Instagramming ‘American Eclipse’

With August 21 approaching, a lot of folks are catching total eclipse fever. Here’s an image for American Eclipse by David Baron from our Books & Whatnot Instagram feed.

All of our original content is intended for use by independent booksellers. Feel free to use these images in your own feed.


Review (Plus): ‘One for Sorrow’ by Mary Downing Hahn

Bookshelf Blurb: “In flew Enza” was a playground chant, but influenza was a real epidemic in 1918. The mean girls who chanted this discover that they can’t cheat death as quickly as they can wish it upon others. A dark, sinister and creepy ghost story.

Ms. America’s Review: Mary Downing Hahn is an author I quickly give to any middle school student asking for a ghost story. I never hesitate, and she has never disappointed. Her newest book, One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story, can easily be classified as fantasy with a some useful crossover into historical fiction.

One for Sorrow gives us Annie, an only child who has recently moved to a small town. Annie is immediately greeted by Elsie who demands instant friendship. At first Annie is appreciative of the friendship until she realizes Elsie is a social outcast. Elsie is mean to Annie, but Annie is afraid to leave Elsie despite her mean spirit until the week Elsie goes missing from school. After that, Annie joins the other girls in their taunting and cruelty toward Elsie.

School is soon cancelled due to the outbreak of influenza and the girls take advantage of this by attending wakes of those who have passed, enjoying the free cakes and cookies. It isn’t until they go to the wake of Elsie that Annie discovers she is being haunted by Elsie’s lost soul. Annie is sent to an insane asylum hoping to remove Elsie from her life, but poor Annie’s torment is just beginning.

The flu epidemic of 1918 was a reality for the United States and, thanks to flu vaccines, is more history than reality for today’s young readers. Within twenty-four hours of the flu’s first symptoms, its victims were dead. A simple black wreath would adorn the front door of the deceased telling neighbors the house was in mourning. This tragic time in our country is not often taught, as it was overshadowed by the coming of World War I. One for Sorrow is both a chilling ghost story and a useful history lesson.

In the classroom: Ghost stories allow creative writing to occur while also allowing Common Core to be met and all in the month of October! Read aloud passages from the text: especially the part where Rosie has made up a jump rope chant rhyming “In flew Enza” into the art of jumping between the ropes. If you miss, the flu has got you and you are dead. What chants can your students incorporate into a unit of social studies?

One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion Books | 9780544818095 | July 18, 2017)

About Face

After inventory and rent, I’d bet your greatest expense at the bookstore is payroll. Since you invest so much in your staff, you really should let them work for you… off the sales floor.

I’m talking about showing your customers a face that goes with the name on the review or shelf talker, or the voice that answers the phone. There are several ways you can share staff images with your public, and the one I’d like to focus on today is probably the most basic: your store website.

Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia, features large images of the staff on their ‘staff picks’ page. Even with the whimsy, I think I’d be able to identify the staff in the store based on these images.

Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington, also has a really nice ‘meet our staff’ page. I like the way the large staff images are accompanied by a book image and a bio.

If you do not have staff images on your site, these are two great examples of engaging photos. If you do already have images, take a few minutes and see if any need to be updated. Did you last update your image about 10 years ago? It might be time to take a new photo. You might have changed a bit since then. I’ll use myself as an example. Here are my most recent mug shots–and none of them are 10 years old:



I keep saying that books are personal. So is a friendly face.

Thanks, Chronicle Books!

I’d like to send a special thank you to Lara Starr, senior publicist at Chronicle Books for giving me the VIP tour of today!

(I forced Lara to sit on Specs the Book Bike–@SpecsBookBike on Twitter–which was created to help celebrate Chronicle Books’ 50th Anniversary.)

Chronicle Books was born in 1967 during the Summer of Love. And since I also got my start that same year, I will carry my 50 Years bag proudly.

Thanks, Chronicle Books! And happy anniversary.

Review (Plus): Emily and the Spellstone

Bookshelf Blurb: All Emily wants for her birthday is a phone, but not resembling an iPhone with apps that destroy things that go bump in the night! She didn’t realize wishes can come (sorta) true.

Ms. America’s Review:

Poor Emily just wants a phone for her birthday; she isn’t even asking for a certain kind or data plan, but since her sister has to go to physical therapy for texting fingers, it is a lost cause. As she wanders angrily away from her family birthday party at the beach, muttering notions of destroying her family, she discovers a rock…

Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens gives us a character who is suffering from the angst of not fitting in. She wants to be normal, but even her parents forget her true age on her birthday! She thinks all of her woes will become rainbows if she could just have a phone. Most preteen kids can relate to Emily, and they will commiserate with her immediately. Emily’s unique hobby of collecting rocks–or more of a habit at this point in her life–becomes her undoing as she finds an Iphone looking rock on the beach. She picks it up declaring to herself this is as good as life is going to get. She puts it haphazardly on her windowsill that evening, not realizing the moon was the charger it needed to power on.

Along with the phone comes a demon protector who must do as Emily bids, but the minute he is released he will eat her. Just when Emily feels life cannot get any worse, it does. She learns she is the spellstone master and must learn the ‘apps’ in order to save her brother who has been kidnapped by the ultimate evil family in another dimension.

Michael Ruben is a former producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and his book’s wit and comical situations will appeal to any middle grade reader. Emily and the Spellstone is quite comical, and the puns do not stop. Unusually, it is a book which has no mature content which is written at a higher reading level, so it’s a perfect option for those seven- and eight-year-olds who can read at a higher level. This is a start of a series. Introduce to your second and third graders, and they’ll keep reading it into sixth grade.

In the classroom:

Use electronics in the classroom. There are many amazing, free tools to use in your classroom. One of my favorite ones is It has a multitude of Powerpoint presentations already created for you to use in your classroom. Or you can use their software for free to let your students create a report. It’s super easy to use and navigate. Make your presentations fancy to show off your techy skills or simple and to the point.

Another favorite classroom tool is Khan Academy. It is wonderful for science and math. It allows your students to create accounts and invite a teacher (or parent) to be their coach. My last tech tool lifesaver is It allows you to mass text or email your parents to stay in communication with them. Parents also cannot email you back through this service, so they are forced to email you or talk with their child about your message. This is a great tool to allow your parents to know about upcoming events and no one can say, “We didn’t know….”

Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens (Clarion Books | 9780544790865 | June 13, 2017)