Indie Spotlight: Edmonds Bookshop, Edmonds, WA

This month’s Indie Spotlight is Edmonds Bookshop, located in the heart of the city of Edmonds, Washington, on the beautiful Puget Sound just North of Seattle. As their website says, they’ve been “Finding Good Homes for Books since 1972.”

EdmondsBookshop_holiday

If there’s a book you’ve been wanting, Edmonds Bookshop can help you. If there’s a book you’d recommend to others, they’ll lend a listening ear as well. Their children’s collection is tucked into a cozy nook that’s welcoming for browsing.

EdmondsBookshop_interior_upstairs     EdmondsBookshop_interior_front

Owner Mary Kay Sneeringer graciously shared with us about her shop.

MUF: Can you tell us what being an independent bookseller means to you? What does it allow you to do for your clients?

Mary Kay: Being an independent bookseller means I can bring any book into the store that I think will delight, intrigue, provoke or enlighten my customers. I learn so much from the readers who buy books from us. Remembering the stories they tell me, the books they have recommended in the past and their responses both to what they are reading and what is happening in the world informs many of the decisions I make about which books to carry.

MUF: What would you like people to experience when they walk through the doors of your shop?

Mary Kay: People who love books feel safe and comfortable in the right kind of bookstore. I hope people walk in and feel at home. I want them to be intrigued and to see books that they want to read on every shelf. The walls are lined with great stories just waiting for a reader to find them. Ideally, a browser will pick up a book and slip into its world losing all sense of time, falling under the spell of the author.

MUF: You stock a great selection of reads for young people, and we think it’s really cool that you offer a wide range of used books as well. Can you share with us some other ways your bookshop focuses on kids, in particular your middle grade readers?

Mary Kay: Middle grade readers often discover a certain author or genre and are extremely loyal. They can be reluctant to try something new. It is great when we can describe a book they haven’t tried yet in a way that makes them willing to take a chance on the unknown. When we get it right they come back, ready to trust us on another recommendation. We have a great resource in one of our staff members who is a children’s librarian and stays abreast of all that is happening for young readers.

MUF: What are some favorite middle grade reads, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, that you would recommend to our readers?

Mary Kay recommends: 

Wonder by R. J. Palacio,                                Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

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Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech              Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

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Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle            The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

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All the Harry Potter books

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And, she says, The Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure series is great for learning survival skills in a choose your own adventure format.

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MUF: Any upcoming events you’d like us to pass on?

Mary Kay: Small business Saturday is November 29th, it’s a great day to show support for local, independent businesses. Tree lighting is that evening at 4:30.

We have expanded hours during the holidays. We are open Monday -Friday 10-8, Saturday 9-8 and Sunday 10-5. Saturday afternoons in downtown Edmonds will be very festive with a free decorated trolley, roving elves, a selfie-Santa, singers and lots of light and cheer. We wrap your purchases for free. Take it easy, make Edmonds downtown your holiday tradition.

MUF: Thanks very much, Mary Kay, for sharing about books with us. We had a good time visiting with you today! We hope your shop if full to bursting on Small Business Saturday.

Valerie Stein is author and publisher at Homesostasis Press. She’s currently at work on a middle grade historical mystery.

Giving Middle Grade Thanks

IMG_1187When you are a performer, you get to give thanks verbally to the audience. It’s pretty much part of the show. Often singers, for example, even before they start will say, “thank you to the (insert venue) for having me here tonight.” Perhaps, they might even go bigger and say, “(insert name of city), you’re awesome! And then at the end of the show, they might say, “thank you and tell the audience how great they were.” Two nights ago, I saw a string quartet, Aeolus, and the principal violinist ended the concert by saying how much he appreciated us as listeners. However, middle grade authors don’t usually have an opportunity to do that. I mean, sure some of us have that little part in our books where we thank our writing group, our editor, our agent, and probably our family, but, we don’t always have an opportunity to thank the larger community, and, since Thursday is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give a moment to give some middle grade thanks.

1) Thank you to readers. I know this is an obvious one. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to forget. But really, I know it’s easy to decide you’re too tired to read. After all, there’s lots of wonderful movies, games and, by golly, the great outdoors. So, yes, thank you for reading.

2) Thank you to librarians. You read everything, all of those review journals, but most importantly you introduce books to readers and readers to books. It’s like being a matchmaker. “Hmm, you say you’ve read the Harry Potter series eight times, have you tried Dianna Wynne Jones….”

3) Thank you to reviewers. Okay, sure, I admit that reviewers can be scary for authors because ego and sales can be on the line but they are so vital. Now once upon a time, I used to work in publicity and the adage was—”there’s no such thing as bad publicity because any publicity is good.” No matter the outcome, it’s a privilege to be reviewed and I’m sticking that to that!

4) Thank you to educators. You are the ones who teach kids to read and then keep them reading. You truly can’t be thanked enough!

5) Thank you to the internet. Yeah, yeah, sometimes being plugged in can be a real distraction, a true opportunity to procrastinate, but it also allows us to research and become armchair detectives. It also allows us to connect with a greater community of readers, librarians, reviewers, educators, other writers as well as the the publishing community.

6) Thank you to the publishing community. Almost anyone who goes into publishing is in it for the love and not for the money. It’s demanding work, yet rewarding. Thank you for working so hard to be where you are (everyone in the biz knows you had to pay your dues by working for free as an intern first).

7) Thank you to snack food manufacturers and tea makers. I do try to eat healthy snacks, and I appreciate that you make them, as well as so many delicious herbal teas (love licorice tea). I couldn’t write without you. Okay, I could but it would be much less yummy, and I’d be without my insta-reward/bribing schemes to get through daily word counts and editing.

8) Thank you to my fellow bloggers and readers of this blog. I’m in deep appreciation for your presence, passion and attention to the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

You’ve been such lovely readers. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Hillary Homzie is the author of The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.

Lemony Snicket’s Particularly Unfortunate Event

Last week at the National Book Awards, Jacqueline Woodson, who is African American, won for Best Young People’s Literature. Immediately afterward, Daniel Handler, who is Lemony Snicket, made a watermelon joke.

A video is here, and this transcript was made by David Perry:

Woodson: Thank you for your love of books, and thank you for changing the world.

[music]

Handler: I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned about her this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book.

And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morisson, and Barack Obama saying, “This guy’s ok! This guy’s fine!”

Alright

[cackle]

Alright, we’ll talk about it later.

I first learned of this alleged joke by following a Twitter link to a Horn Books blog entry by Roger Sutton titled, “Being a White Guy in Children’s Books.”

Sutton touches on issues of diversity and male privilege in children’s publishing, but also suggests: that Handler is guilty of “overreach,” as if there were some less objectionable version of this particular joke; that Handler mistakenly thought he was “cool enough” to pull off such a joke, as if another humorist might have had better luck at it; and that Sutton, or any other white male, can’t complain too much because they could have easily “fallen into the same trap.”

I strongly disagree with all three of these implications.

First, take a look at the structure of Handler’s joke. At its core is an observation that’s only ironic or amusing to someone who buys into an infamously offensive racial stereotype, and which anyway has nothing to do with Woodson’s literary accomplishments. This was not a risky joke that hovered just beyond Handler’s comedic reach, as Sutton implies. This was an unfunny statement that would have been equally inappropriate to the venue no matter how Handler could have told it.

Is Sutton at least right that the joke might have worked in a different context if only Handler were “cool” enough to pull it off? I don’t know whether Sutton is using “cool” as that Fonzie-in-a-leather-jacket mix of confidence and style that lets some people get away with breaking the rules, or as a euphemism for…something else.

Either way, let’s assume a “cool” comedian like Chris Rock were able to make a successful joke about Jacqueline Woodson’s watermelon allergy. So what? That would be entirely irrelevant because Daniel Handler is not Chris Rock, and because the National Book Awards are not an HBO comedy special.

So if it’s not the joke that failed, or the insufficient “coolness” of the joke teller, then what exactly is the trap that Sutton thinks Handler fell into?

I’d like to posit that this was a classic example of filter-fail.

We all have thoughts we would never say out loud—and I mean all of us humans, not just white males like Daniel Handler, Roger Sutton, and myself. Our senses of humor are built over a lifetime, based on personal experience, and influenced by the society we live in, largely beyond our conscious control. Once you hear a racist joke, it can never be unheard. Luckily, our brains come equipped with filters. When we know a joke is wrong, hurtful, offensive, and unfunny, we can choose not to pass it along to other people.

Handler’s contextual disclaimer emphasized how aware he was that a watermelon joke would be too toxic for him to write into a book, so it’s mind-boggling that he would opt instead to say it out loud to an auditorium full of people—not as an off-the-cuff remark that reached too far and fell flat, but as a story that took months of planning and reflection beforehand.

On the basis of a private conversation that we have no other record of, Handler believed he had Woodson’s permission to tell a racist joke about her, and that such permission would keep anyone else from being offended. No matter how cool you might be, there is no way to ever pull that off.

If Daniel Handler’s internal filters had been working properly, telling him which jokes can be shared with others and which should be smothered, none of us would ever need to know that Lemony Snicket is amused by such things as watermelon allergies among people of color.

But now we do.

Is Sutton right to worry that he himself might suffer a filter-fail under similar circumstances? Or that this is in any way a problem exclusive to white males? Is it wrong for him to empathize with Handler? Is it wrong for me not to?

I am holding Handler to a higher standard than other people, not because of Handler’s gender or skin color, but because he is a professional humorist who writes for children. I also write humor for children, and only wish I could do it half as well as Handler can. He has long been an idol and role model for me, especially in the way he has developed his literary voice and professional persona. I want to do what he does.

But while I can see myself making any number of embarrassing gaffes if I were given a microphone in a public setting, I can’t imagine ever joking about Jacqueline Woodson’s watermelon allergy, or finding humor in such a situation.

It’s personally horrifying for me to think that a watermelon joke could come from the same quirky wit that has produced books that have made me laugh out loud. I won’t be able to read those books quite the same way as before.

And for me, that’s just from the second-hand offense I feel on behalf of other people, a tiny fraction of the outrage and betrayal expressed by Nikky Finney and other commentators who experience racism in their daily lives, and who reasonably expected a literary awards presentation to be a safe zone.

To Handler’s credit, he owned up to his filter-fail in a series of tweets and pledged $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, with additional matching funds of up to $100,000. Not that he can pay, buy, or donate his way to forgiveness, but it is refreshing to have at least some attempt at restitution.

We need diverse voices so that our children internalize actual viewpoints instead of ugly stereotypes. That way they can grow up to tell jokes about all the great stories they’ve read, rather than the hateful old jokes of the past.