Rotating through Austin’s big cities, Texas Library Association likes to spread the wealth, so its annual conference only comes to Austin every four years. That means TLA has only been to Austin a handful of times since I’ve worked at BookPeople. I don’t know if I just don’t remember how busy it was the first couple of times or whether our programs have just grown to the point where we can accommodate most of the proposals that come our way, but now when TLA descends on Austin, it unleashes a literary whirlwind that makes the city seem like the nexus of the kidlit universe for a brief, glorious moment.
Andrea Beaty inspires the crowd.
Helping facilitate 16 children’s book events in 7 days with talents such as Alice Kuipers, Ann Braden, Dan Santat, Rhett Miller, Kate DiCamillo, Chris Van Dusen, Ashley Poston, Kathleen Glasgow, Tom Angleberger, Andrea Beaty, Raúl the Third, Adam Gidwitz, and David Bowles, we’ve certainly had our hands full. A schedule this complicated never goes off without a hitch of some kind, but although Tom Angleberger’s flight cancellation caused him to miss his school event, he made sure we got signed bookplates once he arrived so the kids still get something special to take home. Never underestimate the power of a bookplate in a pinch! Continue reading
I have to admit that I only take in life wisdom as a kind of intellectual secondhand smoke. It’s something I overhear or stumble upon rather than read or seek out deliberately. Still, I’m pretty sure that those who dispense the stuff often recommend getting out of your comfort zone, taking on challenges, and doing things that have personal value. That was just what I had determined to do this spring with school visits. My plan was to take on some events away from my Upper and Lower Elementary School comfort zone and bring authors into more remuneratively challenging terrain like Middle and High Schools. I had a two phase plan for this.
After 16 years as a shopkeeper, I have not exactly reached Yoda status, but I do consider myself pretty unshockable. I have witnessed countless tantrums (some by children, some not), been surprised by live animals in the store (remind me to tell you about the lady with the pet monkey wearing a little red cape – the monkey, not the lady) and even once, in the early years, was confronted by an attempted holdup. Why anyone thought that a children’s bookstore would have any actual money in the register on a Wednesday morning is a sad commentary on both the criminal mind and the state of our cash flow. When the unsuccessful robber pointed his gun (pistol? revolver? I should read more detective novels) and told me to empty the drawer, I actually laughed. I was told later by the very stern police officer that my response was totally wrong…. but then again, I’d like to see Officer Perfect handle a packed story time of two-year-olds at the end of a seven-day stretch of days too rainy and cold for outside play.
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If there’s one thing all booksellers search for, it’s the secret ingredient to a great turnout at every event, no matter how famous (or not) the author. We know people will have a great time when they come to an event; authors and books are fabulous, and authors invariably have great behind-the-scenes stories to share. The trick is competing with: nap times, soccer/baseball/insert-sport-here games, birthday parties, vacation travel, bad weather, good weather, school plays, music concerts, nearby festivals, forgetfulness, and general family mood on the day of the event.
But this past Sunday, we found a foolproof, absolutely irresistible lure for any author event.
I posted a couple of weeks ago about the intricacies of planning our school events. But as necessary as all those logistics are, they aren’t the fun part. The best part about going to school visits is seeing all the creative activities the host schools think up to build enthusiasm and make each author’s visit memorable. Last week librarian Erin Bartley and her students at Grandview Hills Elementary greeted Matthew Gray Gubler for his very first day of school visits with this awesome gallery of “misunderstood, delightfully different friends of Rumple,” which was such a charming way to celebrate this lovably strange character. That kind of pre-event effort makes a huge difference. Those kids marched into that event (many with banana peels on their heads) completely amped up to hear more about Rumple Buttercup.
When we host public events, we don’t have that kind of time with our audience in advance, so we have to take a slightly different tack. Of course the attendees for our events are 100% self selected, which helps. But if I’m honest, I’ve seen more than one event lose its audience over the years, despite the author’s best efforts—especially for the picture book crowd. The savage truth is that little kids love books, but they are also demanding and fickle, and they aren’t always excited by PowerPoint. Evening events can be especially tricky at the tail ends of long, active days. That’s why as bookstore hosts, it’s our job to infuse events with our own enthusiasm to help them succeed. Today, with a number of awesome events on the horizon, we took some time to prepare ourselves for the impending fun!
I was away from the shop for a week, and re-entry to the early-morning-opening, no-room-service, shoes-wearing world of retail this Monday was tough. There was a TOWERING stack of mail on my desk, a line of post-it notes in every shade of neon requesting return phone calls right away, and a shopping basket full of damaged merchandise on the chair. My charming, hardworking staff held a clearance sale in my absence (see The Great Escape Sale) and there is a stack of boxes filled with the remainders that need to be dealt with. (Paging: the Island of Lost Toys, and bring that Abominable guy along, would you, to deal with some of these shipping damages?)
I had an ominous number of unanswered emails, a chorus of voicemail messages from sales reps and vendors announcing “the end, the VERY END, of all product promotions if my order was not entered immediately!” and we were out of toilet paper. And packing tape. And no one actually knows what happened in the microwave in the break room, but there is telltale popcorn-scented yellow coconut oil “product” on all the surrounding cartons, and that button you push to get 30 more seconds to rewarm your coffee is no longer a viable choice.
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Sure, we think of childhood reading as a safe activity, free from the kinds of dangers that might befall, say, a tiny skier or a skateboarding prodigy. But there is one danger that affects 4 out of 5 young readers whose reading abilities outstrip their life experiences… Continue reading
It’s officially April, which means two things in Austin: bookmarks and bluebonnets abound! Our annual bookmark contest for grades K-6 brings in so much incredible art each year that I can’t wait to share. The contest also always gives a little glimpse into what’s being read in the schools. What did we see this year? There’s still a lot of love for Wonder and Crenshaw, and there were more than a few Dav Pilkey tributes, but we saw notably fewer Geralds and Piggies than in previous years, for some reason. Sorry guys, kids are fickle. Maybe next year!
It is ten years this April that Elizabeth Bluemle took up the mantle of writing for ShelfTalker. Ten years of sensational posts. The mind boggles! Hundreds and hundreds of varied, insightful, meticulous, moving, entertaining posts. What does she see as she casts the regal Bluemle gaze back across her decade wide ShelfTalker sea? To get an idea I chucked some questions her way.
Kenny: Let’s talk about your prescience. If you could pick one post of yours to appear in everyone’s inbox ten years from now which would it be?
This week is Spring Break for our local schools, and I have ventured away from the shop for a final mom & daughter spring trip with my last high school aged kiddo. As I checked items off the “to do” list last week, visited the bank and the office supply store, and filled the snack basket in the stock room, I thought to myself, “You’ve got this. Your staff is capable and responsible, you have covered all the potential disasters… and it’s SPRING BREAK. No one is actually left in town, anyway. Go have fun.”
My staff IS capable and responsible. They are also energetic and forward thinking, and have already copied and entered all of my future product order confirmations from my email account. They know EXACTLY how much merchandise I have purchased at winter shows, and how much room we need on the sales floor to display all this merchandise. “Cynthia,” one of my best booksellers asked, sweetly, “how would you feel about a clearance sale next week while you’re out of town? We could eliminate some items from the stock room, get rid of some of those boxes of slightly damaged books that you’ve marked “donations,” and just make some space?” And then she uttered the magic, magic phrase. “You wouldn’t have to do a thing. We’ll just take care of it.”