Monthly Archives: September 2009

Fall Shopping Patterns

Josie Leavitt - September 14, 2009

Last night, I was all set to work on my post about the change in bookstore shopping patterns with kids in school. I work on a laptop. I love my computer — it’s easy, it’s portable and the keys light up when it’s dark. I love my laptop except when I accidently dump a microbrew on the keyboard. It was a sad, sad moment when I realized that not only was my keyboard no longer lighting up, my entire computer practically sizzled to darkness. Compounding the problem was my eagerness to dry the computer off, with a hair dryer (not something I recommend) which caused me to literally melt four keys off my keyboard. So, now I am staying at work late to recreate my blog post.

I wanted to talk about the change in kids and shopping patterns now that school has started again. The biggest change for the Flying Pig is that for the first month or two of high school, we seldom see our usual teenage readers. I feel bad for them. They have so much homework, they have no time to read for pleasure. Throw sports practice in the mix and sometimes we don’t see these kids until Christmas break. While there is a dearth of adolescents, there is a fairly large upswing in newly emergent readers.

This time of year our sales of leveled readers and chapter books goes up. I’m stunned anew at how quickly kids learn to read and how fast they can progress from a struggling reader to a fluent one in a matter of months, sometimes weeks. Parents are happy — thrilled usually — to support their new reader and start building a library of "read-alone" books when the time comes. What I like about this age is the kids are expressing opinions about what they’d like to read by themselves and what they still want read to them. As the nights get cooler and dark descends earlier, the tradition of families reading together can really take hold without the distraction of summer’s light and activity.

Parents come in the store and can actually browse at their leisure. There are no kids pulling them in different directions, no little ones demanding attention during the school day, so they can take sometime to be thouhgtful about the books they will add to the home library for the kids and themselves. These browsing adults suddenly want harder books to read. Gone, very rapidly, are the lighter books of summer. It always amazes me how quickly people’s reading shifts when the weather changes. I suspect a lot of that is driven by the great adult releases of the fall. (And if you’re not aware, this fall is shaping up to be one of the best I’ve seen in all my years of bookselling.)  I guess as the kids go back to school, parents can find the time to read.

Teachers, of course, come in to fill out their classroom libraries. What I love about this is that the teachers take the time to get to know their students and then they come in to supplement their libraries. Teachers with a list thrill me. They’re organized and I really just have to point them in the right section and they’re filling their baskets.

And finally, the last category of shopper here in New England is the leaf peeper. They come to see the leaves change color. These guys generally plan ahead. While the leaves haven’t started to change yet, the peepers are already here, waiting. And buying Christmas presents.

Alison’s Getting Married!!!

Josie Leavitt - September 11, 2009

Yes, it’s true, ShelfTalker blogger extraordinaire Alison Morris is getting married this weekend! Exactly a year to the day of her engagement, our lovely Alison is marrying the very talented illustrator Gareth Hinds. Really, never have two people been so well suited to each other. We’re already envious of the library these two will have, not to mention the craft center. It makes us very happy, and awfully sentimental, when two people do the right thing and decide to spend the rest of their lives together, like you know they should.
The happy couple on their engagement day.

Please join us in wishing Alison and Gareth a long and happy life together!

A World Full of Color

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 10, 2009

Hoo boy, have I got a great list of books to share with you!
Ever since the August 27 ShelfTalker post, Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?, I’ve been immersed in the ongoing conversation about—and search for—contemporary books featuring kids of color that aren’t primarily about race. The response to that post was terrific, a heartening reassurance that a lot of people throughout the industry care deeply about this issue. But I also heard from so many authors and illustrators, teachers and librarians, booksellers, editors and publishers, all working toward a similar goal, who have been “shouting into the wind” far too long, trying to draw attention to these books and the need for more of them. That’s frustrating and disheartening.
The good news:
a) The Internet has enabled public gathering places (like this blog and many, many others), where cross-cultural communication is so much easier than it used to be. (“Cross-cultural” here refers to bookselling, teaching, library, publishing, artist, author, etc., cultures, although the other meanings are also applicable.) Getting the word out about great books featuring kids of color can hit mainstream channels, if we all take care to do it.

