Monthly Archives: December 2010

Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz by Gender

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 30, 2010

If there’s one thing writing this blog has shown me, it’s that I seem to enjoy collecting and aggregating and looking at lists of interesting and useful data. (I think it’s that whole illusion-of-order-in-a-chaotic-world impulse.)
Two big projects I’ve done for ShelfTalker have been inordinately satisfying: the Starred Review round-up I collect throughout each year (an updated, end-of-year, full 2010 list will be posted soon), and the continually updated World Full of Color library, highlighting more than 630 books that are not race-focused but feature main characters of color.
My most recent project has been the creation of an Excel spreadsheet of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz award and honor books and authors, including data on the gender of the authors. (I plan to do the same for the Coretta Scott King award and the Sibert award soon.) I would also have collected data on the ratios of Caucasian award winners to award winners of color, but that disproportion is not only depressingly obvious to even casual followers of these awards, but has been discussed in many other places.)
This effort started when I noticed that, while women have historically outnumbered men in the children’s literature field, the Caldecott medals show a reverse ratio: 47 gold medals have gone to 43 men, while 20 medals have gone to 16 women. The medals are deserved and the books distinguished. But can it really be the case that male artists are more than three times as talented as female artists? Do male artists take more risks than female artists and are rewarded accordingly? Or are men’s creative efforts taken more seriously than women’s? Does our society unconsciously/ subconsciously still value men’s work more than women’s? At conferences in even female-dominated fields, I notice that men are much more likely to be featured as keynote speakers and male panelists often outnumber female panelists 3:1 in the premiere sessions. The numbers made me curious.
So then I ran the Newbery numbers, and the results are tipped in the opposite direction. The majority of gold medals have gone to women—59 have gone to 55 women, while 28 have gone to 27 men. Of the honors: 65 men have won 87 Newbery honors, whereas 147 women have won 197 Newbery honors.
I’m not a statistician, and the only way numbers like this can really mean anything is to have more data: for instance, to know the actual numbers of male and female children’s book authors and illustrators published during each year of these awards, and then look at the ratios again. Still, in a world whose population is roughly 50/50 male and female, the discrepancies in these ratios says something about our field and its history, and I’m interesting in thinking about exactly what those somethings are.
Anyone have thoughts on the subject?
I’m going to do a summary by genre soon, too. Just need to track down a few more of the out-of-print books.
As for this year’s January 10 awards: good luck to all of the authors and artists hardly even daring to secretly cross their fingers hoping for an early-morning phone call a week from Monday! I can’t wait to see your names in lights. And for those of you with secret hopes who don’t get that phone call, try to remember that your fine work will find its grateful audience even without the shiny sticker.
Note about the numbers below: I have tried to be as accurate as possible in my tallies, making my lists directly from the ALA website and sorting the results and counting the winners and honors several times. (It also took quite a while to track down the genders of several of the earlier authors. Thank goodness for the internet, is all I have to say.) So I think the numbers are pretty spot-on, but I am a mere human, with limited spreadsheet capabilities, so I’m happy to hear about any discrepancies from other listmakers out there.
Out of 72 Caldecott Gold Medals:
47 have gone to 43 men
20 have gone to 16 women
5 have gone to 5 male/female pairs (all unique illustrator pairs)
Out of 226 Caldecott Honors:
138 have gone to 88 men
83 have gone to 53 women
5 have gone to 4 male/female pairs
Caldecott combined summary, out of 298 medals total:
191 have gone to 100 men (*note: some winners are also honor recipients)
102 have gone to 61 women (*ditto)
10 have gone to 6 male/female pairs
Out of 87 Newbery Gold Medals:
59 have gone to 55 women
28 have gone to 27 men
Out of 292 Newbery Honors:
197 have gone to 147 women
87 have gone to 65 men
5 have gone to 3 male-female co-author teams
1 has gone to a two-woman co-author team
1 has gone to a female author writing under a male pseudonym
1 has gone to a two-man co-author team
Newbery combined summary, out of 379 awards total:
256 have gone to 174 women (*note: some winners are also honor recipients)
115 have gone to 80 men (*ditto)
5 have gone to 3 male-female co-author teams
1 has gone to a two-woman co-author team
1 has gone to a female author writing under a male pseudonym
1 has gone to a two-man co-author team
Printz Award
Out of 11 Printz Gold Medals:
6 have gone to six women
5 have gone to five men
Out of 41 Printz honors:
23 honor medals have gone to 22 women
17 honor medals have gone to 15 men
1 honor medal has gone to an anthology with poems by authors of both sexes (female editor)
Printz combined summary, out of 52 awards total:
29 medals have gone to 28 women
22 medals have gone to 20 men
1 medal has gone to an anthology with poems by authors of both sexes (female editor)

Blizzard Reading

Josie Leavitt - December 28, 2010

Well, we may have missed the brunt of the Northeast blizzard in my neck of northern Vermont, but that hasn’t stopped the wind from howling and making the outside seem somewhat inhospitable. One of my favorite winter activities is hunkering down with a hot beverage, a fleece blanket, a dog warming my feet and a glorious book about other people surviving winter.
I just happened to have a wonderful new galley in my stack that fit the bill perfectly. Trapped by Michael Northrup is a rousing, suspenseful tale of seven high school students stuck at school during a freakish, week-long blizzard. At first the kids think it’s all going to be okay and are certain rescue will happen in the morning. But when it becomes painfully apparent that rescue is a long way off the kids must make it on their own, so this odd group of students — two girls, three boys who are already friends and two outsiders — must figure out how to weather the storm. As the snow piled high above the first-floor windows of the Tattawa High School and the students lost power, the wind here whistled and snuggled my dog a little closer. One of the things I liked the best about this book was there was no sugarcoating of the dire situation, or that suddenly all the kids got along great. It all felt real.
There is real pleasure in a reading a book about survival against the elements when there’s a real storm raging. I’m not sure what causes that, but it sure is fun. My next book is Waves by Susan Casey because I’m having a hard time warming up.
What do you like to read when the winter weather keeps you home?

Christmas Round-Up

Josie Leavitt - December 27, 2010

Now that the absolute crush of the holidays is behind me, I can reflect on the season. After 14 years of retail, I can honestly say, I have never seen a holiday season like 2010. I’m not sure what happened, but it was gangbusters. We did no advertising, aside from our street-side sign board (very effective at getting the “stocking stuffer” folks in) and our in-store newsletter, which we normally mail, but this year didn’t. We did have a coupon in the Socially Responsible Business directory/coupon book, but other than that, nothing. And the customers streamed in, from the moment we opened, an hour earlier than normal, until well past closing.
I think our holiday season can best described by one of our staffers who used to be a nurse. “Christmas at the bookstore is a lot like when I worked at a mental hospital: you’re always trying to stay two steps ahead of the patients.” In our case we don’t have patients, but customers who don’t have a lot of time and need recommendations for lots of people. And while you’re helping one person you’re scanning the store to see who else might be needing your help. It’s exhausting, but it’s fun.
I am grateful to all the holiday shoppers who continually said that they wanted to shop local. We even had folks who only wanted to Christmas shop in Shelburne! Now, that’s keeping local. We had a spate of store and restaurants close this fall and I think people understood the importance of their local store and just how much each establishment means to the town.
This year we had our Snowflake giving program as usual. Each snowflake (we had about 40) strewn about the store represented a child who would otherwise not get a book for Christmas. On Christmas Eve one of the women who distributed the books came in to shop and told me, through happy tears, how much the books meant to the families. She said every mom told her the books meant so more much than the toys. Now, that just makes  a bookseller’s year.

