Monthly Archives: April 2007

Bookselling Tips from the Lemonade War (Part One)

Alison Morris - April 30, 2007

We had three great events at the store last week: two starring Mo Willems and one starring Jacqueline Davies. Mo, as you probably know, is the two-time Caldecott Honor recipient and creator of that wonderfully persistent Pigeon who has dreams of driving a bus, consuming a hot dog, and staying up late. Mo is currently touring to promote the first two books in his new Elephant and Piggie series, Today I Will Fly! and My Friend Is Sad. He joined us for two events at the Wellesley Free Library, each before a large audience of enthusiastic school kids and assorted local families. OH, HOW WE LAUGHED! Especially when Mo had a handful of us performing reader's theater and when he read to us from Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, which included this performance of a very lengthy yawn:

Saturday's event with Jackie Davies (who lives just up the road in Needham) took place at our store and drew a lively crowd of local fans, eager to hear Jackie read from her new book, The Lemonade War, and sample lemonade from Jackie's portable lemonade stand. Wait? The woman has her own lemonade stand? Yes, indeed she does.

Before I enumerate the things Jackie did "right" about this book event, let me tell you a bit about her new book. The Lemonade War is a light, fun, and painlessly educational book about two siblings, Evan and Jessie, who attempt to outearn one another at competing lemonade stands. It's clever and fast-paced, which makes it kid-friendly. It's also chock full o' lessons in math and economics, which makes it  teacher-friendly. It is, in short, the perfect gift for budding entrepreneurs and the people raising them. It is also a book that could be of great use to anyone selling anything, ESPECIALLY AUTHORS.

To find out why this is the case, read "Bookselling Tips from the Lemonade War (Part Two)."

Holy Guacamole!

Alison Morris -

It's a good day at work when you receive a package from Penguin containing an inflatable Skippyjon Jones, a bag of tortilla chips, and a packet of (what else?) guacamole mix!!  Here's a picture of El Skippito Friskito, dangling high above my desk.

I keep discovering people who are not yet familiar with the books about Skippyjon Jones, everyone's favorite gato. This is hard for me to understand, as I quote from them on a several-times-daily basis. If you don't yet own these books, I recommend getting your paws on them in time for Cinco de Mayo. Then you can go crazy loco.

My day was also enhanced by the discovery that Scholastic has included the publication date on the spines of all their fall galleys! Hooray!! Muchas gracias, Scholastic.

Overheard at Wellesley Booksmith

Alison Morris -

The scene: A mother, her seven-year-old daughter, and her daughter's seven-year-old friend are browsing in the children's section of their kid-friendly, local independent bookstore. The mother is browsing the shelves when the girls discover a copy of David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes, a book about a girl whose appearance changes according to the interests of her peers and who is, at one pivotal point in the story, striped from head to toe with the colors of the rainbow, as depicted on the book's cover.

The two girls run over to the distracted mother, brandishing a copy of the book.

Girl Number One squeals, "Mom!! This is the book we should get for Katherine! We have it at school and it's really good! It's about this girl, and she gets a bad case of the Stripes."

Girl Number Two intones meaningfully, "I had that once. It was really bad."

Bookseller shelving books in adjacent aisle puts hand over mouth and quickly exits so that girls won't hear the staccato sound of her laughter.

End scene.

Storied City

Alison Morris - April 28, 2007

It’s been a whirlwind week at the bookstore — so much so that I haven’t had time until now to sit down and write about last weekend’s trip to New York. For a brief three days I managed to escape the stress associated with the daily grind, but it’s true, it’s true… I could not escape the world of children’s books!

Allow me to illustrate how my bookstore-free weekend was nevertheless all about the books.

While traveling on the train I read what? Children’s books.

Who went with me on this trip? Gareth, who writes and illustrates what? Graphic novels appropriate for teens. (Which for purposes of this listing we’ll call “children’s books.”)

Our wonderful weekend accommodations were provided for us by our friends Cliff and Joyce, whose 19 month-old daughter Juliet loves what? Children’s books. (Especially More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams.)

We spent much of Friday and part of Saturday with one of my oldest and closest friends, Tim Decker, who writes and illustrates what? Children’s books. (His second book, Run Far, Run Fast, is being published this October by Front Street.)