b) There are some really great titles out there. From my own research and the many helpful resources people have shared with me since the post, we’ve got a very promising list of new and recent titles featuring contemporary kids and families of color where race is not the main issue. The 2009 list is growing, there are some 2010 titles on their way, and I’ve added a large pre-2009 section. More on this in a moment.
c) The world is changing. As the U.S. population continues to diversify, so will books. (If there are any actual books left, that is. Ha ha. Ouch.) Soon, soon, I hope, publishers and illustrators won’t think twice about including kids of color as a matter of course in their illustrations and book covers, avoiding the “one Asian, one Caucasian (usually placed centrally, and/or larger than, the other characters), and one black kid” triumvirate that doesn’t really do anything except trumpet the fact that the book is trying to be politically correct via a cliché image.
A corollary to this is that some day soon, marketing departments will need to stop doing an end-run around the cover-art question. By this I mean the attempt to overcome the (lamentably very real) challenge of selling book covers to white audiences by obscuring or omitting race from book covers. They may show characters from the back, or blur them, or use such extreme facial closeups it’s hard to work out race, or use only the white character on the front cover of a book that equally features a character of color. The new cover of E.L. Konigsburg’s Newbery Honor book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (shown at left) goes this route, and the image has a lively quality, but it ignores the heart of the book: the friendship between Jennifer and Elizabeth. I’m not sure my nine- or ten-year-old self would have picked up the new cover, but the original image (shown at right) drew me in immediately. As an adult, it made me sad to see that Jennifer, the dominant figure in the friendship, had disappeared from the 2007 edition, and to think about the probable reasons for that decision.
I understand the impulse, and often, it works—not only because of latent (or blatant) racism, but because book covers have shaped reader expectations. As Carol Chittenden astutely pointed out in her comment on the Ramona Quimby blog post, perhaps part of the problem lies in what readers have grown accustomed to expect from books with kids of color on the cover: “I would have to voice some sympathy with publishers who soft-pedal skin color in cover designs. I often see older customers’ faces cloud over when I present such great books as Elijah of Buxton, and they dismiss it with, ‘I don’t think he’d relate to that one. What else can you show me?’ Kids seem to have far less of a problem with that, and when the cover figures are a group, a mix doesn’t seem to be an issue. There’s such a strong assumption that if the character on the cover is dark-skinned, the book is about race.”
I think we have a chance here to continue changing public perception. We need to keep talking, and back up our words with actions. Let’s not make lazy assumptions about what kids will and won’t read, and what adults will and won’t consider buying. This goes all the way from authors and illustrators to agents and editors, publishers and marketing departments, then booksellers, teachers, and librarians. If we all shift a little, a lot can happen.
d) Editors tell me they are looking for great books featuring kids of color, and not just for historical fiction. Some have told me they aren’t getting many good manuscripts fitting this description. To me, this means that agents need to step up to the plate and rep those authors and illustrators of color whose work they love but haven’t represented for fear the market won’t buy. The market is already here; we just have to reach it.
And now for the books that DO exist: TA-DAH!! Our WORLD FULL OF COLOR list.
There are lots of great books, I’m happy to say. Not enough, by a long shot, but this discussion has brought to light dozens of 2009 titles and scores of pre-2009 titles, not to mention a nice starting handful of 2010 titles.
I’ve spent a ridiculous number of hours on this list, tracking down books, adding titles and tags and trying to find the best way to catalog and list them. Grateful thanks to all of you who wrote in with title suggestions, publishing links, and book-review sites specializing in books by and about people of color.
After trying several different options, I finally chose to host our book list. You can use it without having to register, it’s incredibly flexible, it provides book covers even in the printable version of the lists, and it allows users to add their own comments, tags, and book information to the book records. It acts like a Wiki without the learning curve. You can sort and organize the books in a myriad of ways. Josie tells me I’d bore you to sobs trying to explain all the cool things LibraryThing can do, so I’ll just provide the link and let you guys check it out. It’s very intuitive. You’re welcome to ask me questions in the comments section here.
Please keep in mind that this is a work-in-progress, and that I’m sure I’ve made some tagging whoopsies along the way, particularly with the categorization of 48+-page books that don’t quite fit our usual definitions of picture books, early readers, or chapter books. Feel free to email me with corrections — or, better yet, make them yourselves in the Common Knowledge section of each book. I think I also went a little nuts and included some titles that are more about race and ethnic heritage than the original intent of this list. But better to err on the side of inclusivity, I think.
Finally, please let me know when you come across more books that fit the bill, and I’ll add them to LibraryThing.
In the meantime, for two extremely thoughtful, lively articles about race, check out Mitali Perkins’s blog post about race and class in The Hunger Games, and Newsweek‘s article about how well-intentioned parents who never mention race to their children are actually contributing to racism. The article is called “See Baby Discriminate: Kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color. What’s a parent to do?” and it’s an eye-opener.
Thanks for continuing the conversation. You can also link to the library here:

Pushing the Seasons

Josie Leavitt - September 9, 2009

Fall is truly a glorious time to be a bookseller. The boxes of yummy frontlist just keep pouring in, waiting to be shelved. One thing that comes in with the great new releases are Christmas and Hanukkah books. Sure, they’re just as delicious, but it’s only September.

I’ve been selling books now for thirteen years and it just seems to be that holiday books come earlier every year. And every year, I’m faced with the dilemma of putting them out when they come in, or waiting for the weather to at least be below 50 degrees. For some odd reason, there are people who want holiday books — and cards! — in August.  I just can’t bring myself to do it. Rushing the season, having Christmas books out with the back-to-school display, just seems wrong.

I don’t want customers to feel the sinking dread I do when I walk into my local drugstore in late July and the Halloween candy is already out. Deep down, I think we all feel it, it’s just wrong. In this speeded-up world, where we’re attached to our BlackBerrys and iPhones and people get mad if you don’t respond to an email within the hour, why are we pushing seasons fully three to four months before they’re actually here?

Halloween and fall books are perfect for right now. The kids are back in school, there is a crispness to the air that puts a happy smile on most faces. It feels right to set up a display of these books, but not Christmas. There’s not even any hope of snow or more than a freak frost right now. Reindeer would suffer in the warm weather, Santa’s still making toys, it’s just wrong. Why must people feel the need to plan so far ahead?

But, I work in retail. I think I can no longer cling to my ethos of "no Christmas display until after Thanksgiving." Our first few years in business, that worked – I even had customers thanking me for not rushing the seasons. But I fear I might have to cave-in to customer pressure and potential lost sales, and put my Christmas books out earlier.

Gotta go, I’ve got a display to do.

The Death of a Library

Josie Leavitt - September 8, 2009

It was with shock and horror that I read the "A Library Without Books" article from the Boston Globe when my friend Vicki Uminowicz posted on the New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council listserv late last week, about a prep school outside of Boston almost gleefully removing all the books from its library.

It seems that headmaster James Tracy looks at books as purely outdated technology, “like scrolls,” he says. So he removed all 20,000 books (mostly he’s given them away to other schools that still use and appreciate books – at least he’s done one thing right) from the library and is creating, instead of stacks filled with books, a multimedia electronic center. The main feature of this new world is a coffee shop. A coffee shop, at a prep school! Do you think it’s more important to get a good latte or maybe be able to actually touch a book, to look at a great image, to pore over an index looking for help with your mid-term paper? To quote the article:

In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine… they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Okay, so let’s do some math here: this new world that will make our students better by giving the best technology money can buy, the school is spending $12,000 on a cappuccino machine and only $10,000 on E-readers. Seems to me the school wants to be a Starbucks and not a place of learning.  Oh, and if you’re one of the 450 students who aren’t able to check out one of the 18 E-Readers, then it’s suggested that you read all your texts on your computer. Yes, the same computers where kids instant-message several friends simultaneously while checking their Facebook accounts. I really wonder just how much these poor kids are going to be able actually learn competing with everything else on their computers.

I just can’t imagine paying $41,825 (last year’s tuition at Cushing Academy) and not having any actual books in the library. As a prospective parent at this school, what would matter to me would be not the state-of-art e-readers available to 4% of the student body, or a top-of-the-line cappuccino machine (how many parents really want their growing kids having such ready access to caffeine?), the flat panel screens that make surfing the web cool, and Facebook pages all the more enjoyable, or being told to research on the web, which is often full of bad sources that often cannot be verified without using a book (many colleges have forbidden use of Wikipedia entries in any research papers).

Clearly, this issue strikes close to my heart. I cannot imagine walking into a “library” and not finding anything to thumb through, to hold and to smell. Books are our history as well as our future. To abandon books altogether in favor of flashy technology seems short-sighted and foolish. There is no middle ground, so smooth transition, no try-out period. Just one man’s opinion that books are worthless in the school setting (my English teacher is rolling in his grave) and boom, they’re gone. I am so angry I can barely see straight. But I’m an even-handed blogger.

In fairness, I’m giving a link to a speech by headmaster James Tracy defending his reasoning for the removing all the books. I just think he’s so in love with himself for abolishing the library as we know it, opting for computers, what he calls “Portals to Civllizations,” that I can find no points that sway me. And finally, the last paragraph really sums up what he thinks: This is the future. All those who fail to get ahead of this curve, embrace its possibilities, and try to optimize its potential for humane and humanizing contingencies, will face certain reduction to irrelevance within ten years.

I cannot imagine that the book will become irrelevant in ten years. I suspect what’s more likely to happen is headmasters who become so enamored of riding the latest technological wave, and are so full of hubris, will find themselves obsolete far sooner than ten years. But at least if James Tracy finds himself without a job when parents realize books are good and vital, he can get a great cup of coffee on the way out. 

Can ‘Reading Rainbow’ Be Saved?

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 4, 2009

The incomparable Barbara Seuling sent me a link to a petition circulating in an attempt to save the beloved Reading Rainbow program; WNED-TV, which currently produces the show, can’t afford to renew the rights to the Reading Rainbow books.

This is a real loss for children and education. The television show that brought books to life in the homes and schools of millions of children—many of them without access to books of their own—is over; the show stopped recording new episodes in 2006 and its reruns ceased airing on August 28 of this year. The show won 26 Emmy awards and a Peabody Award for excellence in children’s programming over the course of its 26-year history.

I thought many of you authors, illustrators, editors, teachers, librarians, and booksellers—not to mention publishers, who hold the rights to these books, *cough*—might be interested in reading the petition and perhaps signing it, and contributing in other ways to the survival of a very worthy resource for children.

Here’s the brief petition text; you can read more about Reading Rainbow at the PBSKids website and at the Reading Rainbow website of GPN, the company that conceived and developed the show.

The Care2 petition site‘s text reads:

Between August 27 and September 1 over 500 people signed Part 1 of this petition, which is now closed and on its way to PBS. It contains many thoughtful and heartfelt comments from librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, parents, grandparents, young people who grew up with the the program, and other supporters. Won’t you join them? If you would like to add your name and comments, please sign Part 2, which will be delivered on Friday, September 18. Here’s why: On Friday, August 28, many public stations had to close the book on the Emmy-winning children series ‘Reading Rainbow,’ hosted by LeVar Burton. ‘Reading Rainbow’ — which halted production in 2006 when funding ran out — officially ended, 26 years after its 1983 premiere when its contract expired at the end of the week. This excellent program supports caring for the Earth and values diversity, and of course encourages reading in an attractive and unique format. It should be included in all public stations’ daily lineup.

Our ‘Catching Fire’ Party

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 3, 2009

Our Catching Fire release day party was the perfect example of how Josie and I balance each other out in the bookstore. She’s a morning person, so she suggested opening at 8 am for the kids who couldn’t wait to get their hands on the book. I’m a night owl, and wanted to host brunch, not breakfast, for teens who, like me, probably wanted to sleep in. We compromised, and it turned out we were both right. She opened at 8 and, sure enough, sold a dozen copies before officially opening the store at 10, and I hosted the party upstairs in the Flying Pig Loft at the very reasonable hour of 11 am. I planned the party, and she made sure we actually had the supplies necessary to pull it off.

Our idea was to have a training camp competition for Tributes. Preparations included setting up the Loft, clearing lots of space for the archery and nerf disc gun stations (it’s roomy up there, so that wasn’t a problem), buying and/or gathering materials for these training stations, creating a system to keep track of the kids’ scores, and getting snacks and juice for the kids (in this case, we went with Fig Newmans and Newman-O’s, because I’m on a kick with those, and some lemonade and berry juice). We also got a bag of mixed Halloween candy for exit treats. Paper cups and napkins, some rope, a few tables, some Nerf toys, a timer, pen, sterilizing alcohol, some parachute men, bagel knots, and a couple of EyePops were all we needed.

We’re short-staffed this week, with our two high-schoolers gone and one of our adults on vacation, so there were just two of us up in the Loft, me and my colleague, JP, who was a children’s librarian for 30 years before she came to work at the bookstore so is a crack hand at events. The kids arrived in three main groups; this was unplanned, but worked out well. We had 16 "Tributes" in all, three of whom were girls, the rest boys. They ranged in age from 8 to 14. The younger kids hadn’t read the book; they had heard about the party and wanted to come. Sixteen kids isn’t a large number, but it’s not too shabby for the last day of summer (school started on Wednesday for the kids), not to mention a weekday mid-morning event. I think it’s safe to say the kids had a blast — and so did JP and I. Here’s how it worked:

First: SIGN-IN. Tributes checked into the training center, recording their names, phone numbers, and District number of choice. They received the two puzzles below and were instructed to put them in their backpacks for later. These were a crossword puzzle and a word search I made up with clues from The Hunger Games (not from Catching Fire, since I didn’t want to give anything away). Contestants who bring back either completed puzzle (or both) by this Friday will be entered in a prize drawing. Our cheerful, helpful Scholastic rep, Nikki Mutch, sent a box of Catching Fire pins to give away. We’ll also use hot ARCs as prizes. (Note: everyone who buys a copy of Catching Fire this week also gets the puzzles.)


(Note: my photos are a little lacking. We were too busy running the stations to take pix during the event, so we ended up staging shots after the party with some of the kids who stayed after. I had to use my phone to take the pics, which didn’t help. Then I imported them to a PC instead of my Mac, and edited them with some crazy, unfamiliar program that ended up making everything look grainy and strange and messed up the color. Apologies! But I think you’ll get a sense of the party, at least.)

TRAINING STATION 1: ARCHERY. This was really fun and grabbed the kids’ interest immediately. Josie had bought a cool toy bow that shoots Nerf missiles. We set up an easel with a sheet of posterboard and balanced a paper cup on top of the easel. A direct hit to the cup earned 5 points; a hit to the posterboard that knocked over the cup earned 2 points. Each contestant got a practice shot and then had three tries to topple the cup. (The highest score was 12.) JP and I kept score and replaced the cup between shots. Once contestants had finished the archery round, they moved on to Station 2.

TRAINING STATION 2: KNOTS. This was simple to set up. We took a spool of nautical rope and cut it into lengths of about 18", then propped open a copy of The Daring Book for Boys. Pages 10-11 have instructions for tying 3 fairly simple knots. Each knot successfully tied was worth 2 points.  (In the picture at right, the boy in the background is working on the knots challenge with JP standing by. The boy in front is at Station 3.) JP and I went back and forth between the archers and the knot tyers and getting the new Tributes set up.

TRAINING STATION 3: PROBLEM SOLVING. We had parachute men and bagel knots. The challenge was to make successful Sponsor Gifts by tying the bagel knot to the parachute man (no piercing of the bread was allowed) and floating it down from the loft (there’s an upstairs loft in the Loft, which is why it’s called the Loft, you see?). Only two kids at a time are allowed up the circular staircase, and surprisingly, they were really patient about it. They had as much fun watching each other’s parachutes float down as they had floating their own. A cute thing I wasn’t expecting is that every single kid ate his bagel knot after it landed on the floor — even though we had extras for eating at the snack table. I don’t know why that charmed me so much.

