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Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry. The author of this site, Kristen McLean, is a designer, writer, and children's book ringleader who lives in Boston, MA. She is also the Executive Director of The Association of Booksellers for Children
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1. Zombies, messiahs, hippos and six other keys to understanding the future of Publishing

I’ve noticed it for the last couple of show cycles. I call it the restless Zombie effect.

I’ve watched attendees shuffle from room to room searching—consciously or unconsciously—for the messiah moment when someone will get up onstage and say “PublishingI HAVE THE ANSWER! I have seen the future and I know how to [save your business/fix the model/predict the behavior of customers]!”

When I squint my eyes I imagine a slightly more animated version of Dawn of the Dead, only set in a convention center with endlessly repeating carpet. George Romero, are you listening?

It doesn’t matter if it’s BEA, SXSW, O’Reilly’s Tool of Change, London, Frankfurt, or wherever. (Although I will put in a plug for the diminutive BISG Making Information Pay Conference, where I got more actionable intelligence on the future of publishing in four hours than at those other shows combined. Way to go guys.)

To be sure, we’re seeing some exciting things. Twitter feeds full of interesting ideas and smart insights. Great consumer information like what’s coming out of Bowker’s PubTrack service. New experiments in formats like Vook and Blio, and smart catalog projects like Above the Treeline’s Edelweiss. Direct to Digital publishing and promotion. Fun new aps like Readeo, A Story Before Bed, or Iceberg Kids, and new social/publishing hybrids like the forthcoming Figment.com.  Well-done extensions of book content into the digital universe like Scholastic’s 39 Clues, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s new Wondla-vision over at S&S. And let’s not forget the much-heralded arrival [insert incredibly brainy angels singing] of the iPad.

That’s all great. But like birds on a hippo, all these experiments are riding on the back of an industry poised on the edge, and it remains to be seen if we wind up with a fitter hippo or a Webkinz by the time we’re done.

More like evolution than revolution

I don’t think there’s necessarily going to be a messiah moment.

Or, if there is one, it won’t be coming from the places we usually watch for the simple fact that shifting t

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2. OBVIOUS WATCH: Preparing Kids for the Digital Future with Great Books

I don’t know if you caught it, but the lead article in today’s Publishing Perspectives is titled: Vitamins 2.0: How Children’s Books Can Change the World in a Digital Age.

The gist: give children beautiful books full of beautiful imagery–rather than digital bells and whistles– and they’ll be better prepared for managing the “high-stimulus” digital future. And start early. The earlier the better.

My reaction: Of course. What took you so long ?

The idea of exposing children to great books isn’t new. In fact, the idea that “great books build great minds” is at the foundation of most progressive literacy initiatives of the last 50 years. I appreciate the new emphasis on the “visual” aspect, but I think it’s just that the mainstream may be waking up to what librarians, teachers, authors, and children’s book publishers have known all along.

There are a wealth of great picture books which have been building imagination and visual perception since the golden age of the mid-twentieth century: Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Goodnight Moon to name just a few. No one who has fallen in love with those books thinks the words are doing the heavy lifting.

And I also believe we’ve got a bumper crop of amazing artists right now who are pushing the boundaries of the children’s book artform. Mo Willems, Emily Gravett, Lane Smith, Brian Selznick, Adam Rex, Kevin Henkes, Melissa Sweet, Peter Brown, Antoinette Portis, Loren Long, Shaun Tan, Matthew Reinhart, Peter Reynolds, Bob Shea… I could go on and on.

I don’t think it’s that books need to get flashier or more artistic, and in fact, adding too many bells and whistles can actually get in the way of developing great habits of mind through reading. Just adding more pictures doesn’t add more meaning. It’s hard to imagine how to improve on the bedtime experience of Goodnight Moon, for instance.

Here’s what we need to change: adults need to get better at understanding and encouraging active engagement with media. In general we tend to lack understanding of exactly how sophisticated a learning tool a great children’s book can be. Asking questions about the story, looking for details in the illustrations, anticipating what might happen next–-the

8 Comments on OBVIOUS WATCH: Preparing Kids for the Digital Future with Great Books, last added: 3/25/2010
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3. Adventure(s) of Meno


Adventure of Meno by Tony & Angela DiTerlizzi

Book 1: Big Fun!

Book 2: Wet Friend!

Simon & Schuster; Oct. 09; 48pp; $9.99 HC

978-1416971481 / 978-1416971498

Core Audience: giggly children 2-6 and retro-loving adults

Strengths: Appealing square trim, poppy visual approach, silliness

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about books, partly because all of the industry upheaval this year has directed my attention to larger issues, and partly because I am in the middle of writing a book myself. So it was a real pleasure to tear open an envelope recently and have these two books tumble out.

Just the antidote to too much heavy thinking.

Meet Meno, the supercute space-elf hero of Tony & Angela Diterlizzi’s new series for the peepers. With his green beanie, irrepressible cowlick, and nifty sweater & tie set, Meno is the embodiment of My Three Sons meets Dennis the Menace with a pinch of Japanese-inspired Friends With You thrown in for good measure.

Tony and Angela have said they were inspired by lots of mid-century influences when creating these books. Things like “Little Golden Books, old Fisher-Price toys, and vintage cereal boxes” as well as funny words like pickle, weasel and spork. They must have had a lot of fun doing this project, and it shows. Populated with friends like Yamagoo, Wishi, and—my favorite—Zanzibar who lives in his HAPPY FUN BOWL, Meno’s world is full of interesting names to roll around on the tongue.

Presented in “Vibrant MENO-COLOR” the books’ clean layout, punchy full bleed art, and bouncy text add up to a high-style package that will be equally at home on a children’s bookshelf or a pop-culture lover’s coffee table.

Because of their strong aesthetic and minimal, playful text, it would be easy to dismiss these books as a design exercise, but that would be a big mistake. In our house we’ve tested these books on a range of ages from 2 to 8 (as well as 40) with great success. We’ve even adopted some “menoisms” into our daily routine. We sometimes drink “moo juice” and like Meno, we always want it to be “sunshine time” at our house.

This cheeky series may not appeal to all parents, especially those who are overly concerned with the occasional silly potty joke or creative play with language. Dick and Jane do not make an appearance in Meno’s world, but that’s part of the appeal. These books will entertain in direct proportion to an adult’s willingness to get goofy. They fall into the same category as tickle tag, making silly faces, and rolling around on the floor. Lots of fun, and a great opportunity to share some all-ages giggles.

Meno is BIG FUN for sure.

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4. Swingin’ on the Amazon Vine


Swinging on the vine

Not sure if you’ve been paying attention to the Amazon Vine brouhaha kicked off by Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 last week, but if you are an industry tracker I’d urge you to take a look.

Here’s Betsy’s original post (make sure you read all comments), an additional perspective from Chasing Ray, as well as author Adam Rex’s opinion over on his blog.

I think this discussion has some larger implications for the industry, which is why it’s going to continue to get play.

Here’s what I find interesting:

sad_amazon

1) Lack of transparency at Amazon

Amazon holds a very influential position in terms of consumer behavior at the moment, and it’s not at all clear, even among Vine Reviewers, how they were picked and exactly how their targeted lists are generated.

Publishers are similarly in the dark. I spoke to the head of marketing at one of the larger publishers yesterday who has not yet participated in the Vine Program because her department is unclear on how it works. They have the same questions we do.

I hope this discussion sheds some light on the issue, because I don’t think it’s a great practice to start a program that gives individuals an influential voice without being clear about who they are and how it works.

It does those chosen individuals a disservice—many of whom have taken the time to comment thoughtfully at Fuse #8 and the Amazon forum—as well as the authors they are reviewing, and it taints all the reviews with the air of mistrust. The credibility of these reviews will only be completely clear when Amazon explains the details.

Because Amazon takes a strictly hands-off approach, it seems like there is no baseline being set for how to write a thoughtful review that tells the readers what they need to know to decide if this book is for THEM. Just saying whether you liked it or not isn’t the same thing. Also, it bears mentioning that Vine members are also reviewing all kinds of consumer goods besides books.

From what I can tell, many Vine reviewers ARE taking the time to write thoughtful reviews, but since the program requires a certain level of review participation, perhaps books that wouldn’t be a reviewer’s first choice are getting posted.

It does appear, however, that in the case of the two books mentioned in Betsy’s post, Tony DiTerlizzi’s Meno, and Mac Barnett & Adam Rex’s Guess Again, the early Vine reviews didn’t reflect a very nuanced range of opinio

6 Comments on Swingin’ on the Amazon Vine, last added: 11/4/2009
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5. A letter of condolence to former Amazon Affiliates


photo_condolence

Dear Jilted Amazon Affiliates Everywhere,

Boy, it sure sucks to be dumped.

There you are, doing a great job of recommending awesome books, handing Amazon the sales, and they just up and leave the party.

To add injury to insult, I’m sure it didn’t feel good to hear from the Wall Street Journal that collective sales from your sites only *account for a relatively small slice of Amazon’s traffic, so the move isn’t likely to cause major damage to the company’s business.*

It’s like the morning after the prom, when in wrinkled dress and wilting corsage you realize they’re just not that into you. At least, not when they may have to collect millions in state sales tax that could help fix bridges, keep schools open and fund libraries at a time when your states are truly suffering.

And they seemed so nice.

Well, I want to invite you to the indie party. While the flashy prom has been happening at the country club, we’ve been holding our own get-together in the gym. What we lack in glamour, we make up for in charm. Like you, we love to recommend books. We think it’s cool that you’re recommending books, and with us there’s no such thing as too small. We won’t marginalize you. And we all pay our local taxes.

Best of all we have an affiliate program too! It’s called IndieBound, and we’d love to have you be a part of it. You’ll get a reward for using it, your readers can keep getting their books off your site, and your state will benefit in the end. Everyone wins.

Again, we’re sorry that you lost your date. (We never really liked them anyway.) We promise we won’t leave you hanging.

Sincerely,

Indie Booksellers Everywhere

###

From Kristen:

Since I wrote this
, there’s been a pretty big kerfuffle. Amazon has notified affiliates in Hawaii, North Carolina, and Rhode Island that they are terminating their agreements. It’s all over Twitter, and quickly spinning out of control.

I have to believe that in their hubris, Amazon really believes that the bad PR this will generate on the part of the thousands of mom and pop affiliates out there is outweighed by their not having to collect those taxes and yield the competitive advantage they have built their model on.

I don’t believe that the aggregate sales from the hundreds of thousands of affiliate partners that may be affected represents an insignificant number regardless of what they say. Especially when you consider the marketing value of those millions of little Amazon links on websites everywhere. I think they are throwing their weight around to get their way but they better be careful.

Hell knows no wrath like a knitter scorned.

Andy Ross, former owner of the wonderful bookstore Cody’s in Berkeley, CA and now the principal of  The Andy Ross Agency has been following the issue in relation to a similar initiative in his state. He has long been fighting for e-fairness.

He had this to say via an e-mail response earlier today:

When I was a bookseller out here, I worked for about 10 years with Hut Landon and Bill Petrocelli to get a law passed like the NY law. It got thwarted by the Tech industry.

So Hawaii has a similar bill. And Amazon threatened the same thing (as they have done in North Carolina). I just heard that the Gov of Hawaii vetoed the Amazon bill. So they are having an impact.

The affiliate program with Amazon is huge (I think) not just because it is driving sales to Amazon, but because of the huge promotional factor that this creates.

But I suppose that Amazon’s ability to evade sales tax gives them such a competitive advantage over local businesses that it trumps the affiliate programs. Really, it is like the state of California (and most other states), giving a tax break so that an out of state company can get a competitive advantage over a local company. This is like jumping down the rabbit hole.

I’ve been following this story closely for about 10 years. Amazon has, protean-like, changed their excuse why they should be excused from collecting these taxes.

First they said that they shouldn’t have to collect sales tax because the Internet was a frail and delicate bird  and should be given a break to build this new economic engine. At the same time they said that the Internet was the economic juggernaut that was driving the new economy. (How Internet commerce could be both a frail bird and an economic juggernaut has always been puzzling to me.)

Then they said that they were totally flummoxed by the complexity of having to collect so many different amounts of sales tax from the 5000 discrete tax districts in America. This from the company who had no problem keeping track of the reading habits of 20,000,000 consumers.

Then they said that the laws were unconstitutional. Hmm. I always thought that it was the Supreme Court who made that determination.

As Tennessee Williams famously said: “I smell the smell of mendacity in this room”.

Amen, brother.

1 Comments on A letter of condolence to former Amazon Affiliates, last added: 7/23/2009
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6. The Future of Publishing à la Jason Epstein


Layout 1

In case you missed it, make sure you check out the text of Jason Epstein’s keynote on the future of publishing in the digital world, as presented at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference.

In it he lays out a great case for human nature, and how it will save us from the undifferentiated content streaming through the WWW.

Also he articulates his vision for good content (authors must eat), e-readers (yes), large publishing houses (will die), print-on-demand (Gutenberg x 10), and lots of other stuff.

If you don’t know who Epstein is, he has worked in the publishing industry for fifty years as an editor and a publisher, and is responsible for many innovations.  He created Anchor Books at Doubleday, which was the first Trade Paperback imprint, and he is the co-founder of On Demand Books, which markets the Espresso Book Machine, which can print and bind a 320 page book on demand in about 4  minutes.

Ten years ago he did a series of lectures on the publishing industry at the New York Public Library which became Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future. I highly recommend it.

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7. The E-book Dilemma


books-in-the-trash

It seems like everyone is worrying about the e-book these days.

In meetings, in the press, at professional gatherings and in the hallways, there’s a lot of chatter going on. “What will it mean for sales? For wholesalers? For reps? For the printed book? What about children’s books? Will we ever see a digital picture book? Will this change my job? Will I have a job?”

Very few people are asking what this means for readers (except Amazon), but readers will make their feelings known as time goes on.

My advice to the industry: don’t panic, but don’t be stupid either.

Let me also say that I have absolutely no problem with e-books. It’s a great format for certain kinds of books, and for certain kinds of readers. I’m no Henny Penny.

What I am concerned about is whether we are approaching the innovation in a smart way with a view to the long term future. In our anxiety, I’m not sure we’re asking the right questions.

It’s one thing if the book evolves away from the hard copy as an outcome of market forces. That’s natural selection, and when we get there, that will be what it is.

It will be quite another if the industry kills the hard copy inadvertently through a shortage of vision. That would be a Darwin Award, which is something else all together.

***

ostrich

I was inspired to write this essay after reading a comment by an industry professional in Shelf Awareness that “E-books are an avoidable and discretionary layer of production cost and administrative complexity laid on top of a relatively efficient form of publishing that has existed for centuries.”

At best this position is wishful thinking, and at worse it’s fatally flawed for anyone involved in the book industry.

The book has been a constantly evolving technology, and it’s a mistake to think otherwise. (Clay tablets, anyone? Papyrus scrolls? How about an illuminated manuscript? Lead typesetting? Offset printing? Digital production?)

E-books are here to stay. Consumers are driving the trend, and it won’t work to simply dismiss them. They are not a huge chunk of the market–about 1%–but they are a growing one–up 68% over last year–and soon there will be a loyal customer who prefers them to hard copy.

How fast this segment will grow is open for debate, but as an industry we better get ahead of it, figure out a sustainable cost structure, and serve those customers broadly or Amazon really will dictate the market terms for everyone.

***

Talking ’bout my generation

In addition to a technological debate, this is a generational debate both for consumers and for us in the industry. For the next twenty to thirty years, we are going to have to serve three really different demographics, each with a unique consumer pattern, and each with influence over the outcome.

On one end you have the Baby Boomers.

All 70 million of them.

red-book-white-backgroundBy and large, this generation loves its books, and will be much more reluctant adopters of the e-book. Some members of this group will never embrace electronic technology at all. By and large this group is economically better off than the generation before them, and they have a higher degree of education than previous generations.

These guys are a major economic powerhouse that will be driving hard books sales for some time to come, and they will exert a measure of industry balance against the Gen-Z group when it comes to how far and how fast e-books will bloom.

We already know how to serve this customer very well, but sooner or later they’re going to leave us.

***

In the middle you have Gen-X, and Gen-Y. This group, which includes folks that came of age as computers came of age (born between 1965-1999), are a transitional crowd. (I recently heard someone call this generation Digital Immigrants, which I love.)

kindle_w_booksThey read books. They own books. They also own computers, blackberries, and can get around the wired world.

They adopt new technologies without throwing out the old. The Kindle and Sony E-reader are their thing. If a better, more integrated solution comes along for e-books, they’ll pick it up instead.

They will gravitate to e-books for formats and reasons that make sense to their lifestyle, like taking it on the road, organizing many references into a handy package, and for cost reasons. They also will continue to buy paper books for pleasure, but will understand they don’t HAVE to buy something in a hard copy if they don’t want to. They are discriminating.

We’re serving this group pretty well, but they’re not buying everything we’re selling.

***

On the other end you have the Gen-Z readers, the post-electronic generation born after 2000 who will be completely wired, and who will no longer think of a book solely as something made of paper you hold in your hands. This generation, which is gaining strength with every baby born today, will be the real force behind e-books. (These guys? They’re Digital Natives.)

ipod-touch2This reader isn’t going to buy a Kindle, because they’d rather download an e-book to their 9-inch iPod, or whatever other fancy integrated machine is available when they hit the consumer market. Why buy a separate machine when they’re already using their handheld for everything else?

This generation will be super literate, and they will be absorbing media in all forms interchangeably. This includes some hard copy books, e-books, and web content, but they will be predisposed to the speed and seamlessness of the electronic world. Web 3.0 will be their playground.

This group will drive the market, not the other way around, and it’s this customer we need to get in front of (if we can.)

***

Question Mark

We’re asking the wrong questions

It’s a big challenge to figure out how to meet these divergent readers, especially with all of the channels competing for consumer attention.

However, I believe the biggest issue we face as an industry is not how fast e-books will gain market share, but how we will price them properly so that they accurately reflect the costs involved in making them.

Up until now, we have had a tendency to think e-books are somehow cheaper to produce than regular books. More to the point, that is the consumer perception, which makes sense unless you understand exactly what goes into a book’s real cost.

There is definitely efficiency to be gained by not printing, storing, and shipping a hard copy of a book, but a book costs exactly the same to bring to the point of market readiness no matter what format it ultimately takes. (Assuming that it is a professionally written and produced book, that is.)

There are rights, advances, editorial, copy-editing, and proofing expenses, as well as set-up and general overhead. Furthermore, for e-books there is a whole set of digital readiness costs like IT overhead, web design, data management, data servers, networking costs, and other very real expenses.

How much of a book’s cost is made up of these various elements? More than consumers think.

As was rightly pointed out by Carolyn K. Reidy, of Simon & Schuster, it’s not a foregone conclusion that an e-book should be cheaper. It really depends on the upfront costs. The last thing we need is to habituate the consumer to an unsustainable and artificially cheap price point. There will be no going back once their expectations have been set.

If a book was only going to be put out electronically, what would the cost be then? Electronic books are only much cheaper if we’ve invested in the upfront costs already for its hardcover sister. We need to think very carefully about this as an industry, and we better do it quick.

Do publishers really want to be in a situation down the road where they have two products selling side by side in equal numbers, with the same content, and where one is less than half the price of the other? That’s a great way to kill the hard copy book for sure. Can our industry support its costs solely on sales of e-books at $9.99? In a hypothetical world where only e-books are bought, can a publisher afford half the revenues on the same number of units? Are we really going to make it up by doubling the e-units sold?

I’m not convinced, especially as sheer consumer demographics are on the Baby Boomer end of things these days. We already know that the pool of active readers isn’t expanding, and now some of our most committed readers are going to be dying off.

If I was a publisher, I’d be thinking not just about the next three years when I price this content, but about the next 30, when all those Baby Boomer book sales go away.

***

read-or-die-bag

We’d best make a choice and make it quick

On the retail side, the big question is how to sell e-books—a format that is tailor-made for downloading—in a bricks-and-mortar store. And this is not just a question for indie bookstores, but for all retailers who currently sell books. So far, the best (and perhaps the only viable) suggestion I’ve heard has come from Bob Miller, head of HarperStudio.

