Author Archives: Josie Leavitt

Author’s Stories: Best Heard Over a Meal

Josie Leavitt -- May 28th, 2015

I walked into the Javits Center this morning in time for the adult author breakfast. The room was full and I had missed the crush of people usually waiting to get in. Mercifully, there were seats. Elizabeth and I had paid for the continental breakfast with fruit. We were told straight away by one of our funny tablemates that there was one strawberry and she ate it. Half a stale bagel later, I realized that I had had far too many cups of good coffee, which is actually a good way to start the day on the trade show floor. The breakfasts are always a window into how these writers came to become authors, and there journey is often unexpected, full of surprises and touching. The speakers were Lee Child, Diana Nyad, and Brandon Stanton.

The breakfast was hosted by Kunal Nayyar, an actor from The Big Bang Theory. I do not watch this show at all, but after he was done speaking I was certain I would order his book, My Accent Is Real and Other Things I Haven’t Told You, for the store. He was engaging and very funny about being an Indian in America.  His path to becoming an author was somewhat fraught as was his path to becoming an actor on the hit show. Lee Child was up next and he was also humorous. I loved hearing about how he became an author. He got fired from the job he’d had for 18 years and bought himself a pad of paper, a pencil and an eraser. The next thing he knew, he had finished the first of his 20 Jack Reacher mysteries. I still can’t believe he wrote a bestselling book with a pencil! And it was his first book!

Diana Nyad followed and she spoke  of her swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys that is the basis of her book that’s coming out in the fall, Find a Way. A wonderful storyteller, she roamed the stage and told the incredible story of her upbringing. She spoke about her Greek father showing her the word nyad in the dictionary when she was five, and it meant water nymph, will remain as one of my favorite BEA moments. When she turned 60 she was inspired by the Mary Oliver quote, “What are you going to with this wild and precious life?” Then she decided to try again to make that distance swim again. Part motivational speaker, part comedic storyteller, she was absolutely riveting.

Brandon Stanton, author of the wildly popular Humans of New York series, was so honest and engaging. He said Diana spoke with him backstage before the breakfast and said, “Being nervous shows respect for the audience.” He then told the audience, “I have so much respect for you.” His journey to the bestseller list was one of risk and following his passion. Like Lee Child, he too, had been fired from his job and decided to take photos everyday. Slowly, he got over his fear of talking to strangers and began asking questions of his subjects. He asked deeply personal questions aiming at getting folks to really open up. His talent for photography and for knowing what to ask made his blog grow slowly from hundreds of follows to over a million. When he said that he sobbed in the car for two hours when he found out he’d made the New York Times bestseller list, there was such an openness to him that many folks teared up.

The beauty of these meals is getting to know authors in a very personal way. They choose to share part of their lives with us and for that we are all enriched.

Band-Aids and Advil: Some BEA Planning

Josie Leavitt -- May 28th, 2015

There are necessities for any successful trade show. Proper planning is always helpful. This year, I’ve been aided by Elizabeth’s zeal for organization. We arrived in NYC with a detailed itinerary for our days here. While that was very helpful, I have my own self to blame for the lack of appropriate, comfortable footwear. Why is it that every year I pack shoes that seem comfortable, and they never are? After two hours walking around the Javits Center my sandal-clad feet are festooned with blisters and my bag is full to bursting and my shoulders are throbbing from carrying it all over the show floor. 

Every year I say to myself that I will just forgo fashion and wear sneakers. And when I pack for the show I decide to leave the comfy shoes at home because I’m packing lightly to make room for the galleys and swag. In the space that comfy shoes take up in an airline approved carry-on, I can fit probably 10 galleys and all kinds of other fun things. So, I say yes to books and no to comfort. Luckily the show hotel is a stone’s throw from a drug store (honestly, isn’t anywhere in New York around the corner from a Duane Reade?) so I can get Band-Aids.

Advil is needed because, honestly, trade shows give me headaches. It’s the combination of a lack of fresh air, the endless aisles of books that are almost more than one person can take in, the dance of avoiding walking into people while looking at said books, and the carting around of more things than you need. But ultimately, trade shows are fun. Despite the throngs of people, the blisters, the headaches,  there is such enthusiasm for books here it’s hard to not feel hopeful about the state of industry, and that is a very, very good thing.

Book Expo Kicks Off with Art

Josie Leavitt -- May 27th, 2015

Last night hundreds gathered in the Manhattan Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel for the ABFE Art Auction to Benefit Free Speech in Children’s Books. The art, as always, was stellar. The selections were great, including a special tribute section to Judy Blume who was the evening’s honoree. This gathering has been fun through the years. Every year the children’s auction crowdchanges. In previous years it has been held in the Javits Center in a variety of rooms, some too big, some too small. Sometimes the food was stellar (the show in Los Angeles stands out in particular for great food) and sometimes, well, the food, was lacking.

But regardless of the nitpicky things (though I will always mourn the lack of the mashed potatoes in martini glasses), it’s really about the art for me. To see such a collection of art from kids’ books always makes me happy to be part of this rich world of books.patrick Part of the fun for me with the auction was selling raffle tickets for ABFE. Last year I volunteered to help out and this year I did it again. Fun was had by all the raffle sellers. There was a subtle competition and honestly, ABFE was the richer for it. By the end of my selling time I clearly was tired and just said to Robie Harris, “Just buy some tickets, please.” And God bless her, she did. 

Heading Off to BEA

Josie Leavitt -- May 26th, 2015

It’s that time of year again, when hordes of the publishing world descend on the Javits Center in New York City for the annual BookExpo America show. Booksellers, authors, illustrators, publishers and a host of others involved in the trade will flock to the west side of Manhattan in hopes of finding that one special sideline their store needs, or the book that will make the fourth quarter. This show is about possibility. And it’s virtually impossible to see the entire show floor with a discerning eye alone, let alone attend lunches or educational session. This year Elizabeth and I are heading down together, something staffing has not always allowed. We are eager for the show and look forward to reporting from NYC during the week.

How we buy books now is different than when I first started going to BEA. Eighteen years ago I went to my first BEA and I’m fairly certain it was held in Chicago. It was important to go to the trade show because access to the fall books wasn’t as abundant as it is now. Back in the day, I’d walk the aisles of the pleasantly crowded show floor with a notebook (no easy iPhone photos to help remember), making note of all the new books I thought I’d want to bring into the store. Now, by the time the show comes around, we’ve all seen, if not ordered, a lot of the books, especially the big books of the fall season.

The reasons for going to BEA are different in 2015. So much of BookExpo now is meeting people and less about seeing the books (and with the crush of people on the show floor, it’s almost impossible to actually see the books). Meeting with reps is always good, but it’s especially fun to see these folks off the show floor. The ABFE Art Auction to Benefit Free Speech in Children’s Books is a delightful way to get to know folks. There are a lot of chances to mingle with old friends and talk the retail year thus far, meeting favorite authors and illustrators, and of course, bidding on fabulous art.

I always try to have a goal or two (or five, but I try to keep it realistic these days) for BEA. This year I want to connect with publicists and make face-to-face contact. Sometimes being in northern Vermont can feel very far from the decision-makers in the publishing world. This year the ABA has made it easy by setting a Meet the Publicists Speed dating. In blocks of 12 minutes we get to meet five different publicists from different houses. This kind of access is wonderful. A chance to really convey the store’s enthusiasm for author events with the folks who create tours is a great opportunity.

So, off we go to the big city! What are your goals for this year’s BEA?



New Birthday Party Staples

Josie Leavitt -- May 18th, 2015

Birthday parties are a gold mine for children’s bookstores. Every Saturday morning (and some Friday afternoons if folks are planning ahead) we are usually helping families pick out books for birthday parties. As we help folks find the right gift, I couldn’t help but notice there’s been a shift in the birthday party standards. There are always go-to books for many families. These are the books they love to share with friends: the books that make their kids giggle, the books that families feel good about giving. These are the new classics and I’ve noticed that there are some books that have firmly established themselves as books families want to give in hardcover as treasured presents. The following is a list (in no particular order) of books that are new go-to books for birthdays.

The first book is Flora and Ulysses. Kate DiCamillo knows how to speak to kids and parents alike.flora One mom came in for the hardcover and said, ” I love everything about this book. And how did she come up with all those ideas?”

Another book for the middle grade set that folks just love to give are anything in the TumTum and Nutmeg series. These lovable stories about mice and their world within our world are great fun for any animal-loving child.

Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie books for early readers are outpacing almost all other early readers for gifts by a margin of two to one. Kids just love these and they love sharing them with their friends. The Mercy Watson books are also early reader favorites.

libraryEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a massive kid favorite to give to other kids. They love the humor of it and the sense of adventure.

Any book by Wendy Maas in the 11 Birthdays series is a winner. Kids just love these and they have a broad appeal to many readers.

In the picture book world there is less of a shift away from the old smilestandards. Blueberries for Sal, Where the Wild Things Are, and Make Way for Ducklings still tend to be the lion’s share of what gets gift-wrapped for parties or baby showers. Though I have noticed that The Day the Crayons Quit  is rapidly working its way up the list and is a book we sell for parties a fair amount.

Graphic novels are slowly getting on the list of must-haves for birthdays, and Smile is by far the one we sell the most of to kids to give to other kids.

Readers, what books would add to this list of modern classics that you feel need to be gifted into a child’s library?



The Indie Bookstore Village

Josie Leavitt -- May 12th, 2015

Let’s be honest, no one goes into owning an independent bookstore to get rich or famous. We do it because we love books and want to share our love of them with other people. Independent bookstores are quirkily curated places where book lovers can rejoice and folks new to reading can discover treasures. This is especially true with a children’s bookstore. New readers and their families can sit for long hours reading together and sharing. Older children can get lost in chapter books, middle grade and young adult books. It’s not just about the books, it’s about making connections, deep connections, with people.

Often these connections are not shared with store owners. Not through lack of thought but through the busyness of life. Every once in a while a customer takes a moment to say thank you and give us a window into what our store has meant to their family. This is why we do this. Not for the letters but because we know that this is happening for many, many families. But it is so lovely when someone takes the time to write.

Yesterday, we received an email from a long-time customer that she is allowing me to share here. First a little background. Sandy and her two daughters started shopping at the store when we first opened, almost 19 years ago. Martha is the older sister and Donna the younger one. Donna has just graduated from college! As is the way with children, once they hit high school, they don’t read for pleasure as often; they would still stop by, just not as much. Then college takes them away. So, getting this letter was especially heartwarming:

“I saw Josie recently and invited her to stop by at Donna’s graduation party. I was serious!! We love you both and you have been such important parts of my children’s lives (and mine)! it is at our house, Saturday 4:30 to 9. It is pretty casual. If you do not make it, pardon my sentimentality but please know that I am forever grateful that you opened your remarkable store in Charlotte in time to teach me how to read and share books with my kids!! It does take a village – especially in my case – and you were important parts of our village! You really introduced me to the world of children’s literature. I am an avid reader but neither of my kids were. Martha was forced to read and had to complete a reading log. Reading is such a source of pleasure for me, I hated the idea of forcing this. So I just read to her and Donna. It ended up being this wonderful part of my life with them. Through you two we read all of the classics (and some new classics). I remember meeting Katherine Paterson in the tent behind the store. I remember getting a British version of Harry Potter. And now they both love to read! So thanks. xo”

I had no idea the impact we had on this family. That we had some small part in creating two life-long readers is perhaps one of the loveliest things I’ve ever heard. This is why people open bookstores. This is why we put up with challenges from Amazon and big box stores. It’s all about connections and the very massive ripple effect books can have on someone’s life. Honestly, only an independent bookstore can do this.

So, dear readers, if you have been moved by your local store, let them know and make their day.


Curious George Goes to Vermont

Josie Leavitt -- May 11th, 2015

He arrived in a trunk, a very large trunk. On Saturday there were about 20 little ones eagerly awaiting his arrival. These Curious George fans did not know that Curious George wasn’t real, they really believed him to be a living thing. Usually, there are one or two small kids who find the reality of a six-foot high monkey to be utterly terrifying, but luckily we were spared that this time. Only one older kid tried to spoil the surprise and shouted, “He’s just a guy in a costume.”

Well actually, he, on this day, was a woman. A very good friend of the store eagerly volunteered to beIMG_4403 George for us. She braved the body pod, the furred feet and the round head fabric head that was so big and heavy, at one point she was in peril of toppling over on her chine when she knelt down to high-five shy kids who had their little hands up. Here’s the thing with character events: I always forget how much kids love these. The adrenaline was palpable when I announced that George would be joining us. These kids, especially the youngest in the bunch, truly believe that George is real and their friend, so to be able to meet him was almost more than some could bear. Children were literally wriggling with joy and flapping in excitement as George made his way down the aisle to the picture book section where the kids were waiting.

This event was brought to us by the Children’s Book Council partnering with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on an “Inspire Curiosity Event with Curious George” The beauty of this event was the support we got. The costume was arranged for us and, best of all, the shipping was taken care of by HMH. Because the costumes are so large, the trunk they come in requires special freight which costs upwards of $140. So, to save that much was wonderful. These savings allowed us to get juice boxes (something I always do at events for kids because they cut down on messy spills) and little cupcakes. The event kit for the event was full of wonderful things we could copy and give to the kids, as well as enough sticker sheets (with some glow in the dark stickers!) to give to all the children.

george signingThe key to successful character events, other than promotion, is to give the person in the costume as many breaks as possible so they don’t expire from heat and a lack of air. Really, no one can last more than 20 minutes in the costume and that makes it just about the right amount of time for all the kids to hug or high-five George or get their picture taken with him and then do a craft activity independently from George. Having an escort to guide him is also very helpful. Moving in these costumes isn’t easy, but our George was great, dancing around and then standing outside the store waving at passing cars. This might have been the funniest part, as cars packed with teenagers were waving and smiling, and truckers were blowing their horns. There was something so lovely about adults just smiling and being utterly surprised and delighted.

Finally, the real joy of an author-less event is not worrying about having enough books (we had a good cache of Curious George books) or if attendance will be sparse. Of course, you always want to have a packed event, but the pressure of not having to worry about disappointing a real person does make the event more enjoyable. In the end I think really, seeing 25 kids hugging George was worth it, and even our friend, sweltering in pounds of fabric, agreed.


The Glorious Smell of Books

Josie Leavitt -- May 8th, 2015

It is something that I take for granted every day – the smell of books. I live with the smell and I love it. All books, especially new books, have a wonderful smell. Customers, children in particular, often exclaim within in minutes of entering, “Oh, I love the smell of books.” There is so much loveliness in that statement.

I was reminded of the tactile joy of books when a 10-year-old girl came in earlier this week. She was with her father and younger brother and quickly went to the middle grade section. After a few minutes I went to see if she needed any help. She smiled up at me and said that she was looking for “… a good story.” I started talking about a few books. Unlike some kids who are listening to a book talk and won’t touch the book, as if it’s on fire, Emma held the book. She sniffed each one as I spoke.

Her bright eyes crinkled in a smile when I gave her Where the Mountains Meet the Moon and told her to feel the paper. She felt it (if you don’t know the book, the paper is heavier weight and there are gorgeous color plates for all the chapters) and just beamed. Here was a book lover in the making. She cared about the quality of the paper and knew the difference. Yes, she loved the stories and truly enjoyed reading. But she’s reading on a tactile and olfactory level as well and that just heightens the pleasure of holding a book in your hands.

I see customers sneak sniffs of books all the time. Just as Emma did. The smell of books varies. Generally, mass market books don’t smell as good as hardcovers or at least paperbacks with a deckled edge that make it look cut by hand. Some books smell like linen, others smell like a chest discovered in the attic, full of secrets. And each is unique to the reader. All book lovers can talk (or write) for shockingly long times about what the smell of books means to them. The reason we do this is we are comforted just holding a book. I was thinking about other daily objects that I use that give me the same feeling. Nothing even came close.

So, go treat yourself to a new book this weekend. One that smells just right.




The New Bookstore Dog

Josie Leavitt -- May 4th, 2015

One of the joys of owning a bookstore is the ability to bring a dog to work. Dogs and bookstore generally are a great fit because dogs like to hang out and most people’s faces light up when they see a dog, especially a puppy, at the store. It’s been almost two years since my old dog, Ink, came to the store. Last week I got a six-month old rescue puppy, Allie, who has been coming to the store. No one is really sure what kind of dog she is, but she appears to be part lab, part whippet and part something else. I do know that she is adored by staff, and customers are alliestarting to get to know her.

Here’s the thing about dogs and small town stores: everyone is just so happy for me. News has spread very quickly that there’s a new dog at the bookstore. People come by just to hi to Allie. Folks see me walking her in town and honk (which terrifies both of us) and wave. People bring treats in their pockets to meet her. They come in and ask how she’s settling in and scratch her head.

Allie has an expressive face and there’s very little that you don’t know about what she’s thinking. So far, she’s been great about not chewing books, but she has discovered our bookstore notebooks (for consignment, invoices and wish lists) and for some reasons finds their recycled covers absolutely yummy.  And when caught in the act of chewing something or doing something “bad” she just gets this look on her face like, “I’m not really doing anything bad. It just looks that way.” And it’s hard to not chuckle at her when she’s got an innocent look on her face and cardboard stuck to her muzzle.

allie and meThe bookstore staff has welcomed her with open arms. While she’s not a barker, she is very bonded with me and if I leave the back area she gets anxious, which isn’t fun for anyone. She also has the legs of a high jumper which makes her anxiety worrisome if she ever decided to bound over the puppy gate by the registers. We have a Dutch door for the office, so she can still hear what’s going on but can’t leap into the register area. I have to remind myself that it’s only been a week and actually she’s doing remarkably well. And honestly, the best part of having a dog at the store again is being able to take puppy breaks and walks.

In a very strange coincidence, at least three other people who either used to work for us, or work next door to us, have all gotten puppies, so it’s a regular canine play group some days! And, we’re selling heaps of The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete.


Vermont Bibliophile Heaven

Josie Leavitt -- April 27th, 2015

All of us at most bookstores do more than our regular jobs. I am the newest member of the board of the Pride Center of Vermont and our annual celebration is on May 8th. I have been working hard to gather auction prizes. This year the auction is decidedly bookish and totally fun for bibliophiles.

I reached out to Chris Bohjalian (one of the truly lovely things about Vermont are the great writers we goinghave here and how easy it is to get to know them) to see if he would donate a visit to a book group as a prize. He responded with an enthusiastic yes, but offered up a different idea. “How would you like to auction off: Be a character in a bestselling novel?” I thought that was a fabulous idea and so did the rest of the board. This item is going to be the grande finale of the live auction. Can you imagine having a character named after you in any book? Let alone a book that, if Chris’s track record holds, will not only be on the best seller list for months, but will never go out of print?  What a great tribute to a loved one or something fun to do for yourself.

But the book donations don’t stop with Chris. Kim Fountain, executive director of the Center, had a good idea for a Vermont Bookstore Tour as a package. There are so many wonderful independent bookstores in Vermont that this seemed like a great idea. Of course the Flying Pig donated a gift certificate, and then I reached out to my friends. I had a storytelling gig at Bridgeside Books in Waterbury, and Hiata happily donated a gift certificate. Then I got smart and posted my query on the NECBA listserv and Village Square Books way down in Bellows Falls donated. Northshire responded immediately by mailing a sizable gift certificate the very next day!

I hadn’t heard from some stores and didn’t really think anything of it other than they were busy or had maxed out on their charitable giving for the month of May. Geographically, to complete the loop we had already, I really needed a store in Rutland or Middlebury. Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury was my choice, but I hadn’t heard from them. So I ordered a gift card online and paid for it myself (I’m learning that board members do this) designating the “from” part to be the bookstore itself. When Becky Dayton, the owner of the store, saw that she called me immediately. I explained what I was doing and she said,”Of course we’ll donate a gift card.” She refunded my $50 and mailed the donated card to the Pride Center that very day.

I have been heartened by the response from Norwich Bookshop as well. Liza Bernard emailed yesterday and asked if it was too late. I replied back a very happy, No!. And she’s mailing her gift card tomorrow. Everyone has been so wonderful about this package. Supporting the largest LGBTQ organization in Vermont while supporting independent bookstores just seems like a win-win for all involved. And, add to this the number of inns and cafes who have also donated along the indie tour route, this package is just amazing.

I’ll be wearing my auctioneer’s hat at the benefit and will be smiling the whole time as I try very hard to create a bidding war for these two book-related lots.