TRAINING STATION 4: SHOOTING PRACTICE. Josie had found a battery-operated Nerf disc gun at the same toy store where she found the bow and arrows. This required another big cleared lane for shooting. We’d set up small and large paper cups on the window ledge. Each Tribute had to line up next to a little flying pig doorstop we have and aim for the cups. Landing in a big cup earned 2 points; landing in a small cup earned 5 points. This was a tough challenge, because the gun tended to shoot discs in a leftward arc, so even with 10 tries, it was tough to land a single disc. I think someone earned 7 points, and that was the highest score. JP landed her very first test shot; I was impressed.

TRAINING STATION 5: BREATH CONTROL. We had two EyePops (thanks to Kenny Brechner, at whose store I discovered them), mint-flavored rubbing alcohol (! I guess they make this for thermometers on the theory that it won’t have such a hideous taste, but the kids assured me that it was still vile), and sterile wipes. EyePops are little plastic pipes with frog- or crocodile heads and little baskets on top that hold two Nerf eyeballs. The challenge is to blow into the pipe, raising the eyeballs into the air, keep them there for as long as possible, and then lower them safely back into the cups. Tributes got a practice run, and then were timed (using the stopwatch function on my phone; I have to say, the phone came in really handy during this party!). They got to take the best time out of three successful runs. The lowest score was a little over 2 seconds; the highest was 7 seconds. One of the older boys was so great, taking over the timing and helping instruct the younger kids while I signed in some new Tributes. The kids were great about letting me sterilize the pipes in between each kid.

LAST STEP: After the kids were done with all challenges, they gave us their score sheets to keep and tally. Scoring Stations 1-4 was easy, a simple points system. We scored the breath challenge by looking at the range of results (2 to 7 seconds) and assigned points on a 6-point scale, using half points where needed.

We had candy in addition to the snacks (which were totally gone by the end of the party, which surprised and amused me; kids are completely hollow, aren’t they?), and each kid chose two of those treats to take away at the end of the event.

THE AFTERMATH: The winners of each Station will receive their choice of prize ARCs, and the overall winner will win a copy of the third book in the series. All the kids’ score sheets will be included in the prize drawing along with the readers who turn in their completed word search and crossword puzzles.

How does one judge the success of an event? Sometimes it’s book sales. But these kids would have bought the book whether or not we had an event. So in a case like the Catching Fire party, it’s all about community goodwill, and camaraderie, and fun. I think the fact that the kids hung around after finishing their stations, talking about The Hunger Games and going back to take challenges again, was a pretty good sign. Some of their parents had to drag them away. And one of our great customer kids, one of the older boys at the event, just knocked me out; he and his friend were the last two left, and when his friend said, "Okay, let’s get going," this kid said, sotto voce, "Let’s help clean up first." And his friend said, "Yeah, yeah, sure," and they actually zipped around the Loft throwing away used juice cups and paper napkins, restoring Nerf discs to their holders, and gathering up the parachute men from their flung positions. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t saints — saints would have untangled the snarled parachute-men strings instead of holding them out and saying, "Uh, these are really a mess," and dropping them back on the table — but they are very close to, and I have a small lump in my throat just thinking about it.

I’m lucky lucky lucky to have the job I do, where I get to share books and parties with kids and families I just adore, who crack me up every day, who love reading, and have very good hearts.

When Damage Hurts

Josie Leavitt - September 2, 2009

There is a very lively and sadly, much needed, discussion on the children’s bookselling listservs right now about what to do about books and toys that are damaged by customers. The discussion was begun by a very frustrated bookseller desperate for tips from other stores about what to do about stopping merchandise from getting damaged. It’s interesting — what struck me was rather than tons advice being offered, it was the torrent of stories from other booksellers eager to share their nightmares of how things got damaged, or out-and-out rude customer behavior. I’m not going rehash the bad behavior, but for you booksellers having a bad day, just know: it’s so not you.

