Monthly Archives: September 2010

Teacher Training and Indies

Josie Leavitt - September 13, 2010

I’m happy to report that our two days of teacher in-service training are over and went quite well. In the spring we approached our local school district about the idea of us doing book talks and a picture book creation seminar for the teachers, and they were thrilled with the idea. Elizabeth will blog about her picture book seminar separately.
Our goal was to reach out to teachers who might not know about us and the store and wow them with our knowledge of books and how to use literature in the social studies curriculum. Our first day focused on the third and fourth grades. The social studies curriculum ranged from basic geography, mapping skills, Vermont history, early settlement, and the beginnings of government. The second day incorporated fifth through ninth grade on more American history.
We tried not only to think outside the box (such as using dystopian novels to discuss government and mapping), but also tried to come up with books the teachers didn’t already know. The Vermont history proved to be quite challenging as there just isn’t a lot out there. We did find some great historical fiction books from a small publisher that no one had heard of, but were thrilled to find. I also found a great Old Maps of Vermont on CD, that the teachers loved. We sell these CDs at the store and they are a county by county map of the state in 1857 and 1869, searchable by town, street or landowner name. These were a huge hit.
Elizabeth and I created a 320-book annotated bibliography for the teachers, sorted by date. This was a risk as giving them all our hard work in 20 pages meant they could take it anywhere, say to Amazon, to place their orders. Bu we had faith that they would order from us, and we really wanted to amaze folks who don’t know our store. Teachers were suitably impressed at the hard work that went into the bibliography. We considered the document not just for teachers, but a wonderful resource for our staff to have on hand when folks come in seeking historical fiction titles.
We were forbidden by the District to do an overt sales pitch to the teachers. We were there to share our knowledge, but making connections and sales was an obvious goal. I wish I could say we got lots of orders from our two days of teacher education. Sadly, we got one, for $104. Several teachers spoke of their desire to shop local and order with us, but it’s been three weeks since the training, and nothing other than the one order. I know some schools mandate where teachers can buy books, say Barnes and Noble, even though our discounts are identical.
I’m trying not to take it to heart because budgets are tight, but I had a real low moment during the work session when two teams of teachers got on their laptops and made a book order from what we’d talked about from Amazon. It was all I could do to contain myself and not shout out about our teacher discounts and our customer service as I passed out goodie bags to all the attendees, our tote bags filled with a galley, a Flying Pig pen, teacher materials and several newsletters.
In the weeks since this event several teachers have emailed how much they loved our presentation and our bibliography, and yet, we’ve only gotten the one order. I’m officially at a loss at what to do about getting teachers to break old patterns and order directly from an independent bookstore. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about savings being greater at indies than at Amazon for most paperbacks, and that the money stays in the state,  but the perception of greater savings at Amazon and the chains is getting really hard to fight.
Booksellers, how does your store get teacher orders? Teachers: do you have a choice of where you can order?

An Ordering Nightmare

Josie Leavitt - September 9, 2010

Last week a truly hilarious, vaguely disturbing order snafu happened, and I feel I must share the experience.
I needed 70 copies of Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Chains for a teacher order. There was some urgency for the order (and when are teacher orders not urgent?) and I thought I was being so smart by faxing my ordering to the publisher. Here’s something all buyers should know: make sure you’re sending the order to the right publisher. Why I didn’t think of sending this to Simon & Schuster is beyond me.
After the passage of several days, I called the publisher to inquire about my order and convey my urgency. It turns out that the “ISBN you ordered is not one of our titles.” Oh, insert expletive here, really, I said. What to do, what to do?
I was told by the publisher that they had another book called Chains that was $15.99 in paperback. I said no, that’s not the right book. I finally looked at my copy of Chains and realized I was speaking to the wrong publisher. I sheepishly hung up, thinking the matter was closed.
Imagine my surprise when three cartons of Chains arrived, from the wrong publisher. Three cartons of the wrong books can happen sometimes, but when three cartons of an adult S/M novel arrived with a photo on the  cover of a clearly nude woman in a suggestive pose with a chain wound around her ankles, it was more than a little shocking. Won’t be giving this to any school.
My squeamish staffer had the misfortune of opening the cartons and was horrified anew each time. Our teenage male staffer kept circling the cartons, dying of curiosity, but to his credit, he never peeked.
The problem with a mis-ship like this is two-fold. Do I wait for the call tag (the return shipping label from the publisher)or do I accept free books from the publisher(often given instead of paying for shipping)? I opted for the books just to get the books out of the store faster.

