One of the nice things about a new year in a bookstore is that, after the climactic holiday season, it really does feel like turning over a new leaf and starting again. And sometimes it creates a nice opportunity to take a new look at something that hasn’t been shaken up in a while.
Ready to party with BookKids event coordinator Eugenia Vela.
One of the defining characteristics of Austin in recent years has been change. Whatever metric you use, whichever tracking you look at, Austin’s growth over the last decade has been explosive and continues pretty much unabated. There are many obvious upsides to that dynamic growth—a growing community of readers for one—but one big downside is traffic, and our store sits pretty much at the center of it all. Austin has such a strong book culture that there’s not really a question, when booking someone as popular as Robin Preiss Glasser, that we can get a crowd. The real question is how to time our events to make it easiest on families who want to attend.
For years we’ve generally stuck to an early evening, post-work timeframe for weekday kids’ events, but traffic can sometimes present an issue. For such a young crowd this seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out an earlier time to bring people in after school but before the evening rush. There were reasons an afternoon time hadn’t worked as well in the past, but Austin dynamics have changed a lot since then. What better way to test it out anew than with a 4PM Fancy Nancy tea party with Robin Preiss Glasser? This afternoon we pulled out our best finery and got ready to party. Special outfits? Check! Cookies and snacks? Check! Fancy mustaches? Check! Continue reading
The potential social, economic and political utility of Amazon’s newly patented wristbands are obvious. As you may have heard, “Amazon’s proposed technology would emit ultrasonic sound pulses and radio transmissions to track where an employee’s hands were in relation to inventory bins, and provide “haptic feedback” to steer the worker toward the correct bin.” The author of the article suggests that “What may sound like dystopian fiction could become a reality for Amazon warehouse workers around the world.” Why term it dystopian, though?
This week we celebrate the publication of the final title in a favorite picture book trilogy: Kobi Yamada’s lovely What Do You Do with a Chance? (Compendium), beautifully illustrated by Mae Besom, whose wistful pencil and watercolor illustrations move from black and white to brilliant watercolor panels as a brave little child tackles the challenges of possibilities, obstacles and uncertainty while facing the future. The two earlier books, What Do You Do with an Idea? (2014) and What Do You Do with a Problem? (2016) are consistent sellers in our store, and we had a list of preorders waiting for this Tuesday’s release.
Personally, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this book, and as I slipped special order forms inside book jackets on Monday night so that staff could make reminder phone calls to customers, I paged through a display copy on the counter, reflecting on each spread and the short sentences they contain like they were written just to me.
In less than a week, 18 of the most important awards for children’s and teen’s literature will be announced live via video feed from Denver, at 8 am on Monday, February 12. Tens of thousands of viewers will be riveted as the American Library Association reveals the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Printz, Sibert, Stonewall, Geisel, Wilder, and many other awards. This is our field’s Oscars ceremony, our Olympics, and while the auditorium won’t contain as much glitter (literally speaking) as the Academy Awards or perhaps quite as much muscle tone as the long track, the literary shimmer and tone will be spectacular.
So sad to miss you, Wi13!
Unlike my ShelfTalker colleagues who were blogging away from Memphis last week, I had to miss Winter Institute this year. I had planned to go, but had an unexpected conflict arise. I always hate to miss the show because of the education and idea starters I always receive there. One of the sessions I had wanted to attend was the ABC Idea Exchange about training general booksellers to hand-sell children’s books, because this is actually something that’s been on my mind lately. One of the most useful things about the ABA education sessions is that they sometimes come along at just the right time to help nudge a simmering brainstorm into action. But even if you can’t go to the show, simply getting some notes from a colleague can help focus your own thoughts and push an idea forward.
If there is anything positive to be found in allowing an intimate interface with technology to atrophy our mental and social faculties, I haven’t located it yet. Which is too bad, because the opportunities for atrophy are profound. Directional senses grow flabby from GPS use, deliveries replace excursions, social discourse is shielded from the rigor of physicality, quotes from books are found via Google search rather than hunted down on the page itself.
My belief that all this dependence is liberating our cognitive faculties for use in higher purposes is circumspect. If, as all evidence suggests, this change is a potent means of mental acuity subsumed in ephemeral connections, then what is a children’s bookseller to do by way of staying in shape? To paraphrase Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, “That’s where Indies Introduce Comes in.”
After an exhilarating, exhausting, and grits-and-bourbon-filled week in Memphis at Wi13, I returned to my little shop to work all weekend on the floor. It was great to be standing and moving around, and it felt good to hear the register ringing and have a staffer complain that we were “almost out of bags AGAIN… !” but the towering, teetering stack of mail and messages on my desk in the stock room simply demanded an office day.
You know about “office days,” right? Those six hour, no, four hour, no, surely-I-can-get-this-done-in-two-hours blocks that an owner/manager schedules herself off the sales floor, sternly reminding her staff not to interrupt while she makes phone calls, processes emails and reports, and fills the recycling bin with all manner of printed notices and marketing flotsam? So here I sit, looking at all this accumulated Very Important Paper, wondering if anyone has made tea, and studiously ignoring the boxes of ARCs that Fed Ex just delivered, my spoils from the show tempting me in all their unread possibility.
I filled in at the bookstore for a four-hour shift this past Friday. Because of travel and the flu, the store was severely short-staffed and I happily helped out, and took the 10-2 pm shift. From 10 to noon I was alone. I found myself enjoying the quiet Friday to myself just looking at the new books (so many yummy ones came in since my last shift!). I fielded special order calls, delighting in the surprise in customer’s voices to hear me on the other end of the phone, exclaiming “I thought you retired!” It was a fun morning.
And then I rang up my first customer. I went to put her credit card slip in the cash register drawer and the key, this simple little key that allows me to access all my register cash, checks, credit cards, etc, had broken clear in half. The remaining part of the key was stuck in the lock of the drawer.
This time of year, cheerful books filled with red and pink hearts pop up all around. And they’re often charming. But as sweet as they are, the picture many of those books paint of love is one-dimensional. Real love is anything but simplistic, a truth beautifully probed in Matt de la Peña and Loren Long’s new picture book Love. This past Saturday we were lucky enough to host Matt and Loren at the store to talk about all the facets of life they layered into their ode to love. It’s truly an incredible book, and one that draws equally from the tender, nuanced rhythms of the poem and the resonant moments brought to life in the art. The love they celebrate is one that’s there in the easy moments and the hard, and one that’s as important in moments of possibility and hope as in moments of loss and fear.
Matt de la Peña’s recent back and forth with Kate DiCamillo in the pages of Time about his journey with this story and his questions about how much to let the dark parts of the world into his writing for kids ended with Kate’s exhortation to writers to trust readers, to see and be seen, and to love and write the world for what it is. After reading those essays and listening to Matt and Loren talk, I have found myself reflecting on their profound testaments to the strength and depth, joy and sadness of love. And it made me think about some other books that go beyond cute hearts to capture something true about that wonderful, complicated feeling. Continue reading
I’ve been on many bookseller education panels over the years but none quite like Wednesday’s “Sensitivity Readers and Free Expression.” It was originally designed to consider an idea that had been proposed, having sensitivity readers in bookstores to inform frontlist buying and train staff. This evolved to more broadly considering free speech issues in the children’s bookselling community. The panel members evolved as well. It went from two booksellers leading an open discussion to a more formal panel with a moderator, that being Chris Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship; Nadine Strassen, Professor of Law at New York Law School and former president of the ACLU; and three of us booksellers. One of the three booksellers left the panel to give a spot to Dhonielle Clayton, the COO of We Need Diverse Books and a noted sensitivity reader and author.
Immediately before the panel Junot Diaz delivered an impassioned keynote address describing the deep harm which the monolithic whiteness of books delivered to young readers of color. In the wake of Diaz’s speech the other bookseller resigned from the panel, leaving me as the lone bookseller.