Getting a Facelift

No, not the Book Witches…. We both prefer the natural look, even as time marches on far too quickly. No, the facelift is for the bookstore. If you follow us on Twitter then you know that we announced a while back that some prettifying was in the works. As promised, here are some pictures.

We’ve got new slate tile in the entryway…

… and also on the front of the building:

The tile work is getting finished up today, but it’s all outside–nothing that should interfere with shopping. So come on by and see it for yourself!

Next item on the list: a new awning!

Almost forgot… in case you haven’t been here in a while (and if not, shame on you!), here is a “before” shot:

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Delicate Dance of the Damaged Book

Shortly before closing time this evening I had to dust off my diplomatic skills and try to get a parent to pay for a book damaged by her child. Needless to say, this is one of my least favorite parts of the job. It’s so unsavory that it has become something I bring up during job interviews to make sure that a potential hire has the stomach to do it when necessary.

I’m sure there are some people to whom this kind of situation is no big deal. But I am very shy about approaching people in any context, plus I hate confrontation, plus as the business owner I have a vested interested in achieving the optimal outcome: customer pays for damaged item but without feeling the least bit embarrassed or offended, so that he or she will not hesitate to return to shop another day. That can be a hard goal to achieve in a sticky situation like this, made even stickier by the fact that “these days” everyone is feeling a financial pinch already.

A woman came into the store with her two small sons, a toddler and a preschooler. She grabbed some books to read to the older child and settled everyone into the reading nook at the front of the store while Dad went to find an ATM and feed the meter. As I’m going about my business behind the counter I hear the mom reading a book about trains, then a book about being green, then I hear a certain tell-tale crumpling sound and look over the side counter to see the mom putting a dust jacket back on a picture book and glancing furtively (it seems) at me.

First off, I need to find out if the book was indeed damaged, preferably without coming out and asking, because that might put the customer on the defensive. I walk over that way and straighten up the fixture next to the spinner where Mom is putting away the books she was just looking at. I pick up the train book she just put away (there was only one copy of this title in stock) and, sure enough, the dust jacket is a mess. I pick it up and ask the customer gently if the book looked like this when she picked it up, knowing darn well it didn’t. Luckily, she admitted right away that it didn’t–that her baby had stepped all over it before she could stop him. I sighed and told her, “Well, the thing is, I won’t be able to sell this book now that it’s in this condition.”

 “Well, I suppose I can buy it.”

I thanked her and followed up with a statement about how this is my business and I personally had to pay for the book and can’t afford to lose money like that. (Her offer was very reluctant, as if she was hoping that I would say “Oh no, don’t worry about it.”) For some families that might have been what is known as a teachable moment, but the child who walked on the book was too young to really grasp any of it, and I’m not sure that the mom did, anyway.

I am very grateful that this customer did own up to the accident and pay me for the damaged book, but I have to say I’m disappointed that she was apparently not about to say or do anything about it until I approached her. I also find it odd that, after the book had been paid for, she continued to look around and then, holding up a different book, asked “Do we have to take that book or can it be a different one?”

I explained (again) that the problem was that no one would want to buy a crumpled up book from me, so yes she needs to pay for the damaged one. She nodded and said. “Oh, I understand,” but something about her expression made me think that she still might not. Oh, well… at least I didn’t lose money and the customer didn’t lose face… and if nothing else was learned, I’m sure that the baby will be watched more closely in the next store they visit!

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Listen Up!

As mentioned in the April newsletter, here’s your chance to win a free audio CD of the first chapter of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles Book One: The Red Pyramid.

The first ten people to comment on this post or email me and mention the blog give-away get a free CD!

More to come on Tuesday’s release party… hope to see you there!

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Award-Winning Writer Allan Wolf Has Accordionist, Will Travel

Today Asheville’s own Allan Wolf gave us a behind the scenes look at the writing of Zane’s Trace, winner of the North Carolina School Library Media Association Young Adult Book Award for Middle School. Reading, discussion, slides, amazing Hors d’Oeuvres :-)… this man pulls out all the stops to get readers engaged.

Here is Allan posing with his very large award alongside his very tall son, Simon, with accordion in hand. Now I am trying to find a way to work accordion music into the Red Pyramid party in May…

Raising Kane [Chronicles]

Okay, it’s official. The Percy Jackson party in February was a big hit, so now Spellbound is hosting a release party for Kane Chronicles Book One: The Red Pyramid, the first book in a new series from Percy author Rick Riordan. The book releases on Tuesday May 4th, so it will be an after school affair. More detailed plans will be posted on the website and in our newsletter as they develop. And yes, we are still giving a 20% discount on pre-orders, through the end of March. With a free Percy Jackson pen that lights up (sometimes, if you’re nice to it) while supplies last! 

