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So I love this coffee mug.

Everything about the title and cover design screams that it’s going to have something marvelous inside. (And that it’s HOT.)

Note the retro color scheme and bold lines representing books on a shelf.

I talked to the author of this mug, and she said she wanted to create it so avid readers could profess their love of books. And, oh yeah, to also bring in a few bucks for Reading is Fundamental (RIF), the national non-profit organization that puts books in the hands of underprivileged kids who otherwise wouldn’t have any books of their own.

Well, how did the author pull this off?

That’s right, she bugged her friend Carter Higgins, the writer and designer behind the popular blog Design of the Picture Book. Yes, the same person who designed the Picture Book Writing Pie.

And Carter delivered. Big time.

So head on over to the CafePress PiBoIdMo shop to grab your cuppa. (And there’s a shirta, too.)

All proceeds benefit RIF ($3 per purchase), so there’s a good cause behind a good design!

Last week I said if someone invented another social media site my head might explode.


Yes, we bibliophiles have a new social domain: !

Named after the sound book pages make when thumbed, Riffle has been dubbed “the Pinterest of book discovery” by Publisher’s Weekly. Could it potentially change the way we learn about great new reads? Absolutely! Could your head also detonate? Let’s put it this way—if you ever wanted to sport a mushroom cloud, you’re in luck.

The Publisher’s Weekly article didn’t reveal much, featuring jargon-heavy quotes by Riffle founder Neil Baptista, like this beaut: “We’re going to focus on bringing the audience to the table and curating the information. There’s a ton of online expertise, and we want people to push their content through Riffle.”

So what the heck does this all mean? How will Riffle work?

Well, yours truly worked in high-tech market research for a decade (from 1993 to 2003), so I called upon one of my smartest digerati buddies to give it to us straight.

Chris Rechtsteiner is the founder and chief strategist of blueloop concepts, a boutique research and advisory firm focused on the mobile and digital media market. Chris has worked on many publishing projects, so he’s very knowledgeable about the intersection of books and digital applications.

Here’s what Riffle may be:

  • The idea is to build a truly Facebook-connected social reading group/platform. How this isn’t GoodReads is a mystery, but apparently the need to build a GoodReads 2.0 is there.
  • The company behind Riffle, Odyl, already has templated/socially-integrated foundations for bringing content about books to consumers, so they have a fast and easy starting point.
  • The core objective is to really bring forward the content being created/discussed about a book (that’s what the curation reference hits). When Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, etc. are posted about a title, they’ll all be “magically” brought together to give you a complete look at the “conversation” and “group” around a book. (Again, GoodReads, but with MORE noise.)
  • Odyl isn’t a novice at this stuff as they’ve been able to do a really good job of building publisher relationships, so they’ll have the “blessing” of the publishers to do this right out of the gate. (Translation: they’ll have books featured with deep, rich content day one and it will grow from there.)

And here’s how they may do it:

  • Supposedly the “curated” information (e.g. people scanning blogs, reviews, Twitter, etc.) is going to be done by experts, so there won’t be “noise” (per se) but only the best information on a particular title.
  • This means you’re going to have to have HUNDREDS of “experts” there to sift through everything in order to have any volume of books at all… which means scale is a serious issue because the books that get the Riffle treatment will be “selected” … and likely tied to the publisher relationships (read: publisher financed through marketing budgets/author marketing dollars). While that last part might not be true, it wouldn’t be surprising, as no one has yet deeply tapped the publishers’ book marketing dollars online like the brick-and-mortar booksellers and traditional media have.

(I applied for more information on Odyl, and I was asked, as an author, how much money I planned to spend on book marketing this year, so Rechtsteiner’s ideas sound spot on.)

If you had to bet your money, right now, on what Riffle ultimately does or becomes, you’re going to see a GoodReads that is a series of lists or collections of books that have a narrative by an expert. This is how the expert would really play. The question is how many people they employ (or allow?) to be experts as to how rapidly these narratives and book lists are created. And who will these “experts” be? How will they be vetted? Will they be Riffle employees, contractors (like guides), or volunteers (like Wikipedia writers/editors)? All this remains to be seen.

So is anyone on Riffle now? Yes. What did we hear about it? “Pinterest for books sounds really interesting, until you realize that people don’t repin books on Pinterest today.” (True dat. The most repins I get are for recipes, home decor and fashion. Did I just say true dat?!)

So…only time will tell. But as Chris Rechtsteiner told me, Riffle is needed and welcomed. “While there are no shortage of book discovery tools and platforms coming to market today (Riffle, Jellybooks, etc.), it’s hard to argue with anyone’s efforts to make reading more prominent. I have some doubts regarding how social book reading really is (in the web’s definition of social), but one thing will remain constant and true for a while: there are simply too many titles to choose from and finding the next, best one to read [online] will remain a challenge for a long time.”

If you’d like a Riffle invitation, this link is your ticket.

Many thanks to Andy J. Smith, illustrator extraordinaire, and Chris Rechsteiner of blueloop concepts for helping me pull this blog post together while I tried to stuff gray matter back into my skull.

The brainchild of literary agent Kelly Sonnack, Save the Bookstores Day is a way to show our favorite brick & mortar stores that they still matter. That we support them. That we love them! That we CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THEM!

I spoke with Kelly and three of her clients about this special day and how they plan to celebrate.

TL: Kelly, how did this holiday come to be?

KS: The Save the Bookstores event started one morning when, after reading about the obituaries of several indie bookstores in my publishing industry news, I got on Twitter and said that I was sick of hearing of these great stores closing and that there must be something I/we could do about it. I was met with immediate support when I suggested we pick a day and all go buy books together, across the nation, and the event was born from there.

Last year, we had a great response. The beauty of the event is that everyone can take the event and promote it as they see fit. Last year some book lovers took it upon themselves to print flyers and distribute them outside their favorite bookstore, in anticipation of the day. Others have blogged and emailed, Tweeted and Facebook’d. It’s been a unifying book lovers event so far and has reached to Asia and the UK (and probably more places I don’t even know about!)—it’s a simple way to support the books we love and the stores that sell them.

TL: What is your favorite childhood memory about books?

KS: One of my favorite childhood memories about books is the small library at the church we went to when I was a kid. It was nestled under a creaky staircase and chock-full of fabulous picture books. We were allowed to check out a book each, each week. But the choosing was the hardest part! I probably read 10 books before I picked which one I could take home with me.

TL: What is your hope for this new holiday? What is your ultimate goal?

KS: My ultimate goal is to save bookstores! I want to stop seeing postings of bookstores that haven’t been able to get high enough revenue to keep their doors open. It would be tragic to lose our brick and mortar stores; I want to remind people that their patronage really does make a difference. That we can keep stores in business by supporting them.

TL: And finally, what books will you be buying? What books do you recommend?

KS: The event is actually on my due date, so there’s a chance I’ll be phoning in my order to my favorite local bookstore instead of being able to browse the shelves for surprises and discoveries (hands down the best part about brick and mortar stores). If I get to browse, I’ll likely be browsing the board book section to see if there’s something I haven’t gotten for Baby Girl. But (aside from Bridget and James’ fabulous books, and Sharon’s which can be preordered), I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Jennifer Bosworth’s STRUCK, Michelle Hodkin’s THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER, Tom Angleberger’s FAKE MUSTACHE and I want to get a copy of HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA by Jean Reagan for my dad, who will soon be a new grandpa! As far as what I’d recommend to others, anyone who hasn’t gotten a copy of Anna Sheehan’s debut YA novel, A LONG, LONG SLEEP will be wisely spending their money on it. And Carolyn Marsden’s THE WHITE ZONE is a powerful read for anyone interested in the conflict in Afghanistan from a middle-grade perspective. For any new parents or friends of new parents, Heather Leigh’s HEY, LITTLE BABY is sure to become a family favorite. You can’t help but getting a little choked up by that one.

Thanks, Kelly! Three of your clients—Sharon, Bridget and James—want to weigh in, too. I asked them why bookstores are important to them. (Besides the obvious reason of selling their titles!)

Sharon Cameron

My mother took me to the library like she took me to church—regularly, once a week, no excuses. The library was our haunt. But she could never understand why I would check out the same book over and over again, signing my name on the little card slipped into the slot attached to the back cover (remember when we did that?). My signature would be beneath my own signature, which was beneath my own again, and maybe four more times above that. My mother would look at the card containing mostly my name and say, “Okay. We’ll buy it.”

There was nothing more special. The library was a reading free-for-all, but going to the bookstore was all about picking out a treasure. I got to take my time, pick the book up, feel its weight, know if the cover was bumpy or slick, see the size of the type, hear how much noise a page made when it turned. And then that book was not just a borrowed thing to be returned, but mine, a friend for life. My copy of Johnny Tremain stayed with me for dozens of readings until its unfortunate death from a broken (overused!) spine. My paperback of Pride and Prejudice has worn to bend in any direction, fitting perfectly into my left hand.

That is why children—why all of us—need bookstores, and why I will be celebrating Save the Bookstores Day at Parnassus Books (Nashville, TN). An image on a sales screen is only an image. It cannot show us what is so easily experienced when we hold a book: the heft and feel of an author’s imagination.

Sharon Cameron is the author of THE DARK UNWINDING, coming September 2012 from Scholastic Press. Visit her website at

Bridget Heos

I have a quote hanging over my desk by Anton Ego from Ratatouille: “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”

Bookstores are some of the first friends a book has, and that’s one reason I’m excited for my first bookstore book, MUSTACHE BABY, to come out next Spring. The neat thing is that readers want to befriend the new, too, and bookstores help us to do that. Bookstore workers have gotten my sons through many “I’ll never read again” moments that happen when you finish a series you love. They introduced us to Origami Yoda, Max (Bob Graham), The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, and so many books that, in a way, are part of our family.

I’m going to the Reading Reptile and the Plaza Barnes & Noble here in Kansas City, not as an appearance, but just to buy books.

Bridget Heos is the author of the non-fiction picture book series WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING (LARVAE, JOEYS, and other animals). She also writes YA non-fiction. Follow all her insects and antics at

James Burks

I think there’s something magical about walking into a bookstore and discovering a new book. A book that I’ve never seen or heard of before but I see the cover and it intrigues me. I pick it up, I look inside and I know that I have to own this book.

If I didn’t have a bookstore to go to I’d probably just be wondering the streets, lost, searching for that magical connection.

James Burks is the author of GABBY AND GATOR, BEEP AND BAH, and the upcoming BIRD AND SQUIRREL graphic novel. He is the illustrator of Tara Lazar’s THE MONSTORE, too! Check out this character and all his characters at

If you want to help SAVE BOOKSTORES, please join the Facebook Group! Tell us where you’ll be shopping on June 16th and what you’ll be buying!

And please SPREAD THE WORD! Share the adorable poster on your social networks, blog about it, tell your teachers, organize a caravan to your local indie! Do your part to keep bookstores in business and bringing us great reads!

Thank you Kelly, Sharon, Bridget & James!

You may have never heard of Ursula Oaks, but she’s a pioneer. She and her family are one of only a handful of East-Coast bibliophiles who have become stewards of a Little Free Library.

What’s a Little Free Library? Just as it sounds, it’s a small structure—a little bigger than a breadbox—that houses books which are free to borrow. Take a book, return a book, leave a book. Visit as often as you wish. And there’s never an overdue fine!

The brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, the Little Free Library enterprise began in 2009 and flourished in the Wisconsin and Minnesota region. Intended to support literacy, social empowerment, youth and community development, the libraries sit on front lawns and places of business, encouraging neighbors and patrons to read…and share great literature.

A map on the website displays registered LFLs around the country. I was hoping to find one in New Jersey, but alas, none exist. (Don’t worry, my neighbor and I plan to change that soon.)

But I did find Ursula Oaks in Silver Spring, MD, living just three miles from my brother’s home. Originally I planned to visit her and the little library-on-stilts in her side yard, but since that didn’t work out, we chatted via email about her experience with being a Little Free Library “home librarian”.

TL: When and why did you decide to open a Little Free Library?

UO: I first heard about the LFL movement on an NPR program out of Wisconsin Public Radio called “Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders”, which is hosted by the amazing journalist Jean Feraca. She interviewed the founders, and the whole thing sounded so fun and meaningful that I went home that night and told my husband and son about it. They were both interested, too, so we started making plans. We thought the idea was a perfect melding of our shared love for building things, for libraries, and for books. Our son Liam loved the idea that we could select books from our own collection to share, and that we could host something in our yard that the whole community could take part in. My husband Craig was excited to have a new building project. And we all loved the creative aspect of designing and painting something totally unique. That was September of last year. It took us five months to actually get it completely finished, due to schedules, weather, travel, etc. The finished library finally went up in the yard on January 25 of this year.

TL: How did it get built and why did you choose the Madeline theme?

Craig is great with woodworking, so he built the structure, complete with copper run-off pipes, tin roof, and clear plexiglass front door. I sketched out the design based on the original Bemelmans drawings in one of our Madeline books, and everyone pitched in to paint, including 7-year-old Liam. Frankly we were surprised at how well it turned out, because none of us is particularly gifted with a paintbrush.

The story of how we ended up with the Madeline theme is a bit convoluted. We knew we wanted to do some kind of stylized approach to the house, so we thought about a barn or a farm house or bird house, and then at some point I suggested we try to come up with an idea that had some connection with a book we love—something that people would recognize and understand. Liam has always loved the Madeline stories, and we had recently returned from a visit to Paris for Thanksgiving, so the idea came to us pretty quickly once we went down that path, especially because while we were in Paris we passed an enormous house that looked incredibly similar to the Madeline house.

We decided to let Liam have free rein with the back of the house, but he needed help because he insisted on including an Eiffel Tower. He did the trees and the bird and the flag on the top of the tower.

TL: How does the Little Free Library work? Can people take any book they want? Do they have to return them? Can anyone add to the collection?

UO: The motto of the LFL movement is “take a book, leave a book”, but there’s no check-out/check-in system, and anyone is welcome to take a book. It’s been amazing to see how well this works, totally organically. Some people take and leave books, some just take, some just leave. I put a small notebook and pen inside inviting comments, and we have had many, all of them very positive. Many of them mention what a nice addition it is to the community, and many comment on the attractiveness of the structure itself. It seems to invite people to stop and linger. All of the books we originally stocked it with have been taken, replaced by an equal number of books from many other people.

TL: Can you share some of the comments you’ve received?

UO: “This is beautiful and a treasure! Can we donate books to the cause?”
“We love it! My daughter has exchanged books three times already! Thank you!”
“Add a toilet.” (from a child)
“Gorgeous! Where did you get the cabinet?”
“We love your library!”
“Such a nice little library! It makes us happy just seeing it!”
“Amazing. Makes the world a better place.”
“I love this library.”
“So fun to trade books.”
“What a very sweet and thoughtful addition to our neighborhood. I will have to leave you a treat in return for your great idea.”
“The idea is so amazing. I want to make one when I grow up!!!”
“Thank you so much. We love the house, especially the rain gutters.”

TL: Have any of your neighbors expressed interest in starting their own Little Free Library?

UO: Yes, one person expressed interest. I think people have discovered ours after reading the recent USA Today article about how others have gone about establishing theirs.

TL: What has been the best part of owning a Little Free Library?

UO: The best part of it is seeing it every day and feeling like it is adding a bit of community-building and joy to our neighborhood.

I am always amazed at how it continues to enrich our lives. Let me share with you an interesting anecdote. Craig was getting ready to go to work and walked out to find an enormous FedEx truck in the street. He figured someone had ordered some furniture or something, but then he saw the FedEx guy looking at our Little Free Library. He said “hi” to him and the guy said he had seen a story about LFL on TV and had looked on the web site to see where there might be one in his area (he lives in northern Maryland). He realized there is only one in the state (ours) and said he finally had a chance to come down and check it out!  I just thought that was pretty sweet.

Thank you, Ursula and the Oaks Family! I wish you many happy years of home librarianship! Who knows…maybe the FedEx guy will deliver an endless supply of books!

So blog readers, how about you? Are you eager to set up your own Little Free Library? Let us know in the comments. And visit to get started!

This doesn’t require commentary. Just watch.

(I know, aren’t you amazed that I can be quiet for once?)

concealbookshelvesWhen my father got a Kindle, he was awestruck by its instant gratification: “The books come out of the air!”

And now, I have a similar cry of joy: “The books hover in the air!”

I’m not talking about a Kindle, which is still too steep for me to consider. No, I’m referring to the amazing Umbra conceal bookshelf. (Which, at less than $10 from The Container Store, is a whole lot cheaper than any e-reader.)

Magically, a stack of books sits upon the wall, seemingly suspended sans anchor. An artful arrangement, as minimal as minimalism gets, the Umbra conceal bookshelf creates a floating home for a flotilla of tomes.

How it works: the L-shaped bracket screws into the wall. Place the last page of a book on top of the shelf and slide it to the wall. Below the shelf, two tiny hooks hold the back cover up—ingenious! You can then stack 6-8 books on the first, concealing the bracket on the wall to create the levitation illusion.

concealworksHowever, there are a few caveats. With the large shelf, the books should be no deeper than 10”, and the total weight of the books shouldn’t exceed 20 lbs. or they will sag. (Grab a stack of books and weigh it on your bathroom scale. I had what I thought was a heavy bunch, but it was only 13 lbs. No sweat for the Umbra.)

Next, the arrangement of books can be a little tricky. I bought two shelves for cookbooks. I have about 40, and it took some shuffling to create perfect pyramids of progressively smaller books. Some books were smaller in length, but not in width—and vice-versa. If you have a large collection of books, however, finding a pleasing aerial aesthetic shouldn’t be an issue. You can even display small objets d’art atop the books, as I did with a Japanese cast-iron teapot.

Finally, you need to install the shelf into a stud and use a hardcover for the bottom book. But paperbacks work well mid-stack, as you’ll see I put the meatless Moosewood between Jim Dodge and the Barefoot Contessa.

Books are works of art, and never before have they been so suitably displayed. I can’t imagine the Kindle being hung on the wall for artistic appreciation. But go ahead, get your e-reader. I’ll just keep buying more books…and more Umbra bookshelves.

I’m the Library Mom! Yes, that’s me behind the desk, collecting the picture books. You forgot yours, Jacob? That’s okay. You can still check out another. (Oh the joy on his face!)

I’m the Library Mom! I’m not allowed to kiss or hug my own daughter, so we sign “I Love You” across the room. I suggested tugging on my ear like Carol Burnett, but my five year-old didn’t appreciate the nostalgia.

I’m the Library Mom! It’s taking me twice as long to put the books back on the shelves because I’m busy reading them. Ooh, I love Bark, George! And I never saw this Mo Willems before!

I’m the Library Mom! “You’re good for a rookie,” the library aide says. “Have you done this before?” No, ma’am. I just know my alphabet.

I’m the Library Mom! It feels like 10 minutes ago I was skipping into Mount Pleasant’s library, excited to see my mother behind the desk. Aren’t I the coolest kid in Kindergarten, having Mom in charge of so many books? You can’t take one home until she stamps it. That’s my mom, you know.

In another two weeks, I’ll be there again, Miss G’s class. And I’ll be skipping through the doors just like I did 30 years ago, but this time…I’m the Library Mom!

The Etsy addiction continues.

This witty “booklace” conversation piece by Etsy artisan JOYouz, otherwise known as The Quill Chick, features an inspiring Robin Williams quote.

Yep, we’re all mad here.

Middle-grade and young-adult novelist Cynthea Liu needs your help creating a title for her new book.  The stories in this series of books feature young girls who travel abroad to study, get the guy, ace the exam, and return home transformed in some way.

The existing titles are puns of instantly recognizable, common phrases.  They typically reveal the country of study, the main character’s name, or the girl’s quest.  Here are some examples from the series:

The Sound of Munich
Spain or Shine
Swede Dreams
The Finnish Line
Now and Zen
Westminster Abby
Getting the Boot

Cynthea is giving away one of her famous free critiques to the person who comes up with a title for her tale of an adopted American girl traveling to China, the character’s birth country.  Ms. Liu even offers a half-page critique if your suggestion is good enough to pass along to her editor.

To read more about her book and the contest rules, please go to!  The submission deadline is Tuesday, February 19th at 4:00pm (CST).

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