Monday, January 27, 2014

Sometimes Books Change You. Sometimes Those Are Award Books. Maybe You Should Check One Out.

Well, hullo! Let's start the usual way, shall we?

Three books I'm excited the kids section got in (I'm cheating a little on the last two weeks part of this):

1. Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
This book (one of last year's Morris finalists, for the record) reminded me of how awkward crushes are. That of-course-I-will-love-you-forever sort of crushes are the worst. But I loved every second of it, even when I was cringing about how uncomfortably real it was.

2. No Bears by Meg McKinlay
I saw this book and fell instantly in love. I might just really like books with kids who are staunchly against something. I mean, there are a lot of bears in kids books. What's up with the bears? Also, the clear exasperation of the bear delights me.

3. Aphrodite by George O'Connor
This is such an awesome series of graphic novels about the Greek gods. They're smart and well done. Kids seem to love them which is even cooler.

Every once in a while a book comes along and sort of changes you without you realizing it. I know, this might be the most sentimental sounding nonsense I've ever written here, but it's true (and if you don't like it you might want to stop because the whole post is going to be like this). You can read a book and love it and obsess over it but it doesn't necessarily change anything for you. You have a new appreciation for books or writing or what words can do but it doesn't mean that something in your life has changed.

I know this, I am incredibly prone to obsessions. Some of them have made an impact on me (I, like the masses, admit that Harry Potter has had a great impact on my life) and others have been a really crazy obsession for a few years and then might fade away a little. I still like the books but I don't see things differently.

Harry Potter is so large and how it has influenced me has been so noticeable, to myself and to people who've known me a long time. But there are other books, quieter ones, that not everyone has heard of that just seem to alter some part of you in a potentially subtle way.

An important one of these for me was John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back. In this book a 17 year old boy's brother goes missing in this tiny town in Arkansas. At the same time a supposedly extinct woodpecker may have made an appearance in the same town. This is a carefully wrought and plotted book. It has such a wonderful way of showing how interconnected everything is and how things that change your entire life might not have any bearing on the world outside of yourself.

And that's exactly how this book has changed me. I have sisters and things have happened that have left me wondering what would happen if something did happen to one of them. That's normal (I think). But it's always been fairly short-term, the immediate aftermath of whatever tragedy. This book made me stop and think about the long-term. What would life really be like after that? Months after it happened, when other people have been able to put it out of their minds. How would I pick up the pieces after something like that? There's one passage in particular that hit me really hard (I won't tell you which one).

After that I started getting along a lot better with one of my sisters. I can't say it was only the book but I can say that it was part of it, probably a big part. I didn't notice right away. When I did notice I thought about it and had the same sort pang that the book gave me.

I ran around for ages afterward (I still kind of am) practically throwing it at people. I remember meeting someone who had read it and them saying something along the lines of "Oh, someone who actually liked that one." I was startled, I didn't just like it and how could they not (I was especially startled when I found out they had siblings)? Other people I know have loved it. I've even had more than one tell me if I was 17 and a boy I would be its protagonist, Cullen Witter (I have mixed feelings about that, though I lean toward delighted).

Some books are just like that. They don't come crashing into your life they slip in and alter you in some little way that changes how you see something. But they don't do that for everyone (which I kind of think makes them that much more awesome because it's like a book written for you) and it might be a book you never expected. Where Things Come Back isn't generally the kind of book I'd normally pick up but I heard good things about it so I sought it out. Then it won both the Printz and the Morris awards in 2012.

Which is why I wanted to talk about it now. This morning the Morris, Printz, Caldecott, Newbery (and a whole ton of other) winners will be announced (it started at 8 so I'm not sure how far they've gotten by now). I recommend checking at least one of them out (and not just the Caldecott even though it will be the easiest). Maybe you'll like it, maybe it will find some way to change you. Maybe you won't like it (last year's Printz winner, In Darkness, was interesting but I wasn't really a huge fan), if that's the case you can at least say you read a book with a medal if someone asks (some people put a lot of stock in these things).

At least give one 100 pages (the odds are good the Caldecott won't be that long so that one doesn't count, but you should still read that one too. It won't take very long).

Check one of them out, or even one of the past winners (Looking For Alaska won the Printz, for the record). Some of them might be hard to get a hold of for a little while which will give you some time to think about which one sounds the coolest. There will be three kids booksellers running around who will be able to tell you something about, at least, a couple of them.

