#1 Best Seller for a Day

It’s been a very exciting week for me and Eight Candles and a Tree. On June 17th, Amazon ranked the book as the #1 best seller in Children’s Books – Holidays and Celebrations – Jewish. By the end of last week, the book was ranked #20, and today it’s #13. The price has fluctuated from $14 to $17. The supply has gone from “only 2 left” to “only 20 left and more on the way.” So I’m learning that Amazon has a unique algorithm to rank, price and stock its books. It seems to be based on the number of sales per day, and clearly, if the book sells less one day than the day before, the ranking goes down. I wish I had photographed the banner proclaiming #1 best seller, and I hope I will see it again.

However, Amazon isn’t the only place that sells the book, so it’s not the most accurate way to measure the book’s popularity. The book is also available through the publisher and at Barnes and Noble. Independent booksellers and librarians order from the central distribution channels of Baker and Taylor or Ingram, or from the publisher, Beaver’s Pond Press.

People have told me that they love the vibrant illustrations and the inclusive message. It’s extremely gratifying to hear all this positive feedback. If you have already bought the book, thank you, and please spread the word to any families with young kids that celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

Truck Books

Why are little boys are so fascinated by trucks? Is it their size, their variety, their bright colors? Whatever the case, trucks are a good topic for a picture book. I recently reviewed several new truck-focused picture books for my three-year-old truck-loving grandson and discovered, as with all books, that it comes down to one’s personal preference.

Truck by Donald Crews, is a Caldecott Honor Award winner that has no text. The book takes readers on a brightly colored visual journey that a truck takes from a loading dock to delivery of its shipment.  It didn’t appeal to me. I like a story with my pictures.

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way

Alice Shertle, Author, Jill McElmurry, Illustrator

A cross between City Mouse and Country Mouse and The Little Engine That Could, this sweet rhyming story shows how the little blue truck makes his way through the densely packed city, providing a way for the mayor to help get stalled traffic moving again.

Everything Goes on Land Bryan Biggs Author/Illustrator

Each page is teeming with a busy city scene, vibrantly illustrated, with “comments” from different vehicles, but there is no cohesive story. I found this book, which reminds me of Richard Scarry books, totally overwhelming.

Machines Go to Work in the City William Low Author/Illustrator

This is an engaging book, illustrated in bright colors, that exposes readers to different kinds of trucks and machines that work in the city. An interactive feature asks a question that is answered by lifting a flap. For example, what happens to the garbage after it gets picked up? The flap reveals the garbage going from the truck into the dump.

I’m a Truck Driver by Jonathan London, illustrated by David Parkins

This is my favorite truck book. In rhyme, each page imagines the child  (along with his pet cat) in the driver’s seat of a particular truck. He is a power shovel operator, a combine operator, and a tractor trailer driver doing its work. I think my three-year-old truck lover will enjoy imagining himself in these drivers’ seats too.

PS I couldn’t help noticing that of the five truck books I reviewed, four were written and illustrated by men.

Choosing Picture Books

When buying a picture book as a gift, I tend to choose tried-and-true favorites such as Make Way for Ducklings or Madeleine. I know that new “classics” are being published, but how do we gift-givers – friends, aunts, grandparents, colleagues –  find out about new picture books that are popular, and how do we assess how good they are? As with all book choices, it’s highly individualized. We bring our backgrounds, experiences and loves to our choices. Here are some of the things that influence my choice of picture books:

  • Does the theme make me remember something from my own childhood
  • Is it whimsical?
  • How long is the book? (many parents don’t want too many words)
  • Does the book address something that is unique to the child for whom I am purchasing the book (a love of trains, being a big sister, etc.)
  • When I read the book, does it flow in a lyrical way?
  • Does the book make me feel something?
  • Does the book transport me somewhere?
  • Do I love the illustrations?
  • Has the book won an award? (Caldecott for illustrations or Newbery for “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”?)
  • Who is the author and the illustrator?

Going to a bricks and mortar store can be helpful, as they tend to have knowledgeable staff who can point you in a particular direction. A children’s librarian is also a good resource, and I also like to ask parents of young children which books their children enjoy and why.

In today’s world where e-books are becoming more and more popular, I still love the feel of turning the pages of a picture book with a young child in my lap. I will continue to give picture books as gifts as I try to update my repertoire and balance the old with the new.

100 Best Children’s Books

Scholastic and Parent and Child Magazine ranked the top 100 Children’s Books of all Time in this USA Today article.

Number one is Charlotte’s Web, followed by Goodnight Moon and A Wrinkle in Time. There is a mix of picture books and chapter books, with a few young adult books, such as the first Harry Potter book, thrown in.

Given that the word “children” encompasses such a broad age range, it would be more useful to parents, grandparents and others who are buying or borrowing books for children to separate the “best” books by genre.(That would make around 30 books per genre –  a much more manageable number.)

There are lots of objective criteria by which to rank “best” books (and, interestingly, in this listing of the “best,” the criteria are not mentioned.) But “best” really comes from the heart of the reader, and we all have different tastes and preferences. For me, the “best” books are those that I associate with particular memories of snuggling up with my children in their beds at night as I read to them. “All of a Kind Family” was one of those books, along with “The Runaway Bunny,” and “Frederick.” My favorite book from my childhood – a classic that is still popular today – is Madeleine. I felt transported to Paris when that book was read to me – maybe that’s why Paris is still my favorite city in the world. That’s the power that a book has to make a long-lasting impression on a child. Bravo to all the “best” books in the world!


Leonardo and the Terrible Monster

At the SCBWI Conference we were urged to read, read, read, and I started with a book recommended by one of the conference presenters. Leonardo and the Terrible Monster was written by Mo Willems, and published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2005. Having been a writer for Sesame Street, Mo Willems knows monsters. Like Cookie Monster, Leonardo is a monster that doesn’t scare kids, although unlike Cookie Monster, Leonardo really tries. This picture book with only 225 words is a perfect example of how less is more. Illustrations supplement the spare text and, in some cases, as when an entire two-page spread shows only a little boy cowering in the bottom left-hand corner, the illustration says it all. Interestingly, the first 26 pages contain only 122 words, and then one two-page spread is entirely covered with 103 words before the book reverts back to just a few words per page. The book demonstrates brilliant technique building up to the tension, with an ending that has just a hint of surprise. This book is sure to become one of the “new” classics for young children, and it’s also fun for an adult to read aloud.