Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best Books for Kids

Recently a customer came in to order a stack of books for his children. He lives far outside the city so isn't able to dash to the store or library whenever he wants a new book for his kids. He wanted to create a home library of excellent books for his two young children. So, he came in with a long list.

Where did he come up with the children's book titles on his list? How did he figure out which were "the best books" for children? He was smart. He consulted someone who knows. He came in carrying a tattered copy of Anita Silvey's excellent reference book, 100 Best Books for Children: A Parent's Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen.

Silvey arranges 100 Best Books for Children by age group. Each book listed comes with a short description. Silvey includes more than 100 good books, but stars her top 100.

Anita Silvey is a former children's publisher, Editor-in-Chief of The Horn Book Magazine, and is an expert on children's and young adult books.

Where her first book leaves off, her second book picks up. 500 Great Books for Teens is arranged thematically, which is perfect for teen readers. With categories ranging from "Adventure and Survival" to "Romance" to "Short Stories," there is something for everyone.

My only caveat is that it's important to use these books as a starting off point from which you build. 100 Best Books for Children was published in 2005 and 500 Great Books for Teens in 2006. Many excellent books for children have been published in the last several years. For the newest "Best Book" titles, you'll have to find additional sources for recommendations, such as a children's librarian or knowledgeable children's book seller.

When our customer came in with his copy of Silvey's book, he asked me to look through it and add my own recommendations. I highlighted the books I thought were wonderful and added some newer titles to the list. So, in the end, the books he bought started a diverse, and excellent, home library for his children.

And like I said before, reading the "Best of the Best" is wonderful. Every child should get that chance. But, don't be afraid to let a few "Less than Best" books in there too. No one was ever harmed by reading Captain Underpants. At least not that I know of:)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Newbery Prediction

Recently, I was at a conference with several children's authors. While visiting, we compared notes about recent good reads. Kurtis Scaletta, friend and author of MUDVILLE, commented on a book he thought should win this year's Newbery Award. The Newbery Award is the "big kahuna" for children's novelists.

Kurtis was so adamant about this book that I immediately went out and bought a copy (from Micawber's) and read it in two days. The book is WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead.

WHEN YOU REACH ME is a middle grade novel set in 1970's New York City. I would call the genre "realistic fiction with a twist." Stead, who grew up in New York City (and lives there still) knows what she's talking about. It is so real. It's like you are living right there with Miranda, the 6th grade protagonist.

I love puzzles and Stead provides a compelling one in WHEN YOU REACH ME. Through a series of mysterious notes, Miranda must solve a puzzle that may affect the life of more than one person.

If you enjoy intelligent writing that feels "spot on" with its characters and setting, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead.

Will it win the Newbery Award? I don't know. But I think it has a pretty good chance. At least Kurtis Scaletta feels strongly about it.

His best comment of the day was, "WHEN YOU REACH ME should win the Newbery. If I won the Newbery for MUDVILLE, I would almost want to tell them, "No. I can't accept it." I looked at him incredulously. He reiterated, "Almost."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Only A Witch Can Fly (in Fall)

Two days ago - Saturday, October 10 - it snowed! OK, there wasn't much snow, but it still counts as the first snowfall of the season.

On Saturday, we also had a great children's event at the store. Alison McGhee visited us and read several of her books.

Going with a Fall/Halloween theme, Alison read her newest picture book, ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY. The illustrations, done by Taeeun Yoo, are unique and beautiful. Taeeun did wood cuts for each spread and used paint in the colors of black, green and rust. The overall affect feels like Fall at dusk to me.

Alison wrote ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY as a sestina poem. A sestina is a very structured form of poetry consisting of six six-line stanzas and a tercet (three lines). The same six words ends the lines of the six-line stanzas but in different orders. Overall, it's a complicated poem structure to write. But Alison does it very well. In fact, you don't even realize you're reading a structured poem. (I didn't know until Alison told us.) The poem form lends itself well to the feel of the book, which is quiet yet anticipatory.

Alison also read another witchy book she wrote titled A VERY BRAVE WITCH. This fun, little book is great for young witches and warlocks. The witch girl is warned against humans! But she is brave and, in the end, all is well on Halloween night.

At Micawber's we have a display table of Fall/Halloween books. But, I fear this season is rather short in Minnesota. Today, as I write, it's snowing again. And this time there is actual accumulation! I'm sure (I hope) it will melt in the next week or so, but I have to say, I'm just not ready for winter yet. Fall can be such a nice season - in weather and books. Let's keep it going a bit longer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rochester Barnes & Noble

As an independent bookseller, I tend to avoid shopping at chain book stores like Barnes & Noble. Sometimes I'll go there to check out a particular section, but I go back to Micawber's - the independent bookstore where I work - to buy or order a book. But, this past weekend I saw the coolest Barnes & Noble in America and I had to share a photo with you.

The Barnes & Noble in Rochester, Minnesota is well worth a visit. It is situated in an old theater. Originally it was a live theater, then a movie theater with high domed ceilings. Then, a few years ago, some genius turned it into a unique, extremely cool B & N. This is not your run-of-the-mill, strip-mall type bookstore. With its high blue-sky ceiling, castle and medieval-like town buildings, and arches, it feels almost magical. The book arrangements and signage is typical B & N, but the overall feel is pretty amazing.

I was walking through the Rochester skyway on a rainy Friday, when BOOM, I entered this magical kingdom. I stopped in my tracks, took out my camera, and snapped some photos. The workers didn't seemed surprised. I bet they get a fair amount of that.

The overall affect was so surprising and delightful that it almost made me want to buy a book. Almost.