Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where the boys (and girls) are

I was catching up on my magazines this week and noticed that two of my favorites featured pieces on tween reading, boys reading and boy characters, in particular. My immediate reaction was joyous: in my mind, nothing is more truly feminist than caring about the well-being and equality of both boys and girls. In case you don't have these periodicals on your night-stand or at your local newsstand (for shame!), here's a little recap and my own take...

Bitch magazine's most recent issue, "Art/See" winter 2009, features an article "Paper Boys" on "news" of boys' reading abilities and author/former teacher Jon Scieszka's literacy program, Guys Read. U.S. Department of Education statistics report boys are behind girls in reading development (or maybe girls are improving at reading, and boys are the same?). Scieszka founded Guys Read to help boys discover reading as an enjoyable activity by showcasing books that they might want to read: categories listed on the website include "classics that actually hold up," "people being transformed into animals" and "repairing shoes, but are only written in Spanish." (That last is Como Reparar Salzado). The article's author, Jonathan Frochtwajg, commends the program, and other books and institutions focused on literacy, but notes that "recommending books to boys as books for boys risks reinforcing the notion that boys naturally like certain sorts of reading material, when, of course, socialization largely shapes their preference." He describes reading as a vessel to learn about others' perspective, gender in particular here, and while I agree with that, I think that's only one part of reading. Why can't we (educators, families, booksellers, whatever), help boys (and girls!) learn to read for reading's own sake? Maybe what really needs to change is how reading education is approached in schools and at home, with lessons adapted to each child's individual intellectual development, and good books written that kids are excited to read. Of course, this is my own opinion as a wee bookseller, and even just now I got into a not-quite-heated-but-almost discussion with our book and merchandise buyers about "boy books" and "girl books."

If you're interested in Guys Read, check out their website, blog, and their book, Guys Write for Guys Read, a collection of favorite authors writing about being boys.

The other article I read was in the fall 2009 issue of Ms. magazine: "The Kid Wimps Out" written by Allison Kimmich. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is an acknowledged giant in the tween reading world, an admittedly entertaining, funny (hmm), graphic novel style chapter book that Kimmich says her own "emerging feminist" daughter reads. While I do agree that Greg (the eponymous wimpy kid) isn't exactly the best role model for boys or girls, nor do I find him even remotely likable as a character, I found Kimmich's caution on Greg's attitude and behavior a tiny bit reactionary. Yes, he is selfish, treats his friends and girl classmates rudely, and there are no girl characters beyond goodie-goodie stereotypes. Yes, readers (boys and girls) should be critical when reading (or viewing any media they encounter, for that matter). But I think she underestimates or misunderstands kids and why they read what they do; when she says there are few girls who may be "savvy enough" to see Wimpy Kid as not worth reading, it reminds me of women, admitted feminist women, reading the Twilight saga. The Washington Post ran an article, Twilight: the love that dare not speak its shame, about all the reasons women shouldn't/won't/don't want to read the vampire romances, but do anyway, and become inexplicably hooked. To arguments against Bella and Edward, the feminist woman who reads Twilight simply says, "I know." Not every book feminist women read is purely feminist or woman-friendly literature, nor should we chastise women for not constantly rereading Simone De Beauvoir. Neither should we censure kids too harshly for reading books that don't always hold up ideal relationships or attitudes. My opinion, as a bookseller, reader, and book-buyer for my nephews, is that if a reader (of any age!), is happy reading, and reading a variety of things they like, then I'm happy, too. Right now I could be reading some adult non-fiction, or perusing the picture books for my book club's mock Caldecott discussion, but instead I'm rereading Pullman's His Dark Materials, for about the third time. Since I'm a grown-up (ish), no one is telling me I should be expanding my reading horizons...well, except for our book buyer, who just likes to tease me regardless.

I will give good credit to Ms. for their list of book suggestions alongside the article, that included the Penderwicks and The View from Saturday - some of my favorite chapter books. Once we start thinking of good books for both boys and girls, plenty of titles jump speedily to mind: Clementine; The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm; Holes; My Most Excellent Year; Julie and the Wolves...I could go on for hours. I can see where Ms. and Bitch are coming from: we've come a long way from Dick and Jane and TinTin in the Congo, but there's still a ways go.

And in the end, I'm happy that two great feminist magazines, dealing with pop culture and politics - "grown-up" turf - both found children's literature as important to write about, and take as seriously, as Sonya Sotomayor and Yoko Ono.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Rachel Wants For Chrismukah

The winter holidays are fast approaching, and that means it's time for making lists! Since I'm one of those lucky children of a Catholic mom and Jewish dad, I've always gotten presents for Christmas and Chanukah--so here's episode one of my holiday wishes!