Admission to the Kane Chronicles party will be free with purchase of the book  or $5 at the door. 

Oh zephyr winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!

Of course, one highlight of the Percy Jackson party was the Greek mythology bee and, although it may change by the time the Kane Chronicles is in full swing, I’m betting most kids don’t know as much about Egyptian mythology as they do about Greek. My personal exposure to Egyptian mythology as a kid was pretty much limited to watching “Isis” on television Saturday mornings. 

So this party may involve more learning games than knowledge contests. Stay tuned for more info!

I’m a Night Owl, But…

Even I would not be up for story time at 3:30am. (I just realized that the sign that’s been in the store window since January advertises story time every Tuesday at 3:30am. Yikes!!)

Story Time is, in fact, at 3:30 PM on Tuesdays. See you there. (And if anyone showed up at 3:30am and was disappointed, I offer my apologies and a cup of Sleepy Time tea.)

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Let’s Call a Kid a Kid

Demographically, the term “young adult” generally refers to people 18-24 or 20-24 years old. You will often see separate categories for  Teens and for Young Adults in surveys, indicating that they are in fact two separate, if overlapping, groups. As I’m sure many of you have noticed, in recent years the term “young adult” has, in some contexts, been adjusted from its traditional meaning referring to, well, young ADULTS, to refer to all teenagers; the two terms are often used interchangeably. In the world of books, especially.  (Even television ratings surveys peg young adults as 18-34 years old.)      

Here at Spellbound, we have a section sign for YA (teens). I felt that was necessary because many people who aren’t in the book business won’t recognize the term YA (Young Adult), or might logically but erroneously assume that the intended audience for young adult books would be…well, young adults, as opposed to the children and teens we are supposed to be catering to. (How silly of them!) Also, our store attracts a lot of advanced readers. The kids and parents are both always looking for books with more challenging reading levels, and this sign is meant to advise customers that the books in this section are intended for teens, not middle graders or unbelievably advanced 6-year-olds, and therefore the subject matter, language, and overall content assume not only the reading level but also the social maturity and frame of reference (life experience) of someone in their teen years or older. Many YA books are specifically suggested (per the publishers) for ages 14 and up or ages 16 and up.   

So I have gone along, to some degree, with the expanding of the term “young adult.” But some people, in my humble opinion, are really pushing this term to the point of ridiculousness.    

I’m really tired of seeing books for the 7 to 10-year-old age group referred to as “young adult.” I’m sorry, but a book for an 8-year-old is not a YA book. Is there any context imaginable in which you could look at an 8-year-old and mistake her for an adult? Is she fully or nearly fully grown, with a physically adult appearance (as many kids are in their mid to late teens)? How adult is she… intellectually? socially? Anything even remotely adult-like? Really?    

I hope that I’m not offending any kid readers with this post. I clearly remember being an adolescent and bristling at being called a child. “Kid” was easier to take. “Teenager” felt great, once I got there. Is this why some marketing folks have lowered and lowered the threshold for the young adult label– to appease kids (yes, I said it: “kids”) who like to fancy themselves all grown up and who have more independent buying power than kids of previous generations? To be fair, I rarely if ever see a publisher label a book for teens or young adults unless there is also a specific age recommendation of at least 12 and up, if not 14 and up. I think this trend of calling books for kids of any age “young adult” happens mostly with reviewers and retailers. 

An upcoming selection for our young adult book club?

Personally, I think that all this does is muddy the category lines so much that they are no longer useful at all. (“Pardon me, but is this Young Adult book: a book for young adults who are adults, or for young adults who are older teens, or for young adults who are younger teens, or for young adults who are still in grade school?”)  One day a few years from now, I fully expect to see someone touting a “bestselling YA book … now in sturdy board book format!”  Give me a break.   


Let me clarify this blog rant by saying that I am actually not in favor of imposing strict age limits, upper or lower, on what kids should read at what age. There is no absolute answer to what a  third grader’s reading level is, or what content is appropriate for a ten-year-old, unless you know something about that particular third grader and that particular ten-year-old. So much depends on the individual kid’s experience with reading and with life. Among my regular kid customers, the best readers routinely read books from the section aimed at their own age group as well as some from the younger sections and some from the older sections. Most kids will also do a fair amount of self-censoring if given the chance: they will either abandon a book that’s too advanced for them (hopefully to return to it in a couple of years) or will skim past the stuff they don’t understand. That being said, publishers, librarians, and booksellers do use terms like “pre-readers,” “early readers,” “early grades,” “middle grades,” and “young adult” to give some general guidance as to what audience a book might be most appropriate for. My beef has to do with specificity of language; I object to labels that are rendered meaningless by our disregard for the meanings of the very words and phrases we’re using to supposedly offer guidance.

