Monthly Archives: August 2010

Oh, the Book-Related Places You Should Go

Alison Morris - August 31, 2010

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is my last week as a regular contributor to ShelfTalker. As such, Josie and Elizabeth are taking the week off (from blogging, that is, not bookselling) and I’ll be filling these spaces with a mish-mash of things I’ve been wanting to write about. Today’s theme: places you should visit and things you should see.
First and foremost: If you go to London anytime soon or come to New York City early next year,  SEE War Horse, which I first blogged about in July 2010, and which Lincoln Center will begin hosting beginning in March 2011. Gareth and I saw a performance in London while on our honeymoon, and we were utterly bowled over by it. It was, simply put, one of the best pieces of theater I’ve ever seen, and an incredibly moving adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel. (No, you don’t need to read the book before you see the play, and YES, it’s every bit as much for adults as for young adults, though I don’t think it’s a good fit for young children.) The puppetry by the Handspring Puppet Company is absolutely remarkable — their horses live and breathe and are far and away the true stars of this show. If you need still more convincing, listen to the piece about War Horse that aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in May of this year. And note that Steven Spielberg recently bought the film rights to the novel, but that does NOT mean you shouldn’t see it as a play!! Go! Go!
Another London tip: If children’s book business ever takes you to London, see if it can’t also take you to the roof (or almost roof) of the building that’s home to Puffin Books, and inside the offices of Walker Books. Gareth and I had the great pleasure of visiting both of these houses while in town, and met a lot of delightful and interesting people at both. In the first photo below, Gareth is standing with wonderful Lindsey Heaven (best name ever!) from Puffin who, as a ShelfTalker reader, invited me ages ago to come see the view from their building. Here’s how London looks from there.

And here’s a quick shot of Walker’s offices! I was so sidetracked by great conversations and discussions of Gareth’s books once we walked in the door that I failed to take any decent photos! (Boo.) Inside it’s bright and fun and friendly — just as you’d expect from a place that publishes the likes of Polly Dunbar and Bob Graham and Helen Oxenbury (and so on and so on and so on…)

NOW, let’s talk Paris. If you go to Paris, you should, of course, go to legendary independent bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s just like you’ve always pictured it, and it’s a terrific cacaphony of visual noise, if that makes any sense. It’s the kind of place you want to sink into… slowly… and stay for several days.

While in Paris, though, you should also visit the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore — an English-language bookshop that is less well-known than Shakespeare and Company but just as filled with treasures. AND it boasts has a much better selection of children’s and YA books. Say hi to owner Penelope. She is LOVELY and the type of bookseller with whom you can have lengthy, intelligent conversations about pretty much anything, from what I could tell. She also made me feel like a TOTAL rock star when, well into our chatter about the book business, I mentioned that I blogged for ShelfTalker and she not only knew exactly who I was but then proceeded to tell me which one of my blog posts was her favorite. I had to do one of those, “Wait. We are in PARIS, right?” reality checks, and I have never in my life felt more like a rock star.

If you’re in Paris and looking for children’s books in French, I suggest visiting Les Enfants du Musee, the children’s bookstore at the Louvre, where I salivated over many a tome and considered spending many a Euro on books it would take me ages to wade through. (Those 5 years of French I took in junior high/high school are more than a little rusty now…)

Now Maine. What if you go to Maine (which I love almost as much as Paris — honestly)? Well, you should, of COURSE, visit Ashley Bryan, who says (honestly) that you’re ALL welcome at his place. If you go nowhere else in New England, EVER, go to Ashley’s house and spend time with Ashley. I honestly believe this trip should be top on your priority list.

If you like your books old and quirky, then en route to Ashley’s you should stop at The Big Chicken Barn in Ellsworth, Maine. It’s HUGE! And the second floor is second-hand books as far as the eye can see.

While you’re in New England, go to Cape Cod and visit both Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich (a general bookstore that specializes in new, used, and rare books) and Eight Cousins in Falmouth (which is primarily for children and teens but also includes a small, well-curated selection of books for adults). Both stores are run by some of the hardest-working and most devoted women in the book business, and both stores are ones I’d planned to feature in “photo tour” posts about two years ago, before time (at the time) got away from me! Here are a few posts of the lovely Titcomb’s, where Vicky Uminowicz (in the center, below) and her fellow booksellers (many of them her relatives!) will charm you with their sunny personalities and wow you with their knowledge of both used and new books.

And here are a few shots of Eight Cousins, which has some of the prettiest windows I’ve seen in a store, some of the most interesting selections, and one of the most dedicated women running it! If you’re a customer, Carol Chittenden will bend over backwards to find what you need, and if you’re an aspiring or beginning bookseller, she will give you all the advice and good wishes you could ever hope for. (I am always wowed by Carol’s generous contributions to both the NECBA and ABC listservs.)

And when you come to NYC, come visit my neighbor, the Little Red Lighthouse. Remember the picture book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegard Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward (published in 1942 by Harcourt Brace)? The real, actual Little Red Lighthouse sits beneath the George Washington Bridge just a few blocks from the apartment where Gareth and I are now living, in Washington Heights. The lighthouse was saved from demolition in 1951, largely thanks to a letter-writing campaign by children who loved Swift’s book. I think that ALONE makes it worth a visit, which I why I am hoping to get there soon myself! The Urban Parks Dept. offers tours of the lighthouse from 1-4pm every 2nd Saturday of the month during the late spring, summer, and fall. Perhaps I’ll see you there?
Happy travels!

Thank You for Reading!

Alison Morris - August 30, 2010

Beloved ShelfTalker readers, Gareth and I have finished our NYC move, we’re feeling (mostly) settled in, and I’m about to start my new job at Scholastic Book Clubs. As part of all of these changes I am also going to be taking my leave of ShelfTalker at the end of this week — and this time on a much more “permanent” basis.
I feel I said most of my good-byes and thank-yous back in April of 2009, when I announced that I’d be handing the ShelfTalker reins off to Josie and Elizabeth. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I’d wind up continuing to post as frequently as I have, nor that I’d wind up still being “part” of the blog long enough to see them do such fantastic things with it. You need only look at the number of comments their posts have generated of late to realize that, in their ShelfTalker tenure, Josie and Elizabeth have grown the audience for this blog and generated an incredible amount of content that readers have found both useful and entertaining. They have done with ShelfTalker all of the things I both hoped and thought it likely they would do! I know (believe me, I know!) just how much work it is to generate these posts on an almost-daily basis — especially when you’re juggling said work with the neverending task of running a bookstore. My hat is off to this dynamic duo for doing it both so long and so well, and I wish you all the continued joy of them!
After this week you won’t have *entirely* heard the last of me, as I may pop up now and again to do a guest post, and I WILL, most definitely, be returning soonish with a detailed how-to for making Bookish Birdhouses, as so many of you have been asking for one! I was hoping to have that post ready for you by now, but alas, my craft supplies are still in boxes and have not yet found a home in our new apartment. Once I can clear the way for them, I’ll be able to do the post right — as in, with helpful visuals. In any case, stay tuned for that, as I promise you the post is coming.
Before I go, though, I have a few orders of business to get through, all centered around one complaint. That complaint is that, to me,  my blogging experience has felt a bit like floating on a sea of unfinished business. There is, on any given day, an endless string of things I want to write about, for which I just can’t find the time! There are so many places I’ve been to and even photographed for you that never made their way into posts. There are so many books and authors I’ve wanted to rave about and oddities I’ve  wanted to highlight and trends I’ve wanted to examine and just random little things I’ve wanted to say. Soooo, for this, my final week as a regular ShelfTalker contributor, I’m going to do multiple posts, each offering you a few snippets of things that never landed here previously. This way my list of missed opportunities will be a bit shorter and you’ll have a bunch of fun tidbits to wade through in the coming days.
For today, I’m tossing you just this one tip (as you’ve already spent enough time reading this!): If you aren’t yet already reading Kate Beaton’s marvelous blog Hark! A Vagrant on a routine basis, please do so. She is wildly funny, ridiculously clever, and oh so well-read. LOTS of her cartoons feature authors (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne) and/or stars of famous literature. Some of them even have children’s and teen literature-related themes, like Charlie and the Marvelous Turnip Factory, and an Edward Gorey covers-inspired round-up, in which a John Bellairs book gets the Beaton touch, AND the drawing at the very top of this post that refers, of course to Twilight. (Click on it to read the whole comic, which is actually part of a series about a 15th Century Peasant Romance. Bet you didn’t guess that!)  Gareth and I treated ourselves to a copy of Kate’s book Never Learn Anything from History, and we are so very, VERY glad we did. She is apparently also moving to NYC and Gareth’s and my secret hope is that we’ll someday have the opportunity to meet her, so we can tell her how much we love her work, aaaaaaand become her new best friends. Maybe. If she’ll have us! In the meantime, enjoy wading through the archives of her work, and look for more entertainment coming your way, from me, tomorrow.

Murphy’s Law of Bookselling

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 27, 2010

It is a sad truth that bookselling, like so many other well-intentioned pursuits, is not immune to the ravages of Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible time”). Fortunately, bookselling is a gentle art, and so the worst possible outcome is not along the lines of, say, botched brain surgery or the rupture of a rocket’s service module oxygen tank. The world will not end if something goes awry with a book order. However, I don’t advise saying this out loud to customers; relativistic reasoning does not soothe a teacher whose 50 copies of The Catcher in the Rye fell off a conveyor belt somewhere in the southeast.
Which got me thinking about the corollary to Murphy’s Law: Booksellers’ Bane. Booksellers’ Bane dictates that the moment you feel a sense of control over your business/customer relations approach/book knowledge/inventory, the gods of bookselling will laugh and toss you on your keister.
Minor examples of this phenomenon include:
1) The inevitable fact that after you have finally dismantled your stagnant Alphabet section—shelves that haven’t seen action since 2003—and integrated those titles into the regular picture books, you will receive twelve earnest requests in as many days for a “special area for alphabet books.”
2) That when you finally re-shelve a customer’s six-month-old special order (after having made three phone calls to the customer over that period of time to remind her of the book), somebody will buy it. And then the customer will come in, wanting it desperately, and be mad that you sold it.
3) The day you deep-clean the floor, either carpet or wood (it doesn’t matter), a freak storm blows through and people stamp their snow/mud/rain-covered feet all over your store.
4) That the minute you return that obscure philosophy book that’s been collecting dust on your shelves for two years, someone comes in, not only looking for it, but horrified/disgusted/offended that you don’t carry it.
Major examples of this phenomenon:
1) Just when you think you’ve got your little business off the ground, chain stores will start taking over the country.
2) Just when you think you’ve found a way to compete with the chain stores, an online megastore will start taking over the country.
3) Just when you think you’ve found your niche among the chain stores and online competition, publishers themselves will begin to sell directly to your customers, at higher discounts.
4) Just when you hope you’re wending your way through the obstacle course of competition from all sides (including the grocery stores, drugstores, discount clubs, big box stores, drycleaners, and clothing stores that are now in the game), books go digital.
Hmm, the minor examples are funnier.
Booksellers, what are your Bookseller Banes? (The minor, funny ones, please. I don’t think we’re up for any more of the real ones today!)

A Photo Tour of the Bank Street Bookstore

Alison Morris - August 26, 2010

Tuesday was, as everyone knows, the launch date for Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, and like teenagers (and adults!) everywhere, I wanted to get my hands on a copy. Fast. There isn’t an independent bookstore, let alone a chain,  in our new neighborhood, which is like a hole in my heart. BUT I was saved this week by a short subway ride to the venerable Bank Street Bookstore, where I became one of many eager readers to purchase Mockingjay from their store this week, though a day too early to do so while face-to-face with Suzanne Collins (alas). I’ve been wanting to visit Bank Street for several years now — ever since I first met the amazing Beth Puffer, who has managed this store for a whopping 24 years (though you’d never know it to look at her). I had the pleasure of getting to know Beth when we served together on the board of the Association of Booksellers for Children, so I had big expectations for her store, and boy did it ever meet them!
What follows is a brief photo tour so that you’ll know your way around before you pay your first in-person visit (which I certainly hope you’ll do someday!).
First, the front. I love that the store sits on a corner. This means more windows, more light, and the all-important more awning space, making the store plainly visible to customers on the opposite side of Broadway, which is where I was when I took this picture. If you look closer at the awning (see photo above) you’ll see that it’s plainly clear, from the writing on the awning, just who this store is for AND, by extension, just what kind of books they carry, but that doesn’t stop people from coming in the door looking for run-of-the-mill grown-up books — e.g. bestselling novels and non-fiction. It saw it happen even during the brief time that I was there.

You walk through the doors and this (below) is the sight that greets you. Lovely, no? Two stories high, this is a BIG space, packed to the gills with tremendous books for kids of all ages and an enormous selection of educational resources and professional books for teachers too. (The store is owned by Bank Street College of Education, which accounts for the latter emphasis.) Somehow, though, the store manages to be both huge (especially by children’s bookstore standards) and extremely homey, which is why it’s such a pleasant space to browse. It’s also very neatly arranged, very well-organized, and seems not the least bit cluttered, in spite of all the stock (books, toys, teacher tools) filling the space. How does Beth do it?? I don’t know. But I enjoyed seeing the fruits of her labor and look forward to spending a LOT more time at this place.

To your left are the picture books. (I had serious fixture envy on behalf of many of you.)

Straight ahead of you are middle grade and young adult novels, plus lots of fun toys and other sidelines.

Here’s a display of recent middle grade and YA hardcovers. (When I took the photo above, these books were on my right.)

I love that they feature staff recommendations! Hallelujah!! What does every store need, I ask you? SHELF TALKERS. Preferably ones featuring recommendations from your own booksellers. They work like a charm, they build your store’s reputation as a place that’s “in the know,” and they act like “mini booksellers” — doing the work of humans when there’s no human standing right there beside the shelf. TRUST me on this, people. Be like Bank Street. Put ’em up!

That lecture done, let’s wander back here to the rear of the store where we are in Playmobil Heaven — or at least that’s where these two children CLEARLY thought they’d landed! It was so much fun to watch them ooh and ahh and hatch plans for their own creative play.

Now let’s traverse the LEFT side of the first floor, shall we? Here, first of all, is a close-up of some of the hardcover picture books being featured in Bank Street’s very large picture book section. FACE-OUTS are another thing every store should have lots of. I was pleased to see many more shelves like this one, and gratified to see that, yep — people were browsing them, which is just what face-outs invite people to do.

Looking back now to the left rear corner of the store. The board books are on my left, but you can’t see them in this picture. What you can see is a mother reading to her daughter. Clearly customers feel like they want to spend time in this wonderful place.

Now let’s head up the stairs to the second floor. Here’s the terrific view from the top of the stairwell. Books as far as the eye can see and plush toys lining the route between the two!

Remember what I said about windows? This store has so many of them, and they’re enormous! It makes the space feel so bright and airy.

Here’s the biography section — two full bookcases. Heaven.

And here’s poetry. Another two VERY full bookcases. Would that all stores could afford to devote this much space to poetry!

If you come up the stairs and look to your left, you’ll see the teacher resource section. (It starts over by that white pillar in the photo below). Here you can buy everything from borders for your bulletin boards to Cuisinaire rods to every book by Lucy Calkins. (I know this will mean something to the teachers among you.)

Here’s a close-up of one part of that section.

And now we’re headed back downstairs again. Isn’t it nice to see so many customers in the store?

Here’s a customer headed up front to make her purchases.

And here’s a shot of the front register and the Mockingjay display from which I purchased a book, in addition to an irresistible new toy called a Pig Popper, that works like a charm. An adorable pig charm.

As you walk out the door and turn left to cross 112th Street, look to your right across Broadway. That’s the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine there in the distance, on Amsterdam Ave. I recommend making that your next stop in the city. Unless, of course, you’re hurrying home to start reading the books you bought at Bank Street, which is what I did following this particular visit. NEXT time, though, I’ll spend more time in the neighborhood. I’m looking forward to there being lots of “next times” for visiting this wonderful, wonderful bookstore!

Mockingjay Party!

Josie Leavitt - August 25, 2010

As promised, here is a rundown of our fabulous Mockingjay party. The most interesting part of the midnight sale was the sheer number of people who came to the party who hadn’t reserved a book. Almost 90% of our sales were to folks who hadn’t special ordered the book and this added to the air of excitement.

Tributes doing the quiz.

We had about 40 kids come to the store around 11pm when the festivities started.

Costumed Mockingjay fans.

I’ll be the first to admit, our party was pretty low-key, as midnight releases go. We created a fairly comprehensive quiz that each “tribute” was given when they came in. At midnight, we sold the book. I must say, after fourteen years of bookselling, I have yet to tire seeing a child hug a book, and there was a lot of hugging going on.
So, first the kids came in and some were in costume and that made it really fun. There weren’t many kids in costume, but these teens didn’t care. They embraced the spirit of the book and had a great time. Kids did the quiz and then they got prizes based on the number of correct answers they got. Everyone got a prize and all attendees got mini-brownie bites as a representation of what they might have gotten in the arena.

Happy kids after getting their books, and brownies. The kids were all so well-mannered and happy. There was no pushing, no rushing the counter.

They were just thrilled to be getting the book  they’ve waited a year for. One really great thing to come from the event was all the kids, yes all of them, want to come back in six weeks for an in-depth book discussion about Mockingjay and the series as a whole. I love that this series has provoked such deep thought with the kids, and I can’t wait for the book group meeting.
So, now we read and enjoy the end of another great series. Booksellers, how was your Mockingjay release?

When They Go to College

Josie Leavitt - August 23, 2010

My store has been open for almost fourteen years and in those years children have been born, learned to read, and achieved various milestones. All of these milestones are significant, but none seems as large as going to college. Many of our customers are heading off to schools around the country in the coming weeks, and two are very dear to us.
This past week Elizabeth and I had the pleasure of taking two of our soon-to-be college freshmen — actually, they’re called first years now — out to dinner. It was so lovely to see these young women come into their own. Excited conversation about majors, boys and books filled the evening. Emily and Danielle are best friends and it’s always great to see them together. They are a charming combination of supportive, goofy, silly and thoughtful. They are so excited about striking out on their own and learning, and I envied them their clear-headed approach to college.
I’m happy that Emily is going to school locally, so we stand a small chance of seeing her throughout the year. As for Danielle, we’ll have to wait for holidays to get caught up. My only regret for both of them is that they won’t have time to read for pleasure like they think they will. College tends to have a work load that doesn’t allow for free time.
It’s so strange to see children we’ve known for years go off to school. Soon they’ll be coming back to visit with serious boyfriends, talk of careers and the excitement of starting new, and through the magic of bookselling I won’t age at all. This event could be tinged with sadness, but I’ll leave that for their parents. I am thrilled for these young people to get out in the world.
So, to all you college-bound bookstore rugrats, congratulations and don’t forget to pop by the store when you’re back in town. I’m sure we can find you a galley or two to review.

When You Can Almost See the Book It Could Be

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 20, 2010

Shove over, Mr. Bill; there’s a new stop-action star in town. I’m talking about the protagonist of a quirky, addictive little video that surfaced this week (brought to our attention via Facebook by editor and author Kara LaReau).
The clip features an earnest, endearing young seashell named Marcel, who is “partially a shell” but also has one googly eye, wears shoes, and says random hilarious things that I am tempted to quote but don’t want to spoil for you. Marcel takes us on a brief tour of his life; I would love to have been in the room when the improvisation was going on. It’s a short, funny video that also manages to pull off some small, heartbreaking moments, both understated and touching. Written by Saturday Night Live comedienne and actress Jenny Slate (who also provides Marcel’s delicious voice) and Dan Fleischer-Camp (who also directed, edited, and animated the piece), this is a little slice of genius.

I have to say, after watching this umpteen times, I found myself itching for a book of Marcel. Not because the video lacks anything or isn’t the best format for this character (it doesn’t, and it is), but because I have wanted to share Marcel with everyone (adult or kid) who walks through the door. Something like a How Are You Peeling?/Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey mashup. Anyone? Publishers? Only, promise me that the Saturday morning cartoon spin-off won’t turn Marcel, with his refreshing lack of sarcasm, into a boring formula smart-aleck.
If a book does eventually come out, would I be able to say that I sell sea shells by the PW shore?

A Reminder of Why I Sell Books

Josie Leavitt - August 17, 2010

I admit that there are days when I am run down by my job — days when nothing goes right and customers yell at me for things that are out of my control. Then there are days like yesterday.
I opened my email and found the loveliest note from one of my favorite summer customers. With her permission, I am reprinting it below. This email will bolster me on the tough days and remind me always why I do what I do. And it points up the fact that the books have a long life after they leave the store.
“Josie….I don’t know if this is still your address, but I hope so. I was listening to something on NPR yesterday, an interview with two bookstore owners about what to read this summer. One mentioned the incredible power bookstore owners had, curating the titles they carry and subtly shaping what their customers read.

Faith was on the screened-in porch, having devoured “Chains” in two days, turning the next book in her pile you had put together in about three minutes. I thought, where would my children be without having had you in their lives? What a lucky, lucky day for us, that first day so many years ago that I walked into your store. Thank you so much. You have been a certain kind of mother to my children and I am grateful.
love love love
Now, if a letter like this doesn’t make it all worthwhile, then I don’t know what does. The beauty of an independent bookstore is that the love is mutual, as I feel just as privileged to be part of her children’s lives, too.