Monday, August 29, 2016

Bear Pond Books: A Bookstore of Consequence ~ by Christy Mihaly

Bear Pond Books~Montpelier, Vermont
For too long, I confess, I took my town's independent bookseller for granted. Then one chilly evening I attended an event sponsored by Montpelier's beloved locally owned bookstore, Bear Pond Books. Author M.T. Anderson read to a sold-out house from his YA book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, and a talented string quartet played a passionate and moving selection of the music of Shostakovich. There were delightful refreshments and an enthusiastic music- and book-loving crowd. Wow! Not bad for the wilds of Vermont. 
Jane Knight, on location at Bear Pond Books

The brilliant person who conceived of and organized this multi-media event was Jane Knight. I tracked her down at Bear Pond Books, where she presides over the children's books section, to chat about favorite books, programming for kids and educators, and what this great independent book store does. Jane has worked at Bear Pond since 1995, and she's still filled with excitement every time she discovers a new book or author to fall in love with.

Q: Jane, one of the things that impresses me is how you seem to have read, and formed opinions about, all the most recent children's books at all levels, and I know I can count on you to recommend a great book for every reader. When you were a child, what was one of your favorite books?

One of Jane's childhood favorites
Jane Knight: I still have it on my shelf today -- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl.  Each story in the book was fascinating to me in a dark, vaguely sinister, totally intriguing way. I remembering sitting in front of a candle flame, trying to hone my second sight after reading Henry Sugar. I am impatient and it never paid off for me, but I still believe the story to be true.

Q: What's your view of the role of independent bookstores in general, and Bear Pond in particular?
JK: Indie bookstores have come a long way from the initial e-commerce onslaught about 10 or 12 years ago, when Amazon drove its book prices down so low the rest of us had to find other ways to be competitive and inspire customer loyalty. I believe the reason Bear Pond was able to hold on through some dark days was because we did not have many other bookstores in the area, and many of our customers came to realize the symbiotic relationship between their spending habits and a healthy downtown. 
Downstairs at Bear Pond Books
But we have had a lot of “educating” to do--and I don’t mean that in a condescending way--to help our customers understand the benefits of an actual brick and mortar bookstore in their community. We offer more than just books--we are your local hub of culture and information. We can bring authors to you. We are the place where you can actually open and touch a book. We answer the phones and we are available to talk to in person. We bake, we smile, we look you in the eye. I believe many people still want that kind of service.

Q: Kids love spending time in Bear Pond's Children's Room, with its comfy reading nooks and resident mascot, Veruca the Russian tortoise. How does this space fit into the local children's reading scene?
VERUCA on patrol
JK: The Children’s Room is inextricably bound with other literacy groups in our area. It is a symbiotic relationship--we are constantly striving to strengthen one another through cross-programming and promotion. Also, I have made wonderful librarian, teacher and parent friends through our book fairs and book giveaways. The Vermont College of Fine Arts is also a fabulous resource and our partner-in-crime in Montpelier. They hire really talented writers and help keep the pulse of this community jumping with excitement through their programs and events. Really, the more tangled web we weave, the stronger we all become together-- I guess that’s my philosophy to promoting literacy.

Q: Tell me about the Educators' Series you present at Bear Pond Books.
Jane shares her book wisdom at an educators' event
JK: Bear Pond’s Educator Series is about to embark on its fourth season. We host these events in the fall and spring of each school year. The goal is to offer thoughtful, diverse voices on literacy in the classroom for Vermont educators. We strive to help make book connections related to the material presented, especially new and kid-friendly titles. We also support educators by blogging about our events with supplemental material and book lists. Our presenters are authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians, literacy specialists, poets . . . anyone speaking to literacy issues that kids and teachers face in school and at home. There may very well be other bookstores doing something similar out there, but I can’t name any. Maybe your readers know of them!

Q: You're on the committee for the state's Dorothy Canfield Fisher book award. Your committee lists 30 books, and then each year Vermont students read the books and vote on the winner from that list. How much time do you spend reading children's literature?
JK: Can I LOL here? In order to come up with that wonderful Dorothy Canfield Fisher list of 30 middle grade books each school year we read dozens and dozens of books throughout the year. So. It’s KidLit TV 24/7 and I don’t regret one minute of it. It helps me in my job in so many ways.

Q: How do you decide which books to order? 
A: For me, ordering children’s books is informed mostly by experience and bookstore personality, aided by my incredibly hard-working book reps and my intuition. It’s alchemy, really.

Q: What would you tell parents about their kids' reading?
JK: For the love of all that is good, let your kids read what they want! If it’s Pokemon, let them read it. If it’s racy or violent, let them read it. If it’s above their so-called grade or maturity level, let them read it! If it’s Percy Jackson for the umpteenth time, let them reread it!! And also, read in front of your children, and not just on your phone or your iPad. Model the reading lifestyle for your kids. There’s a wonderful interview with Neil Gaiman about kids and self-censorship that should be required reading for all parents. Sorry--- rant over!
The dedicated staff of bibliophiles at Bear Pond Books
 . . .  So, dear readers, have you checked out what's happening at your local indie bookstore? We'd love to see your comments and ideas for bookstore programming, and for more ways to encourage kids to read. Thanks, and happy back-to-school and reading.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pete's Dragon created a picture book

Pete's Dragon Created a Picture Book

We are all about books here at Group Blog.
But please allow me to  interrupt our book 
love to talk about a children's movie.

It is Pete’s Dragon, an August 2016 release, by
an independent creator, bankrolled by
the Disney Folks.

I wasn't going to see it, but I'm glad I went to the theater
for it. Here are a few thoughts, why.

I left the moving wanting to climb a particular tree.

A key part of the plot is that a child reads &
 rereads & rereads….
a specific picture book that is very important to him
 in a touching way.

Legends & myths are some of my favorite literary tropes.
This one has a whopper.

Respect for imagination, forests & loyalty that is deserving
is to be appreciated.

The child actor, Oakes Fegley, is exceptional.

So, too are the special effects to make the facial
expressions of Elliott (the dragon) seem real.

It’s cool to see Robert Redford,  comfortable in his good-lookin’ older guy skin as a
storyteller. All the key actors are quite spiffy in their roles.

A nest of green pixie dust should be delivered to the creative maker, David Lowrey. Bravo!

So, go!

This is the news story that made me go see it. I guess I'm a sucker for the underdog.

This is the picture book, which the movie brought into being.

Those of you who are cinema history buffs will want me to add that this movie

is a remake of a 1977 movie. I didn't see that earlier one & wasn't aware of it
until the story about this new version came out.

Which family movies were part of
your summer? I also loved seeing The BFG,
riffing off Roald Dahl's
wonderful story.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Force Be With You (and Your Book Marketing) ~ by Patricia Toht

I like to gather ideas and brainstorm. I like first drafts. I even like revising. But the thought of marketing?
But authors are discovering ways to combine efforts to maximize the force of marketing. A new group, MGGetsReal, unites its members in marketing their books, which all share a common thread of tackling tough topics.

Before we talk about this power in numbers, let's meet #MGGetsReal member, Shannon Hitchcock:
Shannon's novel, RUBY LEE & ME, is the story of 12-year-old Sarah Beth Willis who has moved in with her grandparents after her sister's tragic accident. Sarah and her neighbor, Ruby Lee, will be in sixth grade together. But racial tensions are high in Shady Creek in the fall of 1969; Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black. Race relations and personal guilt about her sister's accident could make for a rough year for Sarah...

Q: Hi Shannon! RUBY LEE & ME is loosely based on your childhood. Which parts of your youth did you draw upon for Sarah Beth, and which parts did you alter or make up?

A: The true part is the emotions. When Sarah Beth said she had always loved her sister, but before the accident she didn't know how much - that's exactly how I felt. [Shannon's sister Robin died tragically in a car crash when only 34.]
When Sarah Beth feels guilty about race relations in her town, I had those same feelings. When writing historical fiction, I have a motto to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I made up characters and embellished what really happened.

July 20, 1969
Q: What additional research did you need to do for RUBY LEE & ME?

A: Not an awful lot because this is based on a time period I actually lived through. Mostly I was fact-checking my memories, but I did read quite a bit about the first moonwalk.

Q: A reviewer on Goodreads applauds you for "...[weaving] fictional fact and factual fiction." What challenges did you find in weaving fact and fiction together?

A: My editor had to push me to make the racial issues more prominent. I was really uncomfortable when Sarah called Ruby a hateful name, but I think it sends an important message. Kids often get angry and call each other names without fully realizing how much words matter. There is a scene later in the book when Sarah finds out just how much hatred is behind the racial slur she uttered.

Q: There's been a call for more diverse books for children. Did this weigh heavily on you while writing, or did you find it inspiring?

To support We Need Diverse Books,
click here.
A: It weighed heavily on me, but if we're not writing books that matter, then it's a waste of time. I knew some white people would be offended I was dredging up the past. I also knew there would be African-Americans who might feel I didn't go far enough.

Q: How did it feel to get a Booklist starred review?

A: I cried! My first novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, garnered positive reviews, but no stars, so this was a special honor.

Q: Let's talk marketing! You're part of #MGGetsReal. How did you find each other? And is there power in numbers?

A: Author Shannon Wiersbitzky [who has written a book about Alzheimer's] emailed me about a group marketing effort and asked if I knew other writers that might be interested in participating. I suggested Kerry O'Malley Cerra, who has written a book about 9/11 and Joyce Moyer Hostetter, who has written a book about war trauma. Joyce recommended Kathleen Burkinshaw, who has a brand new book about Hiroshima. What we all have in common is that we've written about tough topics in a way appropriate for a middle grade audience. 

YES! There is power in group marketing!

• Shannon Wiersbitzky is the architect behind the whole thing. Without her #MGGetsReal wouldn't even exist. She made really cool group ads for Twitter.

• Joyce Hostetter and her daughter made a video about our books:

• Kerry O'Malley Cerra compiled a comprehensive list of middle grade books that tackle tough topics. Find all 164 books here.

• Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote for the NCTE blog, hosting a giveaway of all five books that will run through the end of August.

• The contribution that I am most proud of is my post for the Nerdy Book Club.

Thanks for joining us, Shannon. WOW! There truly is power in numbers. Best of luck to you and the #MGGetsReal group.

If you fear marketing, GROG readers, consider joining forces with fellow authors to share the load!

For more information on Shannon, visit her website and blog here.

Or follow Shannon on Twitter, @ShannonHitchcock.