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A neighborhood bookstore blog for Mt. Airy and beyond.
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Mariga's 5 Picks to Sweep You Away to Imperial Russia

Sun, 2014-09-28 09:00
The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press, $27.99)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie (Random House, $20.00)

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie (Random House, $20.00)

The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander (Penguin, $16.00)

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin (Random House, $15.00)

Mariga Temple-West, September 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five Favorite Illustrators

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:44
Gershons's Monster by Eric A Kimmel and illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, $17.99)
Muth is an exceptional painter whose watercolors are both expressive and gentle. This is a wonderful Jewish New Year book for all ages which includes a well-written explanation of "t'shuvah," the concept of repentance or returning done during the high holidays. (Caroline Kennedy's Poems to Learn by Heart is also illustrated by Muth.)

TRAIN by Elisha Cooper (Scholastic, $17.99)
Also done in water colors, Cooper's colors and design makes this a delight for all transportation lovers.

Heart and Soul, Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins, $8.99)
Nelson is an award-winning author and painter. All of his books radiate expert use of light and shadow to create expressions larger than life.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown, $18.00)
Well known and well loved, Pinkney's water colors are a magical addition to his rendition of traditional fairy tales.

The Fortune-Tellers by Lloyd Alexander and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Puffin Books, $6.99)
All of Hyman's illustrations create a magical setting for the tales as they unfold.

Janet Elfant, September 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: J.L. Powers

Tue, 2014-09-09 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Your newest book is a picture book, though you’ve written three young adult novels (one of which I'll ask about later in the interview). Can you tell us a bit about how the writing process felt different for Colors of the Wind?
You know, every book is different. I’ve never had a “same” experience with any of them. I never would have written The Confessional, my first YA novel, if I hadn’t taught at an all-boys Catholic high school. This Thing Called the Future required the time I spent earning two master’s degrees in African history and taking 3 years of Zulu language lessons. But writing an expansive, sprawling novel (if 60,000 words can be called expansive or sprawling) requires many more layers and levels and plot twists than a picture book of a less than a thousand words. For this picture book, I had to distill the story of a person’s life down to its essence. What really matters? What doesn’t? And how to say it in compelling words that are also partly lyrical, easily readable?
Because this is also non-fiction, instead of fiction, I had less leeway. I had to figure out how to characterize “George” while, at the same time, sticking to the facts.
Colors of the Wind is an amazing (and true!) story. Was Colors of the Wind your own idea or did you meet George Mendoza in another context, which led to the idea?
I used to write articles about and do interviews with artists along the U.S-Mexico border for Revista Tradicion, a New Mexico based publication. The editor asked me to write an article about George, a blind artist who, ironically, paints what he sees. I met George and was astonished. He’s blind and what that means for him is that objects are multiplied and reflected back, like a kaleidoscope; and also, he sees things that aren’t really there—eyes floating in the air, suns, etc. So he really does paint what he sees—and the end results are jaw-dropping stunning.
George asked me to consider doing a glossy art book with him. We spent considerable time together talking about his paintings and his life as a result. Over time, I realized that his story would make a great picture book. This was actually a long time ago. I think I wrote it first in 2004 or 2005, maybe? In any case, it was a long long time ago.
George is convinced I never told him that I was doing this, that one day I just sent him an email saying, “Here’s the picture book.” Whether that’s how it happened or not, thankfully, he loved the idea and here we are.
Did you help George choose which of his paintings to use in the book?
Our editor at Purple House Press, Jill, designed the book and chose the paintings, although she did ask for my input. George didn’t choose any of the paintings. Because he’s blind, he actually can’t see his own paintings unless he gets up really really close—and then he can only see part of the painting, not the whole—so he just sent Jill a lot of photos of his artwork and she selected the ones she felt would best work for each page. She did an amazing job. And as you’ll see, she included small pictures of paintings at the end that she loved but couldn’t include.
Are you a visual artist yourself?
I do like to take photographs and, through sheer luck and intuition—certainly not because of training, I’ve shot some interesting pictures over the years, usually of people rather than things or landscapes. I feel like my visual intelligence is very low. Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in what artists do.
This Thing Called the Future is a captivating book. I read it in about two days. One of the most interesting parts about it is Khosi’s struggle between traditional South African medicine and healing practices and Western medicine. I love how her strong belief in both worlds is present from the beginning of the book and come to shape the crux of the novel. How much did you know personally about this struggle in South African belief systems before writing the book?
I knew quite a bit, actually. I have two master’s degrees in African history and have spent a lot of time traveling throughout South Africa. I became really interested in healing and ideas about healing, as well as the problem of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, and I wanted to see how “traditional” medicine had absorbed the biomedical understanding of the disease and its treatment, as well as how ordinary Africans dealt with the clash between the two cultural systems and what kind of hybrid cultures are emerging as a result, all over the continent.
In South Africa, generally speaking, many people choose to visit traditional healers first before they’ll go to a medical doctor. This is partly cultural—because people feel more comfortable with their own culture’s healing traditions—but it’s also more convenient. There are approximately 300,000 traditional healers and only 42,000 doctors—in a country with 4.5 million people. For people living in rural areas, hospitals and clinics may be many hours away but the healer lives just down the street. So naturally, traditional healers are more convenient. Although there has historically been real enmity between medical doctors and traditional healers, many people on both sides have overcome that distrust in order to combat the AIDS epidemic—together. I find that a very interesting trend.
By the way, I think it’s important to note that cultural systems along with traditional medical systems are constantly changing so it’s a bit of a misnomer to use the word “traditional” for traditional healers—as though the things they do now are the same they’ve always done. By contrast, traditional healers are always changing their methods as they learn what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, “traditional” is the best word we’ve got so for the time being, it’s the one we use.
Has This Thing Called the Future reached a South African teen audience?
South African publishing and book distribution are really separate from the U.S.’s system so it’s not available cheaply and widely in South Africa though people can find it if they really look. In 2013, I took my family to South Africa and I was able to visit two schools and read from the book as well as talk about my life as a writer. One of those schools is an old, established elite all-girls school in Johannesburg—formerly an all-white school, but now integrated. The other was a “container” school in Cosmo City—classes were held in “containers,” those box-structures frequently lacking windows—where many of the students live in nearby squatter communities. I was received with real interest in both schools but I was struck that the girls in the poorer school were most interested in whether I am a poet, not so much the novelist, and some of the girls got up to recite their own poetry—to standing ovations. In fact, and I have to appreciate this, they got a better reception for their poetry than I did for my book or talk. Next time, I’ll come armed with poetry.
The language in the novel is often breathtaking, like “my emotions are a nest of troubled snakes, slithering and sliding around in my stomach.” As a reader, I felt completely present and taken into Khosi’s world even though in many ways it is vastly different from my own. In your image construction for this novel, did you try and use images you felt were specific to this world or ones any reader could relate to?
I definitely tried to use images that were specific to Khosi’s world. Snakes are really important in Zulu cosmology. A snake that appears before you might be an ancestor trying to get your attention, for example, so the imagery has a great deal of symbolic meaning as well as being an image people can pick up on. But of course, I also wanted my book to be completely accessible to American audiences, so a) I don’t explain the symbolic meaning in the text and b) I tried to choose ways to saying things that would be meaningful to Americans as well.
When you set about to write this book was the devastating impact of AIDS on African people always going to be a major part of the book? Was that what first inspired you to write it? Or did that part come from wanting to write about a girl like Khosi?
When I first went to South Africa in 2006, I was struck by the AIDS statistics, which are worse in KwaZulu-Natal (where Khosi lives) than anywhere else in the country. But I didn’t know I was going to write this book when I went there—I went as part of my graduate program in African History at Stanford University. I lived with a Zulu family and the two teen girls in that family inspired this story. Indeed, one of the girls was named Khosi Zulu, just like my character, and her personality provided me with the beginnings of my own character. I was very worried about those girls growing up in a place where older men see young girls as fair game, and where the majority of girls report their first sexual experiences as violent ones. The two teenagers in the family I lived with were such sweet, innocent girls—and I wasn’t sure if it was possible for them to retain that innocence for very much longer. So I wrote this story.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a fantasy trilogy, co-authored with my brother Matt, also YA. It deals with death but it’s also very humorous.
Although it’s only in the thinking stage, I also plan to write (very soon) a sequel for This Thing Called the Future.
Anything else you would like us to know about these two books or your other books?
I try to write books that matter but are also entertaining. I hope people fall in love with the characters and also enjoy the story, but I also want my books to make people think and to question the status quo.
And now for our “3 for 3” book-related questions:
1.     What were 3 of your favorite books as a child/teen? I loved Anne of Green Gables and related books by L.M. Montgomery; the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder; and the Austin family series by Madeleine L’Engle, in particular A Ring of Endless Light.
2.     What are 3 books you’ve read recently that surprised you? I really enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s second young adult novel I’ll Give You the Sun, which just came out. The language in it really surprised me—extremely poetic, full of wonderful images. I also recently read Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg. I’m a big fan of Steinberg’s books, but what really surprised me was that my 3½-year-old son wanted me to read that book to him. He was taken by these two stories of two Liberian men who found themselves battling each other in the United States. I also recently fell in love with a picture book, Morris Mickelthwaite and the Tangerine Dress—a beautiful picture book about a little boy who loves a tangerine dress because it reminds him of tigers, sunsets, and his mother’s hair, and how he overcomes the prejudice of the other children in his class in order to keep wearing the dress he loves.
3.     What are 3 books that influence(d) your writing? That’s a hard question to answer because, as a writer, every book I ever read influences my writing in some way. Sometimes I see how a really great book could have been better, or sometimes I’m just jealous of how brilliant a book is, or sometimes I’ll find something in particular (e.g., Jandy Nelson’s colorful writing) that a writer did exceptionally well that I want to mimic or adopt into my own writing.
But in terms of overarching influence, I think the Little House books, as well as Anne of Green Gables books, caused me to see setting as an organic part of a book’s whole. Setting influences plot and characters because setting is not just a physical place where a character happens to live. No, that same character couldn’t exist just anywhere. People are created by their settings, in part, and settings are bound up with culture, history, religion, politics—and all of these specifics have to be accounted for (however minutely) within a character’s growth and development as a person. A book set in Salt Lake City must, by default, be different than a book set in Los Angeles. People tend to understand this when a book’s setting is a foreign locale but not so much when it’s an American city, but it’s just as true for American cities as anywhere else. I get annoyed when I read books and the writer has presented us with a sterile, bland setting, as if it doesn’t matter. That writer has just not stopped to think about how important location is.
Another book that has greatly influenced me is Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I feel like a one-woman-choir preaching about that book because I bring it up everywhere—it’s my favorite young adult novel. I love the setting, of course (the U.S.-Mexico border, where I grew up), but I also love the novel’s ultimate message: that being someone who “matters” has absolutely nothing to do with becoming wealthy, powerful, or beautiful or being noticed by the powerful, wealthy, and beautiful. This message is incredibly important for American teens to hear because they’re not hearing that very many places. One of the most common messages they DO hear is that if you lack wealth, beauty, and/or power, you are a nothing and a nobody and you don’t matter. It fills me with so much rage to realize how that message is proliferated and propagated in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in our society, and it’s a message that brings death. Sammy and Juliana is a powerful antidote.
Thanks so much for being with us!
J.L. Powers is the award-winning author of 3 books for young adults (The Confessional, This Thing Called the Future, and Amina) and editor of two collections of essays (Labor Pains and Birth Stories: Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Becoming a Parent and That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone). Colors of the Wind: the story of blind artist and champion runner George Mendoza is her first picture book. She teaches English at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. You can find her online at, or
If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order Colors of the Wind or The Thing Called the Future. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Grace's Five Books That Make (or Will Make) Stellar Television

Thu, 2014-08-28 09:00
Why was it abhorrent to watch Harry Potter movies without reading the books, but so few of us have read A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones series)? Why does no one seem to know that HBO's incredible TV series The Leftovers is based off a book? What is Outlander and why do people keep posting about it on Facebook? These are the questions that haunt me.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (Griffin, $15.99)

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (Bantam Books, $9.99)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Bantam Books, $18.00)

Dead Until Dark (True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books, $15.00)

The Walking Dead (Compendium #1) by Robert Kirkman (Image Comics, $59.99)

Grace Gordon, August 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Rachel Wilson

Tue, 2014-08-26 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

This month on our blog, Cordelia Jensen interviewed Rachel Wilson, author of Don’t Touch.
Here's a summary of Rachel's book:
Step on a crack, break your mother's back,
Touch another person's skin, and Dad's gone for good...

Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it's never been this bad before.
When her parents split up, Don't touch becomes Caddie's mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person's skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn't make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama's humidity, she's covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school.
And that's where things get tricky. Even though Caddie's the new girl, it's hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who's auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she'll have to touch Peter . . . and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.
From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we'll let them in.
Hi Rachel! I really loved your book. So, first question, I know you are an actress. Have you ever been in a production of Hamlet? The story is so expertly woven into your novel; you must know the play inside and out. Did the idea of writing a girl playing Ophelia come to you first or did Caddie as a character?
Thank you, Cordelia! I haven’t! The only times I’ve gotten to perform Shakespeare were for classes. In college acting class, I played Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (on a playground, which was super fun), Lady Anne in Richard III, and Macbeth—not the Lady, regular Macbeth. In high school, I almost got to play Juliet, but most of the actor guys played basketball, and we ended up doing a courtroom drama instead. Le sigh.
I have seen many stage and screen productions of Hamlet, including some inventive explorations of the play (like the Neo-Futurists’ Daredevils: Hamlet in which five guys explore masculinity and perform risky stunts while trying to perfect Hamlet), and I’ve studied it from a literary angle.
Caddie came way before Ophelia. In an early draft, she was actually a ballet dancer rather than an actress, and later on, she was performing in The Glass Menagerie. I changed things up because I wanted to use a play that I could pull text from without trouble. There’s a lot of water imagery and swimming pool scenes in Don’t Touch, so I’d been considering having Caddie play Ophelia when one of my writing advisors suggested it. I thought, this is some kind of kismet, and ran with it.
I was curious about Caddie’s relationship with her brother. Although he does not appear very often in the book, he is actually the person who helps her see her own irrational thinking. Did you do much free-writing on the relationship between these two? I almost felt like he could’ve had his own book, he felt so three-dimensional even though he has so few scenes.
That is lovely to hear. Thank you! The Jordan who appears in his first scene—his angry, acting-out self—showed up as is. I always saw him as someone Caddie would feel responsible to and be able to bounce ideas off of without fear of judgment, and I saw him as a foil to Caddie in that he’s acting out while she’s containing her feelings. Siblings are often in a unique position to give us feedback—they’re very close to us but not necessarily an authority or peer, and are pretty much contractually obligated to love us unconditionally. Or that’s what I tell my sister, anyway.
In revision with my editors, I brought out more of the positive relationship between Jordan and Caddie. In my mind, Jordan and Caddie were loving, but I didn’t show that much in early drafts. I’d cut an important scene between them for length that made its way back in—the one where they’re cooking together. I’m really glad my editors pushed me to soften Jordan’s edges and find the sibling love between the two.
Caddie’s gloves are a huge part of the story. Without giving too much away, did you always know you would use the gloves as a vehicle for Caddie’s OCD?
Not always, but very early. The novel used to open with a much younger Caddie on a road trip with her family, and the gloves were something she got away with wearing because she was a child. Later on, when I decided to cut those flashback scenes, I realized that it might be even more interesting for a teen to suddenly start wearing gloves. It’s more of a challenge for an older Caddie to explain.
Peter and Mandy both challenge and support Caddie and, really, see her through even as she pushes them away. Was it hard as an author to write a character who keeps pushing people away? Was it hard to prolong her suffering?
Well, I don’t know that it was hard. I can be pretty mean to my characters, and I think that came pretty naturally since that’s so true to my own experience with OCD as a kid. I had perceptive, involved parents and several close friends, and I still managed to hide what was going on with me for years. It is a frustrating part of Caddie’s character—frustrating to her and to her friends. The challenge was less about writing that aspect of Caddie and more about writing it without alienating and totally frustrating readers. I’ll leave it to individual readers to decide whether I’ve managed that. 
I haven’t read any other YA books on OCD; it seems like a really important topic to tackle in teen fiction. Have you read any other books that address this topic so directly?
Yes! Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story is wonderful and captures how odd and sometimes scary compulsions can be, and it spends time in group therapy sessions, which is really interesting. E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series starting with The Boyfriend List doesn’t deal with OCD but has a great treatment of anxiety and panic attacks. Those are the ones I think of offhand, but I know there are some great ones I haven’t yet read.
What other projects are you working on currently?
About a month after Don’t Touch comes out, I’ll have an e-short story out with HarperTeen Impulse—“The Game of Boys and Monsters.” It’s a spooky, suspenseful story, and I’m working on a novel that’s spooky and suspenseful as well, but it’s still deep in the oven.
Is there anything else about the novel you would like us to know?
I guess I’d like people to know that while this book goes to some dark places, it does have humor. Life is funny, and humor breaks our guard down—it’s often the best entry point to difficult subjects.
And now for our “3 for 3” book-related questions:
1. What are three of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg.
2. What are three books you’ve read recently that surprised you?
The Circle by Dave Eggers, Trent Reedy’s Divided We Fall, and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
3. What are three books that influence/d your writing?
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Looking for Alaska by John Green, and All Rivers Flow to the Sea by Alison McGhee.
Rachel M. Wilson received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Don't Touch is her first novel. Originally from Alabama, she now writes, acts, and teaches in Chicago, Illinois.
You can find her at
And more about the book here:

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order Don't Touch. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Staff Review - Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

Sun, 2014-08-24 10:00
"What do a disabled superhero, a time-traveling Chinese-American figure skater, and a transgender animal shifter have in common? They're all stars of Kaleidoscope stories!

"Kaleidoscope collects fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life."

When the editors entitled this collection Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, they were not kidding around. The book is full of difference -- in race, culture, gender, sexuality, ability, mobility, physical and mental health, and economic status (not to mention species and style of magic) -- and one of the most notable things is that it's not the purview of the protagonist alone but woven into the fabric of each story. The diversity is so thick on the ground here that it's like walking through an Alison Bechdel comic strip -- or like walking through Mt. Airy. I confess to a fond partiality for "Signature," by Faith Mudge, set in a small indie bookshop in Queensland, Australia. The story starts out so full of cozy and familiar detail that I had to remind myself partway through that there would be fantasy coming!

There is also geographic diversity, though that's partly because the book is a multinational effort, with even the editors working together from opposite hemispheres. There are two Philly-area authors in the mix, whom we're hoping to bring to the store in the fall. "Krishna Blue" by Shveta Thakrar is filled with colors so vivid you can taste them, while Eugene Myers' "Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell" delves into possible futures, drug interactions, and kissing games. Shveta and Eugene have both visited before, and we're looking forward to seeing them here again!

Some other favorites of mine:

"Cookie Cutter Superhero" by Tansy Rayner Roberts - Joey must leave school to become a superhero, and everything in her life will change. Well...maybe not quite everything.

"Vanilla" by Dirk Flinthart - A fascinating and sweet look at immigration and assimilation, and the meaning of friendship.

"Careful Magic" - Imagine being the only declared (and highly skilled) Order worker in a high school full of Chaos. Yeah, it's like that.

I read the stories in order, and I found the writing consistently engaging and compelling. As I scroll through the list of titles I keep seeing more and more stories I really enjoyed. So many different kinds of stories, so many different kinds of difference! Rather than try to describe them all, I will offer a list of odd pairings I noticed as I read through. I was entertained to discover that the highly disparate collection nonetheless contains...
2 lotteries
2 love spells
2 vampires
2 cosmic bridges
2 unpredictable machines
2 sets of daily protection rituals
2 interactions with alien species
2 strange types of four-legged animals
and 2 characters with veterinary interests.

Good luck with your own explorations! Kaleidoscope offers a wild ride to places both enticingly new and comfortingly familiar, and it's a great addition to the worlds of both YA and SFF.

-- Reviewed by Jennifer Sheffield
(Review originally posted in the August Big Blue YA Newsletter.)
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five Read-Before-the-Day-Before-School-Starts Picks

Fri, 2014-08-22 15:12
It is understood that no matter what your mother, father, teacher, or anyone else says, some of you will wait until the day before school starts to start your summer reading books. If you haven't bought your books yet, take a moment to stop in and check out our display of local middle and high school required reading. There are some great books to choose from this year.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Knopf, $12.99)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Little, Brown, $14.99)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin, $12.99)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead, $16.00)

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Harper, $6.99)

Janet Elfant, August 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Sheila’s Five Series for When I Want My Books to Be Candy

Thu, 2014-07-24 09:00
All of these are beautifully imagined worlds with compelling characters that will leave you reaching for the next book...and the next...and the next. Smart escapism, perfect for beach and hammock reading.

Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye urban fantasy: series starts with Rosemary and Rue (Penguin, $7.99)
October Day is a changeling PI recovering from spending 14 years transformed into a carp, while simultaneously navigating the political machinations of feudal fae society.

Laurie King’s Russell and Holmes series: series starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (St. Martin’s, $16.00)
Sherlock Holmes meets his match in a fifteen-year-old half-American Jewish theologian named Mary Russell; their adventures in the service of the crown take them across the UK and around the globe.

Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri books: Series starts with The Coroner’s Lunch (Soho, $15.95)
It’s 1978 and Dr. Siri Paiboum has seen Laos through its Communist revolution and
would like nothing more than to retire, but his country still needs his services in the
autopsy room.

Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles: series starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Random House, $5.99 US edition or approx. $11 UK edition)
Interlocking stories following an group of children related by friendship and family ties as their journeys take them far afield from their homes and affect the grand arch of a richly imagined alternate 18th century.

Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series: series begins with The Thief (HarperCollins, $6.99)
Eugenides is one of the most compelling characters out there, a thief who converses with the gods of the Mediterranean world of city-states and high court drama.

Sheila Avelin, July 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five New Arrivals

Mon, 2014-07-21 09:00
Earthworm Racers by Begin Again ($12.99)
This earthworm is my all time favorite toddler toy. Made from solid wood, it stretches rolls, twists, and, with a bit of manipulation can be used to massage an aching muscle.

Stars at Night Lightweights by Djeco ($7.99)
Brighten any room or party with this set of beautifully designed paper stars. Djeco makes sets of several varieties including dragons, fish and cats.

One Gorilla by Anthony Browne (Candlewick Press, $16.99)
On each page of this over-sized book for toddlers is a vibrantly illustrated drawing of primates complete with various very realistic facial expressions.

Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo (Timber Press, $29.95)
Seeing Flowers by Teri Dunn Chace (Timber Press, $29.95)

These two volumes are filled with the photography of Robert Llewellyn in which our natural world is magnified to present a detail to each that creates an unworldly beauty.

Janet Elfant, July 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Young Writers Interview Author Lisa Graff

Fri, 2014-07-18 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen and Story Corners Writing Camp

During the last week of June, the bookstore hosted Story Corners Camp for Young Writers. Led by writer Cordelia Jensen, and intern Sarah Alden, the kids worked on creating Mt. Airy Musers, the new Kids Lit Journal for the neighborhood, worked on their own writing craft and had the chance to visit with two local authors. Lisa Graff, author of many books including Absolutely Almost and A Tangle of Knots, visited with us on Tuesday, June 24th. Lisa played a really fun game of Book Truth or Dare with the kids. And students also got to ask her questions, some of which are answered below. Here is our interview with the talented Lisa Graff: 
Q from Annie: How long does it take you to write a book?It depends on the book. My longest book to write was Umbrella Summer, which took about three years. Absolutely Almost took the least amount of time of any book I’ve written so far—that one probably took about six months, from first draft to final revision. That’s very quick!
Q from Lucy: How many books have you written?I’ve written seven middle-grade novels, and two young adult novels (I co-write my young-adult novels under the pen name Isla Neal. Those books are part of the Ever-Expanding Universe trilogy). In addition to that, I have another middle-grade novel, Lost in the Sun, coming out next year, as well as the last book in the trilogy of my YA series. I also have my very first picture book, It Is Not Time for Sleeping, coming out in 2016, and I’m working on new things all the time!
Q from Georgia: Why do you write kids’ books?One of my favorite reasons to write children’s books is that children are really discerning about what they read. If they aren’t being forced to read a book for school, they’ll put it down as soon as it gets even the slightest bit boring. Adults don’t often do that. So I love that my books are held up to such a high standard—it keeps me on my toes as a writer.
Q from Sadie: How old were you when you started writing?I started writing for fun when I was about eight years old. I didn’t really start writing seriously until I was twenty-one, when I moved to New York City to start graduate school for creative writing.
Q from Maggie: How do you pick the names for your characters?Names come from all sorts of places. Sometimes I’ll name characters after someone I know, but usually the names are completely made up. I often get inspiration from baby name websites. I love trying to match names to characters—when I’ve found exactly the right name, the character’s personality seems to click perfectly into place.
Q from Mikaela: How much input do you get on your book covers?Usually not much. For the most part, authors aren’t in charge of what goes on the covers of their books, which can seem unfair until you realize that the people at the publishing house who are in charge (designers, marketing teams) do that sort of thing for a living so they’re generally better at it than most authors would be.
Q from Julia: What’s the publishing process like?It’s very complicated! But in a nutshell, if you are an author who has written a book, you first need to find an editor at a publishing house who wants to publish your book (often this step is accomplished with the help of an agent, but that’s a whole different story). After that, your editor will give you notes about big and small things you might change to make your story stronger. You may have to go through several rounds of this. Editing can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the book. When that stage is finished, the editor will do a line edit, which is a smaller edit, mostly looking at words you may have overused or that might be unclear. That can take anywhere from a few days to a month. Then the book goes to copyediting, where the magical person called the copyeditor checks all of your grammar and spelling and punctuation and checks for typos and continuity errors, and other things you and your editor may have missed in the billions of times you read the book (you’d be surprised what you can gloss over!). A book goes through several rounds of copyedits, although you the author may or may not see them all. Meanwhile, other people from the publishing house—designers, production people, publicists—get in on the action and start doing their various jobs, which include everything from making the book look pretty (both on the outside and the inside), and figuring out the logistics of turning an electronic document into a physical book (what sort of paper the book will be printed on, where it will be printed and how it will be shipped, etc.), to making sure booksellers have heard of the book before it comes out. It’s a lot of work! It typically takes a full year after a book has gone to copyediting for it to be officially published and available to the public.
Q from Liam: Why did you choose a character to have a peanut allergy in Double Dog Dare?
I have a brother with a peanut allergy, so it was something I knew a little bit about. Originally I just thought this would be an interesting character trait for Kansas’s little sister, but I later ended up turning it into a major plot point.
Q from Cordelia: The voice in Absolutely Almost is so strong; how did Albie first come to you? What did you know about him right away?
I’m not entirely sure where he came from—his was one of those voices that seemed to pop into my head from nowhere. He’s definitely not based on anyone in particular. Before I started writing, I really only knew that he wouldn’t be as smart as his peers, so his voice would sound very innocent at times, and that there would be several moments where the reader would understand a lot more than Albie did. It’s a challenge to write from the point of view of that sort of narrator, but it was a whole lot of fun too.
We had an awesome time with Lisa and thank her so much for visiting with us!
If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order any of Lisa's books. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Jen’s Five Books (and More!) of Women in Flight

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:47
Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, $17.99)
Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart were friends? Did you know Eleanor Roosevelt was learning to fly? Here’s a beautifully illustrated evening excursion set right in the middle of a White House dinner!
(picture book)

Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Scholastic, $16.99)
Bessie Coleman was the first African American female pilot. This story of her dreams and her struggles to achieve them is told in the voices of the different people in her life, from family to flight instructor to news reporter to field hand.
(picture book)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Little, Brown, $9.99)
Powerful and intense story of two young women in WWII -- one a night pilot, the other a spy captured by the Germans, who weaves the history of their friendship into her elaborate and detailed confession. Some parts are devastating, while the overall tone is exuberant and full of astonishing humor and optimism.
(young adult)

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (Speak, $8.99)
Ida Mae wants to fly. She's already been denied a pilot's license because she's female. When the US armed forces announce the Women Airforce Service Pilots program in WWII, Ida Mae decides she won't be denied again because she's black.
(young adult)

Flygirl is an upcoming book for the bookstore’s YA book club!

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Stone
(Candlewick, $17.99)

In 1961, 13 women, counted among the best pilots of their time, trained and tested to become astronauts. This is the story of their unsuccessful struggle to convince the government that their skills were more important than their sex -- and of the women who followed in their footsteps.
(picture book for older kids)

Bonus tracks!

1) One excellent brand-new book about birds, from when I thought this was going to be a list of books about all kinds of flight. It’s awesome. Read it!

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker (Riverhead, $27.95)

2) Four books that I have not yet read, selected from a link that a friend posted online just as I was searching for a fifth title! (I chose the astronauts.) Check these out, and leave a comment letting us know what you think!

Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America's Heart by Julie Cummins
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss
Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari (middle grade fiction, WWII spy)
Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record Setting Journeys by Karen Bush Gibson

More details here:

Jennifer Sheffield, July 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Five Books Nif's Three-Year-Old Likes to Quote

Sun, 2014-07-13 23:12
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean (HarperCollins, $16.99)
We even don't own this book (yet), but he was reciting it in a completely recognizable fashion. They must have read it to him in school.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner (Penguin, $17.99)
"Oh, I am Skippyjon Jones, and I bounce on my bed, And once or SIX times, I land on my head."
He's a cat. Who thinks he is a chihuahua. So much energy and silliness.

I'm a Frog! - an Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems (Disney Press, $8.99)
This one gets re-enacted from start to finish, as best as we can remember it. Pure gold.

Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard and David Slonim
(Random House, $15.99)

Poems about all kinds of trucks. Lots of fun to read aloud. I LOVE hearing my little one quote the verse about the cement mixer, "If he dawdles on the way, his slushy load will harden."

Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman (Random House, $8.99)
"Do you like my hat?" It might be a shirt in the process of being taken off, or a towel, or a toy, or maybe even an actual hat.
"No, I do not like that hat."

Jennifer Woodfin, July 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Mariga's Five Favorite Books Featuring Ducks

Thu, 2014-07-10 18:52
Just Ducks by Nicola Davies/Salvatore Rubbino (Candlewick Press, $6.99)

The Real Thief by William Steig (Square Fish, $7.99)

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein/Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, $7.99)

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell/Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick Press, $6.99)

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (Puffin, $7.99)

Mariga Temple-West, July 2014
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

2014 Mt. Airy Kids' Literary Festival, or Blog Post Full of Links!

Thu, 2014-05-15 19:14
The 8th Annual Mt. Airy Kids' Literary Festival -- three days of authors, illustrators, workshops, games, parties, music, and more -- begins tomorrow, Friday, May 16!

Schedule and event information:
- Festival schedule on our website.
- Facebook event page (schedule included).
- Link to our most recent events newsletter, which contains a partial schedule breakdown by age groups.

Interviews here on the blog with four of the attending authors:
- David Wiesner, author of Mr. Wuffles and Flotsam.
- Judy Schachner, author of Bits & Pieces and the Skippyjon Jones series.
- Shawn K. Stout, author of Penelope Crumb.
- Jill Santopolo, author of the Sparkle Spa series.

Link for half-price Cat in the Hat tickets at the Arden Theatre, Saturday, May 17, 7pm. (Discount applies for Saturday evening performance only; use the code CATSAT). Note: If you get a timeout message or notice that seats are unavailable, try again later or call the phone number listed.

Diversity in kids' literature challenge:
Authors and independent bookstores are organizing to change increase diversity in children's literature by concentrating on one book with racially diverse characters both inside *and* on the cover, to show that it can succeed. Authors Kate Messner and Shannon Hale (see her Tumblr post announcing the challenge), and now John Green, have challenged Indie bookstores to make the page-turning new middle grade novel The Great Greene Heist a best seller, and The Big Blue Marble Bookstore is taking on the challenge. Will you? The bookstores that sell the most copies are eligible for great prizes, which we'll happily share with customers who pre-order a copy.
The Great Greene Heist comes out on May 27, so we'll be taking pre-orders during the Kids' Lit Fest. All orders placed from now until Monday May 19th will be given a 20% discount.

May 17 is Indies First Storytime Day, and we have a listing!
Indies First is the brainchild of Sherman Alexie, who asked his fellow authors to "… be a superhero for independent bookstores [and] spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local bookstore…" Now, Indies First honors Children's Book Week with Indies First Storytime Day on May 17. Authors and Illustrators across the country will appear at their local indie as a story hour reader volunteer.

Follow one of the map links (by state or by store) to see our listing (and others nearby), and if you're not local to Philly, check out the other readings listed throughout the country!

Hope to see you this weekend!
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Jill Santopolo

Tue, 2014-05-13 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Jill! Thanks for joining us on the Big Blue Marble Bookstore blog. We are also happy you will be participating in our Kids' Literary Festival as part of the Middle Grade roundtable event on Saturday, 5/17, at 3pm, at the store.

Here’s a bit about the Sparkle Spa series:

Making friends one sparkly nail at a time – a new series!

Sisters Aly and Brooke love spending time at their mom’s popular and successful nail salon—it’s their “home away from home.” At the end of another incredibly busy day, Mom complains she is completely overwhelmed at work, even more so by all the kids who come to have manis and pedis. 

That’s when the sisters have a brilliant idea: Why don’t they open up a mini nail salon just for kids within Mom’s store?

My favorite part of the series is how distinct Aly and Brooke are from each other but also how fiercely they’re both devoted to each other and the nail salon. Were Aly and Brooke’s characters clear in your head from the beginning or did they change at all? When you were a kid, were you more like one sister?

Aly and Brooke were both very much themselves from the start—I knew I wanted 
one sister who was super responsible and organized and practical and another who 
was extra creative and artistic and chaotic. But as the books progressed, I added 
to their characters, giving them favorite colors and likes and dislikes and physical 
attributes. I also, knew, though, that even though their personalities were pretty 
different, they would love each other—and the salon—fiercely, and that hasn’t 
changed at all. 

As a kid I was probably a little more like Aly. I was thoughtful and a pretty good 

How much research did you do for this book? Did you come across new nail polishes you had never heard of before? Did you see any real dogs get their nails done?

The main research I did was attempting to polish my parents’ dog’s nails with 
special puppy nail polish. Sadie the dog was not too happy about it, and I ended up 
doing only two toenails before my sister convinced me to give up. 

The nail polish names in the book are all made up, but they’re based on the sort of 
polish names on the bottles in the nail salons near my apartment. I feel like new ones 
have arrived every time I stop by!

What was fun about writing these books? What was hard?

I had the most fun coming up with the nail polish names and the special manicures 
the girls do in the salon. And I think the hardest part was trying to get everything I 
wanted to write to fit into such a short book!

I like how the message in the series is that you can be a girl who is both “sparkly 
and strong.” As a mother of a sparkly and active sort of girl, I so appreciate this sentiment. I am assuming this was a very important piece for you to work into the story without wanting to seem heavy-handed?

Yes, it absolutely was. I feel like there’s a false dichotomy set up in society that 
says that either a girl can like princesses and sparkles (etc) or she can like sports 
and tree-climbing (etc). And part of why I wanted to write this book is to show that 
it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. I was a kid who climbed trees wearing 
sparkly party shoes and played soccer with ribbons in my hair. I want girls to know 
that they don’t have to choose—that they can embrace all sides of themselves.

Tell us a little about your other books and upcoming projects.

Well the next Sparkle Spa book is coming out in June. It’s called Makeover Magic 
and it’s about what happens when a new salon opens up across the street and Aly 
and Brooke have to fight to keep their customers for Auden Elementary’s Fall Ball. 
And then I’m also working on a series for teens called Follow Your Heart, in which 
each book has thirteen different endings to choose from and each reader can pick 
the one that’s right for her—or him. The first book, Summer Love, just came out 
a couple of weeks ago. And then there will be more Sparkle Spa and Follow Your 
Heart books to come in 2014 and 2015.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about the Sparkle Spa series or 
about you as an author?

I’m really happy to be coming to the Big Blue Marble Bookstore!

We are very excited to have you--here's a picture of my daughter Lily and her friends with one of the Rainbow Sparkle pedicures featured in the first book of the Sparkle Spa series:

And, lastly, our “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1. What were 3 of your favorite books when you were a child/teen? 
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, A Tree 
Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

2. What are 3 books you’ve read recently that surprised you? We Were Liars by 
E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, Creativity Inc. by Ed 

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your writing? Kristy’s Big Idea by Ann M. 
Martin, Sunset Island by Cherie Bennett, Here’s To You Rachel Robinson by 
Judy Blume

Thanks! If you live in the Philly area come see Jill at the bookstore on Saturday, May 17th! She'll be part of a roundtable discussion with Shawn Stout, also interviewed here recently, and Kathleen Van Cleve, author of Drizzle.

Jill Santopolo is the author of the Sparkle Spa series, the Alec Flint mysteries and the Follow Your Heart books.  She's also an editor at Penguin Young Reader's Group and an MFA thesis advisor at The New School. You can visit her online at or follow her on Twitter @JillSantopolo.

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order books from the Sparkle Spa, Follow Your Heart, or the Alex Flint series. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Finally, join us in June for Cordelia's interview with Lisa Graff, author of many books including A Tangle of Knots and the new Absolutely Almost, both edited by the multi-talented Jill Santopolo! 
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Skila Brown

Tue, 2014-04-29 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Today's interview is with Skila Brown, debut author. Her Middle Grade verse novel Caminar hit the shelves in March. It has received starred reviews from the Horn Book and School Library Journal. Here's a summary of the book:

Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.
Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.
Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.
Thanks for joining us on the Big Blue Marble Bookstore blog, Skila! I just finished reading your beautiful book, Caminar. I had the privilege of reading an earlier version, which made the reading (and holding) of the final product that much more amazing. Your book has been receiving sensational reviews (no surprise), so, also, many congratulations on those.
Thank you for having me, Cordelia, and for those kind words. It’s an honor to be here!
What was your initial inspiration for this story? Tell us about how and where it began.
I’d spent ten years reading about the terrible violence in Guatemala, but I never had the intention of writing a story about it. I had several novels in draft form that I was writing, but nothing was really working. Shelley Tanaka, my writing mentor at the time, asked if there wasn’t something I cared more about. Wasn’t there some story I might have hidden away in my heart that I needed to put on the page instead? Turns out there was.
How did you make the decision for Carlos to be an only child? How did that seem integral to his journey?
I don’t remember ever considering a sibling for Carlos. In an earlier draft, he had a father who had been ‘disappeared’ by the Army, though I later whittled that away. I knew it was only Carlos and his mama in his family. I just had that feeling in my gut early on.
I really like the “animal spirit” theme in the book and how Carlos finds his own guide. It gives a sort of playful quality to the book which is, obviously, a serious book overall. Did you play around with a few animals before choosing one? Or was there always one?
It was always an owl. Long before I knew nahuales would make an appearance in the story, I had printed off a picture of an owl and taped it to my notebook. I thought of Carlos like the owl—always watching, perched in a tree, easy to pass over if you aren’t paying attention. It was only when he was literally in that tree and I knew he needed something to look at, something to focus on, that I realized it would be the owl.
Do you have an animal you feel spiritually connected to?
Jellyfish are my favorite animals on the planet. I could spend all day watching a jellyfish move through water. It’s mesmerizing and so calming.
My favorite part of your poetry style is the way you carve white space with your words. The shape of your poems so often reflect the imagery and/or content of the poem. Is this an energizing part of writing for you?
Yes! It’s so fun. I don’t think about shape when I’m drafting a poem; it’s only in revision that I start to play with space and stanza. And that’s always my favorite part.
What draws you to the verse novel form in general?
There’s no fluff in a verse novel. It’s potent, sparse language that cuts to the heart of the emotion without wasting words. I like that novels in verse are accessible to a wide range of readers. They can be a fast page-turner for the reluctant reader or a slow story to savor for someone else. They often leave things unsaid, making it digestible for a wide range of ages.
Anything else you would like us to know about this book?
I’ve had more than one person ask me if this story is really appropriate for a ten-year old child. The answer is a resounding yes. It’s about a tragedy, yes, but it’s also about growing up, facing fears, figuring out the right thing to do. The violence in the story happens off-screen and without graphic detail. I’d encourage teachers and parents to read this first, if they have doubts that a particular reader is ready for the story, but I think we need to give kids the credit they're due. They can handle more than we realize. And stories about survival can be a reassurance for a child reader.
Any other upcoming projects?
I have two books forthcoming with Candlewick—a second novel in verse out next year and a picture book collection of poetry about sharks out in 2016.
And now for our “3 for 3” book-related questions. What were 3 of your favorite books when you were a child/teen?
I was a huge fan of Shel Silverstein and read to my kids now from the dog-eared copy of A Light in the Attic that I had as a child. I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at least a dozen times as a kid. And I’m fairly certain I owned the entire Sweet Valley High collection. (I was Elizabeth – wishing I were Jessica.)
What are 3 books you have read recently that surprised you?
I am always surprised by books because I never read summaries or jacket flaps or even blurbs—I just open them up and dive right in, not knowing what to expect at all. Recently, I loved Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home. The tone of the story was such a surprise to me as it wasn’t what I expected from the cover. P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia surprised me because it’s so rare to find a sequel even better than its predecessor. Finally, I’ll have to go with Two Boys Kissing. Just when I think David Levithan can’t get any more brilliant, he goes and writes another piece of spectacular.
What are 3 books that influence/d your writing?
Only three?! That seems incredibly unfair. The first three that pop into my head are: George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From, Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave, and Encounter by Jane Yolen (illustrated by David Shannon.)
 Thanks, Skila!

Skila Brown holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Caminar is her first novel. You can find her at

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Caminar. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up on 5/13: Jill Santopolo, author of the new Sparkle Spa series.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Delia Sherman

Tue, 2014-04-15 09:00
by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Delia! Congratulations on the recent paperback release of The Freedom Maze! Here is my synopsis of the book:

Slated to spend the summer on her family's sugar plantation in Louisiana, 13-year-old Sophie wishes for a storybook adventure and is sent back in time by 100 years. In Sophie's own 1960, there is no question of who is black and who is white. It has never occurred to her that in 1860, tanned and barefoot, she might be taken for a slave in her own ancestral home...

I was excited to learn last fall that the paperback was finally coming out this year. I’m curious about what it’s like when you have a book published in hardcover by one publisher and in paper by another.

Believe it or not, when I first got into publishing, it was pretty much standard operating procedure for a paperback house (like Ace, Berkley, or Pocket Books) to buy reprint rights to previously published hardcovers. Now that the publishing business has changed, this is far more unusual, but it still does happen. In this case, it was because a small press like Big Mouth House doesn’t have the time, money, or personnel to send out all the free copies and file all the paperwork necessary to get a book into schools and libraries, which is where we all agreed that The Freedom Maze belonged. Things have worked out perfectly—for me, anyway. Kelly Link, who has been cheering me through TFM since I first started working on it 20 years ago, was the perfect editor for it, and Candlewick, with their impressive roots in the children’s book world, is the perfect distributor.

While I think of you mostly as a New Yorker, I know that you spent time in Louisiana while growing up. How did your own experiences influence Sophie’s character and the development of her story?

Since my father was from South Carolina and my mother had family in both Texas and Louisiana, there are ways in which I grew up in the South even though I actually lived in New York. Take my family’s views on race. Although Papa held extremely progressive views for his age and background, Mama was a little more, shall we say, conservative, as were most of her relatives. One of my aunts, for instance, came back from Africa full of indignation about about how bad Africans smelled (which made me wonder why she would go in the first place, but people are strange, right?). Add to this the fact that none of the African-Americans I met, either in the North or the South, conformed in the smallest detail to the stereotypes my southern relatives described, and you got a kid who did a lot of thinking about prejudice, blind assumptions, and privilege. My life-long wrestling with these issues is reflected in Sophie’s story, as are my thoughts on Being A Lady, how to define Family, and the importance of Blood and Heredity—all of which are more important (or at least more discussed) in the South of my youth than in the New York of today.

I really like reading about Sophie’s friend Canny and her family. It's always good to have people on your side when you're in a new and overwhelming reality! How did they come to be? Did you create the family all together, or did the characters come along separately?

I tend to make up characters as I need them. And since I adore making up characters, the problem, really, is keeping them down to a manageable number. My favorites arrive fully fledged and determine the course of the narrative. For instance, I knew Oak River needed a cook because every plantation needs a cook. I began to write and Africa appeared on the page and kind of took over. And of course she had to have a family, and of course they turned out to be interesting, active folks. It took me a while to get to know Ned and Poland and Flanders, but Canny, like her mother, was always very much herself.

The Freedom Maze tackles complicated issues of race relations and racial identity. And while Sophie herself is certainly coming to her travels from a world of white privilege, she is surrounded by people who aren't. How did you approach the task of writing the stories of your African American characters living in slavery? What kinds of reactions have you had from readers?

Research, research, and more research. I read social histories, memoirs, slave narratives, plantation documents. I went to plantation and folk-life museums in Louisiana (I recommend one in Baton Rouge particularly) and asked a lot of questions of the docents. I had conversations about civil rights, white privilege, writing the other, the religion of Voodoo, weaving, sewing, and cooking in the 19th century, sugar culture and manufacture with friends, experts, and historians of all colors, ages, and backgrounds. I gave my manuscript to kind and rigorous readers, and listened to what they had to say, and I talked with them about how I could fix (or at least address) its problematical parts without compromising the story I wanted to tell. On the whole, readers' reactions have been wonderfully positive. I have done a couple of talks after which a reader has asked me how a fair-skinned child (even one with a tan) could possibly be taken for a slave, and on both occasions, the questioner has been white. There has also been a little discussion about whether Sophie is a White Savior.

Having heard you read aloud -- both from Freedom Maze and from your other works -- a number of times, I know you have a particular ear for language and dialect. What was it like coming up with the different voices for your characters?

Fun. One of the things I’ve always noticed about people is how they speak. Even in the most casual conversation, the language a person uses reveals something about their education, interests, experience, social context, age, even character. For me, language is a method of characterization. If I know what a character looks like and how she talks, I’ve pretty much got her. That said, sometimes I have to do a bit of writing and rewriting to pin down a character’s voice. You don’t want too many crabby old ladies (or at least not crabby in the same way), for instance, or characters who are nothing but mean or helpful or sassy or comforting. You want people who sound like they have a life when they’re not talking to your hero. Varying the way they speak helps with that.

One of the things I love about The Freedom Maze is that at the end (only mild spoiler, I think) there is clear evidence – both to readers and to Sophie's family -- that the adventure was real. No one tries to convince Sophie to dismiss her tale as a dream or the product of wild imaginings. Did you do this deliberately, or did it just flow from the progression of the story?

A little bit of both, actually. Sophie doesn’t really expect anyone to believe her, so she doesn’t tell anyone but Aunt Enid. She only tells her because she’s tired and sad and can’t think of a plausible lie. She also knows that Aunt Enid absolutely believes in ghosts and strange happenings and magic, even if she is freaked out when confronted with proof that they’re real. Sophie’s actually having aged 6 months was very deliberate indeed. I can remember being utterly disgusted when the Pevensies became children again when they tumbled back through the wardrobe from Narnia. They’d been adults, for Pete’s sake: Kings and Queens with responsibilities and knowledge and experiences under their belts that would have made becoming children again almost impossible to bear. I wasn’t going to do that to my magic adventurer, no siree—especially since I have seen for myself that adolescents do tend to change pretty dramatically once they get going and those closest to them are the least likely to notice (or accept) those changes.

The eponymous maze has an interesting journey itself throughout the book, as it moves from background to forefront and then fades again multiple times. And of course because it’s made of growing things, it looks and feels different in different eras. Have you spent time in places with this kind of living maze?

Nope. I just love the idea of mazes, and always have. I stink at actually figuring them out, except in those puzzles you find in kids’ activity books.

Do you have current or upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

I’m delighted to say that The Freedom Maze has just been published in France by Editions Hélium, in a beautiful translation I got to read and comment on. I’m closing in on the last draft of a new middle grade book, this one set in Maine, about a boy who runs away from home and is taken in by an Evil Wizard. It’s got Selkies and werecoyotes and motorcycles and magic in it, it is called The Evil Wizard Smallbone, and it is a lot of fun to write.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were 3 of your favorite books from childhood/teen years?

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

Adaptation by Malinda Lo
Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann (which is not a kid’s book, but is absolutely astonishing)

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
The Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit

Thank you so much for joining us!

photo credit: Augusten Burroughs
Delia Sherman writes short stories and novels for adults and young readers. Several of her short stories have been nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and her most recent novel, The Freedom Maze, received the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award, and the Prometheus Award. A collection of her short stories will be published by Small Beer Press in 2014. She has taught many writing workshops, including Clarion, the Hollins University Program in Children's Literature, and Odyssey. She has taught Freshman Comp, worked in a book store, and been a freelance editor. She can write almost anywhere, but prefers cafes and comfy sofas near a source of tea. She lives in New York City with her wife Ellen Kushner and many fine books, most of which at least one of them has read. Besides reading other people's manuscripts and writing her own, favorite occupations are travel, knitting, cooking, and having fun adventures, as long as they don't involve actual dragons.

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of The Freedom Maze. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Next up: on April 29th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Skila Brown, author of Caminar.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Grace's Five Best Big Blue Books

Tue, 2014-04-08 00:06
So you're looking for a book...and you can't remember the name, or the author, or what it was about. But wait! You are pretty sure the book was blue. I definitely don't know what book you're looking for, but I can recommend all of these big, blue books.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (HarperCollins, $25.99)
Matthew Quick's novel The Silver Linings Playbook was a Philadelphia book that took Hollywood by storm when the movie adaptation entranced viewers all over the world. Now, Quick has done it again with this quirky, hilarious, and absolutely heartwrenching story that takes place in Philadelphia, with the bonus of a road trip to Canada. Topics such as bipolar disorder, Richard Gere, cute librarians, and aliens are all addressed in this wonderful coming-of-age tale about a 38 year old man navigating life without his mother.

How To Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia by Kelsey Osgood (Overlook Press, $26.95)
Kelsey Osgood's book is a special one. The memoir serves as not only a commentary on eating disorder memoirs themselves, but also a genuinely good criticism of recovery culture and modern anorexic life.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, $17.99; paperback forthcoming!)
The Fault in Our Stars is the sort of book you immediately start from the beginning again after you finish it. Interwoven with romance, tragedy, illness, and hope, this book is an honest portrait of young people with cancer. Author John Green always manages to make his characters very real, and they will stay in your heart even after you finish the book (twice). Join the YA book club and discuss this amazing book in May 2014!

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (Tor, $7.99)
This epic fantasy novel is the beginning of a fourteen book series that outlived the author himself. I first received this 800 page book when I was nine years old, and immediately tore through it and what else was released in the series. Note: NOT a children's series.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Bantam Books, $9.99)
You've heard of it. Maybe you've seen the show. But have you read the books? Spoiler alert, they're REALLY GOOD. Join the Read the Movie book club to discuss this amazing book, and also watch the premiere of Season 4, on April 9th at 7:00pm.

Grace Gordon, April 2014

(Some other blue books: Blue book display
from Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas!
-- Jen)
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Interview with Abigail Perkiss, author of Making Good Neighbors

Tue, 2014-04-01 11:35
by Grace Gordon

Please join Big Blue Marble Books this Friday, April 4, at 7:00pm, as we welcome Mt. Airy resident Abigail Perkiss in celebration of her new book on the history of integration in postwar Philadelphia. Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia examines the history of race, ethnicity, and urban identity in post-WWII American cities, and focuses on the neighborhood of Mt. Airy.

What’s your relationship to Mt. Airy?

My relationship with Mount Airy is two-fold:

First, I lived in the neighborhood until I was nine years old and grew up steeped in the story and legacy of Mount Airy's integration efforts. I moved back in 2005 and have lived here ever since. My husband and I have enjoyed finding and creating a community here as adults, and we're about to add to the newest generation of Mount Airy-ites.

Second, I am an historian and my doctoral dissertation examined West Mount Airy's integration project, from the early 1950s through the turn of the 21st century. This book is based on that research.

At what moment did you decide you wanted to write a book about integration in Philadelphia?

Again, this book stemmed from my doctoral research. I hold a joint JD/PhD from Temple University, and while I was in graduate school, I found that my research interests in both history and law were coming together around issues of civil rights and racial justice, property rights, and community-building. When I began thinking about my dissertation, I knew that I wanted to explore these themes within the broader context of questions of identity formation, community cohesion, and historical memory. West Mount Airy's integration efforts kept emerging as a plot point, pulling together these various threads.

So, my interests in studying the neighborhood stemmed from a desire to understand and engage with both the actual history of post-war American cities and neighborhoods, and the story of Mount Airy's integration project and how that narrative has been constructed and shaped.

What are some things you learned in your research that surprised you?

One of the most compelling stories to me was the marketing of integration. In the early 1960s, once the process of creating integration in the community had been relatively well established, community leaders set out to market the idea of integration to a broader audience, both to attract new like-minded residents to the area and to situate their efforts within broader national and global conversations about racial justice, neighborhood sustainability, and democracy.

In 1962, for instance, West Mount Airy Neighbors hosted 200 individuals from 31 United Nations-member countries, to introduce them to and, in a sense, "sell" residential integration as part of the country's broader Cold War efforts to spread the democratic ideal around the world. Through this UN Delegates Weekend, they turned interracial living into a performance, a brand - an outward manifestation of liberal politics and achieved racial justice.

This vision of the neighborhood was critical to establishing the predominant narrative of Mount Airy's integration project and was disseminated in publications ranging from the New York Times, to McCall's, to Women's Day, to the Christian Science Monitor. It had pretty significant implications for how people within the community conceived of integration as well.

This branding of integration is directly related to another piece of the Mount Airy story: the differences - and at times disconnects - over the meaning of integration among black and white residents of the community. I was struck throughout my research by the ways that racial identity impacted how homeowners thought about interracial living.

For many of the white residents in Mount Airy, living in an integrated community served to legitimate their identities as liberal, urban Americans - again that idea of integration as a performance. At the same time, though, this white conception of integration was grounded in a sense of de facto economic exclusivity attached to middle-class notions of postwar liberalism. The WMAN integration project, then, at once allowed white residents to protect their homes and their quality of life in the neighborhood, and to live out their vision of manifested racial justice.

Meanwhile, for many black homeowners in Mount Airy, the prospect of integration brought with it a set of very material conditions - more secure investments, better schools, safer streets, more reliable municipal services - and a window into a professional culture with which they were trying to engage. Certainly, African Americans in West Mount Airy believed in and fought for racial justice and equality, but their interest in living among whites often stemmed as much from these tangible opportunities as it did from an abstract sense of justice.

These two ideas of integration very much complemented each other - as the class-based exclusivity critical for white residents allowed for the stability that many black homebuyers sought - but they also revealed that the experience of interracial living was bound by racial identity, and by the mid-1970s, these disconnects in the meaning of integration would create some pretty profound tensions in the neighborhood.

What did you learn that made you appreciate our Mt. Airy neighborhood more deeply?

One of my main goals as an historian is to teach my students that our world today was not an inevitability - that it has been shaped by the deliberate decisions and actions of individuals and groups of people and the intended and unintended consequences that emerged as a result.

And this applies to this research as well. Accounts of post-WWII neighborhood racial struggles aren't new. There is now a well-established narrative about the contentious relationship between race and urban space in the middle of the twentieth century, one in which the movement of African American homebuyers into previous all-white enclaves prompted aggressive clashes over ideas of private property and individual freedom, the threat of instability and crime, and the push for racial equality. In this story, segregation and racial inequity in American cities were not the inevitable outcome of postwar race relations, nor were they a reaction against 1960s radical racial power movements. Rather, the racial composition of neighborhoods was the result of intentional political, legal, and economic initiatives that fostered racial separation.

But - and this is an important "but" - just as segregation wasn't inevitable, neither was it the only possible outcome of these deliberate policies and practices. West Mount Airy's integration efforts offer insights into the decisions that individual homeowners had to make as they negotiated the racial landscape of postwar American cities. Here, a community in transition came together to find an alternative to racial separation, without knowing what they would create in its place.

That sense of the unknown - the commitment to embarking on something different without having a concrete sense of what the outcome would be - has given me a greater appreciation for what the neighborhood is today.

What can readers from Mt. Airy expect to find familiar in your book?

For many, the origins story of Mount Airy's integration efforts is a familiar one. But what was most striking to me in writing this book, and what I hope will be compelling to folks who read it, is not just that process of integrating, but the challenges, contours, and complexities that emerged out of that experience of interracial living.

Abigail Perkiss is an assistant professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Her research centers on the history of race, ethnicity, and urban identity in post-WWII American cities and has been guided by questions of identity creation, community cohesion, and historical memory. She holds a joint JD/PhD in history from Temple University, and her first book, Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia, examines the creation of intentionally integrated neighborhoods in the latter half of the twentieth century. She lives in West Mount Airy.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Robin Herrera

Tue, 2014-03-25 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Robin!

Congrats on your Middle Grade debut, Hope Is A Ferris Wheel. It is a terrific book.

Here is a synopsis:

Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future. With an unforgettable voice with a lot of heart, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is the story of a young girl who learns to accept her family and herself while trying to make sense of the world around her.

Star is such a likeable character and, yet, has so many obstacles in her way. Overall, she has this shining, hopeful spirit that had me cheering for her from the start. I also really liked that you used first person perspective for this particular story. Was it always written in first person or did you play around with other perspectives?

I believe I wrote the first chapter in third-person when I started. It never quite took off for me – even in third-person, there should be a voice there. But there wasn’t. It was just blah and bland.

However, I then wrote Star’s first set of Vocabulary sentences using first-person (because she was the one writing them, natch) and her voice came through bright and clear. I decided to write the rest of the manuscript in first-person and haven’t changed it since.

I like how Eddie both challenges Star and sees her strength. He also points to her character flaw a few times. Another author might have chosen one of her family members to point out Star’s stubbornness but I like that you have a character a bit further outside herself that pushes her to grow. Was this your intention?

That was intentional, yes! I’m of the belief that the people closest to you (like your
family) sometimes have glaring blind spots about your flaws. So Eddie was the perfect
person to do that, especially because Star sees him as very flawed herself. It helps that Eddie’s incredibly blunt, even to Langston.

Plus, I think it shows that Eddie actually really likes Star. He’s the only person in the book, I believe, who sees this stubbornness in her. He’s very observant. I wanted that to come across.

The way poetry is weaved throughout the book shows the earnestness of the age group to learn and to absorb beautiful material. As a creative writing teacher of 8-12 year olds, the awe and intrigue the kids had in the poems felt very accurate. Were you an early poetry lover? Did you ever make up a club yourself?

The poetry I loved as a kid was the silly poetry. Shel Silverstein and Judith Viorst were
my favorites. I also listened to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel as a kid, who I think are very

The only club I belonged in during Elementary School was, oddly enough, the Stamp
Club. It sounds boring, but I had a lot of fun. We went to a stamp convention once and I
bought some Disney stamps from another country. My favorite stamp was a 3-D stamp
from I think Abu Dhabi? Actually, I just googled it, and they were from Bhutan. But they
were 3-D!

That does NOT sound boring. The relationship between Winter and Star is probably my favorite part of the book. I noticed that the book is dedicated to your sister. Did you do any free-writing from Winter’s perspective? As I was reading, I felt like I could have read a YA book from her point of view simultaneously. She felt as three-dimensional to me as Star.

I never did any free-writing for Winter, though I got a lot of comments on early drafts of
the book that it seemed to center around her too much, so I had to dial that down for the
final drafts. But I felt like I knew Winter very well, though she’s not all that similar to my sister.
The thread I hung onto while writing scenes between Star and Winter was the memory
of looking up to my older sister when I was Star’s age. My sister was the coolest person
I knew. She had the most awesome clothes. Her hair was amazing. She was funny and
witty and smart. So I kept that filter on Star when I wrote, and I’m really glad that so
many people have commented on their relationship. I love those two!

Me too! Anything else you would like us to know about you or your book?

It’s funny! I think that’s something that hasn’t been advertised quite as much, but it’s not
all drama and family secrets and trailer parks. There’s some very funny stuff in there.

And now our “3 for 3” book-related questions:

1. What were three of your favorite books as a child/teen?
 I Am Regina by Sally M Keehn, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

2. What three books have you read recently that surprised you?  
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (because I didn’t like it as a child), Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (because even though no one dies, it made me weep ugly tears), and Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen. Okay, so I read that last one for work, but it still surprised me! Both in plot and art. Dan’s art is fantastic, and I think it’s Jamie’s best work yet.

3. What are three books that influence(d) your writing?  
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, The Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar, and probably (oddly enough) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.


Robin Herrera is an aspiring cat lady living in Portland, Oregon. She has a BA in English from Mills and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In the past, she has worked as a waitress, an after-school teacher, a cashier, and an omelet flipper, but she now works as an Associate Editor for Oni Press in addition to being a writer. Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is her first book.
Thanks for reading!!!

If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to order a copy of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Categories: Bookstore Blogs


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