Monday, November 30, 2009

Diane's Top Five Christmas Book Countdown, Part 3

No Best of Christmas would be complete without this one-

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.

For those of you who are uninitiated- or for those of you who only saw the movie- consider this:

It's Christmas Eve.  A young boy listens in his bed for the sound of the bells on Santa's sleigh- a sound his friends assert he will never hear.  He falls asleep, only to be awoken later by a different sound.  Upon peering out his bedroom window, he finds a locomotive "wrapped in an apron of steam", and he heads outside in his pjs and bathrobe to investigate.  The conductor of the train invites him aboard, and thus begins this boy's adventure on The Polar Express, the train that transports only a few lucky and select boys and girls to the top of the world, to the North Pole, to meet Santa before he begins his journey around the world.  While on the train, the children feast on hot chocolate that is "as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars" and other magical and out of this world delights that are only surpassed by their excitement and wonder.

The train arrives at the North Pole just as the elves are gathering in the city's center to bid Santa farewell. Before he departs, Santa chooses the young boy from the visiting children to receive the first gift of Christmas.  The boy knows he can choose anything he has ever wanted.  What he chooses is a sleigh bell from one of the reindeer's harnesses, and when he shakes the bell, he is amazed by the beauty of the sound the bell makes- "a magical sound, like nothing" he's ever before heard.  He places the bell in the pocket of his robe, and he returns to the Polar Express for the trip home.

I can't tell you what happens next because- if you don't already know what happens- to experience the full impact and power of this story- and it's heartbreak and redemption-, you must read it while concurrently gazing on Van Allsburg's lush, evocative illustrations.  Trust me, the movie, in its over the top Hollywood style, completely glossed over the true spirit and simplicity of message of this wonderful book's story and artwork.  

The Polar Express is a stirring and graceful portrait of the innocence and magic of childhood.  It is a reminder to us all- both young and old- to keep our hearts open to the wonder around us.  This book is a tear jerker, a life lesson in 32 pages, a book to be shared each and every Christmas.

Sneak peek at Part 4:  Two porcine pals share the true Christmas spirit!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy 150th Anniversary!

There are books, and then there are books.  On this date in 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

Darwin had released one of history's most important texts.  The culmination of nearly 30 years of work -- in addition, Darwin 'stood on the shoulders of other scientists' -- his theories of natural selection were largely immediately embraced and laid the foundation of modern biology.

There are people a lot smarter than I who have written about Darwin during this past year, which also marks the 200th anniversary of his birth.  This includes evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson, who writes the occasional op-ed piece in the New York Times.  Read her article on the importance of Darwin and On the Origin of Species (Darwinmania!) here.

An aside.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were both born on February 12, 1809.

On this date in 1859, Lincoln was preparing for a speaking tour through Kansas.  He had recently suffered a defeat to Stephen A. Douglas in his run for the U.S. Senate, but was laying a foundation for a successful presidential campaign.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Details of the Neil Gaiman Event!!!

Neil Gaiman Is Coming To Decatur!

(Bold face type indicates clarifications added since this was initially posted.)

Little Shop of Stories is maniacally thrilled to announce that Neil Gaiman will be speaking at co-host Agnes Scott College on Monday, December 14, 2009, at 6 p.m.

For the unaware, Mr. Gaiman is an author who is active in a variety of forms of storytelling, including adult fiction and non-fiction, children’s books, graphic novels, and film.  His latest work is Odd and the Frost Giants, a children’s chapter book.

As fans of Little Shop know, Neil sent out a challenge to independent bookstores to throw a Halloween Party themed to his Newbery Award-winning The Graveyard Book.  We threw such a frightening scare into everyone who came to Little Shop’s party that we were named a grand prize winner and awarded this visit.  (Congratulations to co-winner McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg!)  In return, Neil and Harper Collins Publishers have won our everlasting and undead affection.

This will be a ticketed event.  You must have a ticket to get in.  A ticket will guarantee you a seat.  If you arrive at the event without a ticket, you are not guaranteed admittance.  In fact, the probability of getting in without a ticket are virtually nil.  Because we want to accommodate our fantastic customers who played such an integral role in getting this event, but at the same time acknowledge Neil's hard-core fans from outside the Atlanta area (some of whom are willing to travel hundreds of miles), here's the plan:

* On Monday, November 30th, tickets will be available to those who come in person to Little Shop of Stories.  There is a limit of one ticket per person, so if you would like to bring your entire family to see Neil, bring your entire family into Little Shop to get tickets.  As per Neil’s specific request, tickets are absolutely free.

*  On Monday, December 7th, a minimum of 100 tickets will be made available through either telephone reservations during normal store hours starting at 10 a.m. (404-373-6300) and ending at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, 10-8 on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10-9 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and 12-8 on Sunday, or by in-person request, and we will continue to take reservations for tickets during the days leading up to the event until all tickets are gone.  When calling, leaving a voice mail message is not sufficient.  You must talk to an actual person who will take your name.  No reservations will be accepted via E-mail or any other form of communication other than specified above.  You can then pick up your ticket at Little Shop during regular store hours on any day between December 7th though 2 p.m. on December 14th.  After that time, you will have yet to get your ticket at the will call table at Presser Hall.

*  Doors will open on Monday, December 14th at 5 p.m. at Agnes Scott College’s Presser Hall.  You must have a ticket.  However, there will be no reserved seating; first come, first seated.  Presser Hall is located on South McDonough Street, just south of East College Avenue, in Decatur.  A parking facility is located on the opposite side of McDonough.

Following his presentation, Neil will stay and sign books.  Due to the large number of people expected, he will sign and personalize only one book per individual.  However, Mr. Gaiman has offered to sign and personalize two books should at least one of them be purchased from Little Shop.  (Save those receipts!  You've got to have them.)

Mr. Gaiman’s books are available for purchase at Little Shop of Stories.  (This includes picture books, children's chapter books, and adult titles.)  Additionally, we will be conducting sales at Presser Hall prior to and following the event.  A limited number of signed books will be for sale at that time.

We look forward to seeing you on December 14th.  It should be a fantastic evening!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears

Every year I buy myself a Christmas gift and a Birthday gift. I always choose books and I've been doing it for a couple of years now. It's always a challenge to pick one book and so today I would like to share with you the book that made the cut for Christmas last year.

Emily Gravett is an author and illustrator who I think is absolutely amazing! The illustrations she creates are always intricate and captivating. Her stories are enjoyable and carry a great sense of humor to them. I chose her book, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, as my gift last year.

The book is actually the journal of Little Mouse and everything she's afraid of. At the end of the book she realizes that everyone has fears, and even some things are afraid of her! I'm big on interactive books, and this one doesn't disappoint. There is flaps, fold outs, a map (in the shape of a mouse), jagged pages - anything you could think of except popups. (Emily does make pop-ups though!) The story is great because, at a young age, I had tons of fears and I think it would have been reassuring to have this book. Another intriguing aspect is that who ever is reading the book can turn it into their own journal! Emily left blank spots on each page to allow the reader to reflect, draw, and write about their own fears. On top of that, (as if this book could get better) she even includes the technical names for all of Little Mouse's fears on the top of each page. Do you know what clinophobia means? It's the fear of going to bed. Oh yes, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears is educational as well!

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears is in my top ten for 'favorite picture books' list. I'm pretty confident that if you check it out, it'll rank high on your list too.

- Sydney

Friday, November 20, 2009

Little Shop of Stories' Most Awesome Graveyard Book Halloween Party!

How does an independent bookstore get Neil Gaiman to visit? Simple.  Just invite all of your customers -- your really totally cool, wonderfully awesome, fun-loving customers -- to a Graveyard Book Halloween Party!  Here's our video.  Photos are located in a post below.

We are working out the final details concerning Neil's December 14th visit to Decatur.  Information will be posted on this blog.  We're hoping to have it to you sometime on Monday, November 23rd.

Everyone at Little Shop is really, really excited!

In the meantime, here's some information about our video.

The crypt was created in the basement of our really old building. Quite honestly, it was pretty creepy when I was down there setting things up, even with all the lights on.  The Indigo Man was played by Frank, an old friend of the store.  He started out with a lot of his own tattoos, but was supplemented by Breanna, spouse of Matt.  Three glow in the dark skulls sufficed for the Sleer.  They were handled by Raphael, spouse of Marcy.  The voice of the Sleer was recorded by Lance Blair, a professional voice over artist and friend of Little Shop.  Mark, s/o, played the role of Jack.  Man, he was creepy, too.

Live music was provided by the Deadbeats and lead by the extremely talented singer/songwriter Sydney Rhame.  Eleven-years-old and she rocks!

Other things going on: blood punch and other goodies were served, make-up sessions were provided for the undead, people learned their ghoul names, a lesson on how to scream for help in a whole variety of different languages was held, and tombstones were made.

The Danse Macabre was performed at the gazebo on the Square.  An impromptu conga line was formed mid-way through Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's "Monster Mash."  It caught on in a flash.

This was all filmed and edited by another friend of Little Shop.  This is not a skill they taught us in law school; Jeanne must have learned this at night school.

The Decatur Christmas Tree

Decatur is a fantastic town  to live in. We have festivals, parties, concerts and independent shops and restaurants. We have Beach Parties and Book Festivals, live music in the spring and a community bonfire in the winter. But for the past few years there has been no Decatur Christmas tree, no gathering of the masses to sing carols and eat goodies and spread holiday cheer. This year we decided to change that.

With the help of other businesses (listed below), we are bringing the city Christmas Tree back to Decatur! The tree will sit on top of our building, so you'll be able to see it from the square and from Ponce all holiday long. And what would a tree be with out a tree-lighting party? So come out and join us as we kick off the season (and my favorite time of year) on Thursday, December 3 at 7 pm. East Court Square (the parking cul-de-sac in front of our store) will be closed, so there will be lots of room for everyone to hang out and for kiddies to run around. Glenwood Academy's choir will lead us in carol singing and we'll also have some tasty treats for everyone.We are also doing this in conjunction with Terrific Thursdays so shops all over the square will stay open late and offer discounts and specials for all your holiday shopping needs after the lighting is over.

Thanks to all the businesses that helped make this possible! 


Thanks also to Glennwood Academy and Collage Boutique!

We are so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful, supportive community. We're excited about the holiday season and hope you'll come out and celebrate with us.

Merry Christmas!

--Krista Gilliam

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Diane's Top Five Christmas Book Countdown, Part 2

This week's pick is an especially good one in that makes you feel good kind of way:

Eve Bunting's Night Tree is the story of a boy, his family, and their annual ritual of going into the woods on Christmas Eve to decorate a live evergreen for the animals that inhabit the forest.  The boy, his parents, and his younger sister string popcorn and hang fruit for the animals to come feast on once they have departed, while singing carols and sipping hot chocolate on an especially cold winter's night.

Simply, Night Tree is a sweet story about tradition and family and honoring all life.  If you dig deeper, you'll find a touching coming of age story about a boy awakening to the wonder of the world around him-  learning patience with a petulant younger sibling, recognizing and appreciating the sense of comfort and stability that comes from family ritual, understanding what it means to be a steward of the Earth.

I'm pretty sure you'll like it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Photos from Our Award Winning Graveyard Book Party!

In case you haven't heard- Neil Gaiman is coming to Little Shop!


Because we had the best Graveyard Book Party in the US of A!

Many of you who were unable to attend have asked to see some photos.

Here are a few, courtesy of our tall friend:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Neil Gaiman Update

Monday, December 14th, 6pm
Location and all other details as yet to be determined.

Neil Gaiman Is Coming! Yes, THE Neil Gaiman!

Thanks to everyone who came to our Graveyard Book Halloween Party and made it such a success!  Everyone seemed to have had a great time.  Such a great time that Neil Gaiman is coming to Decatur!

Details about our event with our very special guest, Neil Gaiman, will be announced on this blog later this week.


What Does It Mean To Be A French Bookstore

The Washington Post has a great article today about a small town's revival of a very small local bookstore. You can read the article here.  (The above photo is by Edward Cody of the W.P.)

It raises questions about French identity, government subsidies, local preservation, and small town survival.

In my limited European travels, one thing that truly makes an impression is the existence of small local independent bookstores. Of course, I seek them out. Every city, town, and village seems to have one, such as Roscommon, Ireland.

Many countries in Europe operate by different rules and customs. Germany, as an example, requires that books be sold at a fixed price. No discounts. Paperbacks are far more common everywhere -- even for new releases. The bottom line is that while bookselling is more highly regulated, competition appears to be greater. European consolidation in the publishing industry has not come close to the extent that has been reached in the U.S. Independents are far more likely to thrive.

- Dave

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Baby, I Was Born to Run...

Stop what you're reading right now and find a copy of Christopher McDougall's Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Seriously. This book will change your life. It's one of the best books I've read all year.

Now I have to give you a disclaimer. My husband Thad is an ultrarunner and I have spend weekends camped out in remote forests, ready with packs of power gel and salt tablets for when he comes bursting through the trees. I am familiar with races like the Leadville 100 and I also really enjoy running myself. (My longest run is still 1/10 of Thad's longest run, but he does set the bar high.) So that being said, if you like to run, or like to read about running, or if you can appreciate a good story, stop what you're reading right now and find a copy of Born to Run. (In fact, come to Little Shop and buy your copy here!)

I could go on and on (and I have) about my love for this book, so for the sake of keeping myself on track, here are the top 4 reasons why Born to Run is this year's must-read adventure journalism.

1. Amazing characters: From surfer girls who sprint down the beach naked to expats living in the middle of nowhere to Olympic athletes who brake world records to tribes in the isolated Copper Canyons in Mexico, Born to Run will make you fall in love with the crazies who get up in the morning and say, "Hmm. I think I'll run 26 miles today," and then go do it. Barefoot. I personally developed a small crush on Scott Jurek, the badass who holds the record for the Western States 100 Mile Run (the oldest 100 miler) and two-time winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon (a 135-mile race through Death Valley.) And even Christopher McDougall himself was a fantastic character to root for as he increased his runs from 5 miles to 50 miles as training for "the greatest race the world has never seen." --more on that later.

2. Inspiration: Years ago my dad read Into Thin Air and decided to become a mountain climber. He even did several of the Seven Summits (the tallest mountains on each continent) before moving on to his next pursuit. I didn't understand how a book could inspire someone to something so physically demanding until recently. After concluding chapter after chapter about how much fun running is, I would be motivated to lace up my shoes and hit the road. Not, obviously, for hundreds of miles, but I am content to pound the pavement for long stretches of time. The book spends a lot of time explaining the biology behind why humans were created as running beings and we should embrace that part of our heritage happily, enjoying the very act of running. Plus, after hearing a story about someone who had never run a marathon before and ended up breaking world records, running a few miles seemed like the least I could do.

3. Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Did you that over a long enough distance you can out run a horse? Or a dog? Or even a deer? Did you know that the more expensive your shoes, the more likely you are to be injured? Did you know that women's bodies handle long (and by long I mean looooong) distances better than men's because they have more fat to burn?

4. Adventurous Plot: Born to Run builds up to and culminates with a race (the greatest race the world has never seen, according to McDougall) pitting a rag-tag band of elite American ultrarunners against the Tarahumara, the Mexican running people who inhabit the Copper Canyons. After giving background information on all of the runners (see my comments above about the amazing characters), McDougall writes a page-turning climax of the race through the dangerous and deadly Canyons. It will make you stand up and cheer, wishing you could be there to urge the runners on. Come to think of it, I might get a chance to do so one day. Thad's considering the Copper Canyon run in the future...


Friday, November 13, 2009

Even the Goblins Are Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

We're all pulling out our cookbooks and selecting our best and favorite recipes to share with our families at Thanksgiving, and so are Oink, Boink and Moink, the three goblin stars of Tom MacRae's hilarious rhyming picture book, Baby Pie.

"Can you sniff it?"
"Can you whiff it?"
"Lick lips, pat belly, my oh my." 

This is the goblins' chant as they sneak up page by page on poor unsuspecting baby, getting closer and closer--climbing through the window and sneaking into the crib, drooling as they go, dreaming of steaming, delicious, Baby Pie.

"Baby pie! That's horrible!" You're saying. "This book is far too scary for a pre-schooler! How shocking that someone at Little Shop of Stories would recommend this awful book!"

Ah but see here's the kicker (and the part that will result in any previously slightly-worried-looking children giggling their heads off): a two-page spread near the end showing tiny little Oink, Boink and Moink shrinking in utter terror at the sight of the giant baby reaching playfully in their direction. It takes a second, but once kids realize this is a normal-sized baby causing such terror, and that there will in fact only be delicious and healthful vegetable pie consumed at the end, I can bet this will be a picture book your family will want to have second and third helpings of.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kyle Baker's Nat Turner

Today is veteran's day, but it's also the anniversary of another sort. 178 years ago today, Nat Turner was executed for leading a slave rebellion in Virginia. Kyle Baker, one of our nation's most versatile, prolific, and, unfortunately, overlooked cartoonists released a graphic novel of Nat Turner's life, from birth up through his leadership of the slave rebellion, his capture, trial, and execution.

The graphic novel is nearly wordless, mostly dependent on the power of the silent images to carry the story, although block quotes from the 1831 confessions of Nat Turner are reproduced liberally throughout the text.

This book is gorgeous, powerful, dramatic, harrowing... everything you want a reading experience to be. There are few graphic novel biographies that live up to or surpass the intimate, exhaustive promise of prose, but this book does that and more. Next time you're in the shop, pick it up and see for yourself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Diane's Top Five Christmas Book Countdown, Part 1

I am a sucker for Christmas- the lights, the songs, the shiny wrappings, the spirit- it's all so feel good.  However, I have always prided myself on being one of those retailers who didn't want to put Christmas in the face of her customers in early October.  Unfortunately, our current economic climate has forced me to re-think this position to a certain degree.  Truth is, to be a successful retailer nowadays, you have to remind your customers that the holiday shopping season is upon us.  So, last week we put out some limited holiday stock, and guess what?  At least three of our Christmas books were in the top ten for sales last week, and overall shop sales were particularly brisk.

I have shared many holiday books with my three children throughout the years, and there are several that are near and dear to me.  Over the course of the next five weeks, I'd like to share them with you.  They are presented in no particular order, and if pushed, I could probably not name one of them as an absolute favorite, only because each of them speaks to me for different reasons.

Back to the sights and sounds of the season- here's the BEST book that captures them:

Margaret Wise Brown has brought us many classics- Good Night Moon, Runaway Bunny, too many more to name here- and she is a master at capturing the language of the beauty and simplicity in life, whether it be a bunny testing limits or a cat taking in the Christmas celebration that surrounds her.  Coupled with Anne Mortimer's wonderful watercolors (if you ever write a kitty book, she's the one you want to illustrate your work),  Pussycat's Christmas is simply a delight to the five senses.

I'm hard pressed to find one passage to share.

If you've never experienced a fresh Christmas Eve snowfall, this is what it feels, sounds, smells like:

"...the sky was dark and low,
and there was the dark smell of winter air before snow...
And she ran right out
into the snow storm.
For if there is anything that this cat loved,
it was the cold, dry, fresh white, wild and feathery, powdery snow."

Back inside, away from the cold and surrounded by warmth, pussycat watches all the hustle and bustle as her people prepare for the evening's festivities:

"And could she hear the crackle and slip of white white tissue paper?
And red tissue paper?

She certainly could.

Tissue paper rustled.
Nuts cracked.
Scissors cut."

Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste- it's all here.  Brown's words make you feel that you are experiencing all first hand.  A Pussycat's Christmas is a kitty eyed view of the holiday season.  I hope you will share this classic with your little kitties.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Read This Book and I'm Still Hungry

I've heard others at the shop rave about The Hunger Games so often that I finally picked it up, just so I would know what all the fuss is about. And now, predictably, I will also rave about it :) This book has EVERYTHING that I like in a young adult book:

1. A unique, non-cliched premise: In a futuristic America, the capitol entertains its own people, and punishes the outlying districts for a long-ago rebellion, by demanding a yearly "tribute" of a boy and a girl  for a last-man-standing fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games (think WAY hard-core reality tv show);

2. A strong girl protagonist: Kat has been the main provider for her family since her father was killed, even though hunting and trading are highly illegal in her poverty-stricken district, and now will be forced to leave them to be her district's tribute;

3. Just enough of the mushy stuff- There are definitely  a few interesting romantic angles in this book, but not enough to be overwhelming;

4. Tension, action and adrenalin (although I won't say any more than that for fear of ruining any of the plot);

aaaand, MOST importantly....

5. A sequel! I did NOT want this book to end, and was extraordinarily pleased to discover that the sequel, Catching Fire, starts up right where Hunger Games leaves off, so I had more story immediately. Yay!

- Marcy