Snapshots of titles currently flying high on the charts

Octopus Slacks in Fashion

When National Poetry Month rolls around each April, publishers get to tout the often unsung poetry titles on their list, like Polka-Bats and Octopus Slacks (Houghton Mifflin), a collection written and illustrated by debut author Calef Brown. And if those formerly unsung titles happen to capture the attention of the media -- let's say someone like National Public Radio children's book commentator Daniel Pinkwater -- they can become superstars (see Children's Books, Jan. 25).

Just as coverage by Pinkwater gave a huge boost to two other poetry books published last spring, Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems and

Polka-Bats and Octopus Slacks
PINKWATER STRIKES AGAIN: A mention on NPR rejuvenated this 1998 poetry title.

Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings, Pinkwater's April 24, 1999, segment on Weekend Edition Saturday, which was devoted entirely to Polka-Bats, sent sales of Brown's book soaring. Jennifer Roberts, publicity manager for Houghton Mifflin Children's Books, remarked, "The following Monday morning we sold out of our entire stock of 1500 books in an hour."

Houghton quickly went back to press for an additional run of 17,500 copies, which were available in mid-May. To date, Polka-Bats, originally published in March 1998 with a modest first printing of 8000 copies, has 60,000 copies in print.

According to Roberts, Polka-Bats was already "doing very well for a poetry book" prior to the Pinkwater segment. In her words, "I can't remember a title in the last several years that has generated so many personal anecdotes from booksellers and kids as well as from people in-house."

Brown has done a number of signings across the country in the past year, and he attended the 1998 Bay Area Book Festival as well as the recent BEA convention in Los Angeles. But in Roberts's assessment, "The Pinkwater piece did what nothing else could have done."

Dr. Laura Comes Calling

Radio talk show host and therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger, best known for the moral tongue-lashings she gives her listeners, and for such bestselling books as Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, now has a children's book that is making some noise. Why Do You Love Me?, a picture book about a mother's unconditional love for her son, written by Schlessinger and Martha Lambert and illustrated by Daniel McFeeley, was released by HarperCollins in March. After six trips back to press, the book currently has 150,000 copies in print.

According to Kim Bouchard, publicity manager at HarperCollins Children's Books, this book began to take off during Schlessinger's promotional trip to

Why Do You Love Me?
HOUSE CALL: Radio host Dr. Laura tries her hand at a picture book.

New York City April 18-20, which included a signing at FAO Schwarz and an appearance on the Today Show; subsequent national media appearances included MSNBC and the 700 Club.

Of course, having a top-rated internationally syndicated radio program d sn't hurt either. "She has been heavily promoting the book on her show, which has helped a lot," Bouchard said. Dr. Laura's call-in show has 18-20 million listeners per week on more than 450 radio stations.

Shriver in 7th Heaven

As a correspondent for the television newsmagazine Dateline NBC, Maria Shriver has interviewed many authors. Now she has become one, with the publication of What's Heaven? (St. Martin's/Golden) a picture book

IN THE NEWS: Maria Shriver's book explains death to children.

that answers questions children have about death. Since its release in March, with an initial printing of 35,000 copies, the book has been back to press seven times and currently boasts more than 250,000 copies.

Shriver's week-long substitution for Today Show co-host Katie Couric in early April, and coverage for the book on that show as well as others, helped land What's Heaven? on PW's children's bestseller list and on the New York Times bestseller list.

What's Heaven? also received attention in the wake of the shooting tragedy in Littleton, Colo. During an appearance on Larry King Live about a week after the incident, Shriver and King discussed the difficulties of explaining such violence to young children. Shriver went on to say that in writing What's Heaven?, she was trying to find the best way to talk to children about death.

Shriver and her husband, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has a new book on bodybuilding from Simon &Schuster), did a joint book signing at the Borders store in Las Vegas recently, where 272 copies of Shriver's book were sold. Ten percent of the proceeds from the joint signing were donated to the Special Olympics.