When is a thief not a thief?

We’re planning something exciting in July for the bookstore. One of the coolest things would be several (hush!) Skype events with one of them being with Megan Whalen Turner, who’s books i simply adore.

So with all this excitement, we thought of doing up event specific bookmarks with quotes from the authors’ previous books. Mari asked me for a quote from any of The Queen’s Thief books and i immediately thought of the conversation between Eddis and the Magus, where a comment from Helen describes the Thief and we get an inkling that their responsibilities as one wasn’t merely someone who stole things.

You know, the kind of traditionalist that I am means that i really wanted to use a quote from The Thief but couldn’t because i wasn’t familiar with it, at least not as much as with the rest of the books.

Hence, there must be a complete and chronological reread.

The first book starts with Gen in prison. I’ve always wondered about this part of the book, since of course, this was an unreliable narrator tale. It wasn’t that he was imprisoned but he wanted to be seen as being so. He did talk of how he eventually got tired of putting back on the shackles. I am more curious of the prison guard who came by to laugh at him, perhaps this was his contact (this was never really confirmed but i like to think so.) As always, even when i thought enough time has passed that i could read this book again as a complete new read, my memory refusec to let me do so.

But there were parts that i seemed to have missed the last time, especially where it reveals little things about Gen. His age, for example. I never really thought of it, but in relative to the other books, this book does hint at his age, which would be older than Sophos, and several years younger than Ambiades. Perhaps he was fifteen? Did anyone enrol to an army at that age? Sixteen? Ambiades might have been nineteen.

Also, he is probably quite handsome, startlingly so, because he charms the ladies easily. The landlady in one of the inns has a double take and one of my favourite quotes from this book, I clean up nicely, Gen says. So, so, so … he has charm, too.

The Thief turns out to be as wonderful as i remember it,  brilliant even. 

I remember skipping the myths during one reread, now I’m wondering if i should be rereading that closely to see if any clues pop out.

There were so many cool scenes as you read it, because trust me, when all is revealed, you can only be left stunned. That is if you actually get that its such a great book.

I read a comment somewhere about how he could have died, and would have if he wasn’t carrying the Hamiathes Gift at that time. He thought he had, in fact. In the last chapter of the book, there is an allusion to that.

Again, this made me think of how deliberate and thorough Megan Whalen Turner is.

At the beginning of my reread of the Queen, i realised that Gen had been in Attolia for sometime, as spy, as bootboy in the palace, which is why he was in uniform, and why Attolia was furious with him. And this was after he had met and become friends with Kamet.

This is getting more and more complicated ….

Let’s think about a final Goodbye Part 1

I think I want to curate a table of picture books that talk about death. The recent Shinsuke Yoshitake translation (by Thames & Hudson) is a lighthearted yet thought provoking read about death. (all his books in this series are kind of philosophical)

So, Mari and I were talking and she said I thought you wanted to do a table about death. (This is how we talk, it means we are thinking of themes for our table promos, and this will be a theme on death)

I have avoided it as much as I can because I’m not sure if customers would like so many books that address death to be in one place, in large quantities, especially picture books. How morbid.

But, there are so many out there, and rather than always avoiding it, it might just spark something in our readers … so perhaps, sometime in the last quarter.

First word books and The Big Book of Words and Pictures (Gecko Press)

Every child’s library should have a picture dictionary of sorts. Ergo, so should every good children’s bookstore (or children’s section in a bookstore).

When I was growing up, I thrived on reading and comics was an important part of the diet. I don’t remember if we had a picture dictionary, but when I was in my teens, I loved my Collins Gem (a tiny illustrated dictionary) simply because it told me things –what something looked like, how to use this word and etc.

Now back to this picture dictionary. You may find this strange, but this format is getting rather old fashioned. There seems to be less and less books like that, that are being republished. And of this small range, there are less good quality ones. My to-go publishers would have been between Oxford and Usborne.

A picture dictionary or perhaps sometimes just a 100 words book, feature scenes and then items from that picture will be named. It could be in any layout, with the purpose of helping a child/or parent identify things. These are usually set in familiar surroundings like at home, or in the park, or in the supermarket. Kids when they start to understand that each thing has a name for it, will love this kind of book. And usually it’s before they actually start to talk. Peanut was clearly in love with his book when he was around two. But he still loves them.

I recently had to scramble to look for a book about fishes, because I simply didn’t own many non-fiction type children’s books. And this has to be rectified. (in time)

Recalling a conversation with a publisher rep, who was telling us of his experience meeting with publishers in China who wanted to do a Chinese edition of their bestselling book which happens to be a first words book. They asked for several words to be changed like for Breakfast, they didn’t need Bread and Jam but preferred something that their readers in China could relate to.

Now, this will never happen in Malaysia, because there won’t be a special Malaysian edition of that very pretty first words book. Sure, we may not be able to relate but it also gives you a glimpse into others peoples’ lives. Also, we do eat bread, and occasionally rice, porridge and noodles. So maybe a Malaysian first words book will be full of food.

That being said, I wanted to recommend my favourite first words book — The Big Book of Words and Pictures by Ole Koennecke (Gecko Press). First of all, this is a huge book, and kids love huge books even if parents do not. The illustrations are simple and cute but the most important thing was, apart from being a first words book, the illustrations sometimes make up stories.

The pictures here, are of our actual copy which has seen better years.

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The first scene is a bedroom, and you can imagine the poor mother elephant with all her kids, running around and trying to wake her up. (Also, all those words in the bedroom)

The second page is the living room, but before the kid enters, he changes from his pyjamas to day clothes.

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This page with numbers is my favourite. It starts with one kid who meets another, and another until they make up a group of ten … heading for ….the next page, the playground.
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The spread on vehicles also shows the fire engine in a real life situation, with fire fighters saving a dog’s house.
Can’t count the number of times my son asked for the numbers page to be read to him … one meets another and then one reads a book, then gets a flower, and leave the book and another picks it up. Now, he tells it to me sometimes. I recently came across reference to visual subtext, which I think this does fall under.

I really like this about the book. It tells you the words you need to know, or you want to know, but also makes you think about the possible stories behind mere things.

I’m not a fan of big board books, because they are heavy and very hard to avoid when it’s being thrown at you, but this is a book you need and kids would love.

Shhhh, Project H …

I started a page to document my trials and tribulations, and constant regret (which will not be stated, but will always exist) over agreeing to curate a sort of retrospective picture book exhibition in conjunction with a certain publisher’s anniversary (pictured here. Pix taken from one of my own books).

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Gone bear hunting

There’s no rhyme and reason to which book I should write about first. So, I thought I’d choose a book that was there at the very beginning, and suddenly popped up right now. perhaps in the nick of time.

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We’re Going On A Bear Hunt (words by Michael Rosen, pictures by Helen Oxenbury) was one of the best-selling books when I first started working in the bookstore. In fact, it still is. But I never could get it, well, until now. Don’t get me wrong though. This did not mean that I ordered less copies of books by both of these superb creators because a good book, a bestselling author is very hard to come by. And even if I didn’t get their work, and there are many whom I don’t get, I’d still order as it would. (well, there is the occasional whine!) But I do love Helen Oxenbury, which is why by three reasons — I owned a copy. (1 – illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, 2 – I was starting to build a library of first books during my first pregnancy, 3 – it was a gift, or in fact a cute gift set)

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And because this mummy did not really get this book right at the beginning, so needed a few more years to read-aloud experience and self-confidence to be able to appreciate it. When I tried reading this book to Peanut, when he was very small, he didn’t take to it. (hey, i started read-aloud with him in the tummy. I nearly read the entire Chrestomanci series to him) I definitely tried it too early, not just in terms of his age, but also in terms of my read-aloud experience. Because only now, with a huge help from a video of Michael Rosen’s performance made in 2014 as part of the anniversary celebration of the book’s 25 years; have I gotten an insight into how to make this book work.

I stumbled upon it quite accidentally actually. I was looking for animated short films that were adapted from picture books (part of my current project research), and then there it was. I played it and was so taken by it, I made the kids watch it with me. At first, reluctantly but after the first verse, they were hooked. My son as usual asked me if there was a book, and — “do you have this book, mummy?” Luckily, I did. That was the beginning of a lovely relationship between the two kids and the book. Baby Hazel loves it so much! She’s just starting to talk a lot the past month, so you can hear her mimicking the reading of the book all the time.

“We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day. We’re not scared.”

There’s so many interesting elements to this book. The repetitive verses allow the child to follow the story easily. The sploshing, squelching, swishy and swashing makes great action/play for the kids to join in. And then at the back, they make an about turn and do the same actions in reverse. I guess the most important thing that i want to convey here is if you’re invested in the story, the kids know and they become interested in it, too.

But, why talk so much when you can watch the master at work, click here to go to the Youtube video.

Also, there are so many editions of this book, you may want to compare them a bit. There is the usual hardcover and paperback. But also two sizes in board format, as well as a press button sound version. I read the pop-up the other day, and am so very tempted to get a copy. The illustrations were redone for some pages to make the most of that format. And, finally, there was an animation of this … in case, you’re wondering.

Let’s all go for a bear hunt!!!

The Reading Girl

The other day, my colleague and I both wore the same pin. It was one of a girl with a ladybird in her hair, reading a book. When she saw me with it, at the moment the only thing that flashed through my mind was this — does this look odd to you?

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Somehow, I always think that pins and tees we don bear our little affliations. But I don’t think I ever was that reading girl, not as she is.
As a child, I was shy, somewhat uptight because I was very unsure of how one should be in any situation. Of how we should act, or say things, or not do anything at all. Talking to people only revealed how inadequate I was, so I tried to improve on that, but it backfired at me most times. It still does, when I forget how to be myself.

Books became a place where I could look into people’s exciting, jubilant lives, where they had chums and picnics and camping trips and solved mysteries together. Since they weren’t that many books available when I was growing up, they were reread into pieces. I sometimes compensated with my father’s newsstand Silverage and Amar Chitra Katha comics, and my mother’s pattern books, also reread until they burned into my memory.

They mean so much to me, but they also represent leisure, as I loved whiling away doing nothing for entire afternoons, reading. I liked my reading to be fun and as light as possible.

Fast forward to the future, to the present and here I am working in a bookstore, the weight of books bearing down on me. When I first joined, I was so put off with the idea of children’s books as educational tools. I came to realise that since children are blank slates, everything is the classroom. Books are special because beyond the covers, they give children so many varied views of a world — some they may experience for themselves, or at times, they never encounter outside of a book.

My philosophy became like this (before I got married and had kids) — remember when you were a kid, when you look at those shelves. One of my bosses said that once a children’s book buyer, will always give precedent to it. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I love children’s books. However, since I was also assigned lifestyle books sometime later, I had to walk out of my box and see what the big people were up to.

It’s been fun, so I wanted to share this love, this continuing journey, this search for a new book.

Taking the big stride

Yes, I should have done this earlier.

In an alternate world, where I have less qualms, this blog would have been a long-running, maybe 20 year old blog. Instead, I had starts and stops, and so many things I wanted to say but knew I could not. And the type of issues which I wanted most to talk about — I felt would be either be counter productive, or create such a huge conflict of interest at work, that was of course, my huge, gigantic baggage of qualms.

Well, I decided to take the first step out, because it dawned to me that there would be no conflict of interest if I blogged about books, and be honest with what I thought. Any bookstore can sell it, and it’s only the opinion of one me, not the bookstore and their many customers and staff.

Let’s get on with it.