Basking in a very sunny Central Park, Gareth and I watched Tim, his fiancee Mandy, and our pal Simon pour over the pages of what? My coveted galley of Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival, which Scholastic is publishing in October. I personally believe that Shaun Tan might be the single most talented illustrator currently working in the field of what? Children’s books. (I say “might” because there are days when Peter Sis takes my breathe away or Ana Juan floors me or Igor Oleynikov makes me shake my head in amazement, and… It’s a tough thing to take the top prize every day. But most days, I’m telling you, Shan Tan’s the man.)

Friday night we went to MoMA (“Uh… no, he’s just a friend.”) where my mind was primarily on art but couldn’t help recalling passages from Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, so really my mind was on what? Children’s books.

Whom did I meet on Saturday? The Fuse, a.k.a. Betsy Bird, a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library’s Donnell Library Center, who writes a stellar, updated-so-often-I-can’t-fathom-how-she-does-it blog about what? Children’s books.

While we were visiting Betsy she showed us the real Winnie the Pooh and a few magnificent paintings N.C. Wyeth did for what? Children’s books.

On Sunday Gareth and I went to the Museum of Natural History where we spent ages in the Butterfly Conservatory pointing like over-excited children at every beautiful thing that fluttered by while I compared our experience to the one had by Velma Gratch in the book Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison, wonderfully illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. This is one of my favorite picture books on the Random House Fall 2007 list of what? Children’s books.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I could also say that I need to get a life, but I have one. And it’s saturated with children’s books!!

Dedications to Dedicated Booksellers

Alison Morris - April 25, 2007

On the train back from NYC late Sunday I read (among other things) Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli. Told in verse, this is a short, sweet story about an astronomy-loving girl who's feeling anything but starry-eyed about her family's decision to move to a new town, several hours away from her best friend.

This is the second book I've read this season that's dedicated to fellow booksellers at ABC member stores. Spinelli dedicated Where I Live to booksellers at three Pennsylvania independents: Hannah Schwartz of Children's Book World in Haverford, Ellen Mager of Booktenders' Secret Garden in Doylestown and "the folks at  Chester County Book Company" in West Chester. Rick Riordan dedicated Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3: The Titan's Curse to Topher Bradfield of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, and his Camp Half-Blood compatriot Toni Davis.

I can think of no more meaningful way for an author to recognize a bookseller than to dedicate a book to them. And I can think of no more meaningful role a bookseller can play than to be the type of bookseller an author might dedicate a book to. (Unless it's to be the type of bookseller an author might write a book about!)

Meet ShelfTalker’s Sidekick

Alison Morris - April 19, 2007

If you asked me to name one quality that a person has to have in order to be a good children's book buyer, I would say it's good instincts. You can have all the prior knowledge of books and kids and reading methods in the world, but they'll do you little good if you don't have an immediate reaction as to whether or not a particular book will work for your customers. You have to be able to intuit whether or not kids and/or their parents will want to: 1) pick up a book, 2) take an interest in it, and 3) take it home with them. In addition to instincts, though, it helps if you also have humility, because there will inevitably be times when you'll have to own up to this one simple fact: you aren't that young anymore, so what do you know?

It is true that I'm closer to my teenage years than many others doing this job. Nevertheless, I am not a teenager, so really, what do I know? With that in mind I began lending galleys out to kids a few years ago, so they could tell me point blank what books did and didn't work for them. Forget trusting my own instincts all the time — why not go straight to the source?

Out of my initial pool of galley readers there arose one girl, Katrina Van Amsterdam, with a knack for nailing the point of a story and nailing my buying instincts to the wall. Now a whip-smart 16 year-old, Katrina has the maturity of someone three times her age. She's clever, she's funny, and (when she isn't studying or swimming or socializing) she devours books at an superhuman rate. She has the right instincts, the right insights, and the right language skills to take over my job, which is why I'm giving her a piece of it!

Starting today, Katrina will be my teenage ShelfTalker sidekick and occasional YA book reviewer. Remember her name, folks, because one day this bright young bookseller's going to be asking Katrina Van Amsterdam for a job! (Brush up on your Frank Capra if you don't get that reference…)

Does My Head Look Big in This?
by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Orchard Books, 2007)
Reviewed by Katrina Van Amsterdam

For Amal, the question when getting dressed is no longer "Do I look fat in this?", but rather "Does my head look big in this?" Set in Australia, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s novel Does My Head Look Big in This? places normal teenage anguishes along the pressures of being a Muslim girl in contemporary society on Amal’s shoulders. Amal navigates her way through the last term of her junior year of high school after making the decision to wear the hijab full-time. Despite stereotypes and small-minded teasing, Amal keeps her head held high with the help of her supportive parents, her friends, and, surprisingly, her crush. The novel also delves into arranged marriages, weight problems, and competitive parents, but Abdel-Fattah writes with poise and enough hilarity to keep you turning pages. This is a must-read for any and all teenagers who feel that their differences should be celebrated, not scorned.

A Fun Exhibit for a Better World and a Happier Life

Alison Morris - April 18, 2007

Last night after work I dashed off to the New Art Center in Newton, to take a peek at their new exhibit, The Visions and Voices of Children’s Book Illustrators, and take part in an art and poetry workshop with Douglas Florian. About 50 of us (children and adults) listened and laughed as Florian introduced us to his poetry and entertained us with his drawings. Then we all put pencils and craypas and scissors to paper, churning out poetry and art of our own. The results were perhaps not *quite* as polished as Florian’s efforts, but the process was just as fun, as was the entire evening.

Florian is one of the 13 illustrators whose works are part of the exhibit at the New Art Center, a bright and airy space whose stained glass windows both hint at the building’s former life (as a church) and reflect its current role as a place committed to bringing art to the masses. More than just a place to view art, this is a non-profit community art center that offers art workshops and creativity classes for all ages — the perfect place to host an exhibit like this one.

For Visions and Voices… curators Julie Bernson and Ceci Mendez have assembled representative works from a culturally diverse and talented batch of illustrators: Douglas Florian, Timothy Basil Ering, Ashley Bryan, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Rebecca Doughty, Christopher Myers, Malcah Zeldis, Yumi Heo, Cece Bell, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Giselle Potter, Donald Saaf, and Grace Lin. The results are a panoply of color and intriguing mix of styles. The crisp lines and bold shapes of Grace Lin’s paintings for Fortune Cookie Fortunes stare back at the raucous, unorthodox pieces assembled by Timothy Basil Ering for The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone. The rounded shapes of Maya Christina Gonzalez’s illustrations for My Diary from Here to There contrast nicely with the torn edges and collaged features of Christopher Myers’ portraits from Harlem and Blues Journey. And then there are the joyous, playful contributions of Rebecca Doughty, who treats viewers to a few sketches from her forthcoming book, Some Helpful Tips for a Better World and a Happier Life. I laughed out loud at the sketch advising readers to “experiment with your hair-do’s,” and love that she chose to include her editors’ Post-it notes, jumbled along one side of the sketch montage.

If you’re lamenting the fact that you’re missing out on this fun, fear not! The Visions and Voices… exhibit runs through May 20, 2007, so you’ve still got time to get to Newton. If you want to double your fun, visit on Sunday, May 6th, when from 2-5 pm the New Art Center will be hosting a book festival with 10 or 11 of the exhibit’s illustrators in attendance.

Marathon Monday

Alison Morris - April 16, 2007

Yesterday was Patriots' Day here in Massachusetts, better known to those of us along the Boston Marathon route as "Marathon Monday." Our store sits just a stone's throw from the halfway point, so we can't help but get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm that accompany this annual event. It tends to make for an entertaining (albeit rather distracted) workday. Here's how the view looked from our store's front windows, at one point during the day:

Unfortunately yesterday's weather was not really in tune with the needs of 20,000 runners. The day began with a spitting rain, a stiff wind, and temperatures in the 40s that no doubt dampened the spirits of a few runners and definitely scared off a good number of spectators. It didn't stop the hardcore fans from turning out, though, umbrellas in hand (or a camera, in my case).

One of our veteran children's booksellers, Sarah Nixon, runs the marathon annually as part of the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge. This year she finished 329th out of the 12,373 women who crossed the finish line, and 52nd out of the 2,541 women in the Masters division (ages 40-49). As if being a world-class marathon runner raising money for cancer research wasn't enough, Sarah is also a mother of three, a part-time school library assistant (at Blake Middle School in Medfield, Mass.), and the founder of two non-profits aimed at motivating others to read, exercise, and raise money for literacy. With Fit Girls she gets 4th and 5th grade girls to create fitness goals, read great books, keep reading journals, and raise money for First Book. The adults in her Babes Bookin' It group do much the same thing, though with a bit less supervision (!). Sarah started assembling the group in 2005 and already it has raised several thousand dollars for both First Book and the Boston Adult Literacy Fund.

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a photo of Sarah as she ran past the store yesterday, but when she's bookin' it, she looks a lot like the folks in this picture: impressive.

Easy on the Ears

Alison Morris - April 14, 2007

This morning I pulled into the parking lot behind our bookstore and had to forcibly remove myself from my car. It was a challenge to summon enough willpower to kill the engine and turn off the radio, not (this time) because I was listening to public radio, but because I am savoring every minute of the audiobook edition of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I can’t get enough!!

There’s nothing quite like hearing a well-written story read to you by someone who can capture each subtle change in a story’s tone, every catch in a character’s voice. I marvel at the fact that the right reader can even make a book I’ve read before seem like one that’s entirely new.

We hosted Kate DiCamillo for a book signing not long after she’d been awarded the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux. At one point during the evening Kate and I were discussing our mutual love for Listening Library’s recording of the book, which is read by Graeme Malcolm. I’ve never forgotten what Kate said at the time about Graeme and his reading: "He found things in that book that I didn’t even know were there." What higher praise could an author give to the reader of her book?

Last month I spent a weekend in Maine visiting my dear friend Jennifer Dowell, who’s the Managing Editor for Audiofile Magazine, "the Magazine for People Who Love Audiobooks." Jenn herself listens to audiobooks all the time, as you might well imagine, and is something of an expert on the subject (though she’s much too humble to admit it). I asked her to name her all-time favorite audiobooks (for any ages) and she came back with four that have earned a permanent place on her bookshelf. They are (in no particular order):

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, performed by the author and a full cast (Listening Library)

The Ultimate David Sedaris Box Set by David Sedaris, read by David Sedaris (Hachette Audio)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry (Random House Audio)

Billy Collins: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space by Billy Collins, read by Billy Collins (Random House Audio)

I personally don’t have the ability to narrow my own list of favorites down as far as Jenn, but I can say that if I were to list my top 10 favorite audiobooks they would definitely include 3 of the 4 she mentioned (the odd one out being The Hitchhiker’s Guide… which I haven’t listened to). I am so in love with the hilarity that ensues whenever David Sedaris reads his own work that I won’t read his books on my own — I insist on listening to them. And while I read and repeatedly re-read Billy Collins‘s poetry, I will drive almost any distance to hear the man give a reading. His delivery is so perfect and his wit so dry that hearing him read his poems is like encountering them for the first time. Likewise listening to any of the books in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I know, I know… You’ve already read them. Probably several times. But hearing Philip Pullman read the narration while a talented cast gives voices to the characters is like having the world in your imagination suddenly spring to life. I promise you they’re completely different stories in this medium. Give them a try.

What other audiobooks would be in my top 10?

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, read by Graeme Malcolm (Listening Library, 8+)
Absolute perfection. Despereaux’s mother sounds like a French aristocrat and Roscuro speaks in silky Italian syllables. Fun for all ages, I promise you. Just ask my parents, who loved it. Or my boyfriend. Or Kate DiCamillo.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, read by Cherry Jones (HarperCollins, 14+)
Tony Award-winning Cherry Jones is one of my favorite audio readers, and this recording showcases her talents beautifully. Cherry hails from my mother’s hometown of Paris, Tennessee, which might be why she so convincingly portrays every character in this very Southern story.

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, read by "various" (Recorded Books, 12+)
A great young adult novel about the letters exchanged by six Australian teenagers, this audiobook is narrated by (who else?) six Australian teenagers. Their distinct voices are perfectly matched to the book’s characters, making this sometimes disturbing, sometimes bitingly funny story seem that much more believable.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, read by Jim Dale (Listening Library, 4+)
Beloved for his readings of Harry, Jim Dale is also a genius with Barrie. To all you folks (and there are so very, very many of you) who have never read the original Peter Pan, PLEASE allow Jim Dale to help you rectify that situation, lest you go on believing that Disney did things justice.

And speaking of Harry Potter, there are a number of book series that are wonderful on audio — so wonderful, in fact, that I think they deserve their own entry. In other words, stay tuned.