Sydney Dale, Amazon National Account Manager at Penguin Young Readers

Sydney Dale, Amazon National Account Manager at Penguin Young Readers


What kind of work do you do at Penguin? Do you have a crowning achievement, or memorable experience from your time here?

As the account manager at Amazon, I’m responsible for selling all our Penguin Young Readers product to Amazon. I get to spend my time finding creative ways to feature the books on the site, analyzing our sales, and reporting back on the results. I’ve been working in sales with Penguin Young Readers since I moved to New York five years ago, and there have been plenty of memorable experiences. But one of my favorites from this year was working on An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I remember everyone in the office couldn’t stop talking about this incredible debut novel, and I was lucky enough to share the book with Amazon. Having them select it as the #1 Young Adult Book of 2015 was a big highlight! Seeing others become as passionate as I am about a new book is one of the most satisfying parts of the job.

When you aren’t busy at work with books, do you have a hobby? Do you have any book recommendations related to this hobby?

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I have a major sweet tooth and spend time feeding my addiction with baked goods. For everyday baking there is nothing better than the shortbread recipes in Cookie Love by Mindy Segal or the Skillet Brownies from Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead cookbook. I’m also a big fan of Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen cookbook. She manages to cook outrageously impressive recipes from the confines of a tiny NYC kitchen, so it gives me hope. There’s a recipe in Smitten Kitchen for a cake made entirely out of alternating layers of crepes and hazelnut pastry cream that I highly recommend for special occasions.  

Which books are you most excited about gifting this year?

I’m gifting a lot of celebrity books this year that I think are surefire crowd-pleasers. Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl are all on the list.


What is your favorite holiday read of all time?

While totally unoriginal, The Night Before Christmas is my favorite. My family reads the story aloud every Christmas Eve, with each person taking a turn to read a page. Over the years everyone’s recitations have become over-the-top and completely outrageous. It’s a small tradition, but every time I hear it read aloud I immediately think of my family.


What’s your favorite part of working the Penguin Hotline?

I think the books you read as a child can stay with you forever. We all have a book that we read at an early age that just never left us. As a “genre expert” for children’s and young adult books, I always hope one of our recommendations could become that book for someone and it is easily my favorite part of working the Hotline.

Thanks, Sydney!

Photo by Carmen Henning

Photo by Carmen Henning

A. O. Scott, author of the forthcoming title Better Living Through Criticism (out in February 2016), shares ”The Five Books of Criticism that Changed My Life” with the Penguin Hotline:

1. W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand. Many of the virtues of Auden’s poetry—the mix of conversational ease and high philosophical seriousness; the naughty wit and unguarded earnestness; the friendliness and unmatched erudition—are on display in this collection of critical writings. There is ample wisdom and much fun to be found in the chapters on Shakespeare, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost and Igor Stravinsky, but it’s the first three chapters, devoted to “Reading,” “Writing” and “Making, Knowing, and Judging” that make this book one I return to again and again. Masquerading as a miscellaneous collection of aphorisms and observations, those pages add up to a theory of human thought and behavior, and therefore a guide to life.

2. James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work. Technically more of a memoir than a work of criticism, Baldwin’s survey of the role movies played in his life—from his childhood trips to the cinema with a sympathetic teacher to his adventures in Hollywood in the 60s—is a characteristically sharp and generous critique of American society and some of its most cherished cultural products. An unsparing indictment of the way the movies have ignored and distorted America’s racial history, the book is a tour de force of corrective interpretation and a tribute to the power of cinema.

3. Pauline Kael, I Lost it at the Movies. Anyone who writes about popular culture has to contend with Kael: her taste, her voice, her seductive arguments and maddening inconsistencies. She’s inescapable, and this collection of her early work—written before she became an institution at The New Yorker—shows her at her vital, bruising best.

4. Susan Sontag, On Photography. Sontag is someone whose writing I never stop rereading, though there is probably no critic I find more reliably wrong. For me, she offers unmatched access to the drama of thinking, and I read her not to be convinced but to observe her mighty mind at work. This book, six essays originally commissioned by The New York Review of Books, considers photography as an art form, a technology and a moral and spiritual challenge. Sontag’s call for “an ecology of images” in a world awash in pictures may seem quaint, but in the age of Instagram and the selfie her jeremiad seems prophetic and painful.

5. Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist. My new book, Better Living Through Criticism, starts with a long quote from this mischievous dialogue, and I would have been happiest if I could have just reprinted the whole thing. It’s as funny as any of Wilde’s plays, effortlessly learned and marvelously perverse. He will convince you that criticism is more important than any of the other arts and that “it is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge of it.” Those are the words I’ve tried to live by.


Thanks, A. O. Scott! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend a forthcoming favorite of ours: Better Living Through Criticism.


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Self-portrait by Reza Farazmand

Reza Farazmand, author of Poorly Drawn Lines, shares his list of “Books to Make You Laugh and Think” with the Penguin Hotline:

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Eeeee Eee Eeee: A Novel by Tao Lin

The Great Outdoor Fight by Chris Onstad

Goliath by Tom Gauld

Thanks, Reza! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one more book that makes us laugh and think: Poorly Drawn Lines. And for more custom book recommendations, be sure to check out the Penguin Hotline!


Illustration by Rafael Mantesso

Illustration by Rafael Mantesso

Rafael Mantesso, author of A Dog Named Jimmy and favorite human of Instagram sensation Jimmy the Bull Terrier, shares his top five books about art with the Penguin Hotline:

Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear

Because I love everything from Charles Schulz and this is my pursuit every day: do more with less. Imagine how difficult it is choose what is really necessary from Charles Schulz. For me, everything from him is necessary.

Picasso & Lump: A Dachshund’s Odyssey by David Douglas Duncan and Paloma Picasso Thevenet

Dachshund isn’t my favorite breed, of course. Bull terrier is. But Picasso is my favorite artist ever, and if Picasso loved this kind of dog, there must be a good reason, and I want to know it!

Kill Your Pets by David Shrigley

I love David Shrigley because it’s amazing to know that you don’t need to know how to draw, or you can draw like a kid and be famous, you just need to have a crazy mind. His sense of humor is always one degree forward, so I’d like to know why he wants me to kill my pet.

LaChapelle: Heaven to Hell by David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle is one of my favorite photographers. He is insane and his photos are like Renaissance paintings, I cannot stop looking at them. I hope one day I can do the same with my photos.

600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter

I think the most difficult thing to do is a book for children. They have the most amazing minds and if you are able to entertain them, my friend you are the guy! My best pictures are the simplest pictures with less elements. Imagine how creative you need to be to get a child’s attention with black spots.

Thank you, Rafael! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one of our favorite books: A Dog Named Jimmy.

And for more custom recommendations, please don’t forget to head to the Penguin Hotline!



Not sure what to gift the English major in your life? The Penguin Hotline’s got a few ideas for you:

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For the thespian:

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

For the satirist:

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

For the writer:

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr



For the riot grrrl:

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

For the flaneur:

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

For the geek:

Book of Numbers: A Novel by Joshua Cohen



For the fan of dystopian fiction:

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

For the artist:

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

For the one feeling Mad Men nostalgia:

The 50s: The Story of a Decade by The New Yorker Magazine




For the one who seems to have read everything:

The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

And for more custom book recommendations, be sure to check out the Penguin Hotline!

Photo credit: Xue Tan

Photo credit: Xue Tan

Janice Y. K. Lee, author of The Piano Teacher and The Expatriates (forthcoming in January 2016), shares some perfect gift ideas for your friend who’s in a book club (oh so helpfully arranged by category!):

LITERARY FICTION: Euphoria by Lily King

I am a wild evangelist for this book, which I always introduce by saying, it sounds like it will be really boring, an imagined chapter in Margaret Mead’s life when she was in Papua New Guinea, but from the first page, you are helplessly drawn in and seduced by this amazing world and its characters.  Breathtaking.


LIKE THEIR GOSSIP, LIKE THEIR WINE: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

A pitch-perfect and knowing foray into the bazillionaire world of Asia, complete with designer labels and resort and restaurant names.  A fantastic read that you will finish in one setting.

SOCIAL ACTIVIST: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Animal rights have never been so lyrically and delicately explored as in this captivating book about a woman and her highly unusual family.

INTERNATIONAL: In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar

This Filipino writer illuminates the diaspora of her migrant people with empathy and grace.


FUTURE APOCALYPTIC DYSTOPIA: On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

My former writing teacher and former classmate have both written incredible books about imagined worlds (Gary’s may come true!).  A trope made new by these skillful and graceful writers.

TECH: The Circle by Dave Eggers

What happens when a company thinks it is the answer to everything?  And that company is made up of fallible humans?

Thanks, Janice Y. K. Lee! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one more book perfect for the book club: The Expatriates.

And for custom book recommendations, head to the Penguin Hotline!


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Photo credit: Scarlett Freund

Deborah Harkness, author of the New York Times and internationally best-selling All Souls Trilogy, shares a holiday gift guide with the Penguin Hotline:

Books+: A Hands-On Gift Guide

Books really are the perfect gifts.

