Monthly Archives: July 2007

Tote Couture

Alison Morris - July 31, 2007

In my previous post, I mentioned the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows totebags that Scholastic was giving away this year at BEA, ALA, and San Diego Comic-Con. Made from a material resembling "plasticized paper," they are shiny and bright and a bit more prone to coming apart at their cloth-taped seams than their fabric-made cousins.

Here’s a front, back, and side shot of the bag:


And here on the right of this unflattering photo is me in the skirt I wore to our recent Harry Potter celebration, alongside Elizabeth Wolfson, our summer intern, in an apron you just might recognize:

Look familiar? Yes. As is the case with Elizabeth’s apron, my skirt was once a totebag. Two, actually. I happened to have two Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows totebags that were each coming apart a bit along one seam. Being without wizard garb and in need of festive HP7 launch party apparel, I took the bags apart and reassembled them as a skirt using a whole lotta patience and three magical tools — scissors, self-adhesive Velcro, and black duct tape. During our party, my skirt received numerous compliments, all from people who were shocked to learn it was a totebag in a former (earlier that day) life.

I will give you five words of caution, though, if you’re thinking you’d like to sport one of these little totebag numbers: plasticized paper does NOT breathe. I repeat: it does. NOT. breathe. Fortunately I was able to spend most of our HP7 evening in the relative comfort of our air-conditioned store, but even then, let me tell you, my hips have never been hotter (literally, that is — figuratively, I’m not the best judge of that).

Despite the heat, I wore my hot, hot HP7 skirt until the end of our long but lovely evening. As proof, see the photo of me casting a spell of "orderliness" over our late-night, line-forming crowd in "Image 3" of the great event pictures that ran this week in the Wellesley Townsman.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to take photos of each step of my skirt’s assembly, but I’ll list the steps I followed in my next post and hope they’re sufficient for anyone interested in following them with some plasticky totebags of their own. Perhaps you’ve got one of those plasticky Captain Underpants bags you could adapt and wear, making a VERY entertaining first impression. (Can you imagine seeing someone wearing a skirt boldly emblazoned with the words "TIME FOR NEW UNDERPANTS!"??  The very thought of it sends me into a fit of giggles.)

A Bookseller’s Best Friend

Alison Morris -

If there’s one thing booksellers and librarians seem to have scores of, it’s… totebags. (You thought I was going to say books, didn’t you?) My closet at home is cluttered with them, my car holds a stash for all my grocery runs (the eco-friendly bagging option), and my colleague Lorna and I keep a collection of ’em in our office for trips to the library and post office or those frequent occasions when we find ourselves lugging home a supply of books or catalogs for review. Each time we think we’ve got enough totebags to last us for all eternity, someone shows up and gives us another one, making our respective collections grow ever larger. Last week we acquired a totebag from Mariner Books, compliments of John Mendelson, our Houghton Mifflin rep. A few weeks ago I received one from the Bacon Free Library, with thanks for my recent book talk. Before that our supply was compounded by time spent at BEA, which might as well be called Bags Expo America given the number of totebags handed out at the show each year.

I’m not complaining about this surfeit of totes. On the contrary, I find totebags incredibly useful, as do most of us, which is why we have a hard time saying no to new ones, especially those featuring books (or bookstores!) we love. In my dream world I’d be offered a totebag that features To Kill a Mockingbird so I could walk around with Atticus on my arm. And wouldn’t a Clarice Bean bag be fun? (Or maybe a Clarice bean bag?).  How many Kiki Strike books would Bloomsbury have to sell to think it worth creating a Kiki Strike bag, to tote my essential spy supplies? And oh how I wish Kazu Kibuishi would create a Daisy Kutter tote, featuring my favorite gal gun-slinger! (I’ve got Kazu on the brain, as I just finished the galley of his forthcoming graphic novel Amulet and feel confident it’ll be a BIG hit with kids of all ages, mine included. You can see the process of inking and painting the book on the Amulet page of Kazu’s website.)

Our store sells a doozy of a children’s totebag, thanks to the wonderful Peter Reynolds who was kind enough to work with us to come up with a design, before he opened (and designed totebags for) his OWN lovely bookstore, The Blue Bunny. Here’s the bag Peter designed for us:

Our totebags are the traditional cloth variety, sold to us by the wonderful folks at Enviro-tote. In recent years, though, some publishers have switched to giving away bags made from a thinner, slicker material made out of (as best I can tell) some sort of plasticized paper, stitched together with cloth tape along the seams. Penguin created a lovely bag of this nature for their Puffin Modern Classics series and for last year’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Scholastic previously gave away bags of the same material promoting Captain Underpants (one side of the bag boldly announces, "Time for New Underpants!") and this year gave away plasticized paper bags featuring (what else?) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

These plasticky bags are bright, shiny, and I’m guessing a bit less expensive to produce than their cloth counterparts. (Perhaps someone reading this can tell me whether or not that’s the case?) They have the advantage of being (relatively) waterproof. Unfortunately they also have the disadvantage of holding up less well than the cloth variety. Hence the reason we wound up with two brand new …Deathly Hallows bags that were already coming apart along one seam. You might think it a sad circumstance to have two ripped totebags, but one bookseller’s trash is another bookseller’s treasure. I turned those two totebags into a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows skirt that I wore at our big book launch party — a suitable substitute for wizarding robes, if you ask me. In my next post I’ll reveal the DIY magic behind my no-sew Harry Potter skirt, so y’all can make some of your own from the next plasticized totebags that come your way.

Of the non-Wellesley-Booksmith totebags in my collection, my personal favorite is one that Candlewick gave away a couple years ago, to promote The Tale of Despereaux. Like our store bag, it’s black with yellow ink, but it’s larger, much simpler design-wise, and quite sophisticated for a totebag, as it features only the words Candlewick Press and the silhouette of a small (but very brave) mouse. It may not advertise itself as boldly as most, but that’s part of the reason I use it so much. And my using it so much means it’s being seen by far more people than it would be otherwise — a suitable trade-off to the "screaming" marketing tactic, I think.

And you? What’s your favorite totebag? Or how about the ugliest totebag you’ve ever seen? Share your stories, fill us with totebag envy. Tell publishers whether you prefer a zipper, a pocket, long straps or short.

The Writing on the (Bathroom) Wall

Alison Morris - July 26, 2007

Last night Gareth and I spent a fantastic evening at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square. A wonderful old art-house cinema most evenings, the Brattle became a concert venue last night for musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, currently performing together as The Swell Season. The duo’s stars are currently rising at a furious rate, fueled by the success of Once, the new film in which they play the romantic leads, and the turn-out for this concert proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that this pair has truly "arrived." When we got to the Brattle, the "standby" line of people hoping to get into the sold-out show was just as long as the line of ticket-holders. We were certainly fortunate, blessed, thrilled to be in the latter group, as this concert was one of the best I’ve attended in a long, long time.

Last night’s trip to the Brattle afforded me the opportunity to see more than just music, though. I also saw something I come across so VERY rarely: graffiti referring to children’s books. Stop and think for a moment: when was the last time you visited a bathroom stall or empty alleyway and read something about a character from a picture book or a chapter book or even (while it might seem more fitting) a young adult novel? Truth be told, I see this every day, as we’ve got a "graffiti stall" in our women’s room where we scrawl book-related remarks all over the case, but that’s a topic for another post. In this case I’m talking about real, illegal, scrawled-in-a-public-place-that’s-not-a-bookstore-or-publisher children’s book graffiti. Have you seen it ever? No? Then you probably haven’t visited the right-hand stall of the women’s restroom at the Brattle.

In the right-hand stall, on the right-hand wall, someone keen to hold onto cinema gems like this one has written "I love the Brattle!" And below it someone else has written, "Everyone loves the Brattle! Even Anastasia Krupnik," and then there’s an arrow drawn to some explanatory text below it which reads, "in the books by Lois Lowery [sic]."

