Saturday, December 27, 2008

Got the Post Eggplant-Parm-and-Wrapping-Paper-Clean-Up Blues?

'Twas the weekend after Christmas, and all goodies had been found, especially the pie. The leftovers were Tupperwared with care, in hopes a belly could be hungry again. The stray strips of wrapping paper were all snug in recycling bins, with memories of their discovered secrets dancing in their heads...

In addition to taking serious (seriously bad) liberties with Clement C. Moore's genius, we are continuing the holiday cheer with a sale: 50% off all Christmas and Hanukkah themed toys, gift wrap, and ornaments, 30% off all Christmas and Hanukkah books.

If you're undecided how to use your George gift certificate, there are new items coming in all the time. MerryMakers has new plush in the form of stylish, spunky graphic novel star Babymouse, (whose newest adventure comes out in January, yes!), and Ezra Jack Keats's Peter of The Snowy Day. Our book buyer, Donna, has said of this squishy, be-snowsuited Peter, "this is the cutest thing I've seen in a long, long time." And Donna does not lie.

Brain Noodles--giant (about 18 inches long!), soft pipecleaners in assorted colors and styles--are super fun and popular. Each pack comes with a booklet of ideas, and you can go online for even more project suggestions. Unlike some old-school styles of thin pipe-cleaners, these don't have any unfortunate pokey ends, making them safe for crafty types from preschool age on up.

For Narnia fans, HarperCollins brings us Boxen, a gorgeous collection of Animal-Land tales written by C.S. Lewis and his brother, W.H. Lewis, in their youth. This is the first collection to include all of the Boxen stories, including some previously unpublished. Illustrations and handwritten pages by the authors make this a true gem for avid collectors and fantasy fans alike.

Laurie Rosenwald
's all the wrong people have self esteem: an inappropriate book for young ladies (or, frankly anybody else) treads the precarious/hilarious territory between Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Tanen's Appetite for Detention, Emily Strange, and Don Hertzfeldt...and probably many other awesome things I just don't know about. It's hilarious, it's off-beat, it's collage art, and despite what it tries to tell you, it's actually good for you. I find myself having trouble pegging it to an age, reader type, or genre; therefore, you should just peruse it yourself and form your own opinion!

In the realm of pictures books (more commonly known as the street level floor), Amnesty International has put out We Are All Born Free, an illustrated declaration of human rights with contributions from various artists, including Peter Sis, John Burningham, and Chris Riddell. Each spread is literally, sometimes painfully (a "tortured" rag doll for Article 5) and sometimes sweetly (Burningham's children of the world playing in a park for Article 3), rendered, making the abstract accessible for the elementary crowd.

Many of our staffers are excited about the 35th anniversary edition of Marlo Thomas & Friends Free to Be...You and Me, full of classic, stereotype-breaking favorites like "William's Doll" and "Boy Meets Girl." It also features new artwork, putting Tony DiTerlizzi and Peter Sis (he's everywhere!) beside Arnold Lobel and Henry Cole. And, of course, it comes with the CD, worthy of many repeats. I love how many people coming into the store look up at the Hut in astonishment, saying "I remember this!".

For a slightly older audience, Nikki Giovanni edited Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, a diverse collection of poetry, song, and artwork with such contributors as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mos Def, Aesop Rock and Walter Dean Myers. The topics range from identity and family to school and first love, with accompanying illustrations in various mediums by a handful of artists, such as Kristen Balouch and Damian Ward. The audio CD included has some incredible selections, ranging from Brooks's "we real cool" to Queen Latifah's "Ladies First," culminating in Martin Luther King, Jr's speech "I Have a Dream."

We are waiting for the return of some of the New York Times Best Illustrated; sadly, Wabi Sabi and River of Words are still out of stock at the publisher, and Pale Male looks close to it as well. At least it shows the well-deserved attention these books are getting!
How to Talk to Girls, an advice book from Alec Greven, 9 years old, is experiencing the same kind of popularity: we can hardly stock it fast enough, and the publisher already has to reprint. Follow-ups slated for 2009 include How to Talk to Moms and How to Talk to Dads, must-haves for the social connoisseur.

If none of these are exactly to your taste, just ask in store for more specific suggestions!

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's about that time, innit?

You have to admit, we've been keeping the Neil Gaiman love pretty well contained lately. But between the animated ad for the Coraline movie on the Red Line and the news that two new Gaiman picture books will be out in a few months, well... the fangirliness is welling up again.

Blueberry Girl, a lullabye written for Neil's good friend Tori Amos and her baby girl, and illustrated by fantasy author/artist Charles Vess, will be published in March. (If you're picturing Violet Beauregard, rest easy -- this Blueberry Girl is much sweeter and a lot less blue.)

Crazy Hair
, Mr. G's latest collaboration with Dave McKean, is a poem inspired by Neil's own "extremely unlikely hair" and will come out in May. From the sneak peek we've gotten, we can tell you it's crazy good -- but what else would you expect from the partnership that produced the awesomeness of Coraline, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, Mirrormask, and more?

To get you through until these new adventures come out, pick up a paperback or hardcover movie tie-in edition of Coraline and get ready for the February 6th film release. While you're in the chapter book room, try chatting up the staffer at the counter about all things Neil -- you can always come to us (read: me) for a Gaiman geekfest!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Scieszka Sells...

We're in the midst of the last flurry of holiday shopping, and boy is it exciting! Everyone seems flushed with the pressure and thrill of the last-minute inspiration, though that may also be the heat wave (40 degrees! Sweltering!). My favorite part is the Harvard Square business camaraderie--having the Harvard Book Store send us customers looking for Harriet the Spy, and I bet The Games People Play loved us, once we sold out of Operation. Three cheers for independents and the Miracle on 34th Street-style Christmas spirit!

For the young and old alike anxious for the telltale clatter of hooves on the roof, you can follow the jolly man's progress at Norad Tracks Santa, an interactive world map with videos and photos of Santa's stops. Our book buyer Donna has the website going in our chapter book room so we can exclaim to customers, "He's in Dudinka, Russia RIGHT NOW!"

We'll be closing today at 5 pm, so make sure you get everything you need by then! If there are any problems, we can take back Christmas presents with receipt until the 31st of January.

And of course, have a very joyous holiday, however you celebrate it!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Hours, version 2.0

From this Thursday, the 18th, through Tuesday the 23rd we will be open every day from 10 am to 8 pm, so you can get that last minute calendar/Tin Tin collection/stocking stuffer you need. Next Wednesday, Christmas Eve, we will close at 5 pm, and reopen Friday at normal hours, 10-7.

Happy shopping, and keep safe through this upcoming blizzard!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stress-less Book Shopping

Holiday shopping is a daunting experience, what with crowded stores, other customers loaded down with huge bags, bad weather, and aching feet. But add anxiety over buying the perfect gift for your twelve-year-old daughter's bookish friend, and "daunting" can become "disastrous." Reading taste is so personal that it's often difficult to choose a gift for a book lover -- especially one you don't know well.

For you nervous children's book shoppers, we'd like to recommend Terri Schmitz's enormously helpful (for both book buyers and booksellers) essay "'Tell the Lady What You Like': Shopping for Children's Books," which was first published in the March/April 1997 edition of (what else?) The Horn Book Magazine and is now available on their website. The highlights:

- "Take your time." It's difficult during the holiday season, when everything seems to feel even more hectic than usual, but set aside a fair amount of time for a bookstore visit. It helps to think about what questions you have for the bookseller -- and what questions she may have for you! -- before you come in, as well. A CG staffer may ask you whether the person you're shopping for might prefer fantasy or realism, a male or female protagonist, photographs or illustration, classic or contemporary. Keep in mind that as little as you may know the person you're shopping for, we don't know them at all! We're happy to work with you to help you find a great gift, but we do ask that you give yourself lots of time before and during your visit.

- "Trust yourself." Especially when you're shopping for your own child, you probably have a lot more information about the recipient's book taste at your disposal than you think you do. You also know your child's individual reading level and developmental level. Make sure to tell us if your child is bored with early readers, or not yet sitting still for a chapter book read-aloud, or sick to tears of dog stories. These details will help us think of new possibilities to share with you.

- "Listen to your child." A child's reading level and emotional developmental level don't necessarily match up, or their social needs outweigh their academic needs at a specific moment. Don't worry if you think your child "should" be reading something "older" or more "literary" than what they've asked for. There's plenty of time for more serious reading -- and holiday gifts are supposed to be fun!

- "Step back." Particularly with older children, having a parent hovering nearby doesn't help the book selection process. While this is less of an issue with gift shopping, when the child in question is most likely not present (or may not be yours), when you are at the George with your kids, make sure you give them the time and space to select their own books. You can always weed their selections before coming to the register.

- "Relax." Really, it'll be okay. If you're feeling overwhelmed by book-buying, you can always get a gift receipt from us so your recipient can return their gift if necessary. We also offer gift certificates in any denomination you choose -- so if you have a bookworm on your list who seems to have read everything, give them a gift certificate and send 'em our way! We're sure to find something exciting they've never seen.

(Psst... Okay on the book front, but experiencing toy-buying anxiety? Get details on the safest toys out there at Healthy Toys, and check in with us online and in the store any time for recommendations!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hut Highlights

Whether you are struggling to find the perfect toy for the child (or, hey, adult) who seemingly has it all, or you like to keep up with all the new goodies your favorite manufacturers are dreaming up, here are some of our newest and finest.

The much-loved and ever-popular Melissa & Doug expands its magnetic dress-up doll line with Best Friends Forever, (ages 3+), which has four wooden dolls and (I kid you not) 51 stylish individual clothing items. Come check it out in our doll corner, alongside Mudpuppy's themed magnetic doll and scenes (City Girls, Ballerinas, Sporty Girls) and Madame Alexander's collector's dolls from Charlotte's Web, Winnie the Pooh, and Eloise.

Shure delivers gorgeous painted building blocks in its ArchiQuest sets (ages 5+), with historical themes like the Byzantine's Czars and Domes, China's Dragons and Pagodas, and Rome's Empires and Arches. Each set, consisting of 50-70 pieces, comes with a hardcover book with historical and cultural facts and tips for building designs. Find them in our building and transportation section with our Nuchi Tracks, Automoblox, and Sesame Street K'nex.

The Color Magic Sticker Play Book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Colorforms meets Taro Gomi's Doodle books: part finish-this-picture activity book, part resusable, geometric transparent stickers--all around learning fun about mixing colors. (Now, I'd just like to hear the folks who designed it repeat its name five times fast). This book's place of honor is currently on our new titles rack.

Since you can never have enough accessories, Jane O'Connor and HarperCollins have given us Fancy Nancy's Let's Get Fancy Together, a toteable "purse" of glamor tips and accoutrements, from butterfly hairclips and sparkly sunglasses to a King's Crown Pizza tiara and fabulous party invitations. This purse goes great with her latest book, Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words: From Accessories to Zany, for those times when "ordinary" will just not do! Harper has a video sneak peek of Nancy's purse. You can also scroll through for videos of Rob Scotton's Splat the Cat and [gasp!] Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, if you haven't checked it out yet (for shame!).

Little Miss Matched, a clothing and accessories brand that prides itself on its adorably, deliberately non-matching items, now makes Baby Kimonos. The colors are bright and the patterns bold on sets of pants and wraparound t-shirts. Ever since we put a pair up on display, we've gotten near-constant requests for them! Find them in the baby room with Best of Chums baby tees and Nine Red Balloons infant socks.

The chapter book room hosts many kinds of building and model sets, most notably from Lego, Bionicle, Goobi, and K'nex. Lego's Star Wars series (ages 8+) are frequently seen on our Curious George wish lists, as are the Bionicle Mistika figures. Bionicle sets in particular come in various sizes, for budgets of all sizes.

We also stock the latest in espionage equipage: Alex's Spy Scope and Motion Detector Alarm are surefire standbys for Bond-wannabes. For the commited Daniel Craig, Toysmith carries Spy Science: Secret Message Kit, (ages 8+) which includes a morse code handbook and flash, cipher wheel, and a message capsule (yes, like in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code!). This kit is intended for a pair of kids, so it's great for friends or siblings. Once they are masters of ciphers, they just may need Toysmith's Invisible Journal to record their secrets. The pen's invisible ink only shows up under the blacklight torch!

This is only a sampling of our new goodies, so check back regularly to see what we'll feature next!

Which Books Do You Think Are Essentials?

Alison Morris, author of the awesome Shelftalker children's bookseller blog, posed an interesting question just a few days ago -- what five books, in different age categories, should no self-respecting bookstore be without?

Every day this week she's posting her list for a different age group, and other booksellers and book readers are posting their top five in the comments section. Here's the first post -- check it out, leave a list of your own in our comments or Alison's, and you can even browse other folks' lists for holiday gift ideas!

Here are some chapter book picks from our fabulous book buyer, Donna (she wasn't able to keep to the five-book limit, but who can blame her?):
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (this year's fiction Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner)
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Holes by Louis Sachar
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Monday, December 1, 2008

On "reading to" and "reading together"

I've been thinking a lot about a recent conversation regarding Sam McBratney's collection One Voice, Please: Favorite Read-Aloud Stories.

While the general feeling about the anthology was overwhelmingly positive, a few people around the table had concerns. McBratney provides no source texts for the stories, merely explains that he spent several years "collecting stories that have been told down the ages" with no mention of where he read (or, more likely, heard) them. Granted, these are intended as read-aloud stories (probably bedtime stories), not intended as research for a doctoral thesis, but it is appropriate to give some indication of source. Even a little thing like "My maternal grandmother Flossie used to tell this story while she made her famous lasagna" would be nice -- these stories have been "told down the ages," right? Let's hear a little about the folks who told them.

Another problem is the generic setting in time and place; few cultural markers identify the stories as belonging to any particular group of people. This simultaneously makes the tales feel more universal and less personal. Strangely, some distiguishing characteristics remain, but with little context for them, their inclusion can confuse things. "Lost While Fishing," featuring the "Wise Men of Gotham," made me think of Bruce Wayne fishing with Comissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent (pre-acid burn, of course).

My reaction to One Voice, Please is emotional, not critical. Despite the impressive collection of stories, and the elegant way in which they are told, I've had a sort of "urgh!" feeling about the collection since we received it because of the title. "One voice"? Aren't these "favorite read-aloud stories"? To me, a crucial part of re-reading favorite stories aloud is the chance for "listeners" to also be "readers," even if they aren't technically reading yet. How many two- or three-year-olds can recite Goodnight Moon, or Click Clack Moo, or any favorite picture book along with mom, dad, grandma, or babysitter every time it's read to them?

There are other opportunities for multiple voices in read-aloud sessions, too. Many parents read to their young children in the store, and lots of these read-alouds are dialogues. Whether the parent directs the child to details in the artwork to share the meaning of the story more fully, or the child coaches the parent on the appropriate tenor of a troll voice, or the child asks the inevitable "And then what happens?," there's more than just "one voice." And, personally, I like it that way.

But maybe I'm completely overanalyzing the collection's title and McBratney's explanation for it, which is actually a fairly throw-away comment in the author's note. What do you think -- should reading aloud be an adult-voice-only kinda deal, or does it allow for child participation as well? What have your own read-aloud experiences (as reader or listener) been like?