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F&Gs for Winter July 22, 2014

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I noticed a few trends as I went through the stack of F&Gs–an increasing number are written in first person or present tense, which I find interesting–and in the process found a set that all deal with winter or the seasons in a variety of different ways.
Blizzard by John Rocco
blizzardBased on the author/illustrator’s memories of a big snowstorm of his childhood, a family works together to stay warm and fed in the midst of snowdrifts that block the doors and make walking to the store impossible. When food runs short, it is up to the young narrator (who knows all about arctic survival) to create makeshift snowshoes and venture out for supplies. This is the perfect adventure story without being too scary and the one fold-open spread of the neighborhood under snow is fantastic. A great choice for a read-aloud.
Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston, illust. by Jim LaMarche
winterYoung naturalists and artists will be jealous of the narrator of this picture book, who has her own treehouse hideout from which she can observe all the animals of the forest. She watches each species looking for food as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop. Her specific, detailed notes will inspire other young scientists while the beautiful colored pencil spreads (and the sketches the narrator makes) will prompt other young artists to try their own.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illus. by August Hall
forestThis poetic text follows the creatures of a forest through all four season, paired with luminous illustrations by August Hall. From budding leaves to burrowing insects, this forest has seen it all and encourages the reader to “Listen. Look.” Lots of information is included in the simple sentences, making this a great book to use in science lessons or as a classroom read aloud. I could see asking students to choose a spread and annotate it with their own scientific explanations of photosynthesis, hibernation or decomposition. A great mix of story and information for young readers.

Fall F&Gs July 10, 2014

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It’s been awhile since I went through the stacks of F&Gs (that’s ‘fold and gather’, the bookseller term for a picture book that hasn’t been published yet) at the store. Here are some titles I’m looking forward to seeing (and selling) this fall.
blueBlue on Blue by Dianne White, illus. by Beth Krommes
A great read aloud about a summer storm with beautiful scratchboard illustrations from Beth Krommes, who won the Caldecott for The House in the Night. Set on a country farm near the water, short rhyming sentences and fun details of animals and plants will make this a new favorite. Teachers may want to use with Come on Rain by Karen Hesse or Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle to compare thunderstorms in the city with those in the country.
I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster
Perfect for Halloween (or anytime, really) is this sweet story about a little girl and her mother. The narrator (who always appears in a black cat outfit) is sure that her mother is a witch. Doesn’t she have strange potion bottles in the bathroom and magic to stop hurts? The illustrations are photographs of mixed-media settings along the same lines as the books I highlighted in this post. Young artists will be inspired to create their own similar settings for their own stories and read this one again and again to look at the magical details.
Draw! by Raul Colon
Colon is one of the most well-known illustrators in children’s lit, with hundreds of unique titles to his credit. We’ve been seeing many more children’s illustrators creating books about their own evolution as artists (Allan Say, Lois Ehlert) and Colon creates a beautiful tribute here to the power of imagination and the inspiration of the natural world. He depicts himself as a child reading books about africa and then through smaller panels, shows how he imagines himself getting up close and personal with elephants, zebras and hippos. He even invites one of the primates to draw a portrait of him! This is a lovely wordless book to add to your collection and hand to aspiring artists or naturalists.
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
This title reminded me of nothing so much as The Wizard of Oz, probably because of evocative grey backgrounds. The farmer is working on his land when a circus train passes by and something–someone?–falls off. What will he do? This is perhaps the simplest but most touching picture book I’ve seen so far this year and the final spot illustration is just perfect. This is a book that will put a smile on your face every single time you read it. Beautiful!

Bookstore Bakes #1: November Cakes! November 30, 2013

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Possibly the only way to make a great book even better is to add good friends and delicious food. Some of my co-workers at the bookstore (Hooray for Books! which is located at 1555 King St. in Old Town Alexandria) came over a few weeks ago so we could make November cakes, a food from the book The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Not everyone had read the book, but we were all game to try a recipe that involved orange extract and caramel. So a new blog series was born: Bookstore Bakes! We shall attempt to make this a semi-regular event and meet up to make recipes from books we have read. Here are some photos of how things turned out this time:

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Wrapping Books is Fun December 10, 2012

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It is December, which means I get to wrap books! This is hands down my favorite thing about working retail during the holidays (that, and getting to recommend far more books than usual!). Books are such nice things to wrap–they each have a mostly regular shape; you can stack them easily and tie them together. At Imagination Station, the store where I worked in high school, we had very exact methods for wrapping a book and tying a curly ribbon to make a gorgeous bow. Here are some old photos I took back then that show part of the process. Isn’t that row of ribbon beautiful?

Shelf of ribbon

Wrapping the book

Securing the paper

Taping the ends

Finished bow

Obama and Independent Bookstores November 25, 2012

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As an employee of an independent bookstore who regularly hears the line “Wow…I’m amazed you’re still here…” I was thrilled to see a video on The Washington Post website today of the Obamas doing some Christmas shopping at fellow independent store One More Page Books in Arlington. While clearly I think people should shop at independent businesses all year round, I can’t deny that the holidays are an important time to encourage it even more.

Visit One More Page or Hooray For Books, where I work on King Street for a fantastic selection of books for all ages and even more importantly, expert advice and recommendations on what to give as holiday gifts. A huge thank you to President Obama and his daughters for their support!

F&G Goodness August 29, 2012

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This is the counter at the store, where Kristen and I have been going through a new box of F&Gs–bookseller-speak for ‘Folds and Gathers.’ These are picture books that haven’t been published yet, review copies sent from the publisher to entice us into ordering the finished books.

We go through the stack slowly, our comments ranging from “Cute!” to “Well, that was pretty bad” to “Pretty pictures, boring story.” One question we both had was “Is it just us or are all picture books about hats specifically about red hats?” A couple  of books that stuck out to me:

Again by Emily Gravett

Gravett is known as an illustrator who incorporates flaps and cutouts and collage pieces into her books.  Her characters also tend to have huge amounts of energy, which can sometimes lead to destruction. Occasionally it seems as if her stories are taking over the book as a physical object, in the best kind of way. Here, a little dragon asks for a story before going to bed. His mother obliges, but similar to David Ezra Keat’s Interrupting Chicken, bedtime doesn’t quite go as planned, since the dragon keeps demanding “Again!” If you turn the book over, there is a little clue about how it all will end.

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

I think I first became familiar with Halperin’s work through her illustrations for Cynthia Rylant’s Cobble Street Cousins series. In my mind, I group her style of drawing with Tasha Tudor and Barbara Cooney–calm and filled with thoughtful, beautiful details. This book is no exception. Halperin guides the reader through an attitude almost more than a story; a way to live life mindfully, aware of the connections between people and places around the world. Only when we realize that peace in our world depends on peace in our cities, neighborhoods, schools, homes and hearts, will we be able to create it for ourselves and others. Each spread gives the reader a glimpse into various locations and families around the world, criss-crossed with quotes about peace from well-known and obscure world figures. I could see this being a calm, thoughtful read-aloud and also a book that kids could pick up on their own to find all the tiny details. Lovely.

Read-Alikes: I Capture the Castle July 17, 2012

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The YA Book Club at the bookstore where I work discussed I Capture the Castle, a classic by Dodie Smith at last month’s meeting.  If this romantic English tale is a favorite of yours as well, here are some other new and new-ish YA books you might enjoy.

Regency Romances

Many fans of I Capture the Castle are also fans of Jane Austen, and Austen is actually referenced by the characters several times. Although the book is set in the 1930’s, in some ways the story about love vs. money echoes Regency themes and preoccupations. So this first section of read-alikes is all Regency Romances of one kind or another.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindle

This new romance is narrated by Althea, who knows that she must marry a rich man in order to save her family’s falling-down castle. To that end, she tries her best to attract the local Baron, while avoiding his argumentative cousin Mr. Frederick. Fans of Pride and Prejudice will be able to guess who she ends up with!

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevener

A novel told through the letters of Kate, enjoying her first Season in London and her cousin Cecy back home in the country, in a Regency England where magic is a part of everyday life. Balls, suitors and picnics are mixed with wizards, sorcerers and spells.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

How often have you heard the words ‘post-apocalyptic’ and ‘Jane Austen’s Persuasion’ in the same sentence? Peterfreund has transplanted Austen’s final novel to a future where the world is run by ‘Luddites’ who eschew technology and run estates worked by ‘Posts’. Elliot North is a Luddite but her best friend Kai, back after four years away, is a Post. Will they be able to reconcile after years away from each other?

1930’s Adventures

Of course, I Capture the Castle is really set between the World Wars. The following are books set during that time period, some historical and some that take a few liberties with history.

A Brief History of Montmaray & The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

These two intriguing books are the journals of Sophie FitzOsborne, who lives with the rest of her royal family in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray. In the first book, the kingdom is attacked by fighter planes and in the second book, the family is forced to flee to England. The year is 1936, Germany is a threat, and Sophie must balance her concerns for her home country with the usual trials of adolescence. A great alternative history of mid-century Europe.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This is not a romance, and it isn’t set in the 1930’s. Rather, it is an espionage and aviation adventure set during World War II. However, in a blog post, the author revealed that one of the books she used for research into the atmosphere and setting of mid-century England was I Capture the Castle. She loves the book, and recommends that if you do too, you should read…

A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller

This is a memoir by a woman who grew up in a castle in the Scottish highlands in the 1920’s and it is filled with lush details of rooms, gardens, meals and clothes, similar to I Capture the Castle. Perhaps Cassandra’s life would have been more like this if the family had actually had any money! This book is out of print, but easily available on ABE Books.

Keep an eye out for my review of our book club book this month, Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis.

Introducing Imagination Station September 3, 2011

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The main reason I love children’s books and know so much about them is because I worked for six years at this place:

Imagination Station existed for about 21 years in Arlington, Virginia. Family-owned and operated, it offered a fantastic selection of books for kids of all ages, as well as a very small section of adult bestsellers. This is the place where I re-discovered all the picture books I loved when I was little, where I read every single Betsy-Tacy book ever written and where I celebrated the book releases of Harry Potter 4, 5, and 6.

As an independent bookstore in a tiny suburban strip mall, it was a toss up each day as to whether we would get any customers. Consequently, my fellow bookstore workers and I spent a good chunk of time making up games, reading books that had been on the shelf for years and going through the drawers of book catalogues and free books from publishers.

You can just make out the purple cart in front of the window, which held all of our sale books jumbled together in no particular order. I spent a lot of time going through the cart and debating whether or not to get some obscure picture book or non-fiction selection for $4 but I usually held off, knowing that they probably wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.