Upon reading this lovely little note I confess to experiencing two very clear emotions: the first was a secret thrill to have glimpsed an elicit mention of a children’s book, and the second was a prickly annoyance at the fact that this scribbler misspelled Lois Lowry‘s name. I suppose you can’t take the children’s book nerd out of the children’s book renegade.

Have you had graffiti sightings like this? Seriously?  If so, do tell. I once saw "I love Alaska" in the bathroom of a local coffee shop, but, alas, I’ll probably never know if it had anything to do with the Alaska introduced by John Green in his beloved first novel. Knowing how much some people hate Junie B. Jones (as was recounted in today’s New York Times), I can’t help wondering if there aren’t a few unflattering slurs on her name in water closets somewhere. The Fuse #8 (a.k.a. librarian Elizabeth Bird) was quoted in that article, but she didn’t mention having seen any in the Donnell Central Children’s Room, so…? Perhaps at preschools then. In crayon. With invented spellings.

If you want to hear the music that got me out to the Brattle last night, you can watch and listen to The Swell Season tonight (July 26th) at 9:30pm when will be airing a live webcast of their performance at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club. Or you can go take in a screening of Once, preferably at your local independent movie theatre.

Celebrating Harry

Alison Morris - July 24, 2007

All week long I’ve been hearing fantastic stories about fellow booksellers’ Friday night Harry Potter celebrations, and so many have made me wish I could somehow have been in multiple places at once (our store being one of them, of course)!

The Flying Pig Bookstore of Shelburne, Vt., set up a huge tent that featured activities in Divination, Herbology, Wand-Making, and Potions. At the latter, one little guy kept excitedly repeating "I’m a wizard!! I’m a real wizard!!" as he watched his purple cabbage juice change colors and foam before his very eyes. Meanwhile, at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, N.C., a crowd of 2,000 passed the time petting snakes, admiring a beautiful snowy owl, and meeting Harry Trotter, a miniature horse in costume complete with glasses and lightning bolt. The venerable Powell’s in Portland, Ore., had a celebration in the streets and kept a running commentary throughout the evening on the store’s blog. Be sure to take a peek at their very authentic-looking Dumbledore.

Of all the parties I’ve heard about, though, the one that turned me greenest with envy was that held in the town of Sandwich, Mass., home of Titcomb’s Bookshop. Read my next post to see why.

Celebrating Harry in Sandwich

Alison Morris -

As mentioned in my previous post, the Harry Potter festivities I’m the sorriest to have missed last week were those that took place last Friday in Sandwich, Mass. Wonderful booksellers Vicky Uminowitz and Elizabeth Merritt of Titcomb’s Bookshop shared their description of the town’s Harry Potter Day activities, which I’ve reprinted below, complete with photos (many more of which will soon be appearing on their website). I think the town of Sandwich deserves a special prize for being so willing to share their resources, talents and genuine enthusiasm for the celebration of a book!

Here’s what Vicky and Elizabeth had to say:

We had such a fun Friday!! The day began with an opening ceremony at our 1850’s Old Town Hall, which had been transformed by town hall employees into a fabulous Ministry of Magic. Professor Trelawney led the ceremony, our town manager read a proclamation and the Weasley family (children’s librarians from the Public Library) arrived in an antique car from Heritage Museums and Gardens. People met Hagrid’s Fang, a Neopolitan mastiff as featured in the movies!

Next to town hall is our 1600’s gristmill, which became the Shrieking Shack, where an incredible Professor Lupin lurked in werewolf costume – jumping out from the machinery to scare people. Hagrid could be found at the 1600’s Hoxie House where the MSPCA taught about "Care of Muggle Creatures". These museums opened their doors to people at no cost and the curators were delighted with their participation. Heritage Museum and Gardens featured programs all day, including a magician, an herbology class and a search through a maze to find the Tri-Wizard Cup. The Thornton Burgess Society taught potions classes throughout the day and the Sandwich Glass Museum opened their doors for a tour of the magic of glass.

The Wizard Express, run entirely by Sandwich High School librarians and their incredible students, including the entire football team, whisked 1,120 people on train rides from our little train station, complete with costumed characters, games and Platform 9 3/4. In addition, we had 3 Knight Buses (2 trolleys and a school bus) running all around town to take people to their destinations, with characters from the books riding along and interacting with visitors. Every penny raised from the trip will support the high school library, which recently learned that their book and materials budget for next year is $0!!

At the library, people were sorted into houses and the Sandwich Mom’s Group provided free face painting, several crafts for children and Madam Pomfrey, who offered bandages, sunscreen and bug repellent to visitors. Our bookshop had parchment invitations to Hogwarts which children could sign with a quill pen and ink and a fabulous Divination Course run by two expert volunteers. Pumpkin juice and spider legs were served to all. The Sandwich Women’s Group held a bookmark contest at our 3 elementary schools. They printed up thousands of laminated bookmarks, which were distributed free at several locations in town.

Throughout town, businesses were transformed into Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade businesses. We distributed Marauder’s maps encouraging people to visit each business where they had to find a Hedwig owl and get their map stamped. The owls will be the prizes. Five restaurants offered a variety of Harry Potter meals, did some incredible decorations and were jammed all day. This was a great success and was coordinated through the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce. A highlight for me was the performance of gymnastics by the Beauxbatons, a group of Junior Olympic gymnasts, and a Quidditch match by middle school students.

The whole town came together in an extraordinary way to celebrate our community and reading. Almost everything was free and funded with grants from the Kiwanis Club of Sandwich, the Sandwich Visitor Services Board and a local business. The Kiwanis grant included 50 train tickets and 50 copies of the book to be given to children who would not otherwise be able to afford them. Thousands attended and so many people commented on the wonderful sense of community they saw as people came together to make this possible.

The day ended with midnight parties at the Sandwich Public Library and at our store. Somehow, our amazing and very small team managed to provide Flourish and Blotts at both! At the library visitors could have their picture taken in the "Living Portrait" featuring Phineas Nigellus Black, knit hats for house elves and sign an S.P.E.W. petition, make a jeweled goblet, take a ride on the Knight Bus, and stroll down the "Hall of Recall" with objects from each book, including a pensive! At our shop we had tea leaf reading, crafts, trivia, a fabulous cake shaped like a 3D Hogwarts which was donated by a customer, and a wonderful countdown to midnight.

Of course, we were open at 7:00 the next morning!!

Post-Harry Ponderings (No Spoilers Here)

Alison Morris - July 23, 2007

I’m riding on a post-Harry high but battling post-Harry fatigue today. At the store we’ve sold out of books and are scrambling to get more, hoping most of our customers can be convinced to wait until tomorrow when we’ll receive another shipment. What a ride it’s been!

Friday night’s party saw us entertaining a crowd of 700-800 people and thanking our lucky stars that everything worked liked a charm. This weekend found me reading the book from cover to cover and reveling in it. I loved the way Rowling brought it all home for her readers and personally found it deeply satisfying. I laughed, I cried, I called my friend Janet from my CAR (!) so that Gareth, who started reading well after I did, wouldn’t overhear any of the details.

Huddled up in this relatively sound-proof place with the phone pressed to my ear as Janet and I squealed over Rowling’s revelations and shared our sympathies, I felt completely like a kid again — a kid stealing away to swap secret gossip and giggle uncontrollably. I could just hug J.K. Rowling for giving her fans so many moments like this.

In all, I’d describe my entire Harry-filled weekend as "utterly exhilarating." Coming later this week: an account of the HP party I most wish I’d been able to attend, a photo or two from our fiesta, and a how-to on the article of clothing I made for Friday night’s fun.

Why Those Midnight Lines Are a Jolly Good Time

Alison Morris - July 18, 2007

I am really, truly, genuinely thrilled that this weekend I’ll be devouring the long-awaited seventh book about Harry Potter, for two reasons. 1.) I’m looking forward to seeing all those mysteries at last unraveled, and 2.) By that point all the distracting pre-Harry-release-day hype and hysteria will finally be over and the real fun (the bonding and the reading) will begin.

On Friday the wonderful staff at the Wellesley Free Library are hosting a full day’s worth of Harry Potter-inspired activities, followed by a "flashlight parade" to our store, where the festivities will continue until midnight. In compliance with the rules established by Warner Bros. we are not having a full-scale bash complete with fireworks or copywright infringements, but we are having face-painting and food-eating and hat-making and trivia. When the magic hour arrives we will put copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into hundreds (we hope) of hot little hands, attached to kids and adults who will head home to practice the finely-honed craft of binge reading, until they pass out from exhaustion or reach the final page of Rowling’s saga — whichever comes first. It’s a beautiful image, really — millions of people reading the same book at the same time, burning the midnight oil, filling the world with the rustle of pages. But then? Then it’ll be over. And oh, how sorry I am to see this series (and the whole Harry phenomenon) come to an end.

I first fell for Rowling’s charms in 1998, when I was a bookseller at Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore in Indianapolis, IN, learning the fine art of children’s bookselling from the wonderful Shirley Mullin. Shirley was one of those savvy owners who got in on the Harry craze from the start and began importing the books from the U.K., where the Brits had already caught Harry Fever. I remember the absurd rate at which the first two books burned their way through the entire Kids Ink staff and began working their way into the bags of our customers. By the time Scholastic published the American edition of the first book, we were already anxiously awaiting the publication of book 3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The phenomenon of midnight book launch parties began with the arrival of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hooked on bookselling, I had by that point moved to Hanover, N.H. to take the job of Co-Children’s Book Buyer at the Dartmouth Bookstore. I can vividly remember the pains I went to to convince everyone working at our store that this book was going to be a big deal. A HUGE DEAL. A "stay open until midnight" and dress our booksellers in wacky costumes deal. My efforts were more than validated when our line of 600+ customers stretched down around the corner and along the side street, where I yelled myself hoarse, explaining to one section of the line after another how the evening’s events would go, how the line was progressing, etc. That was the year Scholastic under-anticipated the demand they’d have for the books and cut our order without telling us. As a result that was also the year we ran out of books well before we ran out of midnight customers. Our best consolations were the fact that every other store in the Upper Valley had done the same and (more importantly) that our customers were understanding, fine, perfectly happy to have waited in line for two hours, only to be told they’d have to come back in a day or two when we’d have more books to sell to them. Their patience and good-natured acceptance of the situation would be almost unheard of today, but at the time we were all aglow with the feeling that we were part of something huge and surprising and truly magical. Standing together in wacky wizard robes, parents grinning from ear to ear, children giddy with excitement, none of us could quite believe that so much fuss and so much community could be built around a BOOK, of all things.

Now here we are, seven years later, and I recoil at the thought of how customers would react today were any store to run out of books at their midnight celebrations. The rise of the Internet and the superstore has contributed greatly to the desire for instant gratification — the assumption that every store should be equipped with its own enormous warehouse, or at least the ability to ship books overnight at no extra cost.

Today is selling Harry Potter for less money than we (and they) pay to buy the book from Scholastic in the first place. Huge as Amazon now is, they can afford to lose money on every sale of the book, whereas bookstores like ours, like Kids Ink, like all the other independents who were the first to champion this series in its early days, cannot.

What we can provide, though, and will this Friday night, is that same magical sense of community that permeated our midnight event at the Dartmouth Bookstore (now a Barnes and Noble, I’m sorry to say) seven years ago. The UPS driver pulling up in front of your house with an Internet bookstore delivery can’t give you that. The online communities of rabid readers writing their own fan fiction and hatching their own conspiracy theories can’t give it to you either. To truly appreciate the magic of what J.K. Rowling has done to put children’s literature on the map, you have to physically be in the presence of others who have read the books, loved the books, and can’t wait to get their hands on the next one. It’s the same experience you can have, on a much smaller scale, on almost any day, at our independent bookstore and at others like ours; it’s the reason most of us fell in love with bookselling in the first place: bonding over books is a powerful experience. Sharing the excitement of a great story is a tradition that predates even the printed page and will go on long after Harry has gone his way or Voldemort’s way or Neville’s way or whatever direction Rowling turns out to have been leading us.

I suppose this, to me, is the greatest consolation as this chapter in the history of children’s literature closes — that another one will open. And that there will still be, will always be, a place in it for those of us who read good books, recommend good books, and make it our first ambition to share them with you, in person, sometimes even at midnight.

Order of the Phoenix Offers Ample Eye Candy

Alison Morris - July 15, 2007

While I probably qualify as a film buff, I’m not much of a movie-goer these days, and it’s especially rare for me to take in a blockbuster film on opening weekend. Rarer still when it’s a blockbuster adaptation of a book. Feeling the frenzied anticipation of next weekend’s BIG book release, though, I joined the crowd of cinephiles and wizard-wannabes at a Saturday night screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. My hope was that the film would be, like its predecessors, at least moderately entertaining and that (more importantly) it would refresh my memory as to the contents of Harry’s 5th adventure. I’m feeling a rather desperate need to cram for next weekend’s final exam and goodness knows I don’t have time to reread the Rowling canon.

As a refresher course, the film turned out to be a bit disappointing. Many of the book’s sideline plots were, well, sidelined (even more so than in previous films), no doubt in the interest of keeping the film to a reasonable length. There are a couple of benefits to this loss: Harry’s sniveling self-pity, a prominent and at times tiresome feature of this book, is kept to a minimum, and the plot zips along unencumbered by extraneous storylines. It was a bit odd, though, to watch a Harry Potter adventure in which Draco Malfoy appears only in passing and even Snape is given shockingly little screen time. Streamlining the story to this extent may also have been why it had less emotional impact for me than the last film. The death of a major character near the story’s end should have hit home (even though I knew it was coming), but instead I felt this person hadn’t been on screen long enough for me to have developed much attachment to them. What the film ultimately lacked for me was suspense. But the humor and visual effects more than made up for it.

Honestly? I don’t know when I’ve ever said this before, but the images in this movie are SO MUCH cooler (dare I say “better”?) than the images I had in my head while reading the book. The sets (both actual and computer-generated) were so rich with visual detail and so convincingly real that I wanted to laugh out loud with the sheer “completeness” of the scenery. Panoramic views of almost every sight in the film help complete the sense that you could be viewing something that actually exists in the real world. The images of Hogwarts (both inside and out) look good enough to have been stolen from actual castle footage. The Ministry of Magic realistically bustles with activity as wizards walk purposely to and fro beneath a several-stories-high poster of Cornelius Fudge. Rows of prophecies carefully balanced on Department of Mysteries shelves seem to go on forever. Kittens mew plaintively from decorative plates on the walls of Dolores Umbridge’s office, eliciting laughs from the audience each time the appeared. With the exception of the magical creatures who still look digitized (Grawp especially), I was completely taken in by this film’s special effects, and those around me appeared to be as well. The characters in Harry’s world seemed integrally connected to the scenery around them rather than pasted in front of it, making it that much easier to be swept up in their adventures, even for those of us who already knew exactly what those adventures would be.

Frustrated as I am with Warner Brothers at the moment, I must nevertheless admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was a unique thrill to see Harry’s world spring so vividly to life, in ways that even my over-active imagination couldn’t have conjured. The richness of the film’s story pales, of course, in comparison to that of the book, but the richness of its imagery certainly gives Harry’s fans plenty to talk about as we await our final opportunity to travel anew through the magical world of Rowling’s creation.

Hats Off to Hughes, Off the Airwaves

Alison Morris - July 13, 2007

Some of you no doubt felt a pang or two of envy when I shared the news that NPR would be airing "audio postcards" by Mark Peter Hughes as he and his family travel across the country promoting his most recent YA novel, Lemonade Mouth. Your envy might well be replaced by sympathy now, though, as NPR told Mark this week that they won’t be doing the series after all. The producer originally working on the project had to pack off to Alaska and apparently no others were available to take on the task. Talk about a disappointment!

There are a few consolations here, though. 1. ) Mark did make it onto the airvaves in May with a commentary on the act of quitting his job to write full-time, and 2.) The beautiful Hughes brood is continuing their cross-country Lemonade Mouth tour unabated and reportedly with great success. You can track their progress on Mark’s blog, which is replete with entertaining photos of the journey, descriptions of bookstores or booksellers, and funny accounts of Mark learning about things like chaps.

I propose a toast to Mark, who got closer to the NPR dream than most of us ever will, and who’s pursuing the ambitious "cross-country book tour" dream without waiting for a publisher to hand it to him.

Furry Creatures, Poetry Seekers

Alison Morris - July 11, 2007

June and July are two of the craziest months of the year at our bookstore. Between teachers rushing in to spend the remaining money on open purchase orders, schools asking us to provide them with their summer reading books, customers stocking up on enough titles to get their kids through several weeks of summer camp, and (this year) a little thing called Harry Potter, we tend to say no to most authors and illustrators looking to do events at our store in June or early July. We’re just too busy to make room in our schedules, and experience shows that at that time of year our customers are too. It’s almost the opposite of the problem we have from mid-July to the end of August, but the result is the same general stance when it comes to booking events. During that stretch we generally host few if any events, because the town of Wellesley is virtually empty, its residents having packed off to Cape Cod, Maine, or other vacation hot spots.

This year, though, we’ve hosted three children’s author events as exceptions to our "no events" rule, all of them great, if not overwhelmingly well-attended. The first featured not an author but a DOG. Catie Copley, the four-legged star of a new David Godine picture book of the same name, came to our store with her handler, Jim Carey, the Director of Concierge at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, where Catie serves as Canine Ambassador. (I’m not making this up.) During her visit to our store, Catie proved to be anything but Eloise-like in her behavior, and Jim delighted our story time crowd with his reading of the book and soft-spoken answers to questions from the 40 or so children and adults in attendance. The lesson I’ve learned from this event: Busy people will make time for furry four-leggers. (Good to know.)

Last week while I was in Missouri our store hosted two children’s author events that I was very sad to miss. The first was with poet Karen Jo Shapiro, who lives in North Carolina but just completed a month-long stay in the Boston area, where she grew up. She’s written two collections of poetry published by Charlesbridge, the newest being I Must Go Down to the Beach Again, which like its predecessor, features clever, entertaining parodies of familiar poems. Karen Jo’s event had a few things working against it:
1.) We wound up having to schedule it for July 5th, when we knew a lot of people might still be elsewhere, post-Independence Day.
2.) Karen Jo writes poetry, which (as much as it PAINS me) is often a harder draw.
3.) She has two legs, not four.
Karen Jo knew we were up against these hurdles, though, and graciously did her darndest to overcome them. She offered us a program that would truly work out to be an "all ages" event, she sent us an audio clip of her reading her poems to be used in our store’s e-newsletter, she offered to contact local camp and day care programs about her appearance, and she made me dreadfully sorry I wasn’t going to meet her in person to thank her for her willingness to go the distance and her understanding that it might not get us that far. In the end, there were only about six people in attendance at Karen Jo’s event, four of them friends of hers. We nevertheless sold about 15 of her books at the event and in the days before and after, which is probably about 15 more than we’d have sold otherwise. The lesson we’ve learned from this event: Post-fireworks poetry is probably poorly timed but perhaps still profitable.

The day after Karen’s event, though, we had enough people back in town to supply author/illustrator Brian Lies with a larger crowd for the appearance of his fabulous Batsmobile and a "batty beach party" to promote his bestselling picture book, Bats at the Beach. Elizabeth Wolfson, my summer intern from Smith College, sent me a message in Missouri telling me how much she liked Karen Jo Shapiro, Brian Lies, and Brian’s wife Laurel. About the latter two she said, "They were such nice people and totally on top of everything. They parked in front of the store and set up out there, with two tables for drawing and making bugmallows, and beach towels for kids to sit on. Brian did two readings, both with about ten kids plus parents and answered lots of questions. I think we sold about 30 copies of Bats at the Beach! It was great." The (selfish) lesson we’ve learned from this event: Don’t schedule fun events like this one for days when I’ll be on vacation!