Anyway, stop reading my rant and go check out the winners (they'll be here).


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

March events? Already?

Here's a preview of our March schedule, and I'm really excited. I did a little dance in the Booksmith break room and alarmed a few of my co-workers, so I'm taking it to the Internet where I use words and consciously abstain from exclamation points.

  • Michio Kaku, March 5.  I'm secretly in love with science (please do not tell my father, he wanted me to study biology and I staunchly refused in my not-so-rebellious youth) and Michio Kaku is one of my favorite scientists.  In addition to being an engaging speaker, he was on The Science of Doctor Who special talking about the viability of time travel and that made me adore him even more. Tickets are on sale February 3, and if you can't manage to get to the store, visit
  • Andrew Knapp and Momo, March 6. I am openly a dog lover.  There is a picture on the Booksmith Instagram of a dog kissing my face, of which I feel no shame.  I admit that I take any and all opportunities to pet dogs, their owners standing to the side to wait for the end of our love-fest and my boss standing to the side waiting for me to go back to work.  Well, Momo gives me the opportunity to work and pet a dog.  Visit to see this adorable border collie hiding Where's Waldo-like in various locales, and visit us on March 6 to meet Momo. 
  • Austin Kleon, March 17. The man behind Steal Like An Artist visits with his latest, Show Your Work.  People love him for all sorts of reasons, and I love him for Newspaper Blackout, which had me laughing, crying, and then buying a pack of Sharpies and a few newspapers to see what I could create myself. 
There are so many more events on our calendar (the brilliant Helen Oyeyemi on 3/8, local Jeremy Bushnell on 3/11, Yarn Harlot Stephanie Pearl-McPhee on 3/12, and MORE) so I expect to see you waiting at the door at 9am on February 1st, pounding on the door and rabid for the release of our March event calendar...

...or you could check our website some time in February to see what our March events look like, or pick up the calendar when you visit us like you usually do, or read our whiteboard to see what's up ahead, or look at the author posters board and our event window, or visit  The powers that be ask me to ask you to abstain from door pounding, so in exchange I will give a hearty high five if you ask. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


It's a day to remember,

a day to ask questions,

even if the answers aren't always simple.

It's a day to hope.

It's a day for regret,

but at its core,

it's a day to celebrate.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which Amy is Potentially Controversial

Back to the lists!
So here are my three books I am excited we got into the section.

1. Birthright by Cate Tiernan
I am sort of in love with this author. And even if this plot sounds less crazy and different than her last books I expect to be plenty surprised and impressed by how she handles it.

2. The Hunted (Spirit Animals book 2) by Maggie Stiefvater
A. It's Maggie Stiefvater. And her writing has such a distinctive feel I'm interested to see how she writes a book that fits into a series with other authors.
B. The first book in this series reminded me a little of Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic books.

3. Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson
Kadir Nelson's illustrations make just about any book worth looking at.

I'm not an academic reader and I never have been. This was always a big problem for me in school. Teachers prefer you to read books in certain ways. I understand that and I always understood that they were trying to make me see things that I might not have noticed on my own. I love that. One of the things I miss about not being in school is reading books that I might not have ordinarily chosen.

But I just couldn't read how they wanted me to. I am so much more drawn to how real characters are or if the book manages to capture an emotion that I think will appeal to people. I want a plot that I find well developed or a world that I think is well designed. I think even one of these things done well can make a book.

For a lot of teachers that's not enough. They don't care how you felt about the text and I think that's a mistake because I think you're reacting to something. And sometimes I think it's easier to look at what you react to and see why you react that way. Often that will lead you to a particular theory (even if you don't realize that's what it is) without someone telling you that the book you're reading is a commentary.

I've always been a big proponent of reader response because I don't actually think it's possible to remove yourself from a text so every theory is, in a sense, reader response. You are responding with a theory you are drawn to or a theory you are told to look for, that's not necessarily something that is in the text. I always felt like teachers were forcing a theory on me. I didn't want that, didn't want someone to tell me what lens to view a book through. I should get to decide that. We can talk about it afterward but my opinion shouldn't be discounted because I don't like deconstruction.

I don't mean to bash literary theory, it's useful for discussion, but I don't think that because we don't like it we aren't reading properly or closely enough. I think it just comes down to reading an analyzing text in a different way. They're two different ways to express your thoughts on a book and often you're saying the same thing.

