About Me

My name is Genevieve Woods and in addition to being the mother of an adorable preschooler named Oscar and his adorable toddler brother Henry, I am the Children's Buyer at Spellbinder Books, a small independent bookstore in Bishop, California. I am often asked by customers for recommendations...and thus the idea for this blog was sparked.

Many sites recommending books for kids are created by librarians and non-profits. While these are great sites, they often recommend out-of-print books. This site is all about the great books that are available now! While I am not being paid for these recommendations, I would appreciate it if readers would purchase the books I recommend from local independent bookstores, or even B&N. Basically don't buy from the evil empire (A_A_O_), because if you do much of our literary knowledge will be lost.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Entranced with a most politically incorrect Russian fairy tale

So I did actually read my fetus some fairy tales last night, much to my husband Tom's enjoyment. Perhaps the one that we enjoyed the most was the Russian Tale Wondrous Wonder Marvelous Marvel, it can be found in Alesandr A. Afanasiev's collection of Russian Fairy Tales ($18 in paperback).

The tale in a nutshell is this, a merchant asks his wife what she would like him to bring back from overseas, and she asks for a wondrous wonder, marvelous marvel (this is repeated many times through out the story and is quite fun to say over and over again). The merchant finds his wondrous wonder, marvelous marvel in the form a goose that will lay itself down on a tray on command, be cooked and eaten, and then come back to life again. He brings the goose home to his wife and she thinks it is very cool. The next day when he is off selling goods at the market the wife's lover comes over and she tries to cook the goose for him, but when she grabs the goose she is stuck. The lover then tries to pull her from the goose and becomes stuck himself. The goose then walks to market with the stuck wife and lover attached. The husband removes the goose and demands to know who the man attached to the wife is. He then beats the lover, takes his wife home and whips her. With every lash he says here's your wondrous wonder, your marvelous marvel.

Politically correct this story is not, but then...did the wife and lover not deserve to be beaten? Here is what a professor at Swathmore college has to say about the story (taken from his on-line notes for a Russian Fairy Tale class):

“The Wondrous Wonder, the Marvelous Marvel,” pp. 13-15: magic uncovers a very prosaic sin – the main character beats the wife's lover, then his wife. (Many tales treat magical items misused that the misusers stick to, or can’t turn off [they don’t know the second half of the spell, or the “off” spell], etc. -- they are frequent punishments in fairy tales for taking something that isn’t yours, or in this case offering the goose feast to the wrong man: meat as figure for sex, or nourishment as an expression of love? – a Very Eastern European thing.)"

I wonder when fetus is out, if I can edit the tale for him/her because I really like it, even though the beating is more than a bit politically incorrect. Perhaps he can say here is your wondrous wonder, marvelous marvel as he is kicking her out of the house? Maybe the lover could be arrested? When and why did all fairy tales told to children require happy endings? Why do we shield our kids from pain? And does it work?

I noted in an earlier post that teens love books about recovering addicts, and people with truly messed up lives in general. I have not had a chance to get to the root of why this is so, but could it be a desire to read about pain, as pain is certainly experienced in everyone's life? In so many of the Disney stories, the main characters have a parent die, is this so they can experience pain, and then recover? Bambi, the Lion King, Snow White, Aladdin, Ariel, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cinderella... all have one or both parents die. I guess our current fairy tales are only happy at the end.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ode to the Fairy Tale

Books Pictured: A Treasury of Children's Literature by Armand Eisen, A First Book of Fairy Tales by Mary Hoffman, and The Russian Fairy Book by Nathan Haskell Dole

Last weekend I had the joy of discovering myself in Portland, and no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Powell's Book Store! It was my first time in Powell's, and it was beauty to my virgin eyes. I was impressed with their combination of new and used books, but I confess my interest was all in the used books as I can get any new book I want at Spellbinders. Still, there is nothing like browsing and holding books in your hands, comparing titles, prices, topics. Powell's, with it's multi-story full block of a bookstore, offers a browsing experience that no other store can compete with. The brick & mortar bookstores will not die, they just may become fewer and far between.

I found myself in the mythology section, which included a number of books on fairy tales from different countries. This was music to my eyes; I have a passion for collecting old children's anthologies. I like to see how the stories we tell change over time, and I love to see the different kinds of tales told in different areas of the world. For example, Eastern Europe & Scandinavia have numerous tales of flying ships - stories I never heard in my childhood. I purchased a Dover edition of Perrault's Fairy Tales and so far am thrilled with the French differences to the largely English & German tales I grew up with. In France Sleeping Beauty doesn't awaken and live happily ever after, her clothes are out of date and her mother-in-law is an ogre who wants to eat her children.

Although the majority of my anthologies were purchased used, the truth is I have no need to buy only used books. Most of the old tales are still in print, I just enjoy the used book store hunts. But certain books, such as The Complete Grimm Fairy Tales, make more sense to purchase new, as their new price is often equal to those you find used. I love expired copy-rights.

It is true that young children will not enjoy turning the pages of these largely picture-less anthologies as much as full-color picture books, but these stories are perfect for bedtime as eyes are closing. They are also a great excuse for parents to practice their story-telling techniques. I'm practicing on my fetus tonight.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

YA / Adult Crossovers

There is a great essay, by Margo Rabb, published in the New York Times, about the stigma against Young Adult book authors and kinds of books that are now published in that genre. To read the article, click here. To find out more about Margo Rabb click here. Ms. Rabb wrote a book she thought was for adults, but the publishers chose to publish it as a Y.A. (young adult) novel. While Ms. Rabb brings up many good and interesting points about Y.A. novels, I have to disagree with her on one thing. She believes that while teenagers will read adult books, adults do not read books for teens. As a direct seller of books, I have to say this is completely FALSE.

For example there is The Book Thief!
Gail, one of the bookstore's owners, recommended this book to me when I first started working with Spellbinder's in 2006. I shelled out the bucks for the hardcover, and FELL IN LOVE. I wrote a staff pick for the book, Gail wrote a staff pick, and the book has been on the Indie bestseller list almost continually since it was published, in hardcover and now in paperback. Here's the thing, I HAVE NEVER SOLD A COPY TO A CHILD OR TEENAGER! I'm not saying it hasn't happened in our store, but I haven't been at the cash register when it did. I have sold numerous copies to adults, I've hand sold it. Now, book clubs are reading it. While there are teenage book clubs in some cities and towns, there aren't in Bishop. Here, this book if for the adults. Adults buy it, even though it is shelved in Y.A., and it is on the children's bestseller table.
I don't believe The Book Thief was originally written for children. It is very complex, and the narration style (death narrates) is not only dark, but confusing at first. But the main character is a little girl, so it was published for children. I wonder if one of my favorite books, Lullabies for Little Criminals, would have done better if it was categorized as Y.A. instead of Adult Fiction. Like The Book Thief the main character is a little girl, and like The Book Thief it is not a happy book. But its writing style is actually less complex, though its emotions are completely raw. It has very adult themes of drugs and sex, but these themes are all over the Y.A. world! If you want a good wholesome book for your child, don't go into the Y.A. section! Ellen Hopkin's Crank & Burned have been some of our local Y.A. bestsellers. Lullabies for Little Criminals would fit right in! The thing is, although it is on our adult staff pick wall, with a tag in front of it discussing what a great book it is, we have only sold about five copies of Lullabies for Little Criminals in the last year and half. Most staff picks sell at least 10 copies a year. I think Lullabies for Little Criminals would have done better if it had been marketed to the teens.
In her essay Ms. Rabb has some great quotes by Sherman Alexie, author of a number of popular adult books, and the hugely popular The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Mr. Alexie says "I thought I’d been condescended to as an Indian — that was nothing compared to the condescension for writing Y.A." But he also admits “This book sold like crazy in a way my books never have before, and I’ve had a great career.” It is true, though his books are popular at Spellbinders, we don't usually sell more than three copies of any one of his adult titles in a year, but we have sold over 50 copies of his Y.A. novel - I've sold it to adults and kids.

Classic Classics!

The U.K. and U.S. divisions of Puffin Books have cooperated to publish new editions of unabridged puffin classics specifically for children! While a fancy new cover might not seem like a big deal, in the world of selling books, IT IS!

Which version of Treasure Island do you think a 13-year-old would prefer to read?

The Old Version
or The New Version

I'm 32, but I still would much rather read the boxy red book with a skull and crossbones on the cover. It doesn't hurt that Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame, has written the introduction. Each classic has an introduction written by a famous children's author of today; I have a habit of skipping introductions, but these might actually be interesting. I also prefer the price of the new book, an astonishing $4.99 compared to the older edition's $7.00. It is rare to see book prices go down these days.

In addition the majority of these classics are recommended as summer reading by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a government agency that promotes research, education, and public programs in the humanities. They sound too good to be true, I bet their funding just got cut. Anyway the NEH has a summer reading list, and the following classics are on it:

by Frank L. Baum
introduction by Cornelia Funke (author of Inkheart)
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
introduction by Sophi Dahl (granddaughter of Roald Dahl)
by Anna Sewell
introduction by Meg Rosoff (author of How I Live Now)
by Kenneth Grahame
introduction by Brian Jacques (author of Redwall)
by Louisa May Alcott
introduction by Luise Rennison (author of Confessions of Georgia Nicolson)
by Jack London
introduction by Melvin Burgess (author of Junk)
by Robert Louis Stevenson
introduction by Eoin Colfer (author of Artemis Fowl)
by Mark Twain
introduction by Richard Peck (author of A Year Down Yonder)
by Mark Twain
introduction by Darren Shan (author of Cirque Du Freak)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Pop-extraordinaire, Robert Sabuda, and his partner Matthew Reinhart, have come out with a new book in their Encyclopedia series: Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures, a spectacular pop-up about fairies and magical creatures around the world.

What is truly great about this book is not the pop-ups, which are lovely, but the information. The book is jammed packed with fairy folklore and tales; you have Ant Hill Fairies in Africa, as well as the common European Sprite. Someone did a great job compiling fairy history from multiple cultures!

If you are interested in pop-ups and art in working life, check out the blog for Sabuda & Reinhart Studios at: http://popupstudionyc.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Top Selling Vampire Books

The Vampire Books They Love

Vampires are hot, and they will only get hotter this year as American Youth prepare for Twilight the movie to come out this December. For those living under a rock Twilight is the first book in the best-selling Vampire series by Stephenie Meyers. I still remember when I first started working at the bookstore two years ago, and some poor girl asked if we had the book Twilight that her friend was talking about. This was before the book hit the bestseller lists, and the girl didn't know the name of the author. All I was able to tell her is that there are over 700 books with the title Twilight. Of course now I would know EXACTLY what she was talking about. And I could also now tell her that the second book is New Moon, which has only recently been released in paperback. The third book is Eclipse, and the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, is due out in August. We are taking pre-orders at the store.

The Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead is not as famous as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, but the local youth love it. We added this book to our inventory last fall, we thought the cover would sell the book, and we were right. Of course it doesn't hurt that Mead is shelved right next to Meyer in our Young Adult section. Kids liked Vampire Academy so much they pre-ordered it's sequel, Frostbite, and have put their names on the list for the third book in the series, Shadow Kiss which comes out this November. The nice thing about this series is that the books are all published direct to paperback, so you are never stuck shelling out money for expensive hard-cover editions because your daughter, niece, or granddaughter simply has to read the next book in the series NOW.

Before vampires stole the scene, everyone was talking about pirates. So if you want the perfect book for youth, you stick them together with Vampirates! This series by Justin Somper has gained a loyal following at Spellbinders. The first book is Demons of the Ocean, followed by Tide of Terror, and the latest installment Blood Captain. Vampirates appeals to both boys and girls, which is nice.

And finally we have Sucks to Be Me by Kimberley Pauley. Sucks to Be Me isn't out yet, it hits the shelves in late August, but it is a great book, and it is the only vampire book that I have actually read. Sucks to Be Me is a classic teen novel, about friends, high school, family, and boys, but with the added twist that Mina, the protagonist, lives in a family of Vampires and has to decide if she want to join their immortal clan forever. It's a fun book.