Fall Storytime Favorite: Toto’s Apple

We do a lot of reading in our house, which means I’m always on the hunt for our new favorite book. I recently discovered Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie at our local Half Price Books and instantly fell in love with Toto, a delightful little worm who devises a series of inventive problem solving measures to reach an apple high in a tree. Every time we read it I admire his tenaciousness, especially because he uses arts and crafts to overcome each of his obstacles — you’re a worm after our own hearts, Toto.

Every now and then we do a special storytime party, and I knew Toto would be the perfect book to kick off the first day of fall. It has it all – apples, trees, leaves, squirrels, birds – it’s basically fall bingo in picture book form. So I invited my daughters Jane (four) and Rose (two) to help me bake mini apple pies (with leaf crusts, their favorite part) which we devoured while we read the book, and afterward we made simple popsicle butterflies, just like Toto makes for himself in the book. It was fun and simple and made storytime just a little more magical. 

What’s your family’s favorite storytime book? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Kristen Dickson from @tojaneandrose, a girl mom in Texas looking for that everyday magic.

Behind the Book: Faerie Knitting by Alice Hoffman & Lisa Hoffman

Editor’s Note: Faerie Knitting melds two concepts—knitting and storytelling— into one incredible book. This magical combination comes from a pair of cousins, New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman and master knitter Lisa Hoffman. The two collaborated to create an entrancing collection of stories of love, loss, trust and perseverance, with magical knits accompanying each story. We had a chance to catch up with the pair recently. Below are their answers to our questions.

Faerie Knitting High Res Cover Final

Faerie Knitting is such an adorable, unique concept for a book. What inspired the two of you to team up and meld your talents into one incredible work?
Alice: We had always wanted to work on a project together and began this book by writing a column for Faerie Magazine. That was so much fun we decided to expand the collaboration into a book.
Lisa: When we discussed what we could do together, we realized that Alice’s love of and talent to write original fairy tales would be a perfect way to include knitting into short stories in a magical way.

How did you end up pairing the knits and stories? Did you match all of the knits to the stories or write the stories to match the knits?
Alice: We began by making a list of titles that inspired us both. In a way, the ideas for stories and knits were organically created together.
Lisa: Together we paired titles with possible knits. After Alice wrote the stories, I designed the knits choosing the fiber and colors from her descriptions.

Have either of you taken to wearing one of the patterns more than the other?
Lisa: I knit a “Blue Heron” Shawl that I wear and always get great compliments, and the “Seventh Sister” Capelet is a favorite for a light layer in spring and fall weather.

What do you think it is about fairy tales that enthralls readers?
Alice: There’s a deep, timeless truth in fairy tales that speak both to children and to adults. A reader can take the story at face value or can read at a psychological level.
Lisa: They stretch your imagination, taking you to a magical place where fantastic events can happen.

Which one of the fairy tales in Faerie Knitting is your favorite? Why?
Alice: “Blue Heron,” because it was our first collaboration.
Lisa: I love them all, but since I recently became a grandmother, I am drawn to “Thorn,” a story of a baby blanket with a protection charm.

The women in these fairytales seem to feel trapped before the knitted pieces give them a chance to escape. Do you think women feel trapped in today’s society?
Alice: It’s true, the women in these stories often knit themselves out of a bad situation and find strength in the garments and fates they create.
Lisa: I agree, and I am constantly amazed by the power and strength of women, individually and in groups, who rise up to accomplish great things when faced with difficult circumstances.

Any advice for beginning knitters? Or aspiring authors?
Alice: For both knitters and writers, the more you do it, the better the result will be. And of course, nothing is perfect. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Lisa: I tell my students to keep trying new techniques without fear, learn something new with each project and enjoy the process.

Alice Hoffman.new.credit Deborah Feingold

Photo Credit: Deborah Feingold

Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The Marriage of OppositesPractical Magic, The Red Garden, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on EarthThe Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Dovekeepers. Her short fiction and nonfiction works have appeared in the New York TimesBoston Globe MagazineKenyon ReviewRedbookArchitectural DigestGourmetSelf and others. Her novel Practical Magic was made into a major motion picture starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman; her young adult novel Aquamarine was made into a movie in 2006. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Copies of Faerie Knitting available at HPB.com and in Half Price Book stores while supplies last.

Lisa Hoffman_credit Alyssa Peek at PeekPhotography.com

Photo Credit: Alyssa Pee

Lisa Hoffman, a knitwear designer and knitting teacher, lives in New York City with her husband, Andrew. She has three grown children living near and far. Lisa Hoffman’s designs have been published in Vogue KnittingInterweave Knits and Knitwear Magazines. She has designed projects for Artyarns, Be Sweet, Blue Sky

Behind the Book: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

EDITORS NOTE: From debut author Imogen Hermes Gowar comes The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, an atmospheric historical fiction novel set in 18th century London. The elegant prose and magical realism transports you to a world of opulence and turmoil. Gowar’s rich visuals and detailed descriptions kept us reading and reading and reading! We had the opportunity to catch up with Imogen recently. Read on to discover her answers to our questions!

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is such a unique story. Where did your inspiration come from? Was there something in particular that drew you to mermaids?
I’ve been interested in the supernatural since childhood, and that definitely includes mermaids. I was particularly compelled by the traditional mermaid myths: the idea that they had a dangerous, inexorable power as much rooted in melancholy and longing as in anything erotic.

I was also really interested in the way people thought of mermaids, as opposed to how they were displayed. The goblin-like counterfeit mermaid effigies that were popular in the eighteenth century and beyond didn’t bear a huge resemblance to the sexy damsels of popular imagination, but people were willing to be taken in by them nevertheless. While I was working at the British Museum I came across one of these fake mermaids—it’s made from a monkey’s torso stitched to a salmon’s tail—and it is oddly chilling. I could immediately imagine the sort of man who might want to acquire it: how he would bridge the gulf between how it looked and what he wished to believe. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Literacy

September is National Literacy Month and a great time to think about the importance of reading in our lives.

Sadly, there are more than 36 million adults in this country that cannot read, write or do basic math above a third-grade level. And this affects almost every aspect of their lives – they can’t read to their children (which makes their kids more likely to have low literacy skills), job prospects are slim and they can’t read prescriptions or other healthcare information, which makes them more likely to have health problems. The list goes on and on.

Luckily, there are many wonderful organizations across the country working to make sure this won’t always be the case!

One of the organizations we support here in our hometown of Dallas is Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT). I’m a proud member of their board of directors – it’s wonderful to see the work they do with the community each day!

To support organizations like this, Half Price Books will host Literacy Benefit Day on Saturday, Sept. 8. We’ll donate 5% of our sales that day to literacy partners across the country – up to $20,000.

We’ve also designed some buttons with a purpose so you can show your support for literacy.

100% of the proceeds from the sale of these buttons will benefit our local literacy partners – available while supplies last.

So we hope you’ll stop by stores in September to help support these great organizations that are boosting the literacy skills of both kids and adults alike.

To find the literacy partner near you, check out our Literacy Month page.

The Best and Worst of Agatha Christie

With more than 60 novels and 14 short story collections, is it any wonder that Agatha Christie is the bestselling novelist of all time? Her works are ranked third in the world’s most published books, behind Shakespeare and the Bible, and they have been translated into at least 103 languages. However, with 66 novels and numerous short stories, not all of Mrs. Christie’s works are going to be favorites. Then again, one person’s favorite is another person’s least favorite, and sometimes for the same reasons. For example, the first time I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I literally threw the book across the room, vowing to never read another Agatha Christie book again, all because of the twist ending that makes other people count this story as their favorite. So here are some of the best and the worst (in my opinion) of Agatha Christie.

THE BEST
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: This is Christie’s first published novel and introduces the world to retired Belgian police detective Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Arthur Hastings, who becomes the Watson to Hercule’s Holmes. This book is a great one to start with if you have yet to dip your toe into the Christie canon.
The-Mysterious-Affair-at-Styles

And Then There Were None: One of my absolute favorite mystery books, which will keep you guessing until the end. Interesting Fact: First published in the U.K. in 1939, this book has had several different names, but since those were considered racially offensive (look them up if you dare!), the title was changed to And Then There Were None in January 1940.
And-Then-There-Were-None

The A.B.C. Murders (or the Alphabet Murders): The victims in this book seem to be completely unrelated as Hercule Poirot and his good friend Arthur Hastings begin to investigate. This book doesn’t really follow Christie’s usual style, and so it is a good read if you are looking for something a little different.
ABC MURDERS

The Mousetrap: Yes, this is a play. In fact, it’s the longest-running play in history. The play is actually based on a short story by Christie, who asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The play was first performed in 1952, and the story has still not been published in the U.K. However, it was first published in the United States in a short story collection in 1950 under its original title Three Blind Mice.themousetrap

THE WORST
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: In regards to this book, I have been asked to say that “this bloggers opinion does not reflect the opinion of Half Price Books”… or in fact anyone else on the planet apparently. I’ll just say, be prepared to feel cheated.the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd

The Big Four: This is Christie’s first stab at writing espionage. In my opinion, she should have stuck with police detectives and little old ladies and left the spy work to Le Carré.thebigfour

Destination Unknown: Originally called So Many Steps to Death, this is another one of Christie’s spy novels, and it just seems bland, which may be why it is one of only four Christie novels never to be adapted into another kind of medium.destination unknown

Postern of Fate: This is the last novel that Christie wrote, and it is reported that she suffered from dementia during that time, so it’s not surprising that this book would be on the bottom of the Christie spectrum.postern of fate

Now, this is just a sampling of some of the best and the worst of Agatha Christie, or at least this blogger’s opinion about the best and worst of Agatha Christie. Of course, Agatha Christie’s legacy continues through Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Monogram Murders (2015), Closed Casket (2017) and The Mystery of Three Quarters (2018), not to mention the movie version of Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express that came out in 2017, starring  Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench. Plus, And Then There Was None was voted best mystery by HPB customers in our Mystery Madness tournament this past March! So, I think it’s safe to say Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery and her books (even the worst ones) are worth the read. Check them out at your local HPB and HPB.com.

What’s your favorite (or least favorite) Agatha Christie novel?

Bust the Myth: Saving Big Money on Textbooks Can Be a Reality

It seems like finding the best deals on textbooks is like chasing a unicorn. You’ve heard there are good deals in some bedtime story your grandparents told you long ago, yet every back-to-school season, you’re left with the real story: a busted budget. We know that textbook shopping can be stressful and expensive. A study from the National Association of College Stores reports that students spent an average of $579 on required course materials during the 2016-2017 academic year. Fairy tale?! More like SCARY TALE, am I right?

We’re here to tell a different story, one with a little more happily-ever-after and a lot less I-can’t-even-afford-ramen!

Here are HPB.com‘s top tips to make any student’s book buying experience a better one this semester:

Shop early or beware. Procrastinate and you’ll just get eaten by the troll under the bridge, so they say. Demand is higher right before the semester starts and everyone is looking for the same book, which makes prices higher. Nab yours early to take advantage of some of the lowest prices — and beat that troll to the punch! Troll

Buy used if it’s within your power. Sometimes you can’t avoid it if your potions professor picked a brand new textbook or newer edition, but a used book will always be cheaper and sometimes filled with some other studious wizard’s helpful notes!
wizard.gifShop HPB Online

Look for older editions. Rip Van Winkle was purported to say, “Old is the new-new!” He was probably talking about your textbooks. If the updates to newer editions are minimal from year-to-year, an older edition will likely save you some cash.
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All Things Printed & Recorded: Video Games Come Into Play

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For August, it’s all fun and games—video games, to be exact.

Super Mario gamesTIMELINE
1940  A computer playing the traditional game Nim is displayed at the World’s Fair.
1958  A tennis game played using an analog computer and an oscilloscope is demonstrated at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
1962  Spacewar, the first computer-based video game, is invented by an MIT student.
1975  Atari partners with Sears to release its arcade game Pong for the home market.
1985  Nintendo’s NES revives an ailing American video game industry two years after its original release in Japan, where it was called Famicom.
1995  Sony releases PlayStation in the United States. When PlayStation 2 debuts in 2000, it becomes the dominant home console.
2001  Microsoft enters the market with Xbox and hit games like Halo. Xbox 360 would debut four years later.

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Hot Days and Steamy Books

August days are known to be hot and steamy. Maybe that’s why August is Read-a-Romance Month. As the resident hopeless romantic (yes, I love happy endings and cry over Hallmark commercials), I was asked to make a few reading recommendations to heat up the month of August.

Brushing Up on the Classics:
pride and prejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Ah, the classic story of boy meets girl. Boy insults girl. Girl snubs boy. Boy saves girl’s sister. Girl gets insulted by boy’s family. Love. If you haven’t read it, where have you been for the last 200 years? You need to read this book. If you have read it, then you know how good it is. Maybe it’s time to read it again.

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The beginnings may smack a little of Cinderella, as this orphan deals with life in a not-so-pleasant household, but no one could call her brooding love interest a prince charming. One thing you can say about the Brontë sisters: they love themselves a bad boy. If you want a new take on the Jane Eyre storyline, try My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Ashton Brodi and Jodi Meadows.

