Monday, June 29, 2015

Alex Is Reading...BOOK

I already had the idea for this post in my head when a new book came in. (Today, it came in. Good timing.) It's called Book. Written by David Miles and illustrated by Natalie Hoopes, it's a lovely collage, a love letter to the paper book. (It doesn't care much for electronics, so if you have too soft a soft spot for your e-reader, it might hit you where you're vulnerable.) It's also the newest addition to what I think is a genuinely lovely and not often named genre of books that let art come--literally--alive.

When I was working on my last post, Christopher Myers's My Pen started me thinking about books that carry their characters into whole, physical worlds built out of their or other people's creativity. The popular Quest and Journey books by Aaron Becker are perfect examples, where a girl's crayon is her key to exploring a vast, vibrant, beautifully painted world. In Robert Sabuda's (typically!) fantastic pop-up The Dragon and the Knight, knight and dragon chase each other through not only the fairy tales they come from but the physical pages of the books those fairy tales are in.

For middle-grade readers, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story is the cornerstone of a tradition wherein child characters walk straight into the stories they are reading--Cornelia Funke's Inkheart books and Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories series are two well-loved instances.(Incidentally, Chris Colfer will be signing copies of the fourth book in this series at the Booksmith on July 9th!) In young adult, Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar provides catharsis to its teenage protagonists through the act of writing their truths. Jasper Fforde's adult mystery/fantasy Thursday Next series is an irrepressibly self-referential epic traipse through the lives of characters who know they are characters, moving from book to book and pun to pun at a hectic pace.

A central conviction behind fiction writing is that good stories are real in their consequences, in their emotional impact, in the images and lives that they conjure in our heads when we read and write and tell them. It's always about creating something out of the thin air of our imaginations and having it stick, as if it were as solid as we are. So the characters who get to walk, really and truly, into their art and their books are very particularly about us.

Lots of characters get to do things we can't, but these characters get to do the thing that is one step beyond us. They are doing the thing that we always feel is just past our fingertips--solidifying the flights of their imaginations into worlds that will hold up under their feet. It's throwing metaphor out in front of them and finding continents, skies, seas, and every living thing, there to really breathe and touch. It's the moment in The Magician's Nephew where Aslan starts singing, and Narnia happens out of a dark expanse of not-yet-imagined. What a wonderful thing that is! It's no wonder there are lots of stories about it.

And it's no wonder that picture books are an incredible medium for stories like this. Art is all about taking a blank world, paper or canvas or screen, and filling it with life. Imagination is the realm of people who haven't forgotten to use it--especially children. Last week we read Harold and the Purple Crayon in storytime, and I was struck by it in a new way. When I was little, nothing about that book worried me. I understood that each piece of Harold's adventure would safely lead to the next, because Harold had his crayon and his wits, and that was all it took. (I also really liked the part about pie.)

As an adult, I still have faith in Harold, but for the first time I find it a little eerie--because there is nothing in either the pictures or the words of that book, aside from Harold's hand and his mind, that he hasn't created himself. There is no point at which he walks out the front door. He knows he has a bedroom, but it exists because he draws it at the end. That's incredible! Many stories have characters falling into books or starting in our world, but Crockett Johnson didn't need any of that. All he needed was a little boy with a simple tool and a mind that made things real, and the whole world grew up around him. It grew up with such strength that all it took was a few purple lines, and we never questioned where it started or where it ended. We just believed that it was real.

That's taking joy in what stories are, and what they can do.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Amy Went to BEA!


The last weekend in May I had the privilege of attending BEA (for those of you who don't stalk follow the publishing world, BEA stands for Book Expo America and is the big book conference in the US). It was an amazing experience. It was also a very crowded one.

I went into the experience with the plan to make the most of it. I printed schedules and maps for each day. I color-coded them. Then before I could even use them they were destroyed in a freak water-based incident.

I don't like to talk about it.

Anyway, I was up late the night before because I procrastinate and for me packing is an event - a terrible game of possibilities.

That's what happens AFTER I make a list.

That's how I ended up in a train station at 5AM with forty five minutes of sleep and a large, very orange suitcase.

But we got there with lots of coffee and I got to see some amazing things.

I went to some cool panels that usually went like this:

I even got to give Jory John my business card. Jory John has a business card with Stick Figure Amy on it. The very idea is madness.

As member of the ABA (American Booksellers Association) I was allowed to attend some really amazing events. I saw Moïra Fowley-Doyle (whose debut The Accident Season is out later this year and is amazing), Nicola Yoon (same with the later this year and brilliance for her debut Everything Everything). And at one of these events I even had the privilege of meeting Jacqueline Woodson. Then poor Jon Klassen. I say "poor Jon Klassen" because I pretty much swooned at him.

