Book shopping

Later this week, we’re going book shopping!  Yes, its that time of year again to purchase new books at a special sale put on by Scholastic. We are lucky enough to be able to go to these sales a few times each year and then in between, we purchase books from our favourite booksellers that travel around to local libraries, and we visit local bookstores for great deals as well.  But these special shopping trips are usually lots of fun.  Imagine a grocery cart stacked high with books.  I swear, it is like Christmas, going up and down the aisles and throwing book after book into my cart.   But it all benefits the library in the big scheme of things.

We are lucky enough at the Carleton Place Public Library to be able to buy lots of new books each year for our readers.  Not only do we update copies of books that might have been lost or damaged, but we can select new authors, new titles and new genres to keep things fresh.  So do we just buy randomly or is there a method to our madness?  Both, actually.


Janet and I talk about this frequently.  We both look through book catalogs that arrive in the library to learn about new selections being offered by our favourite suppliers, but we both also read book blogs to come up with great ideas.  Sometimes, we’ll just spot a new author, or sometimes, the book blog will feature an author we already have who many have a new title coming out.  It’s nice to be on top of things and ahead of the game.

It is also useful for us to be able to see the books when we purchase them.  No matter how much a book is recommended, you can be greatly disappointed when something arrives and the font is strange or the pictures are not what you’d like young children to look at.  Holding the book and being able to flip through it make choosing books for adults and children much easier.

Thinking about our book buy this week, I found a great site that detailed the Top 100 books for children as recommended by readers, which is a fabulous way to come across books.  Thanks to the SurRural Librarian for the idea and follow up on this list, done by Elizabeth Bird who is a children’s librarian in New York City. The entire list is here and if you visit the books listed separately, you’ll see that she did an amazing job of finding out about each book, author and website.  This is truly fascinating, even if you aren’t a big fan of children’s picture books.

And while you’re there, check out a few of the great book review blogs for chidlren’s books that the SurRural librarian recommends.  They are now going on my list so that I’ll be on top of the books I want to buy in the fall!

Who is Lemony Snicket?

A while back, I bought a book at a sale by Lemony Snicket for the library collection called “The Lump of Coal”. Lemony Snicket is quite a popular author with our young kids, having written the popular series called A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t read the series, but once I got the new picture book home, thinking it would be something for the younger crowd, I started to wonder what this author could possibly be thinking.  The Lump of Coal is a picture book  about a small lump of coal (who, by the way, looks really mean) who can talk and read and wants more than anything to be useful, either as an artist’s medium or in a Korean barbecue.  The whole book takes place at Christmas, although it is by no means a Christmas book as the lump of coal wanders from rejection to rejection, only to end up being used as a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking for a bad child.  Of course, there is a “theme” of miracles throughout the book, and the coal eventually helps the boy he ends up with become a famous artist and Korean BBQ restaurant owner. (I can tell you all of this without fear of spoiling a plot, as I can’t imagine many people reading this book to anyone, let alone a child at Christmas.)

And today, someone mentioned that Lemony Snicket was a musician and she had heard him interviewed on CBC Radio and thought it was interesting.  So then I just had to go and find out a bit more about this author.  According to Wikipedia, Lemony Snicket is really Daniel Handler, author, musician and filmmaker.  He assumes the guise of being Lemony Snicket’s “handler” when there is promotion to take care of and has even written a few novels under his real name.  He apparently plays accordion in a group, which is what he must have been promoting on CBC, but even his bio reads strangely in Wikipedia, almost as if he had written it himself.  I’m thinking this author is a little more off the wall than we’d like to think.

All of this strangeness got me thinking about the books that our children read.  The Series of Unfortunate Events doesn’t pretend to be something it is not, with blatant warnings about how awful it is and yet these books are wildly popular with our kids.  Should we be reading a bit more into these books?  Is the author just trying to be witty and appeal to children by writing creepy or strange things?  Of course.  But maybe there is more to it, and maybe we should be talking to children about why they like these books.

What do you think?

Children’s books through the generations

My husband and I were just talking the other day about children’s books and what makes a good book.  Is it just the story or are the illustrations important as well?  And just how do children’s books become well known and loved?  There is probably much debate about what makes a book “good”, but there are a few essentials that have to be there in order for the book to live on past its first few weeks of publication.

First of all, the story has to appeal to the audience, namely, the children.  I can tell you from hours of reading to oodles of children during storytime at the library, if the story doesn’t have something to catch them right away, I might as well just throw the book over my shoulder and move on because there will be no eyes focused on the book at all.  Reading an article by Todd Leopold on the CNN website this week, the author seems to think that all of the best stories are about home, being away from home and getting back to the home, but this really is just a gross generalization and certainly not all of the great books out there share that theme.  Often, children’s books really just have a lesson to learn, such as being afraid, or being grumpy.  Regardless, the story is one of the main elements that will keep a child listening (or reading) and if the story is strong, then the readers will be there.

What about the pictures? More and more, I notice that illustrations in children’s books are becoming creative and bright and engaging.  We all have classic books that were read to us as children that probably didn’t include such intriguing artwork, but these days, children are sophisticated and they respond to the bright and creative artwork that you see so often in books, such as Scaredy Squirrel and Grumpy Bird.grumpyscaredy

The pictures go a long way to telling more about the story than text ever could and are used to push the story along.

Leopold has an interesting idea in his article that might go toward the explanation of a book having longevity.  He believes that books that we have enjoyed as children will be become the books that we will introduce to our own children, and thus, a book lasts for generations.  This is correct in many ways, thinking about all of the children’s literary classics such as Where the Wild Things Are, any Dr. Seuss and so on.  But what about books that we loved that are not in libraries anymore? My husband talked about the Golden Books that he read as a child, for instance, and yet our library doesn’t purchase those books anymore as they seem outdated and old-fashioned.  We’d rather spend our money on books that are really well bound and full of great characters and illustrations.  So what happens to these books?  I guess they will eventually disappear from our story “radar” and may be lost from one generation to the next.

Does that mean most books are going to be forgotten once they have disappeared from the source of our books (libraries, bookstores, our own bookshelves)?  Maybe so, aside from a few lucky ones that might linger.  As long as authors keep writing great stories, I’m fine with a turn-around.  I’d much rather have something fresh to talk about with children, anyway.  We’ll have a new generation of books to pass along and the really, really good ones will continue to be read for years to come. Children’s books are not always read like adult books….we don’t follow an author, anticipating his or her next book.  Maybe that should be incentive for authors of children’s books (primarily picture books) to write better stories.

If you write great books, we will read them.

Make your own board book!


This is a fabulous idea for those creative people who want to publish their own picture board book!  The blank board books from the people at Romp are made from strong paperboard and are perfect for markers,  stickers or whatever else you can imagine.  This is a great idea for a shower gift….create your own book and give it the new mom!  Or how about letting an older sibling create their own book for a new baby?  These books will last and stand up to those little fingers.