Christmas Mice Beanbags by Gund
$4.95 each
Located around the Hut and at the downstairs register

Gund never ceases to make me squeal with their cute holiday beanbag critters, no matter what holiday is approaching, and Christmas is no exception! This year we've got these adorable stripey beanbag mice, with cute corduroy tails and little felt feet and ears. They remind me of Mew, the Muppet catnip mouse in one of my fave Christmas movies ever, The Christmas Toy. They make a great stocking gift or table accent, either separately or as a set, and could even be super-adorable juggling bags if you really want to show off your skillz at your holiday gathering. ;)

Beeswax Chanukah Candles by Rite Lite
Located near the stairs

Maybe it's a little boring to want candles for Chanukah, but the giant tub of candles I bought several years ago is finally running low--and it's probably time to try something new anyway, since the ones I've been using every year tend to melt into bizarre shapes, then fall over and light each other dramatically on fire. It's fun to watch, but a pain to clean up all the wax everywhere later. Of course, I'm not one to go with generic or boring candles--and why would I, when we have beeswax candles here at Curious George? They come in a cool wooden container of 45 candles, they smell lovely even through the plastic shrink-wrap they're packed in, and the texture is visually appealing. I can't wait to have myself eight evenings of natural honey-smelling goodness!

Food Face Dinner Plate by Fred
Located near the Baby Room, in the food corner

I spotted this as I was straightening things up just a few hours ago, and had to add it to my holiday wish list. My mom used to arrange my food into faces all the time, and sometimes I still do it myself, so this quirky plate is perfect for mealtimes in my apartment. ;) The FRED website assures that the plate is food-safe and made of hotel quality ceramic, so no worries on that front, and it comes nicely boxed to keep it safe on its way from us to your kitchen, whether you come in or order online!

That's it for this special holiday episode--see you on the flip side!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rompin' wrap up, building libraries, and general feel good karmic joy...

Last Sunday Donna, our book buyer, and I had the privilege of being the booksellers at Reach Out and Read's 6th annual Read and Romp: a wild tour through kids' favorite story books. There were storybook stations for classics like The Runaway Bunny, where kids could hold baby bunnies, and new favorites like Fancy Nancy, which had a great selection of dress-up. It was astoundingly organized, and so much fun! We're very grateful to the nice folks who invited us and took great care of us (thanks, Jackie and Abbie!) - their director of communications, Matt, even offered to give those of us who are less than tech-savvy a lesson in Twitter! You can look on their website for ways to help out: donating books, money, or your time as a volunteer.

We met Norman Bridwell and his BIG creation, Clifford.

Cheeky monkey, flaunting his own books.

George takes a nibble of Mouse's cookie.

We're also working with Learning Through Libraries, a student coalition at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, which is collecting books for poor communities and schools in El Salvador. We have a drop box for donations in the store, and English/Spanish books or learning games are welcome! (I've got my eye on those beautiful bilingual fairy tales from Chronicle!).

And while we're talking good karma, don't forget Toys for Tots! They have plenty of drop off stations in the neighborhood.

Back to the future with author Michael Sussman!

Today we're thrilled to have a guest post by Michael Sussman, author of the new picture book Otto Grows Down. Michael's very kindly stopped by (virtually, anyway) to chat about two slippery subjects -- time and human nature -- which feature prominently in this "time-twisting tale of sibling rivalry."
What sparked the creation of Otto Grows Down?
I live in Cambridge with my son Oliver. I worked for many years as a clinical psychologist and published two books for mental health professionals. I started writing fiction as an at-home dad, completing a comic mystery novel that I still hope to publish. Ollie inspired me to start writing for children, which really freed up my imagination.

Otto Grows Down is the story of a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time after making a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born. The book challenges children to think in new ways as they imagine life in reverse, and can help kids cope with the difficult feelings entailed in sharing the spotlight with a new sibling. I’m thrilled to see my first picture book in print, and more are on their way.

What was it like to collaborate with Scott Magoon [also the illustrator of Spoon and Ugly Fish]?
Fantastic. I got to see the illustrations at every stage, from initial sketches to finished product, and Scott was very open to my feedback. He did a phenomenal job.
[Psst... come pick up a copy of Otto signed by both Michael and Scott!]

As an older sibling myself, I think Otto Grows Down portrays the jealousy older siblings may feel towards a new baby both accurately and compassionately. Do you have brothers or sisters (or just a really good imagination)?
Yes, I’ve got an older and a younger brother. I was extremely jealous when my younger brother was born, and took on the role of “mother’s little helper” as a way of maintaining maternal attention. My older brother was also far from pleased when I came along, so I can identify with both Otto and Anna!

How do your background in psychology and your knowledge of children's psychological development inform your writing for children?
As a psychotherapist, I’ve had the chance to work with children of all ages. Coping with a new sibling is one of the most difficult adjustments for young kids, and how they deal with this challenge can shape personality development in powerful ways. I tried to write a story that addressed these issues without becoming moralistic or heavy-handed.

How did you become interested in backwards time?
As a child, I used to amuse myself by imagining what a day would be like if time ran in reverse. I’m still fascinated by time, which seems to me to be one of the strangest aspects of our universe. In Otto Grows Down, I play around with some of the bizarre features of life in reverse: Otto takes baths when he’s clean and they make him dirty! Tuesday is trash day and Otto helps bring in the garbage! In art class, Otto wipes the paint off a perfectly good painting, leaving a blank sheet of paper!

What's your favorite daily activity done backwards in Otto? Were there any that didn't make it into the book?
My favorite is when Otto must rewrap his birthday presents and give them back to his friends. My son, Ollie, thought that Otto should walk and talk backwards, but that would have been tough to pull off.

What other projects for children do you have in the works?
I’ve completed several other picture book manuscripts. One of them features a girl who is born with “hurricane breath” and must find a way to use her enormous power constructively. Another one, titled Fergus Falls Up, explores the absurdities that arise when a boy finds himself standing on the ceiling!

When would you go if you could fast-forward in time?
One hundred years in the future, to see whether or not we make the changes necessary to save our beautiful planet. I’d also travel to my deathbed, to see how much longer I have to live!
Thank you to Michael for the Q&A -- and be sure to visit to keep up with Michael and his time-traveling, gravity-defying writing adventures!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Author visits galore!

In addition to our recent scheduled guests Jarrett Krosoczka, 1st. Lieutenant David Falvey, and Alex Beard, we've had droves of distinguished drop-in visitors lately.

First came the double whammy of Uglies and Leviathan author Scott Westerfeld and his tourmate Robin Wasserman, author of Hacking Harvard and the new sci-fi series Skinned. Then there was Michelle's current literary love, Robin Benway -- whose visit I'll let Michelle elaborate on herself -- but we have both a guest post and a staff pick of Audrey, Wait! for your Robin appreciation! Apparently Malinda Lo, author of the queer Cinderella retelling Ash, snuck in under the radar, because no one seems to have seen her but there's a signed copy on the shelf. On Monday, eagle-eyed staffer Taylor spotted a shopper who "looked a lot like Cory Doctorow" and when she mentioned this to him, he confirmed it! Cory was on his way to nearby Harvard Bookstore to launch his new adult novel Makers, but we'll try to get him to CG in the spring when his YA novel For the Win is published. Until then, read my staff pick for Little Brother and pick up a signed copy. All of these authors are addictive reads in blog medium as well as in fiction, so be sure to stop by their sites (and/or Twitters!).

So many visitors equals a fresh round of signed copies for your enjoyment. Here's the most recent census...

- Our White House by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, signed by founder Mary Brigid Barrett
- Letters to a Soldier by First Lieutenant David Falvey
- The Mischief Maker's Manual by Sir John Hargrave
- It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s NOT the Stork! By Robie Harris

Picture Books
- Mail Harry to the Moon! by Robie Harris
- And to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends by Mary Ann Hoberman
- Punk Farm and Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett Krosozcka
- Ocean Wide, Ocean Deep by Susan Lendroth
- Dim Sum for Everyone and Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin
- Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth
- Otto Grows Down by Michael Sussman, signed by Michael Sussman and illustrator Scott Magoon
- Oliver’s Game by Matt Tavares

Chapter Books
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
- Lessons from a Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
- Last Days of Summer and My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
- Newsgirl by Lisa Ketchum
- Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett Krosozcka
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
- Ash by Malinda Lo
- What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
- Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head by Nancy Viau
- Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Uglies and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
- Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by David Yoo

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gracious Grace Lin Part Deux (plus bonus Gracious Julia Denos!)

Over the summer, in honor of Grace Lin's novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, we asked her both to visit the store for a signing and to do a guest post for Notes from the Hut. Grace is a fabulous guest in person and in print, and it's been so fun to work with her!

Recently she turned the tables, though, and asked to interview us for several blogs she writes for! Eek! After some initial shyness, Rachel, Michelle, new blogger Natasha (yay!) and I got pretty excited to talk (er... write) about our bookselling lives. I'll cut-and-paste the interview for your reading convenience, but be sure to check out The Enchanted Inkpot and Blue Rose Girls blogs for their general awesomeness (and their readers' wicked nice comments about us!). And THEN, our beloved Julia Denos linked and gave us love as well! Compliments from these talented and generous ladies definitely brightens these gloomy days. ♥

Indie Interview: Curious George Books and Toys, posted by Grace Lin

Many a long years ago (okay, maybe not that long) I worked at the Curious George Goes to Wordsworth Bookstore in Cambridge, MA and it changed my life. So when the store recently interviewed me, I thought the least I could do is return the favor.

So, as a part of the Enchanted Inkpot's Indie Interview Series, I bring you Curious George Bookseller Extraordinaries: Katie, Michelle, Natasha and Rachel!

1) Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into bookselling, and about your bookstore?

Michelle: I’ve always loved books – as we all say! I’ve wanted to be a writer, or somehow involved in the book world, since I was in middle school. I had a wonderful opportunity to intern at Houghton in college, and it was fascinating (and a bit overwhelming!) to see how many steps there are in the process of getting books from a writer’s typewriter to a bookstore. But my favorite part about reading books was missing from this kind of office experience: the talking about books, the passing along of a much-loved, dog-eared copy, and that amazing feeling when you’ve connected the right book with the right person. This store is constantly supplying me with that opportunity, from my colleagues to parents and kids themselves sharing their recommendations and their reactions to my own recommendations.

Since we are a small, local, independent operation, we really strive for that personal approach: we really know our books, and we want every kid, student, grown-up, whoever, who comes in here to find that book that they cannot put down even for dinner. I can’t describe that feeling when someone comes back to us and says, “That was just what I wanted! What’s next?” The same goes for our toy selection; our buyers have children themselves and we wouldn’t carry something that they wouldn’t give to their own kids. We want people to come here for toys they remember from their own childhood, to pass on that joy they remember from say, a classic Fisher Price telephone, or a giant shark stunt kite on a perfect March day. We love our books, our games, definitely -- there's not a day goes by that one of us isn’t buying something for ourselves -- but we love those kids running down our stairs yelling, “THIS IS SO COOL!” just as much.

2) How do you view your role as an independent bookseller? What do you find most rewarding about your job? What is most challenging?

Rachel: I think indie bookselling is all about personality and personalization. I talk to a lot of customers who really value our recommendations, whether they live in the area or just stop in once a year when they’re visiting relatives in Boston. My job as an indie staffer is to keep a library in my head of what’s new, what’s classic, what’s good, and what’s on the shelf, so that when someone comes in asking what my favorite new picture book is or what to give to a sporty 13-year-old girl, I can find them something they’ll be really happy with. That’s my favorite part -- when someone comes in knowing who they want to buy for but not really knowing what to get, and I can find just what they’re looking for. On the flip side, sometimes it’s hard to make just the right suggestion to customers who don’t know who they’re buying for. Gender and approximate age are good starting points, but I always feel like I could find the perfect thing if I just knew more. I even practiced my handselling skills on my family last Christmas, and even the most book-phobic of them really enjoyed what I picked out.

3) How can readers and authors work with and support independent booksellers?

Natasha: Readers can always stop by or read our blog to see what’s going on in the store. New events like book clubs, signings, readings, and parties (especially with the holidays coming up) are always going on. If you have read a great book, tell the bookseller! It’s always nice to hear from customers what they love, so we can recommend favorites to similar readers. We just set up a “Kid Pick” review board for kids to let us know what they think of books they’ve been reading. Authors can always drop a line on their blogs or websites to grab their books at a favorite local, independent place. They can keep in contact with stores when they have the time to participate in signings, events, or even just to ensure that booksellers have their books. We love it when authors stop by and sign whatever we have on the shelves!

Readers and authors alike can always help independent bookstores the same way: word of mouth. If you love us, tell your friends! If you think of a book you love, tell your friends to pick it up here! If someone you know needs to find an awesome gift, send them here!

Katie: We have a lot of scheduled author events, with a signing and usually an activity, where kids get to interact with their favorite author or illustrator. Readings, drawing activities, discussions, writing workshops – really, any way that an author or illustrator can reach out to their audience, at the venue of a local independent bookstore, benefits everybody! As Natasha mentioned, we also love to have authors and illustrators just drop in to say hi and sign stock. We’re all book lovers as well as booksellers, so the staff tends to get flustered and fangirly about these visits! But it’s also a great opportunity for me as event coordinator to broach the idea of an event or guest blog spot with that person.

If authors sell their books from their websites, they can put a link on their site to IndieBound rather than a chain online bookseller. Independent stores register with IndieBound, so customers can order online directly from their local indie bookstore with the same convenience of other online shopping.

4) Can you tell us about a few of your recent favorite YA or MG fantasy books?

Rachel: There are so many! Ash by Malinda Lo is excellent, as is The Good Neighbors graphic novel series by Holly Black (the second installment just came out). There’s also the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go is in paperback now and The Ask and the Answer just arrived in hardcover), which are more sci-fi than fantasy, but exceptionally good reading. For the middle grade set, I really love The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh and Savvy by Ingrid Law.

Katie: I tend to read a lot of supernatural romance and “creature feature” YA fantasy! Shiver by Maggie Steifvater has an unusual take on werewolves. Not only is the romance in that one compelling (I have such a crush on Sam!), but the plot is nail-bitingly suspenseful. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy is a great series about demons and angels. Right now I’m in the middle of The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, and I’m hooked. Blood Promise, the fourth in the series, came out earlier this month. I’m probably the world’s biggest Neil Gaiman fan, so I’m constantly recommending his books for middle grade through adult. Odd and the Frost Giants will be here soon!

Some other titles on my looooong to-read list are Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott (a MG “Wild Swans” retelling), and the third in Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls trilogy, The Islands of the Blessed.

5) What's the most memorable experience you've had bookselling?

Katie: Other than some "kids say the darndest things!" moments and authors/illustrators dropping in to chat, a lot of bookselling is pretty episodic. A customer asks a question, you pull together your resources -- the store's inventory, your coworkers' brilliant brains, quick online research, and most importantly, your own internal database of awesome books -- to try to answer that question to the best of your ability and give the customer as many good options as you can, and hope that they will find something that is just what they're hoping for. Then there's another question! But when you can find someone "just what they're hoping for," the feeling is memorable even if the actual incident doesn't stay with you that long. We have many loyal customers who have been on the other side of that experience, and who keep coming back to us for that reason. And we enjoy the challenge of the unusual question. Often the booksellers are learning from each other and discovering new favorites, right along with our customers!

Just as we have learned from you! Thank you, ladies!

And there we are, in all our goofy glory. Thanks to Grace for the Q&A, and both Grace and Julia for their support! We miss you around the Hut!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Rachel Wants This Week - Episode 29

Well, I've gotten slightly off-schedule, but here I am on a Wednesday afternoon with some cool things I want to buy!

Animal Tracks water bottle by Crocodile Creek
Located on the ground floor near the New Titles

I think I may have posted about a water bottle before, but you can never have too many, and these Croc Creek bottles are awesome! We have a bunch of different styles, but the Animal Tracks bottle is my favorite. It reminds me of going hiking with my dad when I was a kid, and thinking I was super nature girl--I would have loved to have this bottle with me in the hopes of finding tracks! The best part is that there aren't just forest animal tracks, but also penguins, baboons, tigers, and other things I wish I could have found in the woods of Pennsylvania. ;) The bottles are stainless steel, conform to both US and EU safety standards, are eco friendly, and have a great plastic snap cap to cover the sports bottle-style nozzle.

Snifty: The Nifty Scented Pen by International Arrivals
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

They're nifty, they're scented, they're Snifty Pens! I just can't resist these bright, easy-to-find and easy-to-hold writing implements. Scented like strawberries, cupcakes, watermelon and bubblegum, they give a new meaning to the pen-chewing habit (I'm a practitioner, I must admit). The scented part is made with Auracell, which seems pretty cool according to their website, and the whole 4-pack is made in the US, so the set makes a great little gift for kids whose parents want to avoid China-made toys. What could be better? I think I'll take some home with me today! :)

That's it for this week, see you again soon!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading Romp

We've been having loads of great authors and events at the store lately, and I hope you can come to the next few we've got lined up (pssst, Alex Beard this Friday!) - but this Sunday, we're branching out and taking on Boston!

You can find a table of our most popular and classic books and two of our booksellers (myself and our book buyer, Donna) at Reach Out and Read's 6th Annual Read & Romp on Sunday from 10:30 am to 2 pm at the Seaport Hotel Ballroom.

Reach Out and Read believes - as we do - that kids develop physically and emotionally in tandem. Therefore, they give books to children, and talk to parents about reading together, at doctor's offices around the country.

This Sunday's Read and Romp will feature crafts, activities, and music, with visits from friends like Clifford the Big Red Dog (and his friend/author, Norman Bridwell!) and early reader pals Frog and Toad. You can still buy tickets online or by phone, so we hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just when you thought the Graveyard Book hubub was over...

... a ghoulish amount of glorious media arises (from the dead?) about Neil Himself, The Graveyard Book, and even little ol' Curious George Books and Toys! Just in the TA-DA! nick of time, too -- now we can distract ourselves while we wait anxiously for the contest results.

GM Michelle was quoted in "Bookselling This Week", which featured a round-up of Graveyard-themed parties around the country:

Curious George Books & Toys held its Graveyard Book Halloween Party on Friday, October 30, at its store in Harvard Square. The store had a variety of craft activities, including making beastly bookmarks, monstrous masks, and decorating cupcakes donated from Sweet Cupcakes boutique, reported Michelle Corliss, the store's general manager. The store was decorated like Bod's cemetery and the staff dressed as characters from the novel: from Mrs. Owens and Scarlet Perkins to Liza Hempstock, Miss Lupescu, and the Sleer. There were also ghost stories read in Curious George Books' "crypt."

"The event was awesome," Corliss said. "We had a huge crowd, mainly preschoolers and elementary school age kids and their parents. An unforgettable part of the party was the costume parade, where children in costume boogied down the street to songs like the Ghostbusters theme and the Monster Mash, accompanied by the Sleer and Mrs. Owens."

The cupcake decorating station was another big hit, said Corliss, with the "Lady on the Grey helping kids to add cookie tombstones and candy ghosts to cupcakes they frosted themselves."

As a locally owned bookstore, Corliss explained that this "kind of community celebration is a great opportunity to reach out to other independent organizations." The store partnered with Sweet Cupcakes and with Cambridge Green Streets Initiative for a raffle.

The event helped draw traffic to the store, too. "We had an influx of people coming in specifically for the event, and others drawn in from the Square-wide 'Harvard Scare' celebration who were curious about the fun happening in Curious George," Corliss reported. "Amidst the activity, customers had the opportunity to browse and to ask questions of our helpful booksellers. Also, The Graveyard Book has been a consistent seller in the year since its publication, but ads for the party upped its sales at our store in the last few weeks."

Two of our "danse macabre" parade participants -- who weren't afraid to strut their stuff -- were pictured in the Cambridge Chronicle on Thursday. The snow princess and self-proclaimed "twisted witch" not only had great costumes, but enviable dance moves as well!

On a topic close to my heart (and notorious sweet tooth): announcing the winners of The Graveyard Book Dessert Contest sponsored by Prizes included a copy of The Graveyard Book, Graveyard-inspired scents by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and memberships to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Looking at the winners, I'd say they deserve them -- fondant Silases and towering cake chapels and chocolate trees certainly require creativity, talent, and steady hands. (One entry modified a recipe from my most excellent baking book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Yum.)

Apparently Neil was on CBS Sunday Morning this very morning, a fact which annoys me since I have no television and thus missed it. Natasha assures me it will be on CBS's site or on YouTube in a matter of moments, so not to worry. I am comforting myself with the amusing description of Neil as "the tender-hearted master of the macabre." Neil was less amused, saying it "left me wanting to go 'I am NOT a tender-hearted master of the macabre, I am in fact VERY SCARY INDEED,' but I suspect I would convince nobody." We'll see for ourselves when the interview appears online someplace or other.

Thanks to everybody who came out to the party -- and our partners, Sweet Cupcakes and the Cambridge Green Streets Initiative -- to make it a success. Keep your fingers (finger bones?) crossed for us in the contest!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Time Machine Book Review: The Secret Garden

It's your time-traveling book reviewer Natasha back for another installment. This time I've traveled back to the past to almost 100 years ago to review The Secret Garden!

Title: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Reading Level: Ages 9+
Publisher: Puffin Classics
List Price: 4.99, paperback
Release Date: First published serially, Summer 1910

Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1910 novel follows Mary Lennox, a spoiled girl waited on by servants and ignored by her family, then suddenly orphaned after a cholera outbreak and sent off to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors. While roaming the halls of the large and mostly empty mansion, Mary discovers a secret garden, locked up for ten years as the result of a tragedy that nearly destroyed her uncle's family. Ultimately, Mary begins to grow healthier, and her bitterness towards others changes to a sweetness of appreciation. And as she works with her new friends to bring the garden from winter to spring, the garden's meaning to the family is ultimately transformed as well.