I know, I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes, but it’s true. Still, there are some people who claim that they don’t like to read (gasp!). On the other hand, there are also book lovers who have so many titles on their shelves that you might struggle to give them a title they don’t already own.

Here is a list of five titles that can be your go-to gifts no matter if you are giving to a book avoider or a book lover. Even better, I’ve combined each title with a small item that will encourage the recipient to dive in and start making and doing.

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Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford + a box of PrismaColor Premier Colored Pencils

Coloring is a soothing, addictive activity that isn’t just for children any more. Adults of all ages are turning to coloring as a way to relax, unwind, and express their creative side. On my recent family vacation, everyone between the ages of 13 and 80 was coloring. I love Johanna Basford’s coloring books. Her latest title, Lost Ocean, celebrates nature and captures the magic that is all around us, just as her earlier books did. Exquisitely detailed images of underwater life, mermaids, sailing ships, and sea creatures will keep you entertained for many hours. Because the images are so precise, you can’t use crayons but must instead use fine-tip markers or colored pencils. My favorite pencils are the Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils. They come in boxes containing anywhere from 12 to 150 different shades, blend beautifully, and can be layered to produce new colors.

9781594634710 (1)Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert + a Moleskine Classic Unlined Notebook

You don’t have to be a writer, artist, or musician to live a creative life. Gilbert encourages all of us to move beyond the doubts and fears that might be holding us back and live life fully and completely. Written with Gilbert’s characteristic warmth and humor, you will feel at the end of it that you’ve received an insightful and inspiring pep talk from an old friend. To encourage your recipient to tap into their creativity, why not give them my favorite Moleskine notebook so they have a place to doodle, journal, and otherwise capture their thoughts? I heartily recommend the unlined version as the most flexible in terms of format, and the bright turquoise soft-cover never gets lost in my bag or on a table in a sea of black notebooks. It harmonizes beautifully with Big Magic’s cover, too. 

Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan + a Kuhn Rikon 4th Burner Pot

Who doesn’t love a jar of homemade jam, pickles, or chutney? It turns out that you don’t need to own a fruit orchard or feed an army to enjoy home canning. Most of McClellan’s recipes use between 1-2 pounds of fruit and yield three ½ pint jars, so they are perfect for small kitchens, small families, and small batches. Her clear instructions will take you from your CSA box or grocery store to jewel-colored jars of Honey Lemon Pear Butter, Orange Curd with Cardamom, and Pickled Hot Pepper Rings. One of my favorite things about this book is that McClellan recommends a Kuhn Rikon 4th Burner Pot to process your jars of goodness, not a kettle the size of a bathtub. It’s a lot less intimidating, and takes up a lot less storage space.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi + a jar of Sumac

I own all of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, but this is the one that I cook from most often. Packed with beautiful pictures and stories from the cosmopolitan city where many cultures and traditions come together to produce delicious, healthy food like Clementine Chicken and Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad. Some of the spices in the book, like Sumac, are not exactly pantry staples in most cupboards—yet. So get some Sumac from an online spice retailer like Penzey’s or check a Middle Eastern or larger supermarket near you for some of this essential Jerusalem spice. Decant it into a clean mason jar or other container, tie a bow around it, and give it to your loved one with this wonderful book. If you are lucky, they will invite you over for a meal in the New Year.


Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack + Vacu Vin Wine Saver Pump with Stoppers

This is the perfect book for anyone who would like to explore wine or who has struggled to pick out a nice bottle for a special dinner. Written for beginners, Puckette and Hammack have drawn together a lot of information and presented it in an easily navigable format that relies on graphics rather than paragraphs of dense text. With hints on how to taste wine, coverage of grapes grown around the world, and tips on pairing wine with food to bring out its best side, this gift will get a budding oenophile off on the right foot. Since your loved one might have the occasional wine leftovers, give them a set of Vacu Vin stoppers and pump. This gadget will allow your recipient to preserve bottles of wine for a few days without turning to vinegar, encouraging them to keep tasting and exploring.


Wow — thanks, Deborah Harkness! We are bowing down to a gift-giving master. The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend another go-to holiday gift: the All Souls Trilogy boxed set.


 And for more custom book recommendations, head to the Penguin Hotline!


Photo credit: Chet Carlson

Photo credit: Chet Carlson

Craig Johnson, author of the New York Times-best selling Longmire series, shares his top five mystery novels with the Penguin Hotline:


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I still remember reading this book for the first time and thinking, this is what literature is supposed to be. People ask me why Lee never wrote another book. Now we know that she did, but she didn’t have to.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens: I’ve read this opus a couple of times, and it’s like trying to figure out a magic trick that you’ve seen over and over again. No one but Dickens could’ve threaded all those plot lines together in that amazing tapestry.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: People sometimes compliment me for writing in the margins of good and bad, but Dostoyevsky is an author who did it infinitely better with moral ambiguity taken to the extreme.



