For our annual "Off the Cuff" Awards, we asked booksellers for their picks in a variety of categories. The winners (and selected bookseller comments) appear below.
Favorite Picture Book of the Year
Clara and Asha by Eric Rohmann
Honorable mentions: Terrific by Jon Agee; Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey
Favorite Novel of the Year
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall ("All the praise is well-deserved"; "We love the contrast of the old-fashioned feeling with the modern setting")
Honorable mentions: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Princess Academy by Shannon Hale; The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman
Best Book Title
You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! by Fiona Rosenbloom
Honorable mentions: Once Upon a Time, the End (Asleep in 60 Seconds)by Geoffrey Kloske, illus. by Barry Blitt; Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, illus. by Paulette Bogan
Best Opening Line
"On Career Day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation." (From Whales on Stilts!by M.T. Anderson)
Most Memorable Character in a Lead Role
Captain Hook, in Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youthby J.V. Hart ("fascinating perspective")
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling ("I loved this book—soon all our questions will be answered!")
Honorable mention: Inkspell by Cornelia Funke ("It does what every good sequel should—reminds you why you loved the original, while adding drama, complexity and meaning to the story")
The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going
Honorable mention: The Penderwicks ("warm and friendly looking")
Once Upon a Time, the End (Asleep in 60 Seconds)
Honorable mention: Whales on Stilts! ("because it is utterly ridiculous—and wonderfully so")
Our Vote to Win the Newbery
Honorable mentions: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan ("Because something fun, fantastic and fabulous should win. Can we please give death, divorce and other social tensions a year off?"); The Liberation of Gabriel King
Our Vote to Win the Caldecott
Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth ("beautiful, smart, memorable")
Honorable mention: Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by Hudson Talbott
Most Promising New Author
Jeanne Birdsall, author of The Penderwicks
Honorable mentions: Stephenie Meyer, author of Twilight ("a delicious experience"); Cecil Castellucci, author of Boy Proof; Gabrielle Zevin, author of Elsewhere ("We can't wait for her next novel!")
Most Promising New Illustrator
Rob Scotton, illustrator of Russell the Sheep
Favorite Book to Handsell
The Lightning Thief ("because every customer between nine and 14 can't be wrong")
Honorable mention: Golden & Grey (An Unremarkable Boy and a Rather Remarkable Ghost) by Louise Arnold ("it's so nice and easy to explain, and almost sells itself")
Favorite Two-Hanky Tearjerker
Each Little Bird That Singsby Deborah Wiles ("she's such a beautiful writer")
A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, collected by Caroline Kennedy, illus. by Jon J Muth
Honorable mention: Guys Write for Guys Read, edited by Jon Scieszka
Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz ("the series is really heating up—perfect boy books!")
Honorable mentions: Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket; The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley ("completely original, good for all ages")
Best Nonfiction Treatment of a Subject
If You Decide to Go to the Moonby Faith McNulty, illus. by Steven Kellogg ("chock-full of information but still so much fun!")
Honorable mentions: John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth by Elizabeth Partridge; Anne Frank by Josephine Poole, illus. by Angela Barrett ("a sensitive retelling of a tragic story, with stunning illustrations")
Best Plot Twist
Tadpole's Promiseby Jeanne Willis, illus. by Tony Ross (a "wickedly fun ending to this love story between a tadpole and a caterpillar")
Best Novel for Older Teens
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Honorable mentions: Inexcusable by Chris Lynch ("all teens should read this one"); The Water Mirror by Kai Meyer ("high fantasy with strong female lead characters"); 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson ("it's real world without being trashy")
Best Novel for Teens That Adults Would Love if They Knew About It
A Certain Slant of Lightby Laura Whitcomb ("beautifully written and smart to book, this book could easily be considered adult fiction")
Honorable mentions: Elsewhere; Looking for Alaska
Book We Couldn't Shut Up About
Honorable mentions: Criss Cross; The Scarecrow and His Servant; The Lightning Thief
Book We Wish Everyone Would Shut Up About
Celebrity books ("I try not to openly cringe when customers ask for them")
Honorable mentions: The Rainbow Partyby Paul Ruditis ("Just get over it already!"); Walter the Farting Dogby William Kotzwinkle et al.
Most Objectionable Book
Teach Me by R.A. Nelson ("Try handselling the student/teacher relationship to a grandparent. And the main character is horribly annoying.")
Honorable mention: the Jack and the Beanstalk Martha Stewart edition ("a true insult to children's book authors, illustrators and booksellers")
Most Overdone Subjects
Bedtime; passing gas; dinosaurs; celebrity books ("when will it end??")
Biggest Sales Disappointment
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling ("People bought it at drugstores and grocery stores for less than we could buy it for. It sold, but not at independents.")
Hottest Selling Book to Go Out of Stock (tie)
If I Built a Carby Chris Van Dusen ("a happy surprise, but not when we couldn't get it")
Leaf Manby Lois Ehlert ("We just got it back in now, after leaf season!")
Book We Were Happiest to See Back in Print
D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Mythsby Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Most Effective Marketing Campaign
Book Sense white boxes ("We love receiving the galleys and promo materials")
Honorable mentions: If You Give a Pig a Party ("lots of useful free giveaways"); Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert ("The campaign sold us! We put up the posters and door sign and sold multiple copies')
Most Annoying Marketing Campaign
Series of Unfortunate Events #12 ("they didn't give the title till the release date—made it hard to market"; "it's getting old")
Book We Could Have Sold with a Better Cover
13 Little Blue Envelopes("Could someone please stop giving the publishers stock photos of slutty teen girls?")
Book We Can't Wait to See in 2006
Lilly's Big Day by Kevin Henkes ("We love Kevin Henkes! We love Lilly!")
Most Garbled Title Request
Guess How Forever I'll Be Loving You
Oddest Request or Comment by Customer
"I don't know what to do with these books when he's done reading them."
"You did a good job with your Charlie Potter party."
"We're not here to buy anything" (said by a visiting author to her child)
"I didn't know this was a real store."
"Someone came in asking for a 'rectangular' book of poetry published in the 1970s. He did not know the title, author or even the type of poetry included in the book."
"Three months after the fact, I got a very lengthy, formally worded protest to my ads for the release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Funniest Thing a Kid Did or Said in Our Store
"Kid commenting on a freebie bookmark: 'You don't see that every day!' "
"The four boys who reenacted The Billy Goats Gruff right after they heard it at storytime."
"During storytime, one of our booksellers read The Little Engine That Could, and after she read the line 'I think I can, I think I can,' a little boy said 'I think I can, too! And I'm going right now!' He proceeded to pee right there on the stage. Ah, the power of positive thinking."
Most Unusual Complaint from a Customer
"Regarding the Walter the Farting Dog books: 'I'm all for farting critters, but I didn't like the father!' "
"A customer returned Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport because of the bratwurst balloon at the end. The customers were vegetarians and said that the book displayed 'a gratuitous use of meat.' "
" 'Too fun—I want educational!' This from a grandmother I showed some horse books for her granddaughter. It was for a Christmas present! What a fun Grandma to have."