Though Carolyn Anbar of Watchung Booksellers in Watchung, N.J. had trouble citing her title at the store—“I’m children’s book buyer, but I’ve also been called visual director, but we all take out the trash!”—she had no difficulty pinpointing some favorite titles she is happily handselling.
In picture books, everyone in the store adores Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker and Daniel Salmieri. It made us all laugh out loud as soon as we saw it, and it is a perfect read-aloud. The parents in the book, who are very happy just watching the paint dry, try to train their kids to be as dull as they are, but of course the kids are wiser. We’ve found that both parents and kids are quick to get it.
Another favorite picture book here is Help! I Don’t Want a Babysitter by Anke Wagner, illustrated by Anne-Kathrin Behl, which is a really fun story. A boy frets that his new babysitter will be too girly, but as it turns out she likes to dress like a pirate and make spaghetti with “blood” sauce. We like it because there’s no real fear in the storyline. Sometimes books that set out to tell kids not to be afraid of the dark, etc., turn out to be scary – and that’s not the case here.
We are also loving I Had a Favorite Hat by Boni Ashburn, which is a follow-up to I Had a Favorite Dress. The story is all about using your imagination and not giving up on something. It’s a girly story but it’s clever girly, with a bit of pizzazz, which I like. The illustrations by Robyn Ng are also fabulous. What’s also great is that when I recommend this to customers and point out the earlier book, sometimes they buy both.
A middle-grade reader that I love, love is The Lost Track of Time, a first novel by Paige Britt. The drawings by Lee White also make this a great read-aloud. It’s about a girl whose mom has life scheduled down to the minute, but the girl is a dreamer who wants everything to slow down. She’s whisked into a fantasy world where everything is about phrases related to time – your own sweet time, prime time, borrowed time. The story encourages kids to use their imagination, and is a bit reminiscent of Roald Dahl – it’s quite brilliant!
Another favorite is Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M.M. Blume. I’ve read other books by her, and she is definitely a great author flying under the radar. In the novel, a girl sets off with her aunt to find her mom in the 1960s, and they eventually locate her in San Francisco. It’s a really interesting take on this time period, and is essentially historical fiction about an era that hasn’t been written about much for children. I recommend this to girls who are not into fantasy or girly stories, but who go for books that are a bit off the beaten track.
And a more commercial middle-grade book that we are selling lots of is The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly by Ted Sanders, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. It is one of those fantasy books that can totally sweep kids away. It’s a bit more science-fiction/fantasy than it is magical fantasy, and has an intellectual dimension to it.
I am finding so much of YA difficult to sell these days. I desperately try to find books for kids who are not ready to read about sex, drugs, and drama – books that have positive elements about relationships and school dynamics, and maybe even a happy ending! We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen fits this description. It’s about a blended family, with real issues that kids want to read about it, but it has a hopeful ending. This is going to be a good sell for us. We can recommend it to lots of customers, without a warning.
And another YA we’re excited about is The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, who has written on his blog that he’s very passionate about writing books boys will read. In this novel, a boy wears a suit to school every day, and everyone thinks it’s because his mother has died, but it turns out that he’s taken a job at a funeral home to make some money. This is realistic fiction, but isn’t too dark, and is beautifully written. And it has a great cover that I think will encourage girls will pick up the book as well as boys. This is definitely a novel I like to point out to kids. The Divergents and the Maze Runners don’t need us – kids know about them already – but we want them to know about books like The Boy in the Black Suit. These are the books we like to help.