Monthly Archives: October 2009

Great Blog Discovery of the Week: Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves

Alison Morris - October 30, 2009

What a great (and ambitious) idea! The blogger who writes Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves reads vintage children’s books to her son and then reviews them at a rate of one per DAY, and sells some of the featured titles (most of which are currently out of print) in her Etsy store. So, for your daily fix of classic tales and illustration kitsch, check it out.  (Note that all you publishers wondering what backlist books might be worth reissuing might get some VERY good ideas here…)

This blog is a great resource both for making new discoveries and conjuring old memories. (I think I had the same pants the kids on the left is wearing on the cover below…)

Fat But

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 29, 2009

Fat issues loom large in our culture, as it were, and kids pick up messages about how they should look that batter their confidence at every turn. Literature for young people should be one place where kids don’t find themselves mocked, dismissed, or shamed. I am not talking about books that deal directly with weight; it’s the books that don’t realize they are reinforcing negative stereotypes that concern me.

While we have all become accustomed to popular culture’s celebration of thin, what I didn’t expect is that books — the refuge of the chubby kid, the place where people understand the value of what lies beneath the surface, a land of acceptance and tolerance for difference — would come around to betray their readers. But you can hardly open an ARC these days without coming across one of the following:

* snide comments about a character’s weight or about fat in general when they have nothing to do with the plot or theme of the story;

* descriptions of fat used deliberately as shorthand to indicate a character’s villainy, isolation, absurdity, and/or repulsiveness;

* books with assumptions about fat people carelessly tossed off as though they are truths rather than opinion.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve grown particularly weary of pudgy-fingered villains with small "piggy" eyes in big moon faces. And the fat kid who serves as clumsy comic relief, or is automatically assumed to have no romantic prospects. Etcetera. We all know the cliches. While thinking about this blog post, a little bluesy Muppety song snippet wrote itself in the background of my mind:

Oh, I’ve been fat and I’ve been lean,
and I’ve been large…ly in between
and I’ll tell you something, honey – it’s not easy being seen.

I’ve lived all along the weight spectrum—from thin to quite round—so I have a special awareness of comments about weight in books and how they might be read — and felt — by young people. I’ve noticed over the past fifteen years a steep increase in hit-and-run weight slurs in books, and I wince for the fat kids reading them. All along, they’ve been identifying with characters, lost in the author’s world, feeling that comfortable coziness one feels with a trusted writer telling a good story – and then comes some mean-spirited, casual or not-so-casual remark about weight, and it’s as though the author has reached out of the pages of the book and slapped that kid across the face.

Now, I’m not saying that fat characters can’t be bad people or have negative qualities. I’m saying that fat doesn’t EQUAL those traits, doesn’t IMPLY them. Writers have to do the work, do more than describe someone’s physical appearance. Writers, editors, I beseech you to remember: fat is descriptive, not evaluative. Let me repeat that, because it’s the essence of what I’m trying to get across here. Fat is descriptive, not evaluative. Notice, in your writing (and your reading), how many villains are fat, and why. How many chubby kids act as comic relief, graceless and absurd? Or serve to embody social isolation, as outcast or unloved, the subject of ridicule and contempt? How much open hostility is there toward heaviness as a physical quality?

Please be aware of language. The title of this post is called, “Fat, But,” in part because it is a mischievously provoking title, but mainly because small word choices add up to big messages. Even innocent little connecting words like “and” and “but” can reveal worlds about what you, the author, are saying about your characters. “And” equals addition; “but” indicates a relationship between two terms.

Descriptive: Fat and graceful.

Evaluative: Fat but graceful.

The former tells you two things about your character: she is a fat and graceful figure. The latter reveals an assumption: that fat people are inherently clumsy, and that this character is an exception. If you live in this big world, you will know that, in truth, grace has nothing to do with weight. 

Here’s a little visual example of grace in a larger package. A very funny couple reworks the Evolution of Dance idea for their first wedding dance. It’s traditional up until around 1:30, when the real dance breaks out and the groom (a man of some substance) shows his stuff:

So, writers and editors, this is my request: please remember that descriptions of weight are just that: descriptions, not evaluations. Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are your fat characters always eating?
  • Are they always clumsy? slow? laughable/ridiculous? because of their weight?
  • Do you use fat as shorthand for negative qualities? Are you trying to convey, through weight, that someone is disgusting, weak of character, bullying, socially outcast, laughable, ridiculous, dismissable, or inherently less worthwhile?

As a reader, I’m disappointed in both the author and editor when I see these things slip past the editorial pen. As a person who cares about the emotional lives of children—both the heavy kids who already struggle so much with disapproval and contempt in their lives, and the less heavy kids unwittingly absorbing society’s message that it’s okay to disapprove of, even despise, people based on appearance and weight—I am truly disheartened by the trend. And as a bookseller, well, I just won’t waste my shelf space when there are so many great books out there.

Writers need to be aware of our own books’ assumptions. And editors, you’ve got to help us watch our “and”s, and—you knew I was going there—our “but”s.

What a Dump!

Josie Leavitt - October 28, 2009

Displays, provided by publishers, can be a cash cow for any store. We call these displays "dumps" (if anyone knows why, I’d love to know) and generally they’re a good way to sell books you love without having to handsell them to everyone who walks in. The mere act of having a display in a small store sends a message to your customers that you want them to notice this book, to pay attention to it and ultimately, to buy it.

Dumps haven’t changed much in the 13 years I’ve had the Flying Pig. They are cardboard and designed to hold from nine to 48 books in a free-standing display. The only thing I’ve really noticed is they’re not as big or difficult to put together as they once were. I remember Swine Lake by James Marshall came with a display that was so hard to put together I actually had two of my savvy teen customers put it together — it took them three hours, but when they were done, there was a stunning theatre that nestled the book within it. Pretty cool, but it was so big it took up a whole aisle. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a display of a hot new book and it takes an hour to set it up. Luckily, most displays are not that hard to assemble these days.

While the displays aren’t as big, there seems to be this new trend of taking a display with a small footprint and surrounding it with with cardboard on the sides or the bottom. The purpose of this eludes me. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown came in a display that held 12 books in an unobtrusive way, but it has this wraparound piece on the bottom, which, by the way, is not where people look for information about the book, that keeps falling out, tripping people trying to get by and generally looks bad because it just doesn’t fit that well. It’s a good thing the book is so eye-catching or no one would notice it.

The Magician’s Elephant display is great in that it holds a large number of books in a seemingly small display, but it’s encased with these side flaps that make it enormous and cumbersome. And it’s actually sort of funny that the book itself is slim and lovely and the display is HUGE. 

The one for Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies works really well for several reasons. First, the display has a small footprint throughout. This book begs to be looked at and this display has a shelf that allows the you really look at the book with a place for the extra copies in the display. And, bless Little, Brown for giving you a display copy with the dump. Doing this is so smart, and publishers should take note of this. If you want your books to sell and they are either pop-up or gorgeous art books, give me an extra copy so customers can brutalize only one book before they buy one of the pristine copies.

Displays with side pieces that fit inside the boxes where the books sit is a bad idea. The reason these don’t work is the inside cardboard makes it tight to get the books out, often causing damage getting the books in or out of the display. I actually took the side flap off the Catching Fire display because it was killing the books.

The display itself needs to be strong enough to hold the books without tearing or sagging. The Runaway Doll display was great-looking, but the books were too heavy for it and after a short time the middle box just sort of ripped from the main display and couldn’t hold much of anything.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days does everything right. First of all it’s bright, bright yellow and therefore hard to miss. Most dumps tend to be either red or black and for some reason they tend not be noticed as easily. Headers that are eye-catching and informative and tall rather than wide generate traffic to a display and they need to fit well in the display. The Wimpy Kid display info is on the top, where the eye looks for info, not on the bottom or the side. Lastly, the display holds a ton. This dump hold 48 books easily. And really, how else is any store going to display 48 books in a neat and appealing way?
There are many great things about displays. They allow you to showcase a book you love without rearranging the store. They hold all the copies of the book you think you’re going to sell without needing storage. You are highlighting a book you love and letting your customers know that you think it’s wonderful.  But as a bookseller you need to help the display. Refill the display as soon as it needs it. Nothing looks worse than a display designed for 12 books with only one book on the bottom. Take care of the displays. If they start looking ratty, get rid of them. Coordinate with the folks who do the buying and resist the urge to get every display the publishers offer. Too many displays can make a store look really cluttered and uninviting.

I think of every dump as an extension of my store. They are like adding a whole shelf to a section, and if used correctly, a good display of a hot book can make you money for months.

It’s Mock Awards Time

Josie Leavitt - October 27, 2009

It’s awards time! Well, mock awards, at least. I have been asked now by three book-y friends what my picks are for the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz awards this year. I love the mock awards because they get me really thinking about the books, and there’s a great deal of cachet if you get them right.

So I’m throwing down the gauntlet to all you avid readers with strong opinions. What do you think will get the nod come January?

I’ll start off:

Newbery: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Caldecott: The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Printz: Wintergirls by Laura Halse Anderson.

Come January, I’ll announce who among our readers got the most right. I’m only going to count the winners, but if you want to list the two to three honor books per category, well, you just go ahead. While I can’t promise a prize, you will get bragging rights and everyone who reads ShelfTalker will think you’re a book whiz with an eye for quality.

When Swine Flu Toddles In

Josie Leavitt - October 23, 2009

It’s not just the kids walking in with swine flu. It’s the adults, too. And since the name of my store is the Flying Pig, I am all too aware of the jokes that would abound if anyone on staff actually got swine flu, so I’ve forbidden anyone on staff from contracting it. Sure, we can call it H1N1, but we all know it’s still the swine flu, and there have been many reports (OK, two — I never said I wasn’t an alarmist) of it in and around my town. And I don’t want to get it. So, here’s my list of what customers can do to make that happen.

– Do not stop at the store on the way to the doctor with your feverish bundle. Yes, books are comforting, but come in without the sick child who probably wants to go to bed as much I want him to, and we’ll all stay healthy longer.

– If you sneeze into your hand at the register, please don’t hand me your credit card.

– Don’t lick your finger to separate the bills in your wallet.

– Don’t hand me used tissues to throw out for you.

– Don’t get impatient with your sick kids should you bring them to the store. No one’s at their best sick and yelling only gives me a headache which is one of the symptoms of swine flu, so now I’ll start worrying if I’m getting sick and I won’t be able to remember the name of the book whose title you can’t recall.

– If you know you’re sick and you live in town, call us. We might be able to deliver your books to you.

– Do not stop at the store on the way home from the doctor with your feverish bundle.

– Do not not cover your cough.

– Ask for a tissue and use it. Then go wash your hands.

Here’s my list of what our staff will do to make sure you don’t get sick from us:

– We won’t come to work if we’re not well.

– We have Purell hand sanitizer at every register and in the back room. Do not be offended if, after we ring you up, we use it. It’s not a comment on you, unless you’ve done something from the above list, but it’s a way to keep healthy. Plus the ABA told us to.

– If we sneeze, we will use the crook of our arm, or better yet, a tissue, and we will then go wash our hands.

– We won’t lick anything and hand it back to you.

– Do not be offended if you see us sanitize the pens by the register. This is really for your benefit. We don’t use those pens. We keep our pens in the back.

– If you come in the store and don’t see anyone right away, we’re in the bathroom, washing our hands, and we’ll be right out.

So, if we all follow a few simple steps, we can keep the Flying Pig Swine Flu Free. Oh, and if you have a great hand moisturizer, please bring it in as a gift for the staff. Our fingers are practically bleeding from washing.

Price War Thoughts

Josie Leavitt - October 22, 2009

Price wars are all over the news. In fact, unless you lived under a rock, you’d be hard-pressed to not have heard about the Amazon/Wal-Mart/Target and now Sears (yes, Sears!) ever-escalating one-upmanship (or is it one penny-upmanship) for the ten hottest books coming out in November. Everyone has been weighing about how they feel about this, so I thought I’d take a moment and address it.

It’s ridiculous. It’s maddening and once again I feel like it puts independent booksellers in the very untenable position of being the folks who cry foul and get thought of as whiney. To sell the brand new Barbara Kingsolver novel, which I personally have been waiting for, for either $8.98 or $9 is on the one hand laughable, and on the other hand, it’s a great bargain for folks who can’t afford hardcovers right now. NPR had a segment on this and a customer was quoted as saying about the new prices, "I could get used to this." I hear this and I start to cringe.

How hard is it going to be to explain to customers why we’re not offering more than our usual, very generous hardcover discounts? Do all indie booksellers have the time to explain with every transaction why it’s important to not buy books for up to 74% off their cover price? And honestly, do customers really care? Does anyone but the indie booksellers care about anti-trust laws? Can I even explain this to customers in such a way that they’ll care about it? No, no and no.

So how am I going to salvage my fourth quarter? I have no real idea, yet. So far, I don’t feel like I’m losing business to this price war from my regular customers who "get it." But we all could be losing the casual book buyer, the one who might only come in during the holidays to get books. They don’t need recommendations, they just want the new books by their favorite authors. These folks might be gone, for good.  I am being optimistic here — this trend could cause an enormous siphoning-off of customers from independent bookstores. I mean how can handselling and staffs full of book knowledge compete with 74%  off the newest Stephen King? I hate to say it, but at some point, price will win out if things remain unabated. 

It seems inherently unfair — and if you read all the blogs and listservs on the topic, possibly illegal — to sell these books at such reduced prices, yet it is allowed to happen. There seems to be no concerted effort in the independent bookselling world that I’m aware of (if your trade association is planning something, please comment. Since the publication of this post the ABA announced it was seeking an investigation into this matter by the Justice Department. ), so we’re all moaning to the choir and nothing is changing, except that some booksellers are actually buying those ten books form Walmart or Amazon and saving an additional twenty or so percent than they can get from the publishers, which is not helping the cause. I can totally understand the rationale behind this, but it seems like a very short-sighted thing to do.

I have no answers to this and that frustrates me. All I can do is what I know: I will continue to stock the hot new books as well as the backlist that makes my store unique. I will try to educate my customers as to why buying literature, art really, for such an undervalued amount diminishes our culture. I will continue the conversation about mega-stores dominating the publishing world and the effect that has on editorial content and I will do all of this while I cheerfully wrap your present and ask after your family and give your dog a biscuit.

Ickle John Howe Talks Aboot Balrogs

Alison Morris - October 21, 2009

The sheer ridiculousness of this video made me laugh out loud. Hope it does the same for you! John Howe (or, in his clay form, "Ickle John Howe") is an illustrator best known for his renderings of Tolkien’s worlds. He and Alan Lee were the chief conceptual designers for the movies based on The Lord of the Rings, hence the focus here on Balrogs, and all the references to Gandalf. Howe’s beautiful forthcoming book Lost Worlds is one of many titles we’ll be featuring on our store’s annual list of holiday gift recommendations for children and teens.

What does the not-so-ickle John Howe ACTUALLY sound like? Watch this trailer for Lost Worlds to find out.

Now go picture Gandalf without a pointy hat…

Make Money with Book Fairs!

Josie Leavitt - October 20, 2009

We had a book fair that made money and I didn’t have to do anything! I was stunned. The key to this book fair was having it in the store. 

A book fair involves my staff, usually me, ordering, receiving and packing up a shocking number of boxes and hauling them to the school. Then we would help the PTO volunteers unpack, inventory and set-up the book fair. Then for two and a half days if teachers remembered or felt they could give up a class period kids would stroll in and buy or not buy books. Sometimes the kids had money, more often than not they didn’t. We’d have enormous hold stacks that would hopefully get purchased by the end of each day. We tended to compete with a used book fair running on the opposite side of the gym. This is not a set-up I recommend, but one we could not avoid at our school as both book fairs had run concurrently for decades. Trying to sell a $15 hardcover is hard enough to do on a good day, but when you can buy a bag of books for $1.50, you don’t really stand a chance.

An in-store book fair involves nothing on my part but making sure I’ve got the hot books in stock. We run our in-store book fairs from a weekend to a weekend. I think this really allows the greatest visibility for the fair and makes reordering easy. Also, working parents stand a better chance of making it in the store if they’ve got two weekends to come in. The real beauty of having parents and kids come to the store is they come to the store. And once in the store they realize how much stock we’ve got for all ages. I sold $36 of cards to someone last night–this is most assuredly a sale that would not have happened at the school.

The key to a really successful in-store book fair is promoting at the school level and also at the store. Staffers need to have their speech down pat for customers so they can quickly state what’s going and who will benefit. We also had ample signage throughout the store, so folks knew what was going on and what school was benefiting.

As the book fair wound down, I realized that my workload had not increased because I had no boxes of books to check back in. There were no massive returns to do or hours of reshelving. All I had to do was run a report, which happily showed we took in more money this year than we did last year, and then write a check to the library that would then come spend with us on books.

All in all, a great win-win.

In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer

Elizabeth Bluemle - October 19, 2009

With so many of you, we share the sad news that beloved writer and teacher, colleague and friend Norma Fox Mazer passed away over the weekend after a sudden and courageous battle with cancer. Norma was an award-winning writer for children and young adults; she was also a lovely, wise, brilliant person whose warmth was felt by strangers and friends alike. She was a calm, good-humored presence, easy to relax around, with the most wonderful smile. But she was also alert, quick, incisive, and direct, a trusted critic and advisor.

Students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts called her the Sultan of Structure for her unfailing expertise in that tricky arena, and those who worked with her marveled at her generous mentorship. Norma was ageless; her slight frame and whimsical braids, and her open, imaginative, curious and lively mind, gave her an air decades younger than her actual years. There was something magical about Norma; one felt happy to be around her.

Josie remembers her casual visits to the bookstore: "Having written more than thirty books, Norma could easily have had an ego, but she didn’t. She lived in Vermont, so every once in a while she’d pop by to the store to say hi and be among the books. I didn’t get to know her well, but I’ll always remember how bright and engaging she was with a kind-hearted smile. I tended to fumble around when she came in the store, rushing to find books for her to sign, and she would calmly take my elbow, look me in the eyes and remind me to breathe. Not many authors try to take care of the frantic bookseller; I liked that about her. I know students from Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults felt the same way. She was a nurturer and really loved it when student work was good. I have heard from my friends that she was precise and thoughtful in critiques. She inspired people, be they aspiring writers or readers who found themselves in her books. The children’s book world is diminished by her passing, but we can all find solace in her books."

Twenty-five years ago, in the days before the World Wide Web, I wrote a futuristic short story in which there was a tradition called TalkAbout, or TalkOut; I can’t recall which. When someone died, anyone could go to one of the ubiquitous public cameras and televise their memories of the deceased, no matter how minor their relationship or how small and personal the memory. It was a communal way of grieving that was both personal and widespread. This weekend, when news and loving thoughts about Norma snowballed across Facebook and in writers’ online discussion groups, I thought about how lucky we are to be able to share our memories with each other across the miles, with people who understand what has been lost, and what remains, of the people they love.

Many fine obituaries will detail Norma’s accomplishments in the field of children’s literature. She was an incredible writer, versatile and always moving forward in art. Here in ShelfTalker, we’d like to invite all of you to share your memories of Norma and her books and what they have meant to you, if you’d like.

For those readers who may not have met Norma but have loved her books, here’s a little snippet of a Scholastic interview with her:

There are two poems that put me in mind of Norma. The first sounds like something she might say to the rest of us. It was written in 1910 by the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Henry Scott-Holland.

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room.
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!


Finally, I’ve always loved this Emily Dickinson poem, which I read at my mom’s memorial service many years ago, and which has always seemed to me so perfect for a writer:

I dwell in Possibility – (466) — by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Make Time for the Tales of Toon Tellegen

Alison Morris - October 16, 2009

It is not often that a book is so completely wonderful that I am compelled — nay, FORCED — to continue reading it to the neglect of all items on my to-do list, but today I fell into not one but two such books, and I’m NOT sorry. (Though I may well be by tomorrow when I’m facing no small number of deadlines…) For now, I am indulging in the delight of today’s distractions, as Toon Tellegen‘s The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties and Letters to Anyone and Everyone (Boxer Books, Sept.) are, quite simply, two of the loveliest and most charming collections of stories I have EVER had the pleasure of reading.

Think A.A. Milne’s stories of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, but a shade quirkier — perfect for anyone old enough to sit and listen, and perfect as family (or coworker) read-alouds. Just ask Lorna Ruby and Lee Van Kirk, the two colleagues who counted themselves lucky enough to be in the same office as me today during the stretches in which I read aloud to them. The three of us giggled and cooed together over the delights to be had in these books, wishing all the while that we could corral small children into our office so they too could get in on the fun.

In The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties, the squirrel has, yes, a birthday party, to which he invites every single animal he can think of. As if writing personalized invitations to each of them isn’t enough, he then bakes a different cake for each them too, thinking that it will only be a "real" birthday if by the end of the day everyone can say, "I’ve had more than enough to eat." Here’s a sampling:

He baked huge honey cakes for the bear and the bumblebee, a grass cake for the hippo, a small red cake for the mosquito, and a dry cake for the dromedary. He baked heavy salt cakes for the shark and the squid, and lowered them on a chain into the river. He baked thin cakes as light as air for the swallow and the wild goose and the oystercatcher, cakes so light they floated high above the trees on strings so they wouldn’t fly away. He baked thick, most cakes that were so heavy they could sink through the ground so the earthworm and the mole could eat them in the dark — which is where those cakes tasted best.

Friendship and communications between all manner of animals provide infinite opportunities for storytelling here, and the creatures that take pleasure in one another’s company aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect to find communing. In the world of Tellegen’s creation, each animal is, it would seem, the sole member of its species, hence the designation of each as "the dragonfly" or "the bear." As such, a good deal of inter-species communication occurs, and creatures occasionally find they have surprising things in common. To wit, this conversation that begins "Renovating the Snail" (a story that appears in The Squirrel’s Birthday…):

"In the morning, when I wake up," the snail said, "I always have such a pain in my horns."

"Oh really?" said the giraffe. "That’s funny! So do I. It’s as if they’re prickling."

"Yes," said the snail. "As if they’re on fire."

"As if someone is pulling on them," said the giraffe.

"Yes," said the snail. "That’s what the pain is like."

They nodded at each other and felt pleased that they shared a morning complaint.

"Of course," said the giraffe, "I can’t discuss such things with the sparrow."

Accompanying all of these stories are lovely watercolor illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg that perfectly capture their moods and endear you, still further, to the books’ characters. Under the title for "The Costume Party" (a story in The Squirrel’s Birthday) appears a small drawing of a whale wearing tiny ladybug wings on his back. (He has somehow tied a string around his middle to hold the wings in place.) I can’t decide which I love more — the whale dressed as a ladybug, the mole dressed as a lobster, or the walrus dressed as a snail. Each is so wonderfully charming, in part because it is so completely absurd.

It’s the absurdity and dryness of the humor in these stories that saves them from being overly sweet or (God forbid) "cutesy." That, and the fact that the animals, while always entertaining, are not always cheery. The unevenness of their moods and differences in their character is what makes the experiences of these animals so charming, so familiar, so touching, and so human.

I leave you with this excerpt from "The Mole’s Letters", which appears in Letters to Anyone and Everyone. In it, Mole despairs of the fact that he never receives any letters:

And so, in the darkness, deep underground, he wrote himself letters, one after the other.

Dear Mole,
Yours sincerely,
The mole


Dear Mole,
I miss you.
The mole

Once he’d finished writing each letter, he hid it somewhere under the mud. Then he would chance upon it a little later and read it. Sometimes the letters brought tears to his eyes.

Thank you very much, Mole, he thought. Or I miss you too, Mole.

Sometimes he threw a party for all the senders of his letters. Then he ran from one side of the other of the darkest of all his tunnels and caverns. He danced too. Am I really happy? he wondered as he danced with himself.

At the end of one of these parties, he went and sat in a corner and wrote a letter to himself with the immortal words,

Dear Mole,
You have to go on a journey.
The Mole.

He nodded and went on a journey. Upwards, toward the mysterious air. He held his breath, saw the light shining down through the earth, and slowly climbed on.

That evening, he paid an unexpected visit to the squirrel. They drank tea and the mole talked about his parties deep under the ground. Large, dark parties without a trace of light. The squirrel shook his head, amazed. The mole stirred his tea and hoped that time would now finally stand still.

I hope you’ll read these books and find they made time stand still for you. As for me, I will now get back to all the items (yikes!) on my to-do list…