Readersforum's Blog

January 25, 2012

The Awards by Publisher

By Elizabeth Bluemle

The awards are out! Seventy-one American Library Association Youth Media awards and twenty-eight Sydney Taylor Book awards by the Association of Jewish Libraries were announced within the past week. Combined with last fall’s National Book Awards for Young People’s Literature, that makes a grand total of 104 awards and honors for children’s books, audiobooks, visual media, and adult books with crossover teen appeal.

We’re celebrating the wonderful winners, and doing that happy/sad dance you do while appreciating those and shedding a few tears for some of our favorites that didn’t get a nod. With a field as rich in talent as ours, the books that don’t get awards can truly take your breath away. Last year, author Kate Messner wrote a poem for children’s book writers and illustrators, a comforting read if you didn’t win (and a lagniappe if you did).

Since the full award lists are readily available online (ALA Youth Media Awards here and AJL Sydney Taylor Book Awards here and the National Book Awards for YPL here, I like to present the results for my colleagues in the bookselling and publishing worlds a little differently.

Last year, I looked at the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards by gender — and I suspect folks will be discussing that topic some more, given this year’s numbers (nine men, three women for those three awards, which includes a clean male sweep for the Caldecotts), and also at the 2011 awards by publisher. I’m repeating the latter breakdown for this year’s awards, because I like to take a look at these things and think it will interest you folks, too.

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October 27, 2011

Publishers: Want to Improve Sales?

By Elizabeth Bluemle

I can’t stand it another second: one too many hideous book jackets has entered my life and I don’t understand why. Recognizing an unsellable jacket is not rocket science—or perhaps that’s just true for anyone who works in retail bookselling. When my colleagues and I gather at various conferences and share books we love, we are almost always in universal agreement about which covers are fantastic (or at least passable) and which ones will never, ever voluntarily be picked up by a child or teen (not to mention parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians).

When a bad cover comes in on a book we love, we must resort to all kinds of games to bypass a customer’s automatic rejection. We booktalk it before actually revealing the cover, shielding it with our hands like something radioactive or hiding it in the middle of a stack of contenders. Once the time comes that we must finally show the book to the reader, we are forced to reassure kids that the story inside is fantastic; I’d like for someone from the art and marketing departments to come to the store and just once attempt to overcome the dubious, disgusted, and/or glazed looks on the faces of kids totally turned off by bad covers.

What makes for a bad cover? Any number of things, I’m afraid, from misleading graphics that don’t match a book’s content to amateurish artwork to unfortunate character depictions (for some reason, illustrated close-ups of faces staring out at the viewer almost always are a turn-off for kids; if someone can think of exceptions, chime in; I can’t think of any). Obviously, book cover budgets vary, but it seems like shooting oneself in the foot to pay for mediocre art or design and then expect a book that doesn’t have much marketing support to begin with to sell itself with a crummy jacket.

Another turn-off is the same-old same-old design style. If readers can’t tell one book from another, they are going to skip over them without something distinctive to catch their eye. I understand that it’s a branding/marketing strategy to signal “This is a romantic fantasy!” or “This is a paranormal romance!” by using certain visual tropes that have become, not to put too fine a point on it, lazy and hackneyed. But the problem is, readers have overdosed on these images; they blur together in a mish-mosh of torrid satin and pale (yes, always white) skin. For the love of god, please, enough with the photographs of models in gowns, models’ half-faces, models in gowns lying among leaves or running through forests, or standing on windswept sands by the sea. No one can tell these books apart, and the doll-girls never look like the characters in the books.

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October 2, 2011

The Kindle Question

    By Elizabeth Bluemle

With Wednesday’s announcement of Amazon’s reply to the iPad, the new Kindle Fire e-reader, my Facebook feed filled up with people’s excitement about the new device. Many of these folks were authors whose books we adore and support and sell in our store, and I realized that even they—people immersed in the industry, whose livelihoods depend on book sales—aren’t aware that almost all other e-readers, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook, DO allow freedom of vendor choice. Many folks just don’t know that they can get an e-reader that isn’t locked to a single supplier. Booksellers, we’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out.

I posted the following update to my personal Facebook page and the Flying Pig’s:

“Before you succumb to the Kindle Fire or other Kindles, please consider that Amazon cuts all other vendors out of the picture, including the indie booksellers who are trying to support your books. Other e-readers allow books to be purchased from a variety of sources, and with agency pricing across so many publishers, the cost is often the same.”