The most obvious thing I noticed from the discussion is the majority of stores who aren’t carrying books that begged to played with, i.e., pop-ups and lift-the-flaps. These books create their own conundrum: to sell them they must be displayed in a way that people can interact with them the way they’re supposed to; to display them means the book tends to get ruined by little and big hands alike. It gets very expensive to buy an extra book and sacrifice it for the display. Every once in a while, publishers will create a display dump that actually comes with a display book. Penguin went one further with Tomie dePaola’s Brava, Strega Nona: A Heartwarming Pop-Up. If you bought the dump, not only did you get a display copy, but the dump was actually a stand where people over four feet high could look at and play with the book, and below the display was where you stacked your neatly-wrapped-in-plastic stock of the book. Absolutely brilliant idea. I know display copies are expensive for publishers, but let’s face it, no one will buy a pop-up that’s not wrapped, even if they’re the first one to open an unwrapped one.

Lift-the-flap books or books with lots of little envelopes to open are also just begging to be broken. Pretty much once an envelope on an Ology book has been opened, it looks like it’s been opened and no one wants it. So, there has to be constant vigilance around these sorts of books.  It can be very trying to constantly police the store telling kids no, nicely. I am not a fan of the book that makes noises. Once a young child find that book, they will push the buttons until someone tells them to stop. I try very hard not to be that person, but if I have to say no, I try to do it nicely. "Why don’t you press the button three more times then put the book back, so the batteries don’t wear out." I’ve noticed all noise-producing books come with that little plastic strip in the back to prevent the noise part from working until it’s purchased, but almost all kids know how to take that off and I can’t ever get that strip back in. 

It’s not just kids being curious little people and lifting flaps or making a book page pop-up — there are adults who damage books too. There are the adults who think it’s all right to crack open the spine on a hardcover they look at in the store. Sometimes they buy that book, but lately I’ve seen a lot of adults pawing over a hardcover, cracking the spine, etc., then buying the next in the stack and putting the pawed-over book back on the shelf. Books and toys are fragile, more fragile than most people think. They don’t respond well to rough handling, or being used as a writing surface — I once had to refuse a return when I noticed that someone had used the book as the surface for doing their math homework. There was no way I could sell that book again with long division engraved all over the front cover.

There needs to be a healthy balance between displaying and looking at books and damaging books. Independent bookstores, for the most part, can’t afford any damages. We have to make sure that books that are looked at by customers can be sold. Several booksellers commented in the discussions that they thought the chains and big box stores aren’t as diligent about protecting their stock, so there’s a more casual attitude among customers about hurting books. Whenever I go to one of the chains I’m struck by how many books are strewn about the floor in the kids’ section. I was recently at my local Costco and was struck by just how many books they had and in what bad shape they were in and people were still buying them. This attitude towards books can make an indie bookstore’s worry over a damaged or chewed on board book seem extreme to some, but it’s our livelihood.

There are some things booksellers do that can help minimize damages. One thing we do is we’re really tough about accepting returns from customers if the book is anything less than pristine. This lets them know, that if we can’t sell it again, or return it to the publisher (who have all gotten much tougher about accepting less than pristine returns) then we don’t take it back. This sends the message that we care about how the books look.

Having staff on the floor at all times is a very good way to stop trouble before it starts. Every bookstore has a different way of nicely saying "Stop that" to adults and kids.  The best thing that bookstore do is distract the kids with toys that it’s totally okay to play with. At the Flying Pig we have brightly colored carpets in the two main little kid sections. Each has several toys for kids of all ages to play with. We have a small basket of hurt books with STORE COPY written on them for families to look at. Other stores have DEMO stickers on things that can be played with without reproach. It’s always good to give a child an option: "You can’t play with that, but, wow, you can play with all of these."

Ellen Mager of Booktenders’ Secret Garden proves the point that sometimes the most fun toys are the simplest. The toy that kids love the best at her store is an old-fashