Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks for Great Books, Part Deux

I know that you have all been sitting at your computers, anxiously awaiting the arrival of this post. I won't make you wait any longer. Here are my favorite picture books of 2008- the ones that I am truly grateful for.

I fell in love with Terra, our store manager, all over again when I opened up the box that contained Emma Dodd's What Pet to Get. She had handpicked this one for our shelves and I was immediately captured by it (the cover alone will make you giggle). What Pet to Get is just a fun, larger than life read aloud about a boy trying to decide, well, I think you already know. He throws out all his ideas for the perfect pet to his mom, who very matter of factly points out to him all the reasons why his choices just might not be appropriate. His final decision and the last fold out page of this book will make you laugh out loud and feel grateful for great picture books.

I first read A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton at one of Little Shop's Tuesday storytimes. Seems as if Bear is just a homebody of a curmudgeon who despises visitors- that is, until he is visited by a tenacious but friendly little mouse eager for company. You and your little one will cheer and root for this persistent little mouse, and you'll probably giggle too. A Visitor for Bear is a lovely and sweet tale of friendship that easily deserves to be a favorite book of the year for everyone.

If you are a Little Shop regular than you know how much we adore Holly Hobbie's Toot and Puddle, those two porcine pals who room together in a cozy little cabin in Woodcock Pocket. Lucky for us, Holly Hobbie has introduced a new character to us in the form of Fanny, an endearing and imaginative little girl who decides to make a doll of her own when her mom refuses to buy her a Barbie type doll that all the girls have. For those of us that struggle with the appropriateness of pencil thin, busty and pouty mouth dolls for our girls, this is a great story for moms and daughters to share. And like Toot and Puddle, I do hope we will hear more from Fanny in the years to come!

The Donut Chef by Bob Staake is the story of a well loved baker who is forced to become more creative with his craft due to competition from another town baker. You and your little one will laugh (and maybe even be grossed out!) at the donut concoctions as the two battle it out for best baker, and you will both be relieved when our friend decides that perhaps simple is best. The Donut Chef is a rhyming romp with vibrant illustrations that help carry the story. It is a great read aloud for bedtime or anytime.

Everyone in Atlanta knows Pete the Cat- unless of course you live under a rock. And anyone in town with kids knows Mr. Eric. I am happy to report that Pete and Mr. Eric are two great tastes that taste great together in the form of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Little Shop's best selling picture book of 2008. A perfect collaboration by Eric Litwin, musician and storyteller, and James Dean, local artist and creator of that ubiquitous blue kitty named Pete, this self published title is a perfect testament to taking life in stride no matter what. Plus it's just fun to read and look at!

No Diane's Best Of List would be complete without a book by Kevin Henkes. This year, Kevin gave us Old Bear, a warm and gentle story of an old bear hibernating and dreaming of the days when he was a young cub, and like the springtime, in full and glorious bloom. Henke's unique art style adds to the beauty of this story's message: Life is indeed good.

Here's to great picture books!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hey, look what I found out there!

So, I'm wasting time on the internet yesterday, and on a website devoted to cartoonists depictions of their favorite literary characters, I come across this. Wow, is that exciting. What, you aren't excited by a Leah Hernandez drawing of Flora Segunda? Then you must not be familiar with either; let me fix that right now!

Flora Segunda is the fantastic creation of Ysabeau Wilce, and first appeared in the book Flora Segunda; Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. Flora is independent, curious and willful, and the book is just great. Set in a magical alternate world California, Flora's tale is like the beautiful love-child of the story of Aladdin's Lamp and Zorro tales. I can't recommend it or its sequel enough.

The artist depicting Flora Segunda is awesome in her own right. Leah Hernandez is one of those rare American cartoonists who brought Manga (Japanese comics) sensibilities to their comics before anyone else, and did it without sacrificing a clear sense of her own personal style. Her graphic novels Clockwork Child and Clockwork Angels were groundbreaking and genre defining. But you may know her best for her work on the Hardy Boys graphic novels.

Update: added picture and links

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You Can Call Him Ted

Yes, it is ghostwritten (not by an established author, but by former Turner Broadcasting executive Bill Burke), but this autobiography is still all Ted. Call Me Ted is fun, breezy, and illuminating. There are ample side pieces from family members and people with whom Turner has had business associations (including President Jimmy Carter, Jerry Levin, and Michael Milkin) which are not all flattering, but do add another dimension to a not-so-typical biography from a very distinct individual.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Giving Thanks for Great Books, Part One

This past weekend's chilly fall weather, as well as Thanksgiving's fast approach, has put me in a grateful sort of place this week.

Something that always makes me feel thankful is a good book.

I have had the honor and absolute pleasure of reading some really great new books this year. And although I would love to include them all in the list below, to keep you the reader engaged, I have decided to keep my list to those books which fall into the category of "Books I Wish Had Never Ended". Keep in mind that this list includes only middle grade and young adult fiction. A follow up post on picture books will follow in the next week or so!

Also keep in mind that the books are not listed in order of favorite- they are actually listed in order read!

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Mom-daughter combos who shop Little Shop regularly probably already know what a fiend I am about The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, first published in 2005. In my mind, it was and remains a perfect and classic book. So admittedly, I was nervous about the sequel's appearance this past spring. How would it match up? Would it still be able to capture the beauty of that sibling bond shared by Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty? That feeling of summertime childhood nostalgia the original evokes? Would I still be crushing on Mr. Penderwick? I am happy to report that the sequel more than delivered. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a lovely continuation of a beautiful and endearing story about growing up, family, and friendship.

This year I was a member of the New Voices Committee of the Association of Booksellers for Children. From a stack of advanced galleys, I was charged to help choose the newest, hottest voices in middle grade and YA fiction. The next two entries were a direct result of my participation on this project.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

I was so happy to read this book! Part Harry Potter-part Oliver Twist, The Magic Thief tells the story of Conn, a young street urchin, who chooses one day to pick the pocket of a most powerful wizard and ends up his apprentice. He is cagey and street smart, but Conn also has a heart of gold- you can't help but root for him as he tries to save the wizarding world. Despite its familiarity to other well loved stories and young heroes, this book is new and inventive and certainly a fresh voice. I look forward to reading more about Conn's adventures!

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Agnes and Honey are like sisters, growing up side by side since infancy in a religious commune led by the dynamic, subtly powerful, and emotionally abusive Emmanuel. But when Honey begins to question her place as well as her belief, a drift develops between the two that threatens their bond. A Thelma and Louise type story of faith and redemption, truth and understanding, The Patron Saint of Butterflies is a beautiful and thoughtful testament to the healing power of friendship and family.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Oh my, how I gush about this book.

Frankie is coming into her own as a sophomore at a prestigious prep school. She's smart, she's beautiful, she's dating one of the hottest boys at school. What else could she need or want? Things get a bit tricky as she decides she wants it all and that all comes in the form of infiltrating an all male secret society of which her boyfriend is a member. Sure, this book is plain old fun- Frankie uses her smarts to anonymously manipulate and control the members of this group by getting them to engage in increasingly elaborate pranks that ultimately bring the school's administration to its knees-but at its core, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau- Banks is a thought provoking examination of girls in the world and their power and asks the question "How much of your femininity are you willing to give up in order to be accepted in the male world?"

LOVED this book.

Something Wicked by Alan Gratz

Like The Penderwicks, here is another sequel I was worried about. The first, Something Rotten, was so completely new to me- a modern day retelling of Hamlet- that I seriously questioned how Alan could maintain that fresh idea. If I had placed a bet with Alan about this, I would probably now owe him a pizza from Mellow Mushroom.

Let me say that if Mr. Penderwick is not available, I am all about Horatio Wilkes, the crackerjack teen detective who also happens to be the main protagonist in Rotten and now Wicked, a retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Horatio is a clever, witty, somewhat irreverent kind of guy who just wants to do the right thing. Problem is his friends are always in trouble (you know the regular sort of trouble- murdered fathers, power obsessed and obsessively handwashing girlfriends, all kinds of stuff that would make The Bard proud). Something Wicked is a fun and sexy mystery that rivals its predecessor.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I am barely into this one but can already tell that it will make my list. Gaiman is a genius and this may be his best one yet. For those faithful to our blog, you already know that both Justin and Dave completely adore this book in a manly sort of way. The Graveyard Book is the clever story of young Bod, a boy orphaned at an early age and being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. That's really all I can tell you now but trust me on this one- it is that good!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Here's some links of things we've been looking at here at the store:

First, the new Horn Book newsletter is out this month. Horn Book is, in my opinion, the NYT Book Review of children and teen's lit. Go here to see what they have to say about a bunch of good picture books and some great graphic novels this month. To see the archive of their past newsletters, go here.

Next, check out this little video of cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert demonstrating his drawing technique for his graphic novel Alan's War, just released in the US by First Second press. Seen it and wondering what he's doing? He's drawing with water, then, when he drops the ink, it follows the water line. Pretty cool, eh? The book itself is fantastic. It's the stories WWII veteran Alan Cope related to the cartoonist after they struck up a friendship several years ago.

On November 21 at 8pm at PushPush theatre there will be a special screening of the movie Paperback Dreams, a documentary about independent bookstores today. Our very own pappa bear Dave will be there for a roundtable discussion afterwards. Check out this article about the movie and the event.

And, if there were ever an excuse to use the cliche "last but not least," this is it:
Our very own Terra has been mentioned in Laurie Halse Anderson's blog. Check out her beautiful face next to LHA's (she also name checks LSoS!).

Update: edited to insert link I left out the first time around.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shaifer's review of Here Lies Arthur

Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve
Here Lies Arthur is a creative twist on King Arthur. The story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl who is adopted into King Arthur's band. It shows King Arthur as a whole different person. Gwyna, a girl, plays tricks on King Arthur by becoming a boy and traveling with the king's band, all while keeping her true identity secret. She does this with the help of Myrddin, King Arthur's bard and storyteller. Once I had read the first few chapters, I couldn't stop until I was at the end. I would say that Here Lies Arthur is historical fiction, a war novel, and an adventure. It is fantastic and I recommend that you read it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Everything You've Wanted to Know About the Catch-All Book Group

Once upon a time, in college, I tried to join a book group. I only made it to one meeting because my schedule was too busy and the books were largely written in another language (my paltry Spanish just wasn't prepared for that). But ever sense then, I've wanted to be in one. So this past summer, I put out the vibe to see if anyone else around town would be interested in a co-ed, post-college, pre-babies twentysomething book group. It turns out I'm actually not the only book nerd in Decatur who fits into that category. So the Catch-All Book Group was born.

And I've been so happy and excited about all of our meetings! Like all the other book groups here at Little Shop of Stories, we meet to discuss a different book each month. Unlike all the other book groups here, we drink wine and beer while having the of many the perks of being a twentysomething instead of a middle schooler. A lot of times the drinks and food are homemade because we have some brewers and bakers among the members. I love the mix of people that come to the meetings. The members are quirky, smart and inclusive (We had four newcomers at our last meeting!) They have no problem admitting when something in the text is unclear, or when they disagree with something. And they're all funny so we spend a lot of time laughing, even when the book is our last book.

Last night we met to discuss Angela Carter’s dark and creepy The Bloody Chamber. Are you scared already just by the title? This collection of short stories is a smart compilation of the fairy tales you know and love from childhood—Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast—but told in distorted, sensual adaptations. I'd go into more detail, but this is a blog for a children's bookstore so I'll keep it rated PG. But if you're looking for something different that will make your eyebrows raise (and make you blush), and you don't mind a little blood, try this one out.

Next month we're reading something a little softer and a little sweeter: Listening is an Act of Love. Tune in for more information on this book with a post about it from Diane. And if you feel like being a part of our fun and eclectic group, email me at for more info and join us here at the shop on the second Monday of each month at 7 pm. And I promise, everything we read is in English.

--Krista Gilliam

Laurie Halse Anderson Inspires and Educates

I loved Laurie Halse Anderson for her penetrating voice, her unflinching eye, and the deft way she weaves “dusty” facts into breath-filled action and drama already, but man oh man when I met her in person yesterday, my head almost popped off with glee and my heart grew three times larger for her.

Because she is really, really cool. And erudite. And down-to-earth. And smart. And funny. And generous.

But more important, she is passionate, and that passion came through as she spoke to our crowd of 20+ about what motivated her to write her young adult titles (Speak, Catalyst, Prom and Twisted), and then discussed her newest National Book Award Finalist novel, Chains.

I knew I was going to like Chains before I even started reading it, (and I loved it even more when I finished it), so Laurie’s talk was mostly icing for me. After all, I was already familiar with her historical fiction prowess in Fever 1793. I knew —and was right— there would be shocking (but real!) facts, settings as detailed as any Museum of Natural History diorama (but better!), and characters who were true to their time but would touch my heart. In every way and then some.

But this is more than a good historical fiction novel, and hearing Laurie talk last night hammered this home even more. Chains is an important story about the true pursuit of freedom, and the quest for real liberty for all. It is the story of Isabel, a young slave girl, who is fighting for her own freedom as the Patriots fight for our country’s freedom all around her. It is about the miraculous power of the Declaration of Independence, and what it inspired in everyone who heard it. It is about what our founding fathers and the common people who fought with them succeeded in doing, but it is equally about what they fell short of achieving. It is about fighting against horrific odds and taking risks for what you believe, even if you’re not sure you’ll get to see the outcome.

I can’t imagine a better time, really, than right after the history-making election we just had, to read Chains. “We are this close [holds up thumb and forefinger pinching a very small space in the air] to coming to the end of the American Revolution,” Laurie said last night. “We’re almost there.” When you read Chains you’ll understand more about how it all started, and also more of why it’s so important for us to finish the job.

Listening Really Is An Act of Love

Are you a regular NPR listener? If so, you have probably heard of StoryCorps, a program endeavoring to chronicle the histories of normal, everyday people like us. StoryCorps embraces the idea that, in a world of celebrity gossip and sensationalism, the truth and beauty in everyday American life is more important and interesting than the tabloids could ever be.

Each Friday, StoryCorps features a recorded interview of two people- it could be a husband and wife, a mother and daughter, two brothers, two friends-who share a common love and respect for each other and a genuine willingness to listen to the other's most poignant and personal story. One week you might hear a couple talking about the joy a disabled or terminally ill child has brought to their lives, another week you might hear a teenage boy interviewing his grandfather about his childhood. The commonality in all these stories is the instance of two people taking the time to really listen and to be present with each other, the idea that listening really is an act of pure and simple love. Of course, not every story gets heard on NPR, but an audio copy of each story does get filed at the Library of Congress as an oral record of this project.

Although a StoryCorps mobile booth travels the country, there is a permanent booth located in lower Manhattan. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the booth last weekend to interview a special friend while on a trip to New York. We crammed ourselves into this cozy room with only a small table, a dim light, and two microphones between us. Our StoryCorps facilitator, Mike, faded into the background as we began our conversation. We laughed, we cried. We connected. Despite my prior cramming as the interviewer, I put my list of questions away and we let the conversation unfold as only the best, most intimate conversations can. An hour later we walked out into the crisp November New York air with a CD recording of our time spent together in that little space. It was a beautiful day.

Last winter, at the shop, we carried the hardcover of Listening Is An Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life From the StoryCorps Project, a compilation of only a few of the tens of thousands of interviews that have taken place since the program began in 2003 in New York's Grand Central Station. I had spent many Friday mornings in my car already, listening to some of these stories, crying my eyes out, and marveling at the lessons taught not only the people speaking but to me, the listener. So, naturally the book was an added treat.

It was then, in my opinion, the perfect Valentine's gift. Now, the book is newly out in paperback, and it still makes a lovely gift for someone who you love to listen to. Or for someone who takes the time to listen to you. The interviews in this book will make you think about telling your story to a loved one, as well as listening to his or her story too. You don't have to cram yourself into a tiny booth in downtown NYC to do these things, after all.

Don't we all need to be better listeners? Don't we all want our stories to be heard?

Posted by Diane