The Kiss o’ Death Part 2

Back to one of my favorite subjects, weeding.  I’ve continued working on the fiction section, and discovered that the author Ellen Conford’s books have most of the kiss o’ death markers from the last post, so sadly her section of the shelf is half what it was. Nice to find that her nearby neighbor Beverly Cleary is still going so strong, though–not a single title there popped up on the no-circs-in-3-years list.

The heartbreaker this week was finding every title from Helen Cresswell’s hilarious Bagthorpe series on the list. In fact, I could tell from looking at the list that I passed over them last time, too. I’m not sure what the Kiss o’ Death marker is for those. The covers (vintage Trina Schart Hyman) are a little dated, and they are British but that usually isn’t a problem. I’m stumped. And sad. I wish the publisher would reissue the first three with new covers to give them another chance.

Speaking of Kiss o’ Death markers, here are the rest we’ve noticed.

The cover has a horse on it. Again, I am baffled why it is that books with horses on the cover are dead in the water at my library, but aside from the quite popular Black Stallion series, they just don’t go. I think they partly like Black Stallion because it’s a series, and partly because the focus is on the trials and travails of the horse itself. Many of the others are either girl/horse stories (and my community doesn’t get a lot of horseback riding in) or they fall into the next category on my Kiss o’ Death list:

Westerns. No form of Westerns circulates in my department. They see a picture with a horse or a cowboy hat or something with tall cliffs in the background and it just sits there. Maybe it’s that there hasn’t been a truly popular western book or movie or television show in decades, so there are no cross-references pointing kids to those books. It doesn’t matter if they’re funny or mysteries or adventure stories, Westerns are dead. Maybe it’s because they usually fit into the next category on the list…

Historical fiction. Yes, sad to say, historical fiction in general does not circulate well at my library. The westerns do the worst, but really anything that isn’t part of the Dear America series or the American Girl series is a shelf-sitter. This is especially true of American historical fiction, and maybe it’s because our community has a lot of recent immigrants and they just aren’t that interested. Books featuring queens or princesses do okay, and Avi books do okay, and when you put a great historical fiction book on a reading list, they like them. But they don’t check them out without a push.

Books that are too fat by an author who writes skinny books. We could name this category after Scott Corbett. He wrote all of those “Trick” books and although our copies are in fairly disgraceful condition they continue to circulate. But his longer novels like The Discontented Ghost–which features a ghost, usually popular, and has a perfectly fine cover–are dead.  I think it must have to do with the expectations the readers/their parents have when they think of an author. Speaking of parents…

Books that are too skinny. I have also found the reverse to be true. An author who normally writes longer books will write a skinnier one, and that’s the one that won’t go. My theory from overhearing conversations is that parental pressure is a factor here. The parents feel that if a child can read a longer book, they should only read longer books.

Most of these things are out of our control. We can push things by putting them on lists, and we can handsell our favorites (which obviously I did not do well enough with the Bagthorpes). We can put books from the neglected bottom shelf on display. But I must admit that at this point in my career I have finally resigned myself to the fact that a book with a bad cover is simply not going to circ, and that a lot of the books published in the 70s and 80s need new covers if they are going to survive for another generation to read them.

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2 Responses to The Kiss o’ Death Part 2

  1. David Gutteridge says:

    What about setting up a non-fiction promotion around the interests of Tess and William Bagthorpe. Surround pictures of those two character with appropriate texts (French / Guinness Book of Records for Tess, amateur radio, Grimsby, tennis, math and drumming for William) ? That way the fiction titles get a surreptitious push as well.

  2. sdlempke says:

    David, I think I should hire you!

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