One way might sound more official but that doesn't make the other way wrong. I think it's important to maybe help readers translate their feelings about a book into something technical rather than just telling them that they aren't trying hard enough or aren't looking closely enough.

Just because you might not read the way a teacher wants you to doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. I think people give up on reading after being told something like that. It's so much more important to read what you love and then see why it is you love it.

Now, I'm not saying don't read for school. You'll find a lot of really fantastic books you never thought you would like. Just read it and try to find one thing about it that you are drawn to and then you have something to talk or write about when you need it.

You don't have to read a specific way to read. I'm just glad you're all reading.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Top 10 observations on our top 25 kids' books of 2013

For those who prefer their lists in words, Booksmith's top 25 kids' and young adult bestsellers for 2013 were:

1. The Lighting Thief
2. The Hunger Games
3. The Fault in Our Stars
4. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
5. Divergent
6. Make Way for Ducklings
7. The Book Thief
8. Wonder
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 9: Hard Luck
10. Good Night Boston
11. The House of Hades
12. Hello Boston
13. The One & Only Ivan
14. Looking for Alaska
15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (board book)
16. The Day the Crayons Quit
17. Zolocolor
18. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Sight
19. Mockingjay
20. Good Night Gorilla (board book)
21. Ivy & Bean (book one)
22. A Big Guy Took My Ball
23. Anna Hibiscus (book one)
24. Let’s Go for a Drive
25. Goodnight Moon (board book)

A few observations:

Bostonians have a lot of hometown pride, and visitors to Boston are pretty proud, too. (Good Night Boston doesn't beat Goodnight Moon just anywhere.)

Local schools have a lot of sway around here. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory attained its high position largely because of a school order, and a lot of the (best) titles on the list were helped along by the Brookline Schools' summer reading program. I'm looking at you, Anna Hibiscus, Wonder, and The One and Only Ivan.

Speaking of Anna Hibiscus, handselling is powerful. Many of us love this charming, funny chapter book about a girl in "Africa, amazing Africa," and we recommend it to fans of Clementine and Ivy + Bean. It's nice to know that a book can be a bestseller here even if it's not necessarily a bestseller nationally.

Our bestsellers aren't dominated by any age group or genre. There are stories here of bullying, of demigods, of fights to the death on fictional reality TV, of ducks who find homes and of crayons who quit.

Our customers know that a book doesn't have to be shiny-new to be worth reading. They also know that if Jeff Kinney or Rick Riordan writes a new book, it's time to run, not walk, to the bookstore.

Movies are good for books, at least from a sales perspective. (I'll leave the debate on the artistic value of movie adaptations to you.) Popular new books are good for an author's old books. (Looking for Alaska has sold better, both here and nationally, since the success of The Fault in Our Stars and of John Green's online platform than it did when it came our or when it won the Printz.)

Elephant and Piggie will eventually take over the world.

Adults have discovered YA in a big way. Heck, they've even discovered intermediate fiction. At least a few of the Wonder purchases were for adult book clubs, and I hear it's been a citywide read in some places.

Still, our number-one seller, kids' or YA, was the first book in an intermediate series that's wildly popular with kids and has a fairly small adult readership. Amazing as it is to see adults discover our section, it's also nice to see that the kids' section is still about kids.

You have good taste, Brookline.

Happy 2014.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Jamie's "Resolutions"

While I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions as I break them immediately, I'm making a few of my own this year that I promise to keep.

1. Continue with my occasional habit of reading so far into the night that I fall asleep with a book on my face and wake up at 4am with the lights on
2. Continue using receipts, pay stubs, and financial documents as bookmarks so when tax time comes around I can cobble together my finances by recalling which book I was reading and when
3. Continue gathering books on my nightstand like a fiend, as my tottering and ever fluctuating bedside pile is a great place to remember where I put my iPad super safely
4. Continue using other books to weigh down the book I'm reading while I'm eating breakfast and another book to prop it up slightly
5. Continue purchasing giant over-sized books and bookshelves to house the giant over-sized books I acquired and then smaller books to fill in the shelves the over-sized books cannot fit in

and most importantly:

6. Continue being unaware of my somewhat questionable habits and blissfully read into 2014

Happy New Year!