Last year, my son came home from kindergarten with a “Good Citizen” award. It was a cute little acknowledgement for doing something nice for someone else that entitled him to a gift certificate at a neighborhood hamburger place. He could not have been prouder walking in to redeem his reward and get his congratulations. It struck me as such a sweet way to make kids feel special and feel seen, and I had a thought: What if we could help do something like that, but for readers? We do a lot of work with schools—sending more and more authors out every year for incredible events, booktalking in classrooms, offering curated local bookfairs, partnering on large district-wide festivals and events—but maybe we can do a little more to build pride in individual readers who need some acknowledgement?
I sent out exploratory emails to some librarian friends at the end of last year for feedback and then worked with Tomoko Bason, our art director, to get some eye-catching cards designed. We went with two designs, one for younger kids who might be more excited by the idea of being called a Star Reader, and one for older kids who might prefer a less “cutesy” approach. For the kids who come in to redeem their cards, we’re keeping colored stars on-hand that they can write their first names on for celebratory display. I’m imagining that will be more appealing to the younger kids, but anyone who wants is welcome to put up their own. We’ve often done this for summer reading programs over the years, and I love seeing all the names fill in. So I can’t wait to see these special stars start to go up. Continue reading
Sofonisba Anguissola Self-Portrait (1556)
The exceptional quality of several picture books released recently found me possessed of the belief that we are living in a time of unique excellence. It is perhaps wise, however, to suspect that our sense of the moment we live in, as compared to other points in time, is less than accurate. Every generation has felt that the previous generation was more moral than the current one, that teenagers are running wild, and that the world is being ruined by innovation. These perspectives can’t be perpetually true, of course, but the fact that they are always current is itself instructive.
Nonetheless our perception of the present moment, for good and for bad, can’t be discounted out of hand either. To find out if there is any merit to my belief that the present moment is an exceptional time for picture books I endeavored to ask someone who would know, an expert from another time period. I put the issue to the fabulous Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola.
(phone ring) “4 Kids Books & Toys, how can I help?”
“Hi, do you have any books about building roller coasters? For a six-year-old boy? And his birthday is Thursday, so I don’t have time to order.”
“I can help you. Thursday gives us lots of time. Does he already have any books about roller coasters, so that we don’t duplicate titles?”
Ahhh, the magic of special orders. With two wholesaler warehouses within one day of our store on a delivery truck, we have the luxury of racing against the mighty online behemoth to keep our customers well read and gifted. In fact, in our employee training notebook, we instruct our new booksellers to say that books not in stock “are in the warehouse, and can be brought over” rather than “ordered.” Customers who may be loathe to commit to a “special order” (which for some reason sounds like a big deal) are perfectly content to have a book or two “brought from the warehouse and held behind the counter.” (Semantics, thy name is retail.)
Seventeen years ago, when the horrific events of September 11 unfolded in front of us, we were at first speechless. We gathered loved ones close and tried to make sense of what had just happened. In the weeks following that tremendous tragedy and loss, people came to the bookstore looking for comfort. They weren’t even necessarily seeking a book; they simply wanted to be surrounded by books, by calm, quiet, familiar and beloved books depicting a world they thought they understood. Parents asked us for recommendations for books to help them talk with their children, and children found comfort in returning to happy, safe, gentle books like Ramona the Pest and Ginger Pye and Understood Betsy.
Today, our nation is in a very different place than it was nearly two decades ago, and yet our national stress levels are at another high. People are once again seeking refuge in bookstores. This time, their comfort reading—though it really can’t be called that—is entirely different.
It’s only 57 days until our country’s mid-term election. Now is a good time to put out a display to encourage voting, both for our youngest customers who are future voters and for their parents and other family members who are eligible now. Maybe some of us have ongoing displays encouraging civic engagement for all ages and maybe some of us only trot out the election books and voting booth decor during presidential election season. Continue reading
Last year’s BookPeople catalog proofs.
The BookPeople holiday catalog is a big production. Every year, booksellers compete to have their essays featured along with themed photo shoots to accompany the buyers’ curated holiday gift guide. It’s not exactly a strict best of the year overview, though there’s certainly a lot of crossover with our end of year lists. It’s more designed to express our personality as a store as we offer our own gift picks for every type of reader, across age, style, and genre. The catalog really drives sales for us in November and December, so it’s worth putting in the time to make it as good as we can. It’s a fun but slightly overwhelming task. Continue reading
As red leaves begin to appear beside their green neighbors, and cool nights draw the warmth from area lakes, it was clearly time to make my annual visit to Autumn in the hopes of getting some insight into which books published this Fall will be most worthy of our attention.
Kenny: Thank you for setting aside some time for us, Autumn.
Kenny: Well, straight to it then. Perhaps you can share your top picks of the Fall season?
Autumn: Why are you speaking in generalities? Are you not aware that this is a pivotal Autumn?
Kenny: I am not. Pivotal in what way?
Fall festival season has begun in Indiana, in which local towns celebrate sunny, parade-filled weekends with gala celebrations like “Sunflower Fest” and “Holler on the Hill Festival” and my personal favorite, “Irish Fest,” for the best brew consumed while watching dancers and sheep herding exhibitions. My family attended “Old Fashion Days” in neighboring North Salem, Indiana, over Labor Day weekend, and we were treated to both hand-dipped ice cream and pork tenderloin sandwiches washed down with Lemon Shake Ups, as well as Main Street Bed Races and a tractor parade. Driving back home, stomach full and thumbing through my just purchased spiral-bound church cookbook (I’m a sucker for recipes with Jello and sour cream), I thought about the fall fests that occur in the aisles of our stores this season, as likeminded folk gather to browse and (sometimes) buy books. I’m sure your stores all host the following, too:
For major holidays, publishers release books on a reasonable timeline; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Independence Day books arrive roughly when we expect them to start being in demand. Sure, we get some Halloween books in July and Christmas books in August, which is much earlier than I like to face the holidays, but on the whole, books ship on a schedule that makes sense. But for less specific seasonal offerings, release dates often stump booksellers.
Every year, we encounter books published mysteriously out of season: camping stories that come out in September, for instance, missing an entire summer’s worth of heightened sales. Or books perfect for summer beach reading rolling out in February, or late August, just too early or late for their optimal readership. It’s not that the books go unread, but their prime selling season seems to be lost, unnecessarily so.
One of the perks of being the parent of young children as well as a children’s bookseller is watching the reading experience from both sides of the fence in real time. As booksellers, we hear a lot about reading level, and for good reason. Matching the right kid to the book that’s the right fit at the right time is invaluable. When I was a kid, my mom gave me The Wind in the Willows to read on my own just a little too early, perhaps forgetting the complexity of the language within. Even though I was a voracious reader, that book sat on my shelf for a long time, untouched, as I refused to return to the story that had daunted me. But then, at a certain point, it became my favorite.