For Laughs and Inspiration

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 23, 2010

A sprinkling of treats to enliven your day:
1) Christoph Niemann’s Abstract City blog post, Let it Dough, from the New York Times, in which he explains the world—through cookie dough, natch.
2) A particularly wonderful flash-mob Christmas song in a crowded mall.
3) Our fabulous Candlewick sales rep, Deb Woodward, shared this sugar plum of a discovery. It’s an actor impersonating legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog reading children’s books and philosophizing about their hidden existential explorations and psychological subtexts. They’re very funny:
Curious George
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Where’s Waldo?
4) Sir Ian McKellan visits a class of extraordinary ordinary children, is moved by their performance of a selection from Hamlet, and shares his love of Shakespeare with them. I also found this inspiring video of their teacher, Rafe Esquith (Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, etc.), talking about how to help kids develop honor and focus in a distracted, often dishonorable world. And — if you go to YouTube and search for the Hobart Shakespeareans, you will find a wealth of great videos showing these kids in action. It’s so fantastic to see fifth-graders performing Shakespeare, understanding what they’re saying, and expressing it with passion and commitment. Love!
5) This just in from Mediabistro via The Huffington Post: It’s worth visiting Twitter for a new meme called #BookstoreBingo, in which booksellers and customers tweet funny things overheard in bookstores.
@AaronsBooks: #bookstorebingo “I’m looking for a book tha’s about *this* big, and has something to do with a Christmas tree, don’t know author or title”
@ThrillDetective: #bookstorebingo (Mother to daughter, holding up copy of Hugo’s Les Miserables): “Look, honey, now there’s even a book!”
@bookmonger: Where’s your section on books about twirling fire? #bookstorebingo
edparnell “I want Mein Kampf” “Who is it by?” “Hitler” “Hitler who?” “Adolf Hitler. You don’t know him?” “I can’t know every writer” #BookstoreBingo
rockcitybooks Best OH yesterday: a mom praising e-books to her 18 y.o.-ish daughter; daughter protests: “But I *love* the feel of paper!” #bookstorebingo
@Brilliant_Books: #bookstorebingo. Overheard: “I forgot what a great selection of books they have here”. Makes it all worthwhile. 🙂
Got any literary laughs or inspirations you’d like to share?
Here’s wishing everyone plenty of these, as well as warm homes, simple pleasures, and cozy family read-alouds as we head toward the end of 2010 and into a brand new year. See you next week.

Our Cup Runneth Over

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 21, 2010

Dig my giant plush elf ears.

One thing we love about this season is the way it brings long-time customers back to the store: kids home from college, out-of-state customers in town to visit relatives, local folks who live closer to our old location and haven’t been in for a while, but make a point of doing their holiday shopping with us. It’s been old home week here at The Flying Pig, and that’s a blast. It makes me realize we’ve put down strong roots here for 14 years, and that soon, some of our early young readers are probably not too far away from bringing their own little ones to the store. The first time that happens will be a strange and wonderful moment, indeed.
This season also brings some utterly heartwarming surprises. On Friday, a customer—Carol, one of those particularly friendly, bookloving people we always love to see walk in the door—came in with a giant fruit basket that seemed to weigh more than she does.

She wrote a beautiful card thanking us for being here in town. It was the kindest, most thoughtful and unexpected gesture—and the delicious apples, pears, oranges, clementines, bananas, grapes, grapefruits (and even a melon!) sustained our numerous staff members over the long, busy weekend. (Note to booksellers: having grapes on hand turned out to be the best snack ever; a quick sugar burst that doesn’t make you crash later.)

We even got to see some of our favorite furry friends. One customer, Karlie, brought in her two border terriers, and I caught one (nine-year-old Pumpkin) browsing among the classics with the alert intensity common to all truly avid readers. She was probably looking for Jack London. I had to take a picture.

Note waggy tail.

A long day's Z-tape.

And finally, it must be said that we do love the hustle and bustle of the season, and what that does for the bottom line. So far, it’s been a terrific December. Not sure if people are feeling the sting of the economy a little less, or if they’re appreciating local business a little more, or if they are relishing the solid, tangible, beautiful, restful simplicity of the physical book (a simplicity, however, containing multitudes) in the face of our noisy, cluttered onscreen lives. Whatever the case, customers are certainly buying books, loving books, and giving books to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and loved ones. And that’s a pretty heartening endcap to a challenging year.

Mock Newbery

Josie Leavitt - December 20, 2010

Last week I wrote a Mock Caldecott post, so it’s only fair to have a Mock Newbery one, as well. This is always harder for me because, well, it just is. But I will soldier on and make some predictions. (Elizabeth also plans to post her Newbery and Caldecott thoughts soon.)
The winner is, or should be (in my opinion, of course): Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson. I think she should have won for Chains (or at least gotten an Honor). This series is outstanding and it’s historical fiction at its best.
The honorees:
The Keeper by Kathi Appelt
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Who do you think will win? What book is your favorite that you’d love to see win? As always, I’ll have a post-award post where I mention the person who got the most right – that person will get the coveted ShelfTalker Shout Out.

Mock Caldecotts

Josie Leavitt - December 17, 2010

I know all of us are crazy busy during the last week before Christmas, but that’s no reason to skip having a Mock Caldecott and Newbery.
This year’s Caldecott field is rich with many great books, some from previous winners, newbies to the Caldecott arena and a book or two that aren’t eligible because the illustrators don’t live in the USA.

I think Art and Max is a Medal contender.

This could be another Honor for Willems.

I think this could be the year Elisha Cooper finds himself with some Caldecott bling for Farm.

The Quiet Book is one the best books of the year, but I’m pretty sure it’s not eligible because the illustrator, Renata Liwska, lives in Canada. The rules for Caldecott eligibility are pretty clear, but I think it might be limiting to say that an illustrator whose American book cannot win the award if they’re not a resident of the USA. But is it fair that a book that is beloved by children, booksellers and parents not be eligible if the illustrator happens to live in Canada or France?

I feel the same way about The Chicken Thief, one of the most charming books of the year, but it can’t win because the illustrator lives in France.

Okay, I’m done lamenting. Here are a few more contenders:

Shark Vs. Train illustrated by Tom Lichtenfeld, written by Chris Barton

Country Road ABC by Arthur Geisert

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

Snook Alone illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, written by Marilyn Nelson

What do you think is in contention for the Caldecott? As always, I’ll try to do a round-up of who got the Medal and Honorees and announce the winner of our mock Caldecott, who’ll get a coveted ShelfTalker Shout Out after the awards is announced in January.

A Holiday Elf

Josie Leavitt - December 16, 2010

We’ve all heard of elves. Some of us believe in them, and others choose not to. I am a believer. While I’ve never actually seen an elf, I know they are real because every December, something wonderful happens at the store. I leave and go home and when I come back in the morning whole areas of the store have been transformed. Almost nightly. It’s weird.
I come in every morning and I have to take a long look around to see what magic the elf has done during the night. Recently, one morning I came in and the entire front part of the store had been rearranged. Not just a little bit changed, but a lot, like every single shelf of our three sections for gift ideas and stocking stuffers. I have to admit something, I know the elf. Her name is Elizabeth and I’m blessed to have her as my partner at the store.
You see, we’re total opposites: I get to work at 8:30 every day during the holidays and she comes in later, staying well past midnight making it look great. All elves need space to work, and wholesale rearranging cannot happen during the day. Recently, we got a huge shipment of stocking stuffer doodads. As I received them, I kept wondering where all these things were going to go. I looked around the already full store and just scratched my head and took some aspirin.

I came in the next morning and voila! Beauty had not only won out, but now all these lovely impulse buys were clearly visible and easy to reach. Silly things like light-up duck, cow and sheep pens sell quite well in a rural state. It’s amazing what folks will buy if they can actually see it. This might be the one lesson I take away from all of this: if folks can’t see it, especially the smaller, non-book items, they’re not going to buy them. The amount of work it took to set these displays up is actually a little mind-boggling. First, the old display had to move (how it’s all been incorporated into the store is a mystery to me) and then everything had to get placed. But it’s not that simple, because as anyone whose set up a display knows, it’s seldom right the first time, or third.

One of the things elves do well is sense what might sell well. On the left, there are plates with a man’s face and a woman’s face on them, and they’re designed to have the diners playing with their food. At first I thought, seriously? Plates with faces? Well, they’ve been out a sum total of two days and we’re almost out. People are buying them, not for their children, but for gifts for friends or for their own use at cocktail parties. Wow, smart elf — and she’s friendly. I’ve even got a picture to prove it.

I wonder what she’ll do tonight?