The Third Man by Graham Greene: One of my favorite movies, but Graham Greene’s book is better.

Sanctuary by William Faulkner: More accessible than the majority of his work, Faulkner called it his potboiler, but I call it one of the most gripping novels I’ve ever read.

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad: There are authors who some of my friends call men’s-writers, but Conrad superseded himself in this one and was finally able to wrench himself from the sea.

Thanks, Craig Johnson! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend the latest Longmire installment, Wait for Signs. Start reading it here.

And for more custom book recommendations, head to the Penguin Hotline!


Celeste Ng (c) Kevin Day Photography

Photo (c) Kevin Day Photography

Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You, shares some of her favorite conversation-sparking coffee table books with the Penguin Hotline:

For me, these books spark stories, but they make great gifts for almost anyone, too: I guarantee people will pick them up to flip through and become totally immersed.

Retronaut: The Photographic Time Machine (Chris Wild) – I’ve long been a fan of the Retronaut blog, which collects vintage color photographs. The photos challenge your perception of the past—but they’re also just delightful, like a shoe-shaped delivery car form the 1920s, or Lyndon B. Johnson driving his “Amphicar” into the water to startle his friends.

Letters of Note (Shaun Usher) – Who can resist reading other people’s letters? From Elizabeth II’s letter to President Eisenhower (sharing her recipe for scones) to Jack the Ripper’s taunting note to the police to the Campbell’s Soup Company’s thank-you to Andy Warhol—sent with a case of tomato soup—every page is fascinating.

Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World (Davy Rothbart) – A collection of intriguing, funny, and just plain odd lists, notes, and objects that give you a glimpse into other people’s lives. One of my favorites: the angry note left on a boyfriend’s windshield that begins “You said you had to work then whys your car here at HER place?…. I hate you” and ends “p.s. page me later.”

Earth From Above: 365 Days (Yann Arthus-Bertrand) – The title is self-explanatory—aerial photos of the earth—but the pictures inside are breathtaking and will remind you of the beauty and diversity on our planet. They’ll make you feel small, in the best way.

Part Asian, 100% HAPA (Kip Fulbeck) – Fulbeck’s intimate portraits of part-Asian people are paired with their handwritten responses to the question “What are you?”–making for thought-provoking reading.

Food Landscapes (Carl Warner) These whimsical, amazingly detailed “foodscapes”–from a Taj Mahal made of onions to a forest of broccoli studded with potato boulders–will delight both kids and kids at heart.

The Art of Clean Up: Life Made Neat and Tidy (Ursus Wehrli) – Swiss Artist Ursus Wehrli likes things tidy—so in this collection of “before” and “after” photos, he’s alphabetized his alphabet soup, sorted his fruit salad, and arranged a group of sunbathers by towel and umbrella color. The results are beautiful and hilarious.

Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food (Christopher Boffoli) – A tiny man mows a neat strip of orange peel; pea-sized poachers pry out strawberry seeds with crowbars; miniature miners hike through a sea of coffee beans—Boffoli’s humorous photos and captions create tiny, mesmerizing stories.

Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton) – Stanton’s streetside portraits of New Yorkers, paired with quotes and anecdotes about each, is pure people-watching in book form: a cross-section of the vibrant, diverse population of the city.

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals (Dinah Fried) – Designer Dinah Fried pairs famous literary passages—from Proust’s madeleine to Queequeg’s clam chowder to the avocado-crabmeat salad of The Bell Jar—with artfully staged photos of each meal. Perfect for foodies and book lovers alike.

Thanks, Celeste Ng! The Penguin Hotline can’t help but recommend one more book that sparks conversation (and, incidentally, would look great on just about any table): Everything I Never Told YouRead an excerpt here.

And for more custom book recommendations, check out the Penguin Hotline!

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Not sure what to gift the little one in your life? The Penguin Hotline has a few suggestions!


For a fun read-aloud:

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

For a heartwarming, multi-generational story in an urban setting (perfect for the kid who rides public transportation!):

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson

For a book that adults love as much as kids do:

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

9780140555837For a no-brainer holiday gift:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

For the budding historian:

Eleanor by Barbara Cooney

For the budding conversationalist:

Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever


For an award-winning, wintertime classic:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

For a good laugh:

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

9780525429678For the one reading chapter books:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

For a preteen-friendly graphic novel:

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

And for custom book recommendations, check out the Penguin Hotline!