An addendum to original post: Here is a June 2010 blog post addressing what makes a novel a YA novel, as opposed to an adult novel, from a literary agent’s perspective.

Under the Covers

For the past few days I’ve been participating in a discussion (via email) with several colleagues in the children’s bookselling world about how exactly certain marketing decisions are made at publishing houses. In particular, what is the decision process behind designing covers? 

The discussion was sparked by this announcement from Bloomsbury earlier in the week: 

“Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake.  Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.” 

Original US Cover of Magic Under Glass

In what way, you may ask, is this cover offensive? Well, it features an image of the book’s heroine as a white girl with brown hair, when she is described in the book as having brown skin and black hair. According to this article in The Guardian, author Jaclyn Dolamore intended to be somewhat vague about Nimira’s ethnicity, but many readers, reviewers, and booksellers reacted negatively to this marketing choice, especially as it comes closely on the heels of a similar bruhaha surrounding another Bloomsbury title.

Last year Bloomsbury made a last-minute change to the cover of the young adult novel Liar,by Justine Larbalestier, due to an outpouring of protest by the bookselling community. The advance reading copies, the not ready for prime time preview copies sent out to reviewers and bookstore buyers months ahead of publication, featured (guess what) a photograph of a white girl who was supposed to represent the black female lead character. There was such an uproar online and elsewhere that Bloomsbury decided to change the cover, at not unconsiderable cost. 

This trend is not at all unique to Bloomsbury, of course. People have been complaining for years about the industry-wide “whitewashing” of children’s book covers. There seems to be some deeply ingrained belief in many publishing houses that having a person of color on the cover of a book automatically limits its appeal. Now, it’s true that I have shaken my head in dismay many times at parents or grandparents who dismiss my suggestion of a book featuring a non-white character on the grounds that their child “wouldn’t identify” with the book. Of course, these are often the same ones who won’t buy a book with a character named Lilly (with 2 Ls) if their child or grandchild is named Lily (with 1 L), so…. 

I think the underlying assumption (that white kids only want to read about white kids) is an insulting underestimation of  kids, who are growing up with more images of (and experience of) ethnic diversity than any generation before them. My goodness, can you imagine if the assumption was that kids of color will only pick up books about other kids of color? They would certainly, sadly, be very limited in their choices of reading material, wouldn’t they? (A discussion for another day, regarding actual content.)

I would bet my last nickel that the vast majority of kids today couldn’t care less what color the character on the cover is, as long as the cover intrigues them and looks like something interesting that they want to pick up. And, following that train of thought, my discussion with fellow booksellers (and now with you, dear readers) turned to the choice to market books as “girl books” and “boy books,” as evidenced by the book cover choices. [To be continued in Part Two.]

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Snowbound No More!

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Readers in the Asheville area know exactly what I’m talking about: the foot (or more, depending on your exact location) of snow and the subsequent massive power outage that put a serious damper on the weekend. For anyone who needed to do last-minute holiday shopping (or was counting on others getting out and doing last-minute holiday shopping) or anyone who likes warm food and hot showers, it was, in the words of  my young neighbor, “SO not cool!”

Of course, the bookshop dog would disagree. He thought it was nothing but cool. He’s half Husky, which makes him think he’s a sled dog.


And what were Seymour and I reading as we huddled together by candlelight?

If you’re a fan of Richard Peck’s previous books featuring Grandma Dowdel, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, you must read A Season of Gifts, new this fall. It’s a stand-alone novel (you don’t need to be familiar with the previous books to follow and appreciate this one) that takes place many years later, in 1958. A new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel and quickly finds out that while she “doesn’t neighbor,” she is very generous in her way.

In the tradition of Lemony Snicket and Pseudonymous Bosch,  Dr. Cuthbert Soup has a Whole ‘Nother Story for middle graders everywhere…. Hits the shelves in January 2010.

Dr. Cheeseman is a scientist racing to perfect his time machine as he and his three kids race around the country trying to outrun the government agents and corporate goons who are hot on their trail.

Not suggested for readers with an aversion to hairless psychic dogs, talking sock puppets, or puns.

Published in: on December 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Is This Just Fantasy?

I won’t even pretend that this has anything to do with books, but if by chance you haven’t seen this yet, here are The Muppets doing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

’nuff said?

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment