younger protegees. It was a wonderful evening for all of us I think, to feel like we were part of a generous, caring community that loves books, loves music, and knows just what it means to be nice.

Tolkien Naylor Dog Sniffs Out Paulsen Boy

Alison Morris - March 21, 2007

By now many of you may already have read, in PW or elsewhere, about the Boy Scout who was rescued yesterday in North Carolina, after having been missing for four days. Did you read, though, that his father thought it possible his survival might be due in part to his love of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen? And did you also read that the dog who rescued him was named Gandalf? AND that Gandalf is a Shiloh Shepherd? A bit of digging reveals that Shiloh Shepherds got their breed name from the kennel where they were originally bred and not from the book Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. But I still like the confluence of children's book names in this story.


If you are going to send your kids off on a camping trip I would also suggest arming them with a copy of Alabama Moon by Watt Key, which was undoubtedly one of the best, most kid-friendly books I read in 2006 and one of the best survival stories I've read in years. It's currently my long-running favorite book to handsell to kids (especially boys) between the ages of 9 and 13. Why? Because they all (even the most reluctant readers) come back RAVING it about it, and with good reason.

Here's the review I wrote of Alabama Moon when I first read it, almost a year ago:

There are some books that have all the right ingredients, all the right characters, and all the right outcomes: This is one of them. With the writing of his first novel Watt Key has softened the pluck and spirit of Huckleberry Finn, slipped them into the bones of a 21st century boy, and in so doing, arrived. Filled with spunk and fever and a wild, sweet goodness, Alabama Moon is a soul-satisfying, kid-centric story staged with pecan trees, pine logs, and a cast of characters you can't help but love. Will kids like it? Oh, good heavens, yes. Scout's honor. I predict that wilderness skills will soon be en vogue again and suggest that a special Moon badge be awarded to every kid who reads this book.


Alison Morris - March 17, 2007

Yesterday was a snowy day here in Boston and, as on all snowy days, I found my mind repeating the short refrain that begins the picture book Snowsong Whistling by Karen E. Lotz, illustrated by Elisa Kleven. It goes like this:  "There's a crisp in the air/ From I-don't-know-where/But it might be/A snowsong whistling."

There are, of course, any number of books in rhyming verse that grace (and sometimes disgrace) the shelves of our bookstore in a given year, but for some reason the rhymes on this book's pages have never left me, though the book sadly has. My original copy was lost in a moving fiasco seven years ago that left me forever parted from the box of my then favorite picture books. 

I'm not the only one who loves this title. Just One More Book, a blog by two charming Canadians, has even recorded its own podcast, in which they banter about what makes it one of their favorites. But here's the bad news: like so many other gems, Snowsong Whistling is out of print. And I feel is owed some small fanfare.

Typically there is no official announcement made when a book goes out of print or goes "out of stock indefinitely." As a bookseller I typically learn this has happened when I repeatedly attempt to reorder a title and it repeatedly fails to reappear. I get no memo, no warning, no "thank you for supporting this book for as long as you have, but I'm afraid you can no longer sell it to your customers." The book slips silently from the shelves.

Wouldn't it be nice to see some formal sort of recognition go to books at the time of their passing? I personally would love it if someone in the world would create a repository for obituaries of out of print books, or "bibliobituaries," as I'm calling them. In order to make that happen, I'd suggest we start writing them.

I'll get the ball rolling here and then hope that some of you wittier folks will outdo me by writing better bibliobituaries for your own favorite out of print books. You can post them via the comments field, or if you'd prefer to be more anonymous, send them directly to me. Can't think of a book to write about? You might find inspiration at The Report, where the folks from post an annual list of the most sought-after out of print books in various categories.

Born in 1993 to Karen E. Lotz and Elisa Kleven, Snowsong Whistling, beloved picturebook, went out of print sometime in the past five years. The circumstances of her death are unknown. A joyful romp that celebrated the turning of the seasons, Snowsong was beloved for her clever rhymes, her vibrant collage illustrations, and her lively introductions to the best aspects of Fall and Winter. A founding member of Alison Morris's personal library and favorite of at least one Canadian family, she is survived by her author and her illustrator. Services will be held in Alison's living room whenever the flakes start falling.

What’s in a Name?

Alison Morris - March 13, 2007

When starting a blog, it seems to me there are two things worth agonizing over. One of these is your blog’s first entry—your drop-kick into the see-all, tell-all world of the blogosphere. The other is your blog’s name, which needs to be clever, catchy, and suggestive of your blog’s content. What it shouldn’t be are the names my wordsmithy friends and I came up with in our first few naming attempts. Excerpts from literary quotes? Too obscure. References to particular books? Too specific. Variations of my own name? Either too ridiculous (“Alison Also Rises”) or too… suggestive (“Alison Wonderland”). I believe we scraped the bottom of the blog-naming barrel when my boyfriend Gareth proposed “Clifford the Big Red Blog,” but at least that one got us laughing!

At last, inspiration struck in the form of “ShelfTalker,” a “shelf talker” being a piece of paper or cardstock we booksellers attach to a shelf in order to call attention to a particular book or books. Shelf talkers sometimes feature marketing materials prepared by a publisher or—as is the case at my bookstore—handwritten book reviews.

My intention with ShelfTalker is to both resemble a shelf talker (by calling attention to particular books) and be a shelf talker, by talking about all things book-industry-related. I hope too that you will make of me some kind of “shelf listener” by commenting on my remarks.

I can just see my first reader comment: “Thank you for not naming your blog something as lame as ‘Shelf Listener.’ “

On the topic of lame names, I’ve been wondering: Why am I suddenly seeing publishers change the titles of underperforming hardcovers when these books are reissued in paperback? This is a phenomenon I’ve observed with three novels in the past few months, and while three instances do not make a trend, I’m worried about the precedent this is setting.

The three novels I’ve recently purchased for our store that were apparently (in the eyes of their publishers) lamed by their own names are: Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, now appearing in paperback as Black and White; Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, soon to appear in paperback as The Time Travelers; and Olivia Kidney and the Exit Academy by Ellen Potter, coming soon to a bookshelf near you as a paperback entitled Olivia Kidney Stops for No One.

I don’t fault the publishers of these books for wanting the sales of these books to improve. I do, however, question changing a book’s title in order to achieve that goal. From a marketing standpoint this seems like an expensive move, as it unravels any name recognition you may already have established for the book under its original title. Those teens who read about Naughts and Crosses when it first appeared read about a book called Naughts and Crosses, not Black and White. Those kids who’ve heard their friends talk about Gideon the Cutpurse haven’t heard a word about The Time Travelers. Why make your marketing team start the buzz all over again?



I find Philomel’s change for Olivia Kidney an especially strange one, as the book is the second title in a series. If you were going to boost the interest in a series, wouldn’t you change the title for the first book (if any) or rebrand the entire series? Rebranding a sequel seems, well… pointless, really. And confusing. I can already see the Olivia Kidney fans I’ve cultivated at our store rushing to the cash register with a copy of Olivia Kidney Stops for No One, only to get home and discover that they already read it, under what was arguably a catchier, more intriguing title.

As for Simon and Schuster’s name changes for Naughts and Crosses and Gideon the Cutpurse, I personally suspect that both books were less victim to poor titles than to unfortunate cover designs. The jackets of both books gave readers no indication of what each might be about and falsely suggested the tone of each book (bland and/or very serious). Don’t get me wrong, Gideon the Cutpurse had a more elegant package than almost any novel I’ve seen to date, but elegant often does not translate to kid-friendly, and I certainly don’t think elegant fits with either the tone of this book’s writing or with the thrilling notion of time travel.

Time travel will now certainly be on the minds of the kids who pick up Linda Buckley-Archer’s novel, as the title The Time Travelers leaves no room for doubt. But I also feel it leaves no room for intrigue. And I would argue that the same is true for Black and White, a title that calls to mind a bland nonfiction book about either race, photography or newspapers.

I have the utmost respect for the work of these two publishers, as they continually produce wonderful books. I just think it would be best to let wonderful (and even less than wonderful) books keep the names they were originally given. Find some other way, please, to reinvent the wheel—preferably one that doesn’t confuse or bewilder readers.