I will be the first to admit that I am a book snob. We have always operated our bookshop based on what we consider quality titles, books that everyone can enjoy reading; to the exclusion of ones we consider to be inferior. There's nothing worse as a parent than being stuck reading terrible books to your little one night after night after night. There's nothing that will discourage a child more, than reading something they don't enjoy. Having said that, we are also a business, so we try to carefully toe the line between what is popular and what it good. Thankfully, most of the time those two things match up, but things get difficult when they don't.
Recently, the new picture book "The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage" was released. The book is written by the mother/daughter team of Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton and illustrated by Christine Davenier. It has garnered lots of media attention due to the fame of the authors and has made the New York Times Bestseller list. So, inevitably we started to receive calls about the book. Here's where my book-snobbery comes in to play. I was prejudiced against this book without ever having read it for two reasons.
Firstly, I am suspicious of any children's book written by celebrities. Despite a few examples of great books, namely "Mr. Peabody's Apples" by Madonna (illustrated by Loren Long), "Freckleface Strawberry" by Julianne Moore (illustrated by LeUyen Pham), and "When I Grow Up" by Weird Al Yankovic (illustrated by Wes Hargis), my knee-jerk reaction is still that the book is being sold on the basis of the fame of the author and not the merits of the book itself. It's kind of like when an actor suddenly decides they want to record an album or an athlete wants to become an actor. Sure it works out sometimes, but their new project usually goes ahead based on their fame and not their talents in the new area of expression. There is also this assumption by the general masses that anyone can write a children's book. Those of you who know children's books know this simply isn't the case.
Secondly, I already had my reservations about books authored by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. When our daughter was a little younger than a year old we picked up a copy of "Dumpy and His Pals", a board book based on the "Dumpy the Dumptruck" series, at a second-hand book sale. She fell in love with that book. It seems that every little kid latches on to one book their parents hate and this was definitely the one for us. I had to read that book nearly every night for months. Given, it was a simple book with very little narrative made for infants and toddlers, but I couldn't stand it. My experience with that book tainted my opinion about anything that Andrews and Hamilton could do.
So, needless to say I was a bit reluctant to bring in this new sparkly and girly book using both key words "fairy" and "princess" in the title and written by my (admittedly unfairly designated) literary nemeses. But, I needed to listen to the customer demand and at least give it a fair shake.
I ordered one copy to check it out, I sat down and read it, and LOVED it!
The story is about Geraldine, who considers herself a fairy princess, and the ballet recital she is a part of called "The Crystal Princess". Unfortunately, another girl is chosen to play the role of the princess and Geraldine will play the court jester. She must accept her situation and in doing so, ends up saving the day. It's a very cute story with some great messages about sharing and being gracious. Despite the coat of glitter on the cover, I found the art to be very sweet and it captures the mood of the story perfectly without being over-the-top. I'm glad I took a chance on this book. It will now be regularly stocked in our store and I will seek out the first "Very Fairy Princess" book as well.
Lesson learned? Mostly. I will try to be more open-minded about books without judging them based on author, illustrator, or any other situation that came into play in the book's creation. However, I reserve my right to remain a book snob...
Now go read a book with your kids...
As most of you probably know, we are the owners of Tall Tales Books in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. Our bookstore specializes in quality books for children and young adults. We opened our store in August 2009 for no other reason than we wanted to do something we loved and get good books into the hands of the children in our community.
Early in our relationship, we began discussing what it was that we wanted to do career-wise. Drew has always wanted to own and run his own business (probably something to do with his inability to take orders from anyone) and both of us have always loved books, particularly children's books. We are the kind of people who keep buying books even though there is a large, teetering tower of them stacked up on our bedside tables. Opening a children's bookstore seemed like a great idea, especially since Victoria didn't really have a specialized children's bookstore anymore.
We kicked around the idea for a while, but we didn't really have the concrete vision of what we wanted to do until inspiration came into our lives in the form of our dear daughter Emma in July 2008. We began reading to her almost right after she was born and never looked back.
Once we started to venture into local bookstores as new parents, we realized that the children's book experience that we were looking for really didn't exist in our community. All the bookshops were cramped or overcrowded (forget taking a stroller into some of them), definitely didn't feel family friendly, and were full of terrible books based mostly on licensed characters. From that point on we knew what our vision was for our bookstore: open-spaced, bright, fun, comfortable for all ages, and most of all a place where the young and old could come and enjoy really good books.
It's tough to operate a small family-run business. It means long hours for little or no pay. So why are we working our tails off and sacrificing so much to make it happen? This is more than just a job for us. Nothing makes us happier than hearing about how much a child loves to read or that the suggestion we made has become the number one request every night before bed. The life-long love of reading is such an important thing and is something that you can't take away from someone. We want to nurture that love of reading and inspire imaginations for years to come.
And above all else, kid's books are fun. How can you argue with that?
Now go share a book with your kids...
For more information about Tall Tales Books and their amazing Hero Society program, visit their website www.talltalesbooks.ca. You can also follow them on Twitter and "like" them on Facebook.
Father's Day is rapidly approaching and we have the perfect book to talk about: the brand new picture book "Give Me Back My Dad!" by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko. Not only is this a fun read, there is also an entertaining story behind it.
Scholastic Canada recently held the "Pick-A-Munsch" contest where readers could vote for the storyline of Robert Munsch's next book, his 30th book published with Scholastic. Three storyline options were given, each set in a different area of Canada. After close to 170,000 votes were tallied, the winner was "Give Me Back My Dad!", set in Rigolet, Labrador a small fishing village with a population of about 300 people.
In "Give Me Back My Dad!", a young girl named Cheryl goes ice fishing with her dad. Things don't go as planned however; as the fish are surprisingly smart. Are Cheryl and her dad trying to catch fish or are the fish trying to catch them? The origin of the story goes back 20-years when Robert Munsch went ice fishing with a 12-year-old girl named Cheryl and her father while he was in Rigolet for a school visit. Inspired by the trip, he came up with the story for "Give Me Back My Dad!" and told it live for many years. It has never been released in book form until now.
To celebrate the launch of the book, Munsch traveled back to Rigolet and was reunited with Cheryl, now a mother of two daughters, and her father Roger Shiwak. A community dinner was held in his honour with some of the local school children performing his stories in English and Inuktitut.
Robert Munsch with Cheryl Allen and her daughter, Megan. Robert met Cheryl and her father, Roger Shiwak, almost 20-years ago on a fishing trip in Rigolet, Labrador and they were the inspiration for Give Me Back My Dad!
Four generations of the Shiwak family hosted a family dinner for Robert when he was in Rigolet. Roger Shiwak is the man in the grey sweater.
Munsch walked along the town’s waterside boardwalk with students and staff from Northern Lights Academy. The boardwalk is partly constructed out of lumber from the original schoolhouse Munsch visited 20-years ago.
After a community dinner, the school children from Northern Lights Academy put on a performance for the guests which included drumming, throat singing, and performing some of Munsch’s stories in English and Inuktitut. Munsch then told a few stories to the children.
Now that you know the story behind book, go pick up "Give Me Back My Dad!". It's one of our favourite Munsch books of recent years.
Now go read a book with your kids...
Photos courtesy of Scholastic Canada"