At ABA’s recent Winter Institute, as part of the opening keynote on the state of the industry, he suggested a model where we sell an enhanced hard copy of a book that includes codes for the consumer to also acquire the e-book and/or the audio book via download with one purchase. So, for an extra amount—$2.00, let’s say—the customer will get the “whole” book in multiple formats.

Some folks have questioned whether the consumer wants the extra formats. That’s missing the point. One of the principals of retail is to sell them the things they don’t know they want, but are happy to have. If the price point is right, it will make sense to most consumers especially as e-books gain traction, and is an excellent opportunity to up-sell.

This is an elegant solution that avoids difficult-to-maintain systems like cards, kiosks, and other messy gap solutions. Frankly, it’s the only solution I’ve heard that makes sense.

Publishers will be selling hard copies of books plus the bonus of added e-book revenue through all channels, stores will get a piece of the business regardless of whether they are tech-savvy or not, and consumers will get their content across multiple platforms in a single purchase. And they’ll have more than one choice when it comes to where they get their content.

Again, time is of the essence. As an industry, we have to figure this out, or we will be completely run over and at the mercy of consumer patterns out of our control.

We can either innovate like we’ve never innovated before, or sit and see what the tide of shifting consumer patterns brings our way.

Which would you rather do?

To my mind, it seems like a pretty cold time for a swim.

***

Part of this essay first appeared in Shelf Awareness on 2/12/09.

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8. Happy Trails to you…book trails, that is.


Reading Trails logo

Happy New Year!

I have a present for you.

No, really.

You deserve it, especially if you work in retail or publishing.

Allow me to introduce Reading Trails, a fantastic new site for bibliophiles that allows users to build groups or ‘trails’ of books linked together by any esoteric theme you can come up with. (A few of my favorites: Books I obnoxiously insist on pushing on my friends’ children, books to write home about, and the ever-popular They Made Me Read it and I Still Resent Them.)

It’s a remarkably simple idea. Find a trail that you like, browse through it, and look for books that intersect with another trail, and then keep exploring. See a trail that sparks an idea? Make a trail of your own in response. Share it with friends direct from the site, or add a widget to your blog and show it off.

Like the Visual Thesaurus, and another of my all-time favorite musical sites Pandora, the whole thing is very intuitive, and as the site grows I expect it will become richer and richer with collective creativity. I can imagine all sorts of great uses, like book club suggestions, a repository for essential lists, and just plain fun.

At the moment, many lists have only a handful of books in them, but I know that you—the pixie stix readeratti—can kick some major butt when it comes to making great lists with substantial meat.

The site was launched in November 2008, but with the industry maelstrom many of us have been in, it seems to have flown under the radar so far. Not for much longer I hope.

It’s a great way to kick off a fantastic year of new reading.

Postscript: I know this is going to come up from booksellers, so let me say that I have already been in touch with the site managers about adding a link to IndieBound along with the purchasing links to Amazon and Abebooks. On the plus side, this site also links to libraries, which is awesome, I think.

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9. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be clever…


firmin2

In the rat race that is publishing, everyone is trying to make their books stand out on the shelf. Some retail studies suggest a product has three seconds or less to catch the eye of a shopper. So the package of a book is important, and there is some truth to the cliche about how to judge a book. However, in the rush for recognition, it’s possible to make a major miscalculation.

Like this one, for instance, which sparked the cussing ire of Paul Constant of the Stranger today.

The book in question is Sam Savage’s Firmin, first published in 2006 to good critical review by Coffee House Press, a non-profit house in Minneapolis, which is presumably why it has found new life.  Here is the just published edition from Random House.

firmin-new

That cutesy chomp is actually a die-cut, which I’m sure cost a pretty penny in production. The problem? It falls right where many readers would like to hold the book.

The original edition was less slick, but eminently more readable.

firmin-original-2006-edition-coffee-house

The book was also published in the UK this year by Weidenfield & Nicolson, and they seemed to have had a close brush with overly ambitious design as well.

Here’s the UK galley:

firmin-uk

And here’s the final book where they wisely pulled back.

firmin-uk-final-copy

It’s still a great story, but it’s always best not to piss off your readers. Also, just from a authenticity point of view, mice always chew from the corners.

Have a story about bad book design that got in the way of YOUR reading experience? Do share.

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10. Poetry in motion


I love language. I especially love the poetry that comes from chasing words free association style through the pages of a Roget’s unabridged. As someone who makes their living largely through writing, there is no better office companion. With words grouped by meaning rather than alphabet, browsing it often feels like a waking dream or an act of meditation. I even use it in my design work when I am stuck for inspiration.

So, imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that the good folks at Thinkmap have taken my intuitive approach one step further, and created a Visual Thesaurus that in their words “works like your brain, not a paper-bound book. You’ll want to explore just to see what might happen.” Type in any word, and before your eyes blossom the most beautiful, delicate constellations. At the heart is your word, and around it a branching depiction of all of the related words on a snowy white field.

Each related word meaning is depicted by a different color (noun, verb, adjective, or adverb), and its relationship to the original word, be it synonym or antonym, is depicted by a different kind of line. Click an icon in the center, and you can even hear it pronounced. Click on any word in the constellation and a new form magically blooms. Quite aside from its usefulness, it’s really beautiful.

“The whole interface feels almost alive; it reinforces word connections in a direct manner and encourages exploration… overall it’s a rare, rewarding example of a paper-bound process that has been radically rethought from the bits up.” -The Washington Post

Check out a free trial at www.visualthesaurus.com, and while you’re there try your hand at the spelling bee or any of the other fun language games, create your favorite thematic word constellations, and generally join the language geekery. If you love it as much as I do, the $20 annual subscription seems like a small price to pay for something that’s both practical and a whole bunch of fun.

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11. Tips for success in the children’s book industry


lottery balls

 

If you want to get rich, pick another industry. Seriously.

 

Do not write about your dog, your grandkids, horses, rainbows, puppies, feelings, or fairies. Be careful about wizards too.

 

Get a [good] agent.

 

Work with a professional editor.

 

Work with a professional book designer.

 

Assume the publisher will assign the illustrator.

 

Know that it’s a numbers game.

 

Writing a book is much harder than you think.

 

There is no such thing as a shortcut that works in children’s publishing.

 

Get comfortable with rejection.

 

When you think you’re finished, cut 200 pages.

 

Understand the difference between guerilla marketing and gorilla marketing. The first is okay; the second is not okay.

 

Seek to broaden your understanding beyond writer’s societies.

 

Become a prospective bookseller.

 

Become a prospective publisher.

 

Know that the market over-publishes, and only the strong survive the first printing.

 

Understand the difference between frontlist, backlist, and midlist.

 

Don’t call yourself a publisher unless you have more than six different books by different authors in print and you own the ISBNs.

 

Present yourself professionally.

 

Don’t try to start a viral campaign under an assumed name.

 

If you self-publish, expect skepticism.

 

Invest in professional design for your website.

 

Even award-winning authors have trouble moving books.

 

Publishers and booksellers talk; your reputation for difficulty will precede you.

 

Stop reading bestsellers if you want to write.

 

The way to the universal is through the deeply personal.

 

None of this $#%@$! matters unless you write a good book.

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12. Savvy


savvy

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Penguin; May 2008; 352 pp; $16.95 HC

978-0803733060

Core Audience: Readers 12+ and folks who love predicting award winners

Strengths: Completely original from cover to cover and then some

Twelve-year-old Mibs Beaumont has been counting down the days till her thirteenth birthday—the day her “savvy” will make itself known. Will she be able to create hurricanes like her brother? Or capture wonderful sounds in canning jars like her grandmother? Then Mibs’ father has a terrible accident just before her birthday, and Mibs feels sure that her savvy will be to help her dad. When she stows away on a traveling salesman’s pink bus to try to get to her father’s distant hospital, she finds herself on a madcap odyssey in the heartland of America—one that is as full of unexpected adventure and friendship as Mibs herself. Like some of my other favorite offbeat books of recent years, this story is absolutely original, with detail and a richness in the writing that paves its own way. This novel is also remarkable in the fact that it combines matter-of-fact bible belt imagery and fantastical super-powers in the same story in a way that manages to be neither off-puttingly dogmatic or overly fantastical, but rather sort of dreamy and lyrical. A book as unexpected as its main character and anyone who reads it seems to love it, no matter where they are coming from.

Rating: 9.0

IB logo

Buy this book from your local independent bookstore

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13. The Patron Saint of Butterflies


Patron Saint

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Bloomsbury; April 2008; 304 pp; $16.95 HC

978-1599902494

Core Audience: Girls 14+ and adult crossover readers

Strengths: Timely subject, amazingly perceptive writing, and unflinching honesty

If you haven’t yet read this book personally, move it up your pile, because this is one of the best reads I’ve chewed through this year. This book is timely in that it centers on two girls being raised in a fundamentalist religious cult, but this book completely steers clear of sensationalism. It’s told in alternating voices of two childhood friends: one girl who now buys the party line, and the other who chafes under it like a wet wool blanket. It is an amazing piece of writing about finding one’s voice, conformity, the nature of family, identity during adolescence, and it has a satisfying and redemptive ending. There were a couple of harrowing moments in the reading where I was so emotionally invested that I had a hard time remembering that I was not actually in the book. The unflinching honesty probably comes from the fact that the author herself was raised in a cult, and has had many years to come to terms with her family’s experience. (The first draft of the book was a memoir which was deemed too dark for sale.) Because of the topic, many folks may need a handsell on this book, but they will not be disappointed. This is a great one for mother-daughter book clubs, and will offer much fodder for discussion.

BONUS: This book will raise may questions about the nature of fiction and memoir for readers, and Cecilia Galante has put some substantial thought into her website where she thoughtfully answers the questions readers often ask.

Rating: 9.5

INdie Bound

Buy this book form your local independent bookstore

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14. In praise of idiosyncrasy


Handmade tag

If my blog had a wash-and-wear tag it would say:

Slight imperfections, bumps, and color variations are characteristics of handcrafted projects, and they enhance the beauty of this garment.

Why do I say this?

I’m just back from an extended Book Expo hiatus, which is a three month marathon for me, during which I literally have time for nothing else, including food and sleep.

It’s nice to be home.

In recent link-backs some of you blogeratti have very tactfully pointed out that although I post infrequently, what I have to say is interesting, or relevant, or at least not-irrelevant. I appreciate your circumspection.

But here’s the thing I have noticed about being a blogger. I’m sure you other bloggers will understand. If I’m not careful, blogging begins to feel an awful lot like work. And, as many of you know, I have plenty of work already.

delete

How many of you saw the 4/6 article in the NYT titled In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop? Actually, that’s probably a stupid question, since we are a pretty self-referential bunch. I’m sure the blogosphere was alight. Anyway, it talks about bloggers dropping dead from overwork. Most of us kid lit bloggers are nowhere near that level of ridiculousness, but I did have to make a decision early on to pace myself.

It’s easy to see how it can get away from you. Starting out, I got a little thrill each time my blog was mentioned by another blog, especially ones with lots of traffic. I obsessed over my metrics. I lost sleep to write. “They like me! I’m included! MUST-WRITE-MORE!”

My initial experience of blogging suddenly felt very much like high school. Who are the taste-makers? Who are people talking about? What do I want to say about what they’re saying? If I wasn’t writing, I felt compelled to read everything, just in case.

After a few weeks I suddenly thought “Wait a minute! I already went through high school. I am SO over it. Duh.” (Sound of forehead being slapped.) I still check out what’s being talked about, but now I appreciate that reading less insures that what I’m writing about is coming from an original and organic place.

Which brings me to my next point. I also recognized very early on that there are two types of blogs. Those that generate original content and those that serve as a clearinghouse by aggregating lots of interesting information from other blogs/cyberspace in one place, often with added commentary. Aggregating content seemed like a great way to generate traffic, but too much of a treadmill. I guarantee that those recently deceased bloggers in the NYT article were spending lots of time on that same treadmill.

So, original content it is. It suits my creative nature anyway.

I’m a marketer by profession. I know the rule that regular posting=more traffic. It’s true, if traffic is all you care about, and you actually have something relevant to say. It’s possible to bootstrap your way to industry fame through this technique.

But here’s what I care about: writing about whatever interests me, whenever it interests me. Writing about it in depth, and being realistic about everything I have to do. In short, going for authenticity and substance over popularity. (Again, like high school.)

So, I am unfurling the banner of the Idiosyncratic Blogger, and making my confession. I am an inconsistent poster. I may go for quite some time without saying a thing, and then I will post in a clump. I occasionally will apologize to you, my readers out of a sense of guilt. I may make excuses. I hereby give myself permission to have a life beyond this desk. I’m going deep, and I’m in it for the long haul. If nothing else, I promise to be authentic, even in my inadequacy.

Want to join the IB club? I’d love company! I give you permission to be imperfect too!

dad in the mirror

I’m about to cross the 100,000 hit mark here at pixie stix.

I don’t know 100,000 people, so I must be doing something right.

During my childhood, my (slightly eccentric) father had a ritual when his long suffering truck would hit a 100,000 mile odometer reading. (Several of his trucks have made this marker 2 or 3 times, as in 300K.) No matter where he was, he would stop the truck, get out, and circle the truck three times. Could be a busy four lane highway, or it could be a dusty back road. Then, without a word, he would keep driving.

I want to take a moment both to thank the many great people who have linked to me in praise of a post, or those that have been clearly passing the word.

If you were here with me, you would see me circling the desk three times.

Now let’s keep going.

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15. Tikatok


T9okatol

www.tikatok.net

At BEA recently, I was facilitating a panel on the Gen-Z reader, (as in Gen x, gen y, gen z), and one of the threads the conversation turned to was whether the publishing industry can use the music industry as an example for the future. In particular whether artists/authors will take control of the medium as they have in music, thereby cutting out the middle man. The panelists were not convinced that the model went that far, given all the complicated things that have to happen to make a book a book. I myself am pretty sure that we will see increasing examples of this, given that consumer control over pretty much everything is the wave of the future. I definitely think that the readers and authors of the future will be much more empowered and DIY about things.

It’s already happening.

I give you Tikatok, an online publishing service for the young authors of the moment. Started by a mom, this is basically a site where, for less than $20, children can self-publish their own paperback or hardcover book. Using “story sparks” or completely from scratch, they do it all using the template based system. They can upload art directly to the site or mail it in. The whole thing is very well designed, clean, and easy to navigate. They even offer packages to schools and libraries for group orders. (This might be a very cool project for a children’s bookstore too!) The site is very family centered, and has an awesome and well-thought-out privacy policy.

And, the above handmade example aside, there are several examples on their site of books with fantastic art and photographic treatments. It’s possible to come up with a very credible product. Especially if you’re a second grader.

Yes, there have been self-publishing projects for kids in the past, but never have they been so kid-centered, user-friendly, or so interactive. Seriously, this is something an elementary kid could do pretty much on their own. Certainly, not every tikatok author will run their own publishing house in the future, but it’s not a far leap from here to web publishing, blogging, and all other manner of communication. I do think the youngsters of today will have a VERY different idea about communication when they hit adulthood.

As a mom, I think this is pretty cool.

What do you think?

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16. Agate (or What good is a picture book? Really good, as it turns out.)


Agate cover

Agate: What good is a moose? by Joy Morgan Dey, illustrated by Nikki Johnson

Lake Superior Port Cities; April 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC

978-0942235739

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Anyone who has ever felt outshined

Strengths: Luminous artwork; great message

If you have been reading pixiestix for awhile you are probably aware of my feelings about marginal books that are either self-published, or that are produced by small presses that don’t quite get how to put the total package together. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches every year for these kinds of books, and when you combine that with the thousands of mainstream books that flow across my desk in a given year, it really takes something to make me sit up.

And this, my friends, is that something.

Meet Agate, the hero of this wonderful and unexpected picture book from a pair of artists and a small regional press from Duluth, MN. Agate is in a metaphysical quandary. “What good is a moose?” he asks when he compares himself to all of his other “birthstone” friends, like Garnet the Crocodile, Emerald the Lion, and Sapphire the Hippo.

WGIAM?

He has a big case of the inferiors, and any child who has ever felt dull will recognize themselves here. At the back of the book, there is a nice appendix that talks about birthstone gems. The writing and rhymes here are very sweet, but what really makes this book is the incredible watercolor illustration presented on a sparkling white ground.

giraffe

giraffe

These are just quick scans. For the full effect, get a copy and check out how eye-popping they really are. I particularly like the way Nikki Johnson has let the natural flow of the paint create the rich texture of the animals in motion.

This book really has it all: clean uncluttered design, a nice story, a good message, a eye-catching cover, fresh art, and the element of surprise. This proves the point that a small press with no background in kid’s books really can do a great job. Amazing books can come from anywhere, which why it is SO important that people setting off to make a picture book (or indeed any book) for the first time really understand what it takes, and know the market.

Apparently the author and illustrator brought the project to the press. Bravo to Lake Superior Port Cities for recognizing that Agate really is a gem of the highest order.

agate stone

 

Rating: 9.0

Booksense

Buy this book from your local independent bookstore

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17. Monster go away! Spray


spray

Okay, this wins my award for best sideline of the year.

Developed by a mother of three, this is the ultimate in monster defense. The spray itself is made of English Roman Chamomile, High Altitude French Lavender and Italian Mandarin essential oils, but its psychological mojo comes from the empowering feeling kids get by running around their room at bedtime, spraying it anywhere and everywhere monsters lurk. Then, once all the meanies are vanquished, all that lovely calming fragrance will help youngsters sleep sweetly.

torrey's monster

Extra bonus: parents of stinky children everywhere will rejoice at the added nasal benefits.

At $10.00 per bottle retail, it seems a small price to pay for a smooth bedtime. It’s unclear if she offers wholesale terms, but there is a volume discount. Order directly from the mom in question.

 

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18. Duck and run


duck for pres

I have found my candidate!

I have loved him from afar for years and years. I can’t believe that in this moment of national crisis I didn’t think of him sooner.

This arrived in my box today:

Undecided Voters Flock to New Candidate

Barn Party Announces Duck as Presidential Nominee

NEW YORK (January 30, 2008): In a mass migration from established party politics, undecided voters are flocking to a new political party that promises change—real change. The Barn Party offers Americans an agenda of domestic goals supported by children’s booksellers and librarians, first and second graders, and the cracked corn industry. Leading the party’s charge for more reading aloud, recess and protecting the family farm, is Duck, an Avian-American who is making a splash among independent voters across the country.

Duck, a farmyard hero, has declared his entry as the Barn Party’s presidential candidate for the election of 2008. Previously holding elected offices as Farmer and Governor, Duck is seeking the Presidency to present a new face of the United States to the global community. “This election will be a quack heard round the world,” said the Barn Party campaign chairman, Paul Crichton of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Duck’s authorized biographer, children’s author Doreen Cronin, says, “Duck’s time has come. He worked hard on the farm, and even harder as Governor. Hard work brings change, and Duck is a choice for change.”

Amen.

It’s not as if we don’t have the lamest duck in the office now. And the barn is a fairly egalitarian place, as far as I can tell. Maybe we’d all be better off in the long run. I hope I get a pin or placard for BEA.

Cluck, cluck, cluck.

Find out more: www.duckforpresident.com

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19. Time flies when you’re moving to the subtropics….


TV

Hello faithful readers.

As if I wasn’t taking on enough with a new baby this year, we’ve gone and moved from the picture postcard quaintness of New England…

snowstorm

to the picture postcard sunsets of Miami….

miami sunset

Sorry I’ve been lax with my postings, but I’ve had my hands full.

We’re almost set-up, so we’ll resume with our regularly scheduled program shortly.

Yours truly,

pixiestix

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20. Pink


 

pink cover 2

Pink by Nan Gregory, illustrated by Luc Melanson

Groundwood; July 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC

978-0888997814

Core Audience: Girls ages 3-10; Anyone who hasn’t gotten the fabulous thing they most wanted but didn’t need

Strengths: Heartbreakingly honest writing; a fresh approach to the subject of PINK

Once in awhile a book comes along that just melts your heart—and not because it is full of puppies, or children in flower costumes, or rhymes about bellybuttons. Rather, it stops you in your tracks because it cuts right to the heart of childhood pain. This is one of those books, especially if you grew up in a family where resources were sometimes outpaced by desire.

Vivi loves pink. She wants nothing more than to own something perfectly, gloriously pink, just like the popular girls. It is all she can think about.

pink pp1

Vivi’s parents love her very much and try to pinkify her life any way they can, but theirs is a family with more creativity than money, and they can’t afford to indulge the material desire that “The Pinks” represent. They try to get Vivi to appreciate all the free pink in the world, but Vivi won’t be derailed. When Vivi tries to express her intense desire, her mother tells her that there is enough pink to go around, and her father praises the “pink in her cheeks.” Vivi feels they don’t understand her.

One day as she is passing the local toy store, she sees the most perfect expression of her desire: a pink bride doll. Vivi doesn’t have enough in her piggy bank to buy it, so she decides to work around the neighborhood for a few months to earn the money. She works hard, and is close to her goal, but when she brags about the doll to “The Pinks” in a fit of playground hubris, she finds her dream has slipped away.

The subtle messages about family love in this book are many. Readers will appreciate Vivi’s parent’s efforts on her behalf, and will prefer the magical creativity of her family even if Vivi doesn’t always. The lovely artwork perfectly depicts the melancholy longing of Vivi’s world, as well as the warmth of her family.

pink tree

This story is a great jumping off point for discussions of peer pressure, the difference between “want” and “need”, and how difficult it is to envy others who may have more than you. In the end Vivi doesn’t get the object of her desire, but we see her family supporting her as she works through it.

There has been a spate of books for the pink hedonists lately, (Fancy Nancy, Pinkilicious), and as anyone who is living with a Disney-Princess loving two year-old will tell you, they have their place. But it is very nice (and much rarer) to see a book that holds the other side with such sensitivity and grace. This sleeper, which comes from a small Canadian Press, is one of my favorite books of the year.

Delicious.

Rated: 9.0

booksense

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

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21. The 2007 ABC Best Books for Children catalog has arrived!


2007 Cat

Hello Bookhounds.

Looking for a good recommendation?

Each year ABC produces a 20 page, full color consumer catalog packed with 240 of our picks for the top children’s books of the year.

catalog spread

The catalog alchemy begins with bookseller recommendations, and then is rounded out with an exhaustive review of critical picks, award winners, and small press gems that sometimes escape attention.

400,000 of this catalog are printed and distributed to consumers through ABC member stores in the fourth quarter, but as a member of the pixie stix faithful, you can print out a low-res version here, as well as a copy of the booklist by publisher.

Buy LocalIf you like the list, you’ll *heart* your local independent children’s bookstore even more! Please consider buying these books locally, because investing in a relationship with your local independent children’s bookseller will pay off many times over in great recommendations in the years to come. Find your local independent bookstore at BookSense.

Of course, with nearly 18,000 children’s titles published every year, there are always many more worthy titles than we can include, so as a EXTRA BONUS here’s the pixie stix 2007 fav’s list, which includes the catalog titles and so much more.

Enjoy!!

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22. Walt Disney’s Cinderella, (or An Ode to Mary Blair)


cinderella

Walt Disney’s Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mary Blair

Disney Press; August 2007; 64 pp; $16.99 HC

978-1423104216

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Design lovers of all ages

Strengths: AMAZING original concept art from Mary Blair

Culturally, we are in a new golden age of design right now, with a distinct blurring of the lines between commercial and fine art. It’s everywhere you look: Target’s Design for All project is pulling in designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves, Todd Oldham is busting a move for La-Z-Boy, the geniuses at Pixar are re-inventing animation, and even the most humble toilet brush is not immune to its own version of an extreme makeover.

It makes sense then that contemporary artists are looking back to the last golden age of US design, the mid-century. Ground-breaking artists, who until now were largely unsung, are finally getting their props and it’s about time. The vaults are being thrown open, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

One of my all time favorite of these artists is Mary Blair. Incredibly versatile, winsome, and magical, Blair’s use of color and form rivals the great modernists. (I’m not kidding, here.)

MB

During a career than spanned more than half a century, Blair did fine art, illustration, commercial design, murals, and children’s books, but she is best known as one of Walt Disney’s favorite house artists. She did the concept art for more than a dozen Walt Disney projects including The Three Caballeros, Song of the South, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, as well as the design for the ubiquitous It’s a Small World attraction which she created at Walt’s behest for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Here’s a tiny little taste of some of her work to wet your whistle:

blair collage

Blair’s work has an irrepressible optimism paired with a sophisticated sense of composition and color that I just love. It’s the pure embodiment of that great Charles Mingus quote: “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

***

It used to be that you had to hunt and peck to find examples of her original work for Disney. Most of it was residing in WDAS’s Animation Research Library collection. Now you can have a little bit of this magic on your very own bookshelf!

Disney Press has taken the original concept art for Cinderella (1950) and worked it into a new book with great text by Cynthia Rylant. It has been released with very little fanfare into a market crowded with Cinderellas, but this book is really amazing, and deserves a closer look.*

Title

Cinder's house

carriage arrives

at the doors

at the ball

riders

In his book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation, Amid Amidi makes the argument that the male-dominated, hard-edged animation department at Disney didn’t quite know what to do with Blair’s dreamy, color-block style, and that’s why she didn’t receive more external recognition during her time there. (She finally did recieve a posthumous nod with a “Disney Legends” award in 1991.) However, anyone who knows the movie will recognize the impact Blair’s art had on the final product. The drama, color, scale, and composition are all hers.

Nearly sixty years later, Blair’s art has lost none of it’s power. Walt Disney loved her work because like him, he felt she was able to tap directly into childhood. Disney Animator Marc Davis recalled, “She brought modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did. He was so excited about her work.”

A whole new generation of readers and design enthusiasts will feel exactly the same.

Rated: 9.5

booksense

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

_________

Web Worthy

Meadow Gold 2

BONUS: Check out this very cool Mary Blair 1950’s B&W commercial for Meadow Gold Ice Cream.

Many thanks to Fred Cline for making it available. Fred knew Mary and her husband Lee, who encouraged him to study design and animation, and he is doing a great job of carrying the torch.

ALSO: If you are excited by Mary Blair’s work and want to learn more, check out this great retrospective: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair (978-0786853915; Disney Editions; $40.00 HC)

SUPER DOUBLE-BONUS IF YOU LIVE IN SAN FRAN: The Museum of Cartoon Art has an exhibition up by the same name running until March 2008. Lucky!

*Book images: Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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23. The E.T. Trick


Et Trick

Tricky pixie!

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24. yes, but where would I put my kindle…(snigger)


bibliochair

For those of us non-adopters who prefer our books the old fashioned way, the Italian design company Nobody&Co has made it so that we don’t even need to leave our comfy seat for our next read. This bibliochair chair holds nearly 16 1/2 linear feet of books, and comes in six different finishes and cushion covers so it’s basically a sit-alone library. My only concern? Where do you put your arms to rest?

Oh well, fashion hurts. Your reading corner never looked so mod.

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25. Essential Dozen: Great Music for Kids


essential compressed

Often I hear parents lamenting, discussing, debating, or downright ranting about tolerable “kid’s music” or the lack thereof. Given the massive industry that is churning out an avalanche of crap entertainment for kids, you’d think that there would be a better and more coherent source for helping parents sort out the good stuff. A Rolling Stone for kids, of sorts. Perhaps we could call it Rolling Pebble?

I digress.

Before getting into publishing, I was in the toy business, and I spent nearly seven years working in a variety of different positions in one of the best independent toy businesses in the US–Henry Bear’s Park–headquartered in Cambridge, MA. Day in and day out I logged thousands of hours in those stores, and just about every minute of those thousands of hours was filled with kids music. Some good, and some–well–let’s not go there.

My criteria for great music for kids is pretty simple: it must stand up to repeated playing, over and over and over, without making the adult listener a) want to commit suicide because it’s so mind-numbingly saccharine, or b) bash their head into the wall because they can’t get the songs out ’cause they’re too damn catchy. Raffi, who I think is one of the most genius songrwriters for kids ever, falls into this latter category and so isn’t recommended below. Let me say for the record, however, that the song Baby Beluga is one of the most perfect kids songs ever written. Seriously. Kids love it, and it’s a blast to sing it to them.

Anyway, here is an essential dozen list of CDs I can confidently recommend, plus some extra stuff. They are great, everyone will enjoy them, and there’s quite a genre range so you can pick your poison. Many of the CDs are from series with additional offerings so you can go out and explore. I’m sure you have your own favorites that aren’t listed here, and if they pass the 1,000 play test, feel free to chime in below. Although I always support buying local if possible, I am including the Amazon links to my suggestions, because there you can listen to samples of every track. Enjoy!

One last note: There is nothing wrong with playing “real” music for kids. In fact, I think it’s a critical part of their cultural education. Why play a CD of kids singing reggae when you can just play great reggae? Like reading, kids will grow up loving music if they’re raised with lots of it around. Share what you love.

***

These first two are from a great series by a company called Music for Little People, and they are compilations of original music, so no saccharine kiddie pap. They have a bunch of Genre CD’s also, “A Child’s Celebration of” Show Tunes, (singer)Song(writer), Dance Music, Classical, Silly Songs, Jazz, etc. These two are a good start but every CD in the series is awesome.

cco folk

A Child’s Celebration of Folk

Music for Little People

ASIN: B000002M7Z

Favorite track: Garden Song by David Mallett

 

cco song

A Child’s Celebration of Song

Music for Little People

ASIN: B000002M5Q

Favorite Track: St. Judy’s Comet by Paul Simon

*

I love Dan Zanes. He used to be in the Boston indie rock band the Del Fuegos, but he has seriously hit the big time with his CDs for kids. His theory as a musical pro with kids of his own was play good music that everyone will love. He’s right on, and he gets plenty of great musicians to go along like Cheryl Crow etc. It sounds just like an old fashioned hootenanny would sound if a rocker got it together. His song choices range far outside of traditional kid’s songs and his enthusiasm is infectious. (Even his hair is excited.) If he ever happens to be touring near you, it’s worth it to go, if only to see the legions of adoring five year olds in the mosh pit. Any of Dan’s CD’s are good (I particularly *heart* his sea shanty CD with kids singing about “beer and tabbaccy” below) but these two are a nice introduction:

rocketship beach

Rocket Ship Beach

Festival Five Records

ASIN: B000051ZNR

Favorite Track: Brown Girl in the Ring

 

sea music

Sea Music

Festival Five Records

ASIN: B000QMU214

Favorite Track: All for Me Grog

*

On a completely different vibe is Tony Bennett’s kid’s album. So smooth and hip you could play it at a cocktail party, and your guests might not even notice that he’s singing duets with the likes of Kermit the Frog and Rosie O’Donnell.

the playground

The Playground

Sony

ASIN: B00000C285

Favorite Track: (It’s Only) A Paper Moon

*

Many people don’t know that Woody Guthrie wrote a large body of songs for his kids, and they are all really charming. His son Arlo has recorded many of them on this excellent CD which also includes some of the original recordings by Woody.

TLIYL

This Land is Your Land

Rounder

ASIN: B0000003H1

Favorite Track: Howdi Do

*

There are a ton of lullaby CDs out there, and they are not created equal. I am a total sucker for this album, both because it is so great musically, but also because all the songs were recorded and in some cases written by famous male musicians for their children. The album has a subtle old style country bluegrass feel, but it’s not at all hokey—okay—the song Little Hands IS hokey, but you can play around it.

daddies cd 150

Daddy’s Sing Goodnight: A Father’s Collection of Sleepytime Songs

Sugarhill

ASIN: B000000F3B

Favorite Track: Nolabye by Jerry Douglas

*

Ah, the Putumayo Kids Present CDs. These comps of World Music by genre are completely awesome. There are many, many of these, all equally wonderful from all over the world, including Africa and Asia, so they can just pick what you like by genre. Bonus: because these are compilations, you can discover whole new areas of music by picking up the full titles by the artists on these albums you particularly like. These are a few of my personal favs:

world playground

World Playground

Putumayo

ASIN: B00000JT4P

Favorite Track: Bongo Bong by Manu Chao

 

dreamland

Dreamland

Putumayo

ASIN: B00008XESC

Favorite Track: Durme Durme (Brazil) – Fortuna

 

french playground 150

French Playground

Putumayo

ASIN: B000B5UNH4

Favorite Track: Chatouiller Le Ciel Avec Toi - Alain Schneider

 

raggae playground

Reggae Playground

Putumayo

ASIN: B000CC4W7I

Favorite Track: Here Comes The Sun - The Burning Souls

*

And last but not least, this one speaks for itself all year round:

CBXMAS

A Charlie Brown Christmas

CBS

ASIN: B000ICLSMY

Favorite Track: Linus & Lucy

 

An alternative for our Non-Christian Brethren:

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

CBS

ASIN: B000000XDH

*

BONUS: As I look back on this list I realize it’s weighted more heavily to the folk end of things than rock. There are plenty of great original rock albums that are awesome for kids just as they are. Here’s a few suggestions, but any upbeat album with clean language will do the trick:

The Beatles: 1 (the singles)

The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Jim Noir: Tower of Love

The Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection

Various: Motown’s Greatest Hits

Wilco: Sky Blue Sky

Harry Nilsson: Greatest Hits

Various: Pure 80’s

(This last album does include some innuendo, but it’s very fun overall. You might want to skip over Centerfold by J. Giles and avoid the inevitable explanation scene you will have to deal with eventually. But hits are hits for a reason and greatest hits collections are usually awesome for kids.)

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