The Rituals of Fall

Josie Leavitt - September 7, 2010

I know it’s not quite fall yet. But all the kids in Vermont have gone back to school and this changes the shopping patterns at the bookstore. I’m always amazed how a school day feels different than a summer day.
There is a calm that comes to the bookstore once the kids go back to school and the tourists leave for a little bit. A summer day can be busy at any time, with entire families coming in seeking books. In the fall, we don’t tend to see the whole family, we see relieved parents who can now shop at a leisurely pace, uninterrupted by the demands of children. The mornings we see single shoppers, almost exclusively women, who are shopping either for themselves or getting gifts for kids. There is sometimes a small lunch-time rush, but there is not the crush of customers of late July or August.
The rush for us in the fall starts immediately after school lets out. First we’ll see the kids who either walk or bike to school. They’ll stop at the store on their way home to see if anything new has come in. Then after sports practice lets out, usually around 4, we’ll have a steady stream of families picking up special orders or getting birthday presents. One thing that takes a while to happen after school starts is pleasure reading for the kids. The older the child, the more homework she gets and the less likely she is to buy a “fun” book to read. But once the homework load starts to seem manageable (usually around the end of September) kids will start reading just for the love of reading. It always saddens me is that we lose so many high school student freshmen to homework and not to pleasure reading. We get them back during holidays and summers, but I miss seeing them during the academic year.
I always enjoy fall because it’s a real breathing period before the craziness of the leaf peepers and then the holiday season. The weather is still gorgeous and I actually have time to enjoy it. Plus, I can wear a sweater to work in the morning.
On a completely different note, Elizabeth and I would like to take a moment to thank Alison for setting the bar for ShelfTalker so high, with three years of wonderful, entertaining, chock-full-of-fun blogs. Long before we joined PW as bloggers, we enjoyed her posts; they were always informative and creative — and she made them look easy. (Ha! We know better now.) We’re sure the blogosphere has not seen the last of Alison. Her energy and enthusiasm for children’s books (and everything related to them) are infectious, and we are delighted that, though her path has led away from bookselling, Alison is still very much a part of the children’s book world. Thanks so much, Alison, from all of us ShelfTalker readers and bloggers!

