Monthly Archives: October 2008

What Books Scared You?

Alison Morris - October 31, 2008

When I was a child I was easily frightened by things that went bump in the night. Ghost stories filled me with panic. Horror movies were completely out of the question. When I was 8 years old I watched the movie Poltergeist on television, in broad daylight, at my best friend Anne Yackee’s house, with my fingers stuck in my ears and my eyes squinting at the television screen. My mother heaved a sigh of relief when she finally calmed me down enough to get me into bed that night, but was awoken a short time later by my literally screaming in my sleep. This was around the same time that my father attempted to take me to see Ghostbusters on the big screen and I was so freaked out by the first few scenes that I crawled onto the floor and cried until he took me home.

My friend Anne, meanwhile, suffered none of these same terrors. In the constant back and forth between our neighboring houses, we spent a lot of time admiring and/or reading one anothers’ books, which in her case included such titles as IT by Stephen King and The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. Curious and determined to overcome my scaredy-cat status, I recall reading about 5 pages of IT on one occasion, and several short sections of The Amityville Horror on another. Those few minutes with each book seem to have etched permanent images into my brain, as I can still vividly recall the content of those pages.

When it came to gore and horror I was (and sometimes think I still am) a complete wuss. But if you removed most of the references to blood and guts and gave me a spooky thriller, I was in seventh heaven. I read all of John Bellairs‘s books and throughly enjoyed their spine-tingling thrills. Each book found its hapless child victim (Johnny Dixon or Lewis Barnavelt or Anthony Monday or Rose Rita) at the mercy of some blackly magical doings, but they were decidedly more suspense than gore, more mystery than horror. THESE were books that scared me in a way that I actually enjoyed.

Halloween often makes me think about my childhood experiences with scary stories — both those I liked AND those I didn’t. What about you? What books or tales did you LOVE to be scared by, and which were just too Halloween-like to handle?

We’re Not Worthy of Your Fake Award

Alison Morris - October 29, 2008

Today Alexa Crowe, our gift buyer here at Wellesley Booksmith, received a very exciting e-mail saying that our store had been selected for the 2008 Best of Wellesley Award in the Used & Rare Books category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA). The message went on to explain the following:

In recognition of your achievement, a 2008 Best of Wellesley Award plaque has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Wellesley Booksmith by following the simple steps on the 2008 Best of Wellesley Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to access the order form: (link removed).

The USLBA "Best of Local Business" Award Program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. Each year, the USLBA identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

Wow. Isn’t it so nice to be recognized for our hard work BY AN ORGANIZATION THAT DOESN’T EXIST?!? Yes, if my title didn’t already give it away or you hadn’t already smelled a rat here, the fact is that the U.S. Local Business Association does not actually exist, and this faux award is a ploy to get us to buy a very expensive plaque announcing our achievement. We are just one of who-knows-how-many small businesses to receive this very same e-mail, as it evidenced by Googling the USLBA or reading the comments on a related post about such "vanity scams" on the blog at

Fortunately our store is not so desperate for "faux plaques," seeing as how we’ve earned a few real ones and (more importantly) we get a lot of kudos from our customers and our larger community. But, man. Isn’t it just a slap in the face to think that businesses out there might be falling for scams like this? Or that individuals might actually be paying to be members of Who’s Who? And, just as interestingly, to wonder if a store’s customers are impressed by the awards they see decorating a store’s walls, even if they aren’t familiar with the organizations that (supposedly) awarded them.

This last bit is the part that really interests me, because, of COURSE I’ve unwittingly put stock in the awards I’ve seen displayed in a business, even when they were given by trade groups of which I have no knowledge. This does not mean that seeing those awards has been enough to sway my choice of whether or not to give someone my business, but it’s true that seeing someone recognized for doing good work can make you think better of them or do a tiny bit to tip those business scales. Why else do publishers put blurbs by other authors on the covers of books, or list the awards a book has won? Do you think your average customer in Massachusetts has any familiarity with the Texas Bluebonnet Award? No. They probably don’t. Nevertheless, if they see that a book won that award, they might be just a teensy bit more inclined to buy it.

This does NOT mean that I approve of "vanity scams" like this one. But perhaps any businesses that DO fall for it will wind up with a plaque that isn’t entirely worthless? Whether or not that’s the case, I’d like to find the creators of this so-called "USLBA" and send them a plaque for this award: "BIGGEST LOSER." (Or perhaps something a bit more colorful.)

Getting "In Character" for Halloween

Alison Morris - October 28, 2008

Still haven’t figured out what costume to put together for all those parties (or trick-or-treat outings) you’ll be attending this weekend? I thought not. I have therefore put together a motley assortment of book-related costumes from which you might take some inspiration. While a lot of my examples feature children clothed as characters, I see no reason why you couldn’t make adult-sized adaptations of these costumes!

First, a costume of sky-scraping proportions. Last year a blog called Children’s Literature Book Club recounted the fact that William Joyce takes off the entire month of October to decorate for Halloween. He then throws a huge Halloween party to which guests have been known to come dressed like this, as characters from his book Meet the Robinsons. Love it.

Two years ago Librarian Avenger dug up some (ahem) VERY accurate librarian costumes that I’m sure you’ll all be wishing you could get your hands on by this Friday. Be sure to check out both example one and example two. Both feature skirts that are… shorter, it would seem, than Mrs. Robinson’s skirt above.

I turned to Etsy in search of inspiration and found a few things there worth sharing. First, there’s this fabulous Little Red Riding Hood Cape made by ILikeYouWorld.

Also in the same color scheme, there’s the Ladybug costume by BoutiqueSophia (pictured below). Frankly, anyone putting on a ladybug costume nowadays can’t help but resemble the lead character in Ladybug Girl. Unless that person is a man, I suppose.

Katesy is selling a (oh how I love this!) Max costume inspired by Where the Wild Things Are! If only this came in adult sizes…

A parent at explains how she made her own Max costume for her child. The results look like this:

Katesy on Etsy also has a Little Gnome costume which makes me think of all those hours I spent as a kid pouring over the pages of Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet.

Nursery rhymes can be a good source of inspiration, as Bumbleebaby has discovered. This shop is selling a Hickory Dickory Dock costume, which wins points for originality.

Heidi was a childhood favorite of mine, but it never occurred to me to pattern a Heidi costume after it. Luckily MasqueradeMercantile saw its potential for me.

Okay, maybe he’s not from any one book, specifically, but I LOVE, LOVE this Jack Frost costume which appears on Also featured on this website are Asterix and Obelix costumes and several versions of Mary Poppins.

Gun-shy parents might want to edit out some details of this costume, but what a great idea to dress your child as Peter of Peter and the Wolf!

Lots of schools now host days in which kids go to school dressed as book characters, making their websites good sources for inspiration. Take some ideas from the students at Perse Prep in Cambridge, U.K., for example, who wore great costumes for World Book Day last March.

I thoroughly enjoyed stumbling across a wonderful family blog called The Derringdos: Ideas for Everyday Family Adventures, in which Nettie (the Drringdo daughter) models her Egyptologist costume, complete with copy of what book? Egyptology, of course. (I recommend that Nettie also read Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. Lafevers to round out her studies.)

And then there’s Gareth and me, who were pretty much out of inspiration last Saturday as we wandered the aisles of CVS looking for fake mustaches to wear to a party that evening. (I figured wearing a fake mustache was better and funnier than showing up completely unembellished and feeling 100% lame.) When there were no fake mustaches to be found we came up with a new last-minute idea: balloon hats. Yep, for $3.99 and we were able to buy a pack of long balloons and a little air pump, with which we constructed some pretty impressive balloon hats, if I do say so myself. We introduced ourselves as "air heads," which generally got a laugh. More importantly, though, I felt like I was getting still MORE good mileage out of the event our store hosted EIGHT years ago with Addi Somekh of Balloon Hat and the Inflatable Crown Balloon Hat Kit! (And publishers wonder if touring authors is worth it… ha!)

(Note that I’m crouching above because I had no idea what the self-timer shot was going to capture AND that I don’t usually make bug-eyes at the camera… Not one of my finer moments, for sure, but that’s what we got.)

Last year several of you came forward with suggestions for book-related costumes. Anyone else have ideas for this year?

From Print to Pumpkin

Alison Morris - October 27, 2008

Last week when I was with Laurie Keller at Tenacre Country Day School in Wellesley, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the creative projects that wonderful school librarian Esther Frazee has recently had students working on. I’ll post photos of one of them today, in honor of Halloween, and the other next week, in honor of (I get nervous just thinking about it) the upcoming election. 

Esther asked each fourth grader to decorate a sugar pumpkin to represent their favorite character from their summer reading. Students were encouraged to use old toys, clothes, etc. for their decorations, and the results (currently on display in the school’s library) are so impressive! Sadly I don’t have photos of all of the pumpkins to share, but I did capture a few highlights. Click on any photo to view it larger.

Start by clicking on the top right photo. Here we have Tim’s salute to Tyson the Cyclops from Rick Riordan’s The Sea of Monsters. I think it captures Tyson’s personality perfectly!

Here’s another appealing fellow — Meghan’s rendition of Edward Tulane from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

I personally would never have looked at a pumpkin’s rotund form and thought "dragon!" but that shows how shortsighted I am compared to Nick, who turned his pumpkin into Saphira, the non-human star of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

Tim’s character choice may not have been original, but his decision to give Harry Potter a sort of "pumpkin stem wizard hat" certainly is! True, this is no elaborately carved Harry Potter pumpkin, but I think it looks friendlier than that fancy one anyway.

Sandra and Oakes both chose to capture the likeness of Mmutla from The Great Tug of War by Beverly Naidoo. I have never read this book, but seeing these smiling hares makes me want to.


I’m not sure which of the four Penderwicks girls this is supposed to be, but judging from the blonde hair I’m thinking Skye. Judging from the dress I’m thinking… Rosalind? Really, though, with that warm smile she could pass for any of them.

Like the Penderwicks pumpkin, this Pinocchio likeness features a pumpkin turned on its side, with the stem being used as the nose. And what better book to use for a long-stemmed pumpkin than this one?? Clever, clever, clever.

Somehow the slouching posture of this Skulduggery Pleasant seems well-matched to the skeleton’s confident swagger. (Note that he’s wearing sunglasses but they’ve slipped down below his cravat.)

I love angular eyebrows and circular jaw joints of Drew’s Tin Woodman from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

And who wouldn’t love this blueberry-shaped Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Last but not least is the pumpkin that wins the award for "most creative use of materials." The student who made this sculpture of Fone Bone used cotton balls to give him that distinctive Bone family nose. (I will say this could greatly impair Fone’s sense of smell…)

Here’s hoping these pumpkins give you some book-related inspiration for your own jack-o’-lantern carvings this week.

Teen Fantasy Fan Reviews ‘Heroes of the Valley’

Alison Morris - October 23, 2008

Say hello to the newest of my teen reviewers, Lillian Fisher-Yan! Lillian is a senior at the Dana Hall School and WOW. She’s a reader. To put it mildly.

I met Lillian last Friday, a few hours after I’d crossed paths with her and a couple hundred other girls at Dana Hall during a school visit with John Green. I knew I liked her when she approached me at the store to find out the exact cost (with tax) of a copy of Graceling. I raved about the book, she bought it, and we began to talk about other fantasy books. I quickly discovered that Lillian had good taste, good reader instincts AND a knowledge of existing books in the fantasy genre that truly put mine to shame. She had so greatly outread me in this one area that I found our conversation almost embarrassing. But where others see humiliation, I see opportunity! How would you like to read galleys and review them for me, I asked. Lillian’s response was something along the lines of, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? THIS IS LIKE MY DREAM COME TRUE!!!" (Throughout the exchange that followed I felt like the driver of the Prize Patrol Van. Making connections like this are what I love most about my job.)

Both of us all smiles, I sent Lillian off late Friday afternoon with about 10 ARCs of forthcoming novels, most of them fantasy. She said she’d probably have them all read by Halloween, certainly by Thanksgiving at the latest. Nevertheless it came as a surprise to receive my first review from her before noon the following day!!

I don’t know if Lillian actually sleeps, but I am certainly glad she reads, as I think you will be too as I introduce you to her reviews.

Heroes of the Valley
by Jonathan Stroud (Disney-Hyperion, January 2009)
Reviewed by Lillian Yan-Fisher

At first you want to bang your head against the wall, and then all of a sudden you want to cheer and run around the room! After closing the back cover of this fun, thought-provoking, and clever book, all I want to do is think about the society that we live in. Heroes of the Valley makes you stop and really digest the world.

Stroud creates a world of close-minded, bigoted people, one of whom is an irksome trickster named Halli Stevinsson, who is constantly getting into trouble and who sometimes made me want to throttle a kitten. Like others in his world, Halli is ignorant, annoying, and completely biased to his personal views. By following this want-to-beat-your-head-against-the-wall-as-you-read-about-him character we see a closed-minded society from one who lives within the ignorance. But when Halli’s actions set off a chain of events that will alter his life as he knows it, his journey teaches him about himself. We see him change from an ignorant nincompoop who is blindly intolerant of any change to a free-thinking, caring young man. 

I freely admit that, at the beginning of the book, I literally wanted to/maybe did a little, bang my head against a wall, or at least bury my head in the pillow I was laying on. I also admit that I wanted to put the book down in the middle several times to check my email. Yet at the end, I could not stop turning the pages. It took me about 200 pages to get to that point, but I think it was worth it.  

Books That Fit "In Your Pants"

Alison Morris - October 22, 2008

If you enjoy a good juvenile joke every now and again, today’s your lucky day! Back in January 2007 when John Green and his brother Hank had newly launched their "Brotherhood 2.0" video log project, John coined a new game of sorts, which involves adding the words "in my pants" to the end of book titles, just for a laugh. I recently discovered an online list of these "in your pants" jokes, which includes such gems as:

 A Series of Unfortunate Events In My Pants by Lemony Snicket
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets In My Pants by J.K. Rowling
The Very Hungry Caterpillar In My Pants by Eric Carl [sic]
Guess How Much I Love You In My Pants by Sam McBratney
Breakfast of Champions In My Pants by Kurt Vonnegut

The list is supposedly "All the in your pants jokes that John Green will ever need," but frankly I’m just not sure that list is half as long as it should be, nor is it half as exact in places. For example, the only book included by the lovely Kate Klise, who did an event with us at the start of this week, is Regarding the Bees in My Pants, which is rather funny, but not half so entertaining as Regarding the Fountain in My Pants. And the list doesn’t include the following titles which appear in my home library and which I think lend themselves well to this pointless but entertaining gag:

Peace Like a River in My Pants by Leif Enger
The Good, Good Pig in My Pants by Sy Montgomery
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing-in-My-Pants by M.T. Anderson (yes, I added hyphens, but I think that’s allowed)

What titles (for any age!) in your bookstore or library are improved or "enhanced" by this exercise? (Yes, this post is starting to sound like SPAM.) Please list your best "in your pants" jokes here, so that we can all appreciate them and add a wealth of new suggestions to John’s list, which can only benefit from um… growth.

While you’re thinking about which titles to post in the comments field, you can watch John’s original video post on the "in your pants" subject here:

SATees for Smart Babies

Alison Morris - October 21, 2008

Are you hosting a baby shower for an English teacher? Is your child’s SAT tutor gravid? If so, I recommend shopping the selections from SATees at Café Press. Pasted below are just a handful of the offerings that will have other playground mothers scratching their heads. (Click on each image to be taken to its product information.)




Recycle Your Periodicals to Increase Your Sales

Alison Morris - October 20, 2008

Review-filled periodicals piling up around your desk? Stacks of Publishers Weeklys making their way into your recycle bin? Booksellers (and maybe librarians too), why not put those reviews in front of your customers/patrons? No, I’m not suggesting you should pile up those outdated issues on a display table. I’m saying you should take scissors to them. Now. Cut out those book reviews (and maybe some interesting articles too) and then post them!

I started doing this in our children’s section a couple years ago with our issues of PW. After I’ve had a chance to thumb through the latest one(s) I tear out the pages of children’s reviews and clip the (favorable) ones focused on books we’ve currently got in stock or will have in the near future. We then laminate those reviews using our little office-sized laminator and stick them up on the shelves where they might serve as useful information for our customers. It’s nice that they come packaged in skinny-enough columns to fit along the joints where our bookcases meet.

I do have a few helpful little tips for those of you who’d like to try doing this in your library or bookstore: BEFORE you start cutting out any one review, flip that page over to see what’s on the back and make sure you aren’t cutting right through a review that you’d prefer to feature over the one you were originally aiming for. You’ll obviously have to pick and choose between favorites on occasion, as reviews of them will sometimes wind up printed back-to-back in the same column on the same page. Of course, if you’ve got a photocopier or there are multiple subscribers to the same periodical at your store, this problem can easily be remedied. If not, consider writing up your own shelf talker for one of the titles, and clip the printed review for the other.

In the photo below, you can see both PW reviews and hand-written shelf talkers in use in our picture book section. (The horizontal slips are our shelf talkers and the vertical ones are the reviews.)

Another tip: Often reviews wind up starting in one column and ending in another. Cut out the blocks of text for each and paste them together using a gluestick, then trim the edges so they line up — now the whole thing looks like it was one column in the first place! Ta-da!

And my final suggestion: Though it’s sometimes difficult to find space, on each review be sure to write the name of the periodical + date of the issue you clipped it from. This tells your customers the source of the information they’re reading, and it tells YOU approximately how long that same review has been stuck to your store’s shelves, growing old to your regular customers.

There’s no excuse for OLD reviews when you’ve got a new periodical arriving weekly. Except maybe for the excuse of "I got busy and forgot and those magazines piled up for five months before I remembered, let alone found the time, to clip reviews from them, replace the old ones hanging from the shelves, and write a blog post about this very useful practice that I ought to remember to do more often." But of course I wouldn’t know anything about that. ; )

Booksellers, note that PW offers free subscriptions to booksellers in the U.S., so this review-posting trick is one way you can offer value to your customers at no expense to you. (Wouldn’t it be nice if everything we do for our customers was that affordable??)

Literal Videos = Awesome Entertainment

Alison Morris - October 18, 2008

Today’s fun is an 80’s flashback with a twist: Literal reinterpretations of classic music videos. With the help of a couple friends on back-up vocals, animator/singer Dustin McLean has taken two music videos that are well-known to members of my generation and rewritten the songs’ original lyrics to be literal, play-by-play accounts of what’s happening on screen. The bonus for those of us book-obsessed folks? Both of the Literal Videos McLean has so far produced have a library/books/comics theme. Totally radical!

Thanks to Lady Faces for calling these to my attention!

First, the Literal Video version of the Tears for Fears tune "Head Over Heels." (You can compare it with the original on YouTube.)

Next, the Literal Video version of A-Ha’s "Take on Me." (Again, you can also compare with the original on YouTube.)

Rock on, readers!

Wall Scrawl: Which Book Would You Rescue?

Alison Morris - October 16, 2008

Oh, no! Your house is suddenly going up in flames! You have time to save all your animate loved ones (children, pets, housemates, etc.) a handful of vital possessions, and ONE BOOK from your beloved collection. (Just one!) Which book will you choose? (Decide quickly!)

(Thanks to all of you who gave such great responses to my last graffiti stall post, in which I asked what fictional family you’d like to have adopt you. Keep those suggestions coming!)