It’s Co-op Time

Josie Leavitt - December 14, 2010

As if the end of the year weren’t hectic enough, most publishers have December 31st deadlines for claiming co-op monies. The amount of co-op earned is a percent of the money spent with the publisher during the year. Stores get money for direct sales (right from the publisher) or indirectly (through distributors), and a separate “pool” for newsletters and events. It should be easy, right? But somehow getting the co-op claims ready at the end of the year just seems to suck the life blood out of me.
Publishers give us free money, but they make us work for it, and honestly, who could blame them for it? You want free money, you might have to fill out a paper or two. The problem arises when all the publishers have different policies and different forms. It’s like when I applied to college when every school had its own application, essay and other requirements. Now there’s the Common App, which can be submitted electronically. Oh, what a novel concept: all the different colleges working together to make it easier to apply to them. Oh, wouldn’t that be a lovely idea.  Just as we have Edelweiss, the online source for lots of publishers’ catalogs, why couldn’t we have one central place to get co-op forms and submit them electronically? But I digress.
Co-op deadlines are firm. If  a store doesn’t spend its earned money by the end of the year, they lose it, never to be seen again. There is no roll-over for co-op, so it’s imperative to get on the ball and spend the last of your money. I now have a part-time staffer whose only job is helping me get organized with my co-op claims. There are several things I’m learning from this experience.
First, I need to be better organized. One store I know has literally priced out every inch of their store, so when they feature a book  in the front window for a week, two weeks or three weeks, they have a pre-made form which they just fill out, take a picture and send it in. Oh, how easy is that? Much better than my last-minute scrambling to find my newspaper tear sheets and invoices.
Second, I need to claim every last bit of co-op I can. There’s no reason why I can’t ask for co-op from a publisher who has no established co-op policy. I’m learning that the old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” most definitely applies to co-op. You can’t know if you’ll get some money for an awesome event, especially if you’ve ordered a lot of books in support of the event.
And lastly, I’m going to be more pro-active and claim my co-op as it occurs, when I actually have events and special promotions, rather than waiting for the very end of the year. I’m busy enough this time of year that I’m actually get color-coded emails from my co-op person so I know what parts of the email to skip, because let’s face it, co-op talk can turn into a pretty dull dissertation pretty quick. But I need to get past the boredom and realize that credits on my monthly statements are lovely to discuss.

End of Year Advice

Josie Leavitt - December 13, 2010

As a counter point to a post from last week, Holiday Wish List, I’m adding my two cents for ways to make the end of the year go smoothly for booksellers and customers. .
– While most bookstores give their staff some kind of bonus (I hope), don’t forget to give your UPS/Fed-ex and mail carrier a little something at the end of the year, too. Without them we’d really have a hard time getting our books on the shelves. I usually give a gift card to the store as most of the delivery guys have children in their lives and it’s a nice way of making them customers and not just be the guys with the boxes.
– Self-published authors or new reps for sidelines should not come to any store in December and expect anyone to be able to talk to them about their book or product. This is our busiest time of the year and while you might think it would be a great time to sell your book, you should have thought about approaching your local store in October or November when staff would have been much more receptive.
– If the sales staff seems really rushed, it’s not you, it’s that the store is crowded and we’re trying to check in with all our customers. So be patient with us and try not to lose your sense of humor about total chaos.
– If you’d like to get your stack of  books wrapped, please be patient and plan other errands if you can, so you can come back and pick up your wrapped packages. Smaller stores need all their staff to help customers, N we don’t have dedicated wrappers, so that kind of flexibility is hugely valuable to us.
– If you know you’re in a hurry and know what books you’re looking for, try to call ahead and we’ll have your books ready and waiting for you.
– Just because you’ve been hearing about a certain “hot” book doesn’t mean your local store will automatically have it. Let’s just be honest, how many small independents can actually get their hands on The Autobiography of Mark Twain, when Amazon is out of stock on it?
– We’ve been giving our customers these yummy candies when they come to the counter. They’re from the Shelburne Country Store down the street from us, and they’re called Sugar Plums and they are a small dollop of heaven. It’s amazing how a small unexpected treat can really brighten a beleaguered shopper’s day.
– Lastly, Christmas should be about loving your friends and family. Gift-giving shouldn’t be so stressful that it’s not fun anymore. Let your friendly independent booksellers help put some of the joy back in shopping by hand-selecting books for everyone on your list.