One Last Set of Reading Recommendations

Alison Morris - September 3, 2010

Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading my lengthy round-up posts in this, my last week as a regular contributor to the ShelfTalker blog. For my final post I’m leaving you with… a handful of reading recommendations. Some of them books, some of them not.
First of all, I just have to say that I recently finished reading What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (Balzer + Bray, August 2010) and Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, August 2010) and both of them were utterly wonderful — two of the best books I’ve read this year. If you haven’t made time for these two, please do! And either before or after you read Ninth Ward, do yourself the favor of watching the truly excellent documentary Trouble the Water, even if you *think* you already know all about Hurricane Katrina. It’ll stay with you, and it’ll teach you things.
You know who teaches me things on a daily basis? My husband, Gareth Hinds, who has a new book coming out in October. It’s a 250-page graphic novel adaptation of The Odyssey being published simultaneously in paperback and hardcover by Candlewick Press. Candlewick flew in an early batch of finished copies so that they’d have copies to send to reviewers, and two books (one hardcover, one paperback) arrived at our Boston home just before we finished packing for our move. I literally squealed with delight when I saw them, and Gareth couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. They look sooooo good!!
It has been such a joy to watch this project come together from start to finish, and each time I look at the finished results I marvel at the complexity of this undertaking and the fact that my husband (MY HUSBAND!) created this beautiful and truly thoughtful edition of one of the world’s most important and most loved stories. He did the text adaptation, he plotted out the entire story, he thumbnailed 250 pages of lay-outs, he designed all of the characters (there are so MANY of them in this book!), and he painstakingly penciled and watercolored each and every page.
This week Booklist gave a starred review to the book and it was just so gratifying for Gareth to see others’ responding to it with as much enthusiasm as have people like (the very obviously biased) me. I hope when YOU see the book you will think every bit as highly of it as I do. And I hope it will make life a LOT easier for many a teacher, and for many a student too! Gareth will have his own booth at NCTE this year. Look for him at the show if you’ll be there, and possibly for me, as well. ( Someone’s got to help him run that booth!)
One of the most satisfying things to have come out of my blogging time these past few years has been the “rescue” of a book I was extremely sorry to see go out of print! About a year and a half after I blogged about my disappointment in the fact that the wonderful Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls written by Marjorie Winslow and illustrated by Erik Blegvad had gone out of print, I received an email from Sara Kramer, managing editor of New York Review Books Classics announcing their plans to reissue the book, thanks to my having brought it to their attention! HOORAY!! Their newly repackaged edition will be published in October, so you don’t have long to wait before you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy.
Ancient Literary Usernames. That’s the theme of an interesting blog post and entertaining factoid. According to a blogger at The Toasted Scimitar,”Charlemagne and the intellectual men of his court who all enjoyed writing and commenting on poetry and philosophy all had unusual nicknames for each other that resemble the usernames we use online. While their snail-mail letters took even longer to get places than the modern mail, the did address each other by these names when writing to one another, and in that respect are no different than the ones we use today.” Yes, everything old is new again.
My Japanese “sister” Eriko (who lived with my family as an exchange student during one year of high school, then later married one of our classmates and now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Brian and two beautiful kids) brought this fascinating blog post to my attention, about the types of school lunches served in Japan, and the lessons that go along with them. I think it’s very much worth reading — especially for anyone working in schools or raising school-aged children!
I got a kick out of post on Mind Hacks in which I learned that, “While modern day technological doom-sayers suggest that technology damages the mind because it interrupts concentration, 18th century technological doom-sayers suggested that reading damaged the mind because it required too much concentration.
Do you know the origins of the word “blurb”? Well, I did not until I did some research (admittedly online) and learned that, in fact, its origins are verrrry entertaining. (You just never know what’s going to catch on, do you?)
How do YOU keep track of what books you’ve read? At some point last year I learned that my colleague Alexa Crowe has a “BOOK WALL” at her house. This is a wall on which she and her husband and their kids record all of the books they’ve read & the date on which they finished reading them! How cool is this?? I love the thought of creating a space like that and just watching it fill up with titles. How gratifying! And how fun to watch your kids’ handwritten records improve, handwriting-wise, just as the books they’re reading become more complex and sophisticated.
Way back in the winter of 2009 I met a guy who would quickly become one of my *favorite* people I worked with at Wellesley Booksmith. His name is John Vitti, and by day he’s a layout and copy editor in the sports department at the Boston Globe. But by afternoon/evening/weekend he is a volunteer extraordinaire in his hometown of Watertown, Mass. And what is John volunteering to do, exactly? Turn kids on to journalism and make writing more enjoyable for them.
The trouble started (if I’m recalling the story correctly…) when John discovered that one of his daughters was, in early elementary school, paralyzed by a school assignment to write a short piece of non-fiction. He realized that she just couldn’t understand how to break down the writing into pieces or tackle the assignment in chunks, because she’d never really been taught how to do so. Write a creative story? Yes, she could do that. But write from facts? This stumped her completely.
SO, John showed her the ropes. Then he went to her school and talked with the teachers there about starting a voluntary newspaper program at the elementary school. They were all for it, and it wasn’t long before kids starting showing up in droves to participate in the creation of the Cunniff Kids News, which they published online. During the paper’s early days out the store got involved by providing John (who is a regular customer despite the fact that Watertown is a half-hour drive from Wellesley) with galleys for kids to read and review. We gave his young reporters “exclusive” interview access to authors like Rick Riordan, Megan McDonald, and Mary Pope Osborne when we hosted them for store events. I also put John in touch with folks at Charlesbridge, which is literally just a few blocks from Cunniff Elementary. He and 20 young reporters took a tour, learned the basics about how a book gets published, then wrote a piece about said visit for the Cunniff Kids News.
The program at Cunniff was (and still is) hugely successful, due largely, I’m sure, to John’s enthusiasm, creativity, and patience with his protegees. John loves it. The kids love it. And the teachers at Cunniff were, from the beginning, thrilled with the progress the school’s young reporters were making with their writing. Soon Watertown Middle School was asking John if he could pilot the same type of program with their students, to which he immediately agreed. That has meant that when he wasn’t at the Globe or helping the kids at Cunniff, John has been over at Watertown Middle School, helping students put together articles for the Watertown Splash. Now that John has also been asked to expand his program to include an additional two elementary schools in Watertown, I suspect he’ll be a very difficult man to track down!
Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons:
1. John is MORE than happy to talk with others about the school newspaper programs he’s developed and share all the secrets of his success, so that YOU (or other teachers, writers, parents you know) can consider starting similar such programs in your schools, with local youth groups — wherever! Because I think John is SUCH a Grade A guy, I am urging you to take him up on this offer. I think you’ll be wowed by his generosity, his creativity, and his passion for teaching kids the basics of reporting, all in the interest of making them feel more competent as writers. The best email address to use for these purposes is CunniffNews AT Hotmail DOT com.
2.) I think you’ll enjoy reading the articles the kids in John’s programs have been putting together, and I think you’ll be impressed with them too! Visit the website of the Cunniff Kids News and the Watertown Splash, and take a look at the work they’ve done.
I’m not linking directly to pages within these sites, because the newspaper’s homepages are the only ones linked to visitor counters, and I want to be sure John can see any traffic that’s coming in to the site. But if you want to read the Cunniff Kids article about their Charlesbridge visit, click on “The World Around Us” on the left sidebar — the Charlesbridge article is the second to last one that appears there (going back in time). And click on “Read All About It” to see the Cunniff Kids book reviews.
And that’s it, folks! There are so many other fun topics I could explore here or links I could share, but it’s now Josie and Elizabeth’s job to share such treasures with you. I’ll see you again when I pop back up to teach you about making bookish birdhouses, and when we cross paths in the book world, as I feel certain we will.
Thank you all for the time you’ve given me over the past three and a half years! It has been an honor and a pleasure writing for you.

I’ve Got Designs On You

Alison Morris - September 2, 2010

“Art and Design” is the theme of today’s post — my fourth round-up in this, my final week on ShelfTalker.
The movie I’m the most sorry I didn’t manage to catch when it was still in theaters this year is The Secret of Kells. Did you see it? It’s an animated, fictional film about the creation of the Book of Kells (which is housed in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin, where I spent my junior year of college). Watch the trailer and tell me this doesn’t look like a beautiful film. I’m hopeful that the DVD will soon be headed to my house via Netflix.
The Secret Of Kells – Promotional Trailer from Cartoon Saloon on Vimeo.
While we were in London Gareth and I enjoyed noting the differences between U.K. jackets and U.S. jackets for some of our favorite books. Did you know that in the U.K. there’s an edition of The Graveyard Book that features Dave McKean’s illustrations, just like the one we’ve got here, but also one featuring a cover and interior illustrations by the amazing Chris Riddell? (You can see some of Riddell’s interior art for the book on Forbidden Planet’s blog.) It’s so interesting to see both covers side by side and realize that they are the SAME book. You can see how they’d each appeal to completely different audiences. AND you can see how the cover image at right and below, created by Dave McKean for the U.K.’s adult edition, would probably NOT appeal to most people browsing in the children’s section. (EEK!) It’s especially creepy when you see the full jacket. Creepy and beautiful, though — the ghost bit especially.

Here are three more jackets we found interesting. (The first one is The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, in case you can’t see past the reflection of my flash bulb.)
Can you believe how young and girly Looking for Alaska looks with that cover? Ick. I think Alaska herself would NOT approve.
The cover for The Hunger Games is just one of two variations available in the U.K. The one you see here is the Peeta version, but there’s also one that features Katniss. Several other countries show Katniss on their book covers too. (The Swedish one is just plain CREEPY!)


For his graphic design thesis project at Kent State, the very talented Mikey Burton designed “an integrated branding campaign based around the illustrative reinterpretation of classic book covers directed toward junior high school students.” I stumbled across it a couple of months ago and fell in love. Why? These books look so… modern. And hip. And clean and edgy and interesting. WHICH they are! But in most cases their actual, current covers don’t suggest those qualities, sadly.

If ONLY the publishers with the rights to each of the books Mikey Burton has “re-imagined” would reissue them with Mikey’s designs, and use all the promotional materials he’s created to go with them, too. In the meantime, I’ve had to content myself with the poster I bought from Mikey, featuring his cover design for The Outsiders. (Note that you can also purchase the one printed with glow-in-the-dark ink.) I think Ponyboy would approve, don’t you?
When you look through the Flickr pool of photos from Mikey’s thesis project, be sure to also look at the designs he didn’t use as his “finished” covers. I like some of the discards just as much as those he settled on in the end.


While we’re on the topic of appealing book covers… Mikey Burton (mentioned above) is one of many, many young designers who has furthered his career, in part, by creating gig posters for music concerts (including a very bookish one he created for Wilco).
For the past couple of years I’ve been admiring gig posters (mostly via and wondering why publishers aren’t hiring more of these hip, creative, often young designers to come up with cover art for young adult novels (and middle grade ones, for that matter), or at least taking more inspiration from their offerings. So often when I peruse gig poster designs I see intelligent, interesting, and eye-catching work (like the Spoon poster at right). I wish I felt that way more often when I look through publishers’ catalogs.

I think the real problem is that I am just so, so tired of seeing covers sporting uninteresting stock photos and the results of bland photo shoots. I’m tired of half the books in the YA section looking interchangeable and uninspiring. I want to see more illustration! I want to see creative, original pieces of art that make me wonder about the stories that spawned them.
I know design budgets and cover deadlines are often tight. And I know that my desire for illustrateed covers does not play to the fact that a certain major retailer frequently demands photos of teens on the covers of teen novels (a demand I believe has had a terrible homogenizing effect on the appearance of today’s YA offerings, to the detriment of sales for everyone). But I also know that teens are very design-conscious nowadays. Stores like Urban Outfitters and ModCloth, which was itself started by a couple when they were in high school, are catering to the tastes of design-conscious teens, but the teen book world is, by and large, NOT yet doing so.
I know that there’s a difference between a poster and a book, and illustrations for one don’t always work for the other. The image on a book’s cover has to make you curious about the story on its pages — at its best, it should entice you to actually OPEN the book, or it serves purely as eye candy. But a lot of the gig posters I see have a very illustrative quality to them — a quality that says, “there’s a story here.” In other words, just because they’re printed on flat paper does not mean these are flat designs. I would argue that many of the book jacket designs I see nowadays are much, much flatter. And they always leave me wondering if the stories those books contain aren’t too.
For more gig posters, see the “poster of the day” posts at tbpdesign’s blog. If you want to add some to your walls, check out the offerings at or click on the “classifieds” section of

Bring Me, Buy Me, DIY Me

Alison Morris - September 1, 2010

To all you crafters and shoppers who’ve enjoyed my Etsy posts and t-shirt posts and birdhouse posts and such. This round-up from my final week of regular ShelfTalker blogging is for you!
Up first… RETAIL
Did you know that Bob Staake will create a CUSTOM doodle for you for just $40?? I think you should take him up on the offer, then invite me over to see the results.
The next time you want to be left alone while you’re reading, just string up some of this caution tape from Highsmith.
Tired of people thinking that drinking is all you ever do? Send a message to them loud a clear with a (hic!) book-engraved hip flask. I love that the ad copy for this product says, “Perfect gift for avid readers or book group members.” CLEARLY I have been joining the wrong book groups!
And speaking of book groups, if yours has been letting you down lately, maybe you want to invest in a few of these bookplates? The same company who makes those (Pink Loves Brown) also has a fun design for dessert lovers and another for fans of umm… retro glasses? sexy librarians? Either or.

Cover your MacBook or MacBook Pro with… a book! It’s probably a lot less likely to be stolen in said disguise (sad as it makes me to type that!)
I just enjoy saying the words, “Moomin mug.”
And now on to the subject of…  CRAFTS!
Before I began making bookish birdhouses as gifts for people, I had a field day making sets of “marble magnets,” most of them featuring book images cut from catalogs. They’re VERY easy to make, fit nicely in recycled Altoids tins, and sure to add a splash to to your friends’ refrigerators. Complete instructions for making them are available on Not Martha. (Those are the very ones I used to get started!)
Two pieces of advice, though: 1.) Buy Judikins brand “Picture Pebbles” instead of the less expensive, generic flat glass marbles — the cheap ones are full of waves and bubbles that’ll make your images look distorted; 2.) The card images in the Peaceable Kingdom Press catalog are the perfect size for this project, as are those on the last few pages of Chronicle’s gift catalog — only after you’ve ordered from said catalogs and are ready to recycle them, of course!

In anticipation of doing a post about fun and easy DIY bookmarks, I assembled a LONG list of links for you. Follow these if you’re looking for inspiration.
bookmarks with simple fabric flowers
hardwood bookmarks
free downloadable bird bookmarks
paint chip bookmarks
fabric bookmarks
more fabric bookmarks
origami heart bookmarks
love you bookmarks
easy recycled envelope bookmarks
Japanese paper dolls  you can use as bookmarks
ribbon bookmarks (design #1)
ribbon bookmarks (design #2)
magnetic photo bookmarks
When you’re finished making all those different bookmarks, maybe you’d be keen to create some nifty book vases? (via
Or maybe some book letters?
They seem much easier to assemble than, say, this crazy beautiful but also crazy impractical “tower” of books that sits in writer Hank Moody’s study. (Yowza.)

Of course, if you’re more into cooking than crafting, you might prefer to spend your time making some pink pig pancakes. Or a feast for Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Or cupcake cake inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
For daily doses of crafting inspiration (some book-related, some not), I recommend becoming a regular reader of, which is chock full o’ links to crafts and recipes featured on other blogs. You can search for keywords (like “book“) on the site to fine-tune things.
Finally, a story: About a month before I left Wellesley Booksmith, Gayle Vonasek, former principal of the local Hardy Elementary School, stopped by the store to ask if I might have any creative ideas she could employ for a book-themed baby shower she was hosting for a fellow teacher. Did I?? After about an hour brainstorming with Gayle, showing her some favorite websites, and telling her all the things I did and didn’t make for Gareth’s and my wedding, I sent her off with a pile of F&G’s (“folded and gathered” picture book proof sheets) and a head full of ideas. The results were one wonderful baby shower! As follow-up, Gayle sent me several photos of the final results + explanations for what appears in each. I hope seeing these will give you some creative party-hosting inspiration too!
Gifts at the shower were displayed on a book case.

Gayle asked each guest to tell her about a favorite children’s book and explain why it was memorable. She explains, “I wrote the guest’s name on a library card pocket and the explanation on the library card.  The guest of honor and her mother tried to match the comments about the book with each guest.  Many guests also gave the book as a gift so the library pockets can be glued into each book for to preserve the memory.”

Title pages functioned as placemats on the tables.

The centerpieces were comprised of paper flowers Gayle assembled from F&Gs tucked into board books that Gayle had personally selected for the mother and baby-to-be.

She made a banner of book covers. (Again, from F&G’s, though a color photocopier + stack of books could create very similar fodder for such a thing.)

Forks for the buffet were tucked into library pockets.

Each guest at the party was sent home with a bookmark that featured beach reading recommendations from the guest of honor and her mother, and one of Gayle’s (now signature!) paper flowers.

Gayle cut some book images out of catalogs, glued them to construction paper, and created “toppers” for the desserts served at the buffet.

Needless to say, a good time was had by all!