Going Old School (Books my grandmother read):
The India FanThe India Fan by Victoria Holt
Take the proud, rich boy from the local aristocracy and mix him up with the local vicar’s daughter who is hired to be governess to his sister’s children and throw them in the middle of India during the uprising against the East India Company. What do you expect to happen? A must read for any hopeless romantic.

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Behind the Book: Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins

Editor’s Note: Kristan Higgins is the kind of author who likes to dance her way out of the box and into the creative space, simultaneously maintaining humor while addressing deep-rooted and uncomfortable issues. In Good Luck with That (on Sale August 7),  Kristan Higgins provides an emotional, compelling read that focuses on addressing the issues of body image, eating disorders and self-esteem. Her unique voice helps the story come to life, and we find ourselves rooting for these friends to truly develop their self-worth. That’s why it’s our Book Club pick for August and September!  We had a chance to catch up with Kristan recently, and she was kind enough to share her thoughts on these important issues. 

Why do you feel it is important to represent women of size in literature and other media? Where do you think we are still missing this perspective?Everyone deserves to be seen. Everyone has a story! So many times, women of size are presented as sidekick characters, or women who want to lose weight, or women who have absolutely no problems with being overweight—they’re content, healthy and confident (which of course, we want them to be). But I wanted to write a book that showed where most of us are—still struggling to like what we see, knowing on the one hand that our value comes from within, yet still fighting off those messages about looking a certain way.

This is the hardest perspective because it admits that guilty secret…a lot of us still care. It can be really hard to like our bodies in a society obsessed with beauty and size…and food! We’re given so many mixed messages, and the healthcare pros have a new theory about what or how to eat every half hour. We need to learn to take care of ourselves in all ways—mental, spiritual, physical. Once we get to that place—and it can be hard to get there—real self-acceptance and love begin, no matter what your size.

The fat acceptance and body positivity movements are great and incredibly needed, but it’s a process. When I look at fiction, most of the women of size are shown as “curvy,” not significantly overweight, and happy with their sizes. Which is lovely, if you’re one of them. But for those of us who struggle to like how we look, struggle with how much we weigh, struggle with food, there’s not much out there. Maybe that’s starting to change with characters like Kate from This Is Us and Renee in I Feel Pretty, but in general, women of size have been ignored or glossed over. I was tired of it. It made those struggles feel invisible.

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Are there any storylines that you wrote into your characters that you struggled with? Perhaps because they were too personal or maybe too revealing?Sure. This was a very personal book. I’ve done every crappy eating habit the characters do, from starving myself to binge-eating (one dark night, I ate two pizzas, all by my lonesome, just like Emerson in the book). Like Georgia, I had a family member who constantly criticized my size. And like Marley, my family shows love by cooking really unhealthy food. But it felt so good to admit that, even through fictional characters—to talk about self-esteem and its link to size in a way that’s not filtered, that’s hard and honest and difficult and funny, too. My heart broke for Emerson, and while her story is tragic, it still deserves to be told. I was so proud of Georgia and Marley for tackling their issues. Their friendship is the kind we all deserve. Girl power, yo!

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Behind the Book: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Editor’s Note: From first-time author Fatima Farheen Mirza comes a book that is beautifully written and emotional, a book that you will adore from the moment you begin the first page until you close the cover at last. A Place for Us handles one of the biggest desires in life—the desire to belong. This is the story of Rafiq and Layla, an immigrant couple in California, and their children, as they seek to reconcile their non-Western values with those of modern America. A Place for Us breaks open the family dynamic and examines what it truly means to belong. It was also the HPB Book Club pick for June and July. We had a chance to catch up with Fatima Farheen Mirza, who describes her writing process below.a-place-for-us

Days before I was to submit the final draft of the novel—after all the major editing had been done and I was only reading to find mistakes—there was one sentence I added toward the very end, and writing it into the margin moved me to tears, despite how insignificant the line seemed: “Layla pointing out the leaves when the wind makes them all wave at once.”

It arrived in a paragraph written in Rafiq’s perspective. Rafiq and Layla have been married for decades, and it is their family that the novel centers around. The passage is written from the furthest point of time in the novel, when Rafiq is in his late sixties and looking back on his life to understand what kind of a father he was. In the passage, he is reflecting on the sights in his life that he will never tire of: his wife tying her hair up into a bun, his daughter whistling when she was younger, and, in the case of the sentence, Layla pointing out the leaves on trees when the two took their evening walks together. Continue reading