In the final pages of The Secret Garden, Burnett discusses the power of thoughts. Thoughts are "as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live." Throughout the novel, there is a thematic equivalent with health and vitality and maintaining positive thoughts. It's a truth of life simply stated: those that occupy pleasant thoughts give off pleasantness, and the inverse is of course true.

There is so much more in this novel that resonates still. The importance of allowing children to be children, of fresh air and play outside, of taking time to appreciate the beauty of our environment and of occupying one's time with meaningful and satisfying work are all lessons that our current culture seems to be relearning. One can awaken along with Mary and her Secret Garden by re-reading (or discovering for the first time) this beautiful, timeless classic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 28

There's a bunch of cool stuff this week, and also an awesome new feature--our resident shipping room king/epic doodler of post-it notes/webmaster has taught me how to put the things I want to buy up on our website, so that even if you're reading this from outside Boston, you can pick up featured items from our store online! I retroactively linked a few items from the last few weeks' posts to get the hang of it, but from now on it will be a regular feature! So if you see something in my posts that you like, just click the picture to order it via our website!

And now, without further ado, this week's choices:

Confetti Glitter Ball by Decor Craft Inc
Located in the Hello Kitty display

The general consensus around the store is that these big bouncy balls are made of AWESOME. They have a nice size and heft to them, big enough that they're pretty easy to catch or juggle or bounce without them going wild, and they're filled with a neon rainbow of delightful round sprinkles suspended in liquid, rather like a snow globe. The effect of all those multicolored sprinkles floating around as the ball bounces or gets thrown around is mesmerizing! This is the perfect item to focus and entertain anyone with a short attention span (namely me, as usual) who likes bright colors.

Hink Pink by Discovery Bay Games
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

This game caught my attention because of the weird shape of the box--kind of like a chess piece mixed with a very small guitar case--but it kept my attention because it sounds extremely fun. A Hink Pink is a word riddle answered with a pair of rhyming words, and in this party game players give their teammates riddle clues as teams try to guess as many 1-, 2- or 3-syllable Hink Pinks as possible. It's a fun portable shape, it sounds like a hilarious time, and it sounds like the kind of thing my friends and I might just make up on our own, all of which guarantee it'll be a hit in my apartment, and in lots of other places too!

What Michelle Wants This Week:

3-Headed Dragon Puppet by Folkmanis
Located on the Puppet Tree

Our GM extraordinaire, Michelle, pointed this awesome puppet out to me as her must-have item this week--and I completely agree! Equipped with interestingly textured wings, three cute/scary heads with snake tongues and T-rex-ish arms, this puppet uses all five fingers to make fun varied movement. (Michelle wishes it also came with the random bones scattered around the rocky landscape in Folkmanis's photo, but sadly bones are not included.) This item isn't going up on our website, because we've only got two in stock--but if you've just gotta have one, come on in or order by phone (617.498.0062)!

That's it for this week--and that's plenty! Don't forget to check out the new online buying feature, and I'll see you next time!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's raining cats and.... drum-playing cows?

Hot on the heels of the Jarrett Krosozcka event and our Graveyard Book-themed Halloween party, we have not one but three events coming up in the next few weeks! Our handy-dandy sidebar has the short version, but you want all the juicy details, right?

Saturday, November 7 at 1pm -- yes, that's THIS SATURDAY -- First Lieutenant David Falvey will be visiting to talk about his experiences in Iraq and sign his book Letters to a Soldier, a collection of his correspondence with a New Jersey fourth grade class. He'll be bringing along photos from the period of his deployment and some super-cool equipment. This is an event not to miss for the awesome gadget factor, but much more importantly for the insight it will give into the lives of our troops and how we can help them in this difficult time. Get a preview here at Wicked Local.

Next Friday, November 13 at 1pm, author/illustrator Alex Beard is coming to lead a drawing activity and sign his new picture book, The Jungle Grapevine. If you haven't already seen this hilarious comedy of errors for the preschool set, make sure to peruse it -- and his incredible puzzles downstairs in the chapter book room -- prior to the event so you can "ooh" and "ahh" properly at the event!

Finally, on December 12 at 1pm, right smack in the full swing of holiday shopping season, author/illustrator Cynthia von Buhler will read from and sign her new picture book, But Who Will Bell the Cats? This fresh retelling of a traditional tale is done in a beautifully surreal multimedia style, unlike anything you've seen before.

I just discovered this nifty "add video" feature in Blogger (stop rolling your eyes; it's not nice), so here's a video from Jarrett's visit -- relive the glory, or see what you missed!

Hope to see you here for these great events -- and in the meantime, be sure to keep reviewing your favorite books on our Curious Kid Pick review board (located in the chapter book room) so we know who else you'd like to write, draw, chat, and scaream "E-I-E-I-O!" with. (I'm looking at you, Jarrett!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores alike will gobble up these veg-approved goodies.

The 14th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival took place this weekend, and I hope you were able to get out in the beautiful weather and eat some yummy animal-friendly food! Many of us CG staffers (myself included) are vegetarian or vegan, so we were there in spirit even if we were here at the store, eating yummy animal-friendly food we brought from home instead.

As a long-time herbivore, I subscribe to the magazine Vegetarian Times. Imagine my delight at seeing George-approved items for veggie and green kids as I browsed the latest issue for vegan holiday recipes. It was like "what Vegetarian Times wants to buy this week"! First up is a Q&A with author Michael Pollan, who's just adapted his best-selling adult nonfiction book The Omnivore's Dilemma into a young reader's edition. (You can find it upstairs on the features table!) Several of us read the "grown-up" Omnivore's Dilemma for our book club, and while it was enlightening, I definitely would have preferred to read this more accessible version: all the same info, but made more digestible (har-har).

VT also featured a few of our green faves in their "Kid Stuff" holiday recommendations. Crocodile Creek's Moo Cow 7-inch ball -- like all their playground balls -- is already a hot seller around here! Trend-spotter Rachel long ago called the coolness of their other pick, the Green Toys Recycling Truck. Rach says, "Not only is this awesome green truck an excellent, sturdy toy, but it's also made entirely of recycled plastic! It has different compartments for bottles, cans and paper, catering to all the recycling needs of your toy room (or driveway, or sandbox). It's always a bonus when buying a really fun toy truck actually benefits the environment!" (Pssst... I think the Recycled News Colored Pencils are an awesome choice for the older kid in your life. I sense an impending "green gift" round-up!)

A dear friend who's a fellow children's bookseller, vegetarian, and book club member (hi Ari!) recently sent me a signed copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's new nonfiction book Eating Animals. We don't carry it at Curious George (....yet...), and I haven't even read it all the way through yet, but I am recommending it to vegetarian parents ANYWAY. Foer struggles with two of the herbivore's biggest dilemmas: eating local vs. eating veggie, and whether to raise kids vegetarian. This promises to be a compelling nonfiction read with the emotional complexity of his novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud.

Those parents who do have vegetarian kiddos should check out That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things by Ruby Roth. While upholding every family's right to make their own choices, this gently illustrated and compassionately written picture book explains the many ethical, environmental, and health reasons some families don't eat meat. That's Why We Don't Eat Animals not only inspires readers to consider living in a more animal-conscious way, but also empowers them with concrete examples of how to do so.

It's almost time to put up our "Happy Thanksgiving -- Save a Turkey!" poster. If you are also of the "No Turkey" or "Tofurkey" Day persuasion, make sure to pick up one of our vegetarian kids' cookbooks! Judi Gillies and Jennifer Glossop's Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook is a no-fuss multicultural veggie cookbook for the middle grade set. This book offers oodles of vegetarian and vegan dishes from around the world, appropriate for any occasion from breakfast to midnight snack. A handy key indicates each recipe's difficulty and time investment -- always a consideration! -- and whether it is suitable for vegans. They've also provided lots of information on nutritional needs for vegetarian kids, and give all measurements in metric as well as the more familiar (to us Americans) cup-and-teaspoon system.

Salad People, Pretend Salad, and Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen are three great vegetarian cookbooks for "preschoolers and up." You may recognize Katzen's name from the beloved Moosewood Restaurant, her adult vegetarian cookbooks, and Moosewood's frozen vegetarian foods (yum!). These adorable books are also ingenious: kid-friendly language and sequential panels clearly illustrate the steps for young chefs. Each recipe is a carefully planned balance of nutrition, education, creativity, and fun. Every "cartoon" diagram ends with the directive "EAT!" or "DRINK!" -- which really is the point of the whole cooking exercise, and one adults often seem to miss. Honest Pretzels just came out in paperback, which makes it even more kid-accessible and kitchen-sensible.

Once you've discovered your new favorite vegetarian recipe, let us know... We need goodies to keep us in prime condition for the upcoming holiday season! (P.S. I will personally taste-test any vegan fudge recipes you may be worried are not up to snuff for Christmas cookie platters.)