I was glad I did, because there were some questions right away:

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August 18, 2011

Better Book Titles: Rename Your Favorite Classics

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:25 am

By Elizabeth Bluemle

You know how sometimes, you’ll have a funny thought about a book, summarizing its literary or popular appeal or its overarching message in a single witty phrase? No? Well, Dan Wilbur, a stand-up comic and writer, is brilliant at this. His blog, Better Book Titles, is, as he describes it, “for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!” I’ve been meaning to share this great blog with you all, because at its funniest, it is laugh-out-loud, wickedly clever.

What Wilbur does is Photoshop real book jackets, replacing each title with a sly, humorously revised title that does one of several amusing things: more


August 7, 2011

Apostrophes Don’t Mean, “Here Comes an S!”

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 5:55 am


  By Elizabeth Bluemle

Okay, people, I can’t stand it any longer. Something’s got to give, and please let it not be my overloaded brain. One of the problems with the ubiquity of the Internet is that it exponentially speeds up the transmission of errors, especially spelling mistakes, grammatical misuse, punctuation ignorance and abuse. Clearly, these socially transmitted diseases are on the rise, and it’s up to us book people and pedants to start spreading prophylactics among the masses before it’s too late. Because — and here’s my main beef relevant to ShelfTalker’s concerns — the STDs are starting to show up in edited publications, books and online articles and ads, indicating that even the copyeditors who are supposed to be trained specialists in these matters are starting to slide down the slippery slope of popular adoption.

Far too many novels for children these days contain uncorrected mistakes like “Me and her went to the store;” “I just wanted to lay down and cry;” “Between you and I;” “He told her and I that….” There are a few exceptions, I suppose. I do concede that “It’s me” rests more easily on the ear than “It is I,” especially when the character saying it is 10 years old. But I don’t buy the argument that dialogue won’t sound believably kid-like if it’s actually grammatically correct. Read any book by Natalie Babbitt or E.B. White or Norton Juster, and you’ll be reassured that good grammar wielded well is invisible and takes a back seat to story and character every single time. Whereas I can’t even finish an easy reader in which a talking animal says “I’m taller than her.” more

August 6, 2011

Tomie dePaola: Wilder Award Winner and Grand Poobah of Brunch

By Elizabeth Bluemle

It was everything you’d hope for from the home of an artist like Tomie dePaola: a bright, clean, beautiful, whimsical space, chock-full of colorful artwork and icons and tchotchke. A home populated with meaningful items yet somehow uncluttered, utterly restful to the eye. The group of bookish folks who had gathered there for brunch took in the artful home and the magnificent lawn and landscaping, and murmured to one another, “I think we’re living wrong.” We threatened to set up permanent camp—and that was even before we’d tasted the scrumptious brunch.

We were in New Hampshire to celebrate the latest feather in the talented Tomie’s multiply bedecked cap: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which, in the words of the sponsoring American Library Association, “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” Only 18 children’s book authors and illustrators have won this prestigious lifetime achievement medal since its inception in 1954.

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March 23, 2011

The Bricks-and-Mortar Bookstore: Last Bastion of Privacy?

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 4:16 pm

Image by B. Tal

By Elizabeth Bluemle

I have a friend — let’s call her “me” — who recently became interested in an unconventional topic. (Lest your curiosity lead you in bizarre directions, let me assure you that no weapons dealing or illegal activity of any kind were involved.) In researching books I might want to read, I quickly realized how little privacy is left to the modern-day consumer.

                                                                                                                                               …read more

March 15, 2011

The Romance of a Real Book

Elizabeth Bluemle

There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters where Michael Caine’s character initiates flirtation (okay, yes, with his sister-in-law; not the point here) with a book of poetry. It’s an intimate gift, it’s a risk, it’s personal. It’s romantic. He urges her to read the poem on page 112, e.e. cummings’ poem with the famous lines, “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” It moves her and seduces her.

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January 15, 2011

ALA Youth Media Awards: Which Publishers Are Celebrating?

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:27 am

Elizabeth Bluemle

Every year, I’m interested in how the big children’s book awards sort out by publisher, but I usually don’t do the breakdown. This blog gives me a great excuse to do that, and I’m hoping some of you share my curiosity.

It was terrific—and rare—to see the two oldest awards, Newbery and Caldecott, to be swept by debut books!…read more

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