Then on Friday I went to the Children's Breakfast and saw Oliver Jeffers, Rainbow Rowell, Nathan Lane, and James Patterson speak. Oliver Jeffers drew pictures as he spoke and if I wasn't already madly in love I was definitely a goner by that point. 

There was an author speed dating and I saw (if I recall) 16 authors in rapid succession for six minutes at a time. Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri were wonderful. Adam Silvera is utterly charming. Gitty Daneshvari is hysterical. My brain pretty much exploded.

At tea I got to sit with Leigh Bardugo who recognized me from the internet.

And she's just an amazing person.
Also, Six of Crows is beyond brilliant. Read it when it comes out.

Then there was Scott Westerfeld.

And one of my packing fear came true when I spilled tea on my dress. 
And one of the weirdest things of the conference was just seeing these amazing authors walking around and trying not to freak out.

I leaned down to fix my shoe and:
I was so surprised I started choking and had to flee the scene.

It felt impossible. Like some alternate world. I couldn't possibly be in the same building as these people. 

I ended up in a room with Libba Bray after getting elbowed in the head trying to get in line for her signing (I abandoned the line at that point) and I totally panicked. I knew she'd just been signing for almost two hours and so when I saw her I couldn't think of anything better than to thrust the book at her and say: "I have an awkward and unfortunate question, will you sign this?"

Which is how this happened:

The whole experience was amazing.

I feel like, for the sake of my job and the possibility of going again I need to point out that I did see a couple of our sales reps and took notes on panels and signings that were well attended and the big buzz books this year. 

I did so many more things than I had the chance to stick figure (and some stick figures I started but couldn't finish or had to cut short). I couldn't manage to cohesively put together a short strip about seeing the Merry Sisters of Fate (Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff) all together. Or hearing Leigh Bardugo defend a woman's right to wear whatever she wanted to someone who wanted to shame cosplayers. Or even getting a free evening to sit in Bryant park and unwind a little and get some writing of my own done.

Or just the sheer amount of coffee involved in the whole experience.

And I went to BookCon that weekend too and got to watch Marissa Meyer and Leigh Bardugo play Truth or Dare and Margaret Stohl on a Women in Marvel panel for Black Widow: Forever Red (which is also really good).

The whole five days were amazing. Exhausting and sometimes overwhelming but just amazing.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Alex Is Reading...Picture Books With Characters of Color!

 Interior art from ONE FAMILY.

This one's not apropos of any single book I'm reading this week, but instead is a short answer to one very frequent customer request: PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHARACTERS WHO ARE NOT WHITE. There is plenty of wonderful stuff out there that fits this bill, but it can be hard to find, especially when all you can see is the skinny spines on our (very) full shelves. For next time you're in, here is a list of books from the classic to the shiny and new.

16 Picture Books with Main Characters of Color
The New Small Person by Lauren Child--Not all new siblings are welcome...ESPECIALLY NOT THIS ONE. Absolutely delightful book about how to turn unwanted family additions into your closest friends and allies.

Keats's Neighborhood by Ezra Jack Keats--This volume collects twelve classic picture books by Ezra Jack Keats, showing the everyday lives of young children (usually Black) living in the city.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams--It's a colorful, heartful classic that I really can't recommend enough. A working class family suffers setbacks but, ever loving, manage to save the money to buy a beautiful easy chair for their hard-working mother.

The Rain Stomper by Addie Boswell, illustrated by Eric Velasquez--Jazmin the baton twirler is disappointed when the parade is rained out, but she starts a parade of her own, joyfully stomping the rain in time to the thunder. The whole neighborhood joins in.

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin--A simple, delicious book about a family out for dim sum.

Stone Soup by John J. Muth--The traditional story of sneakily getting a stingy community to share their way into a delicious meal for everyone, as carried out by Buddhist monks. Gorgeous watercolors and a great readaloud text.

My Pen by Christopher Myers--This lovely book about the freedom and power of imagination rides along on Myers's intricate ink drawings, and is based on his experiences as a young black artist.

Float by Daniel Miyares--Float came out this month, and it's a beautiful, contemplative addition to the library of picture books about imagination. Like My Pen, it features a young child who follows their creativity through adventures of their own making. 

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and Julie Cairns--A bright and rhythmic counting book filled with Maasai characters, wild animals, and counting in Swahili.

Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat--What is NOT to like about a book where a young girl scientist makes a killer robot that has psychic power over dogs? Caldecott winner Santat's illustrations are delightful, and there's a surprise under the dust jacket...

 Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson--A little boy and his grandmother travel farther and farther outside the "nice" parts of town, but the nicest things are waiting for them at the end of their story.

Bigmama's by Donald Crews--When the family heads down to Bigmama's for the summer, it's a joyful, loving celebration of family and good times.

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers--The award-winning picture book story of ballerina  Misty Copeland, illustrated with vibrant pantings by Myers.

Mimi and Ling and Tariq and Mika by Annalien Wehrmeijer, illustrated by Deborah Van de Liejgraaf--This series of board books features children around the world with their pets. It also features in-book finger puppets of those pets, so little readers can play along.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Rachel Isadora--A dynamic retelling of the fairytale that moves the story to Africa, with Isadora's trademark style.

5 Ensemble Picture Books with Characters of Color 
These books feature broader ideas more than they do stories, and part of their broadness is in their inclusion of racial, ethnic, gender, age and family diversity.

10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

 One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanch Gomez

Love Always Everywhere by Sarah Massini

Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

We usually have these books on our shelves, and you can follow the links to find them online. (And do you have favorite picture books featuring characters of color? Let other people know in the comments!)

Happy reading!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Alex Is Reading....BOOKS FULL OF PRIDE!!

Woo hoo! It's the first day of June! That means two things. One: it is now allowed to be hot and humid and sun-boilingly summery outside. (Hence, it is raining and cold.)

Two: it is PRIDE MONTH. The Booksmith will be celebrating Pride Month with a lovely display of selected LGBT+ titles from around the store--but there are a few (a lot!) of good books that are just not going to fit. 

You don't want to miss any of the good stuff! So here is a guide to great LGBT+ titles for kids and young adults that you can find on our shelves (or in our online store) every day.

~*~*~*~SO MANY GOOD LGBT+ BOOKS~*~*~*~
for kids and young adults


Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall - Red says "red" on the wrapper, but he always seems to come out How is he supposed to be happy when everyone expects him to be something he's not? If this story seems like it might be about a transgender crayon, that's because it totally is. (And yes, it also carries a universal message of being true to yourself.)

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Laura Cornell - The picture book classic is back in print with all new bright, lush, kid-friendly watercolor illustrations. You can also find Newman's books Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me in the board book section.

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer - It's bring your mother to school day, but Stella has two fathers. What will she do? BRING THEM INSTEAD!

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole - The last of our picture books about same-sex parents, featuring world famous penguins. We don't have to talk about gay parenting via penguins anymore, but this book is still sweet as anything and lovely to look at.

Jacob's New Dress by Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case - A gender nonconforming little boy celebrates the wonders of his beautiful wardrobe.

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas -Famous real-life transgender girl Jazz Jennings shares her life with young readers.


Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle - Two autobiographical novels about a small-town gay boy who ran away to the big city to fulfill his Broadway dreams.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky - Sixth-grader Grayson doesn't feel like the boy everyone thinks she is--but she's smart enough to know that people won't be happy when they find out. She decides, despite her fears, to try out for the female lead in the class play. This may prove once and for all who she can trust and who she can't, but it will also prove that Grayson can stay true to herself no matter what.

And be on the lookout in August for George by Alex Gino. George, too, wants to show her colors on the stage as part of coming out in real life, but her voice and her story are all her own.


Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke - (Nonfiction) Everyone starts figuring things out somewhere, and there is no rule that says you can't have help. 

Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill - (Nonfiction) You might think that the small town of Okay, Oklahoma is not the best place for a teenager to come out as a trans girl. And you would be right. But Katie Rain Hill did it anyway. Now she's a trans rights activist, a college student, and the author of this candid, charming memoir, chock full of personality and personal truth.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli - OH. MY. GOSH. THIS. BOOK. It's a little about blackmail and quite a bit about coming out (WITHOUT IT BEING A DISASTER!!!), a lot about friendship, and SO MUCH about being a big old high school nerd who likes theatre and Doctor Who and falls in glorious, goofy, miraculous love with a boy you (maybe) haven't even met.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - A plane full of pageant contestants crashes on a not-so-deserted island and takes on the patriarchy. Among the survivors: at least one lesbian, and the most fabulous trans girl of all time. Acerbic, meta, and weird as heck.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg - Sometimes you get tired of being The Gay Kid, so when you move to a new school, you come out as...straight. The question is, how's the payoff? Is it better to have the (not always very awesome) spotlight on you, or to hide a crucial part of who you are all the time, in front of everybody? 

(Also check out Konigsberg's new book, The Porcupine of Truth, which involves missing relatives, dying deadbeat dads, paper porkers that determine your destiny, and a new best friend who is, alas, a very cool lesbian recently rendered homeless by a not so accepting family.)

There are so many more! Anything by David Levithan, and Amy will certainly recommend you Jandy Nelson's award-winning I'll Give You the Sun--new stuff comes out all the time and we're happy to share it with you.

From all over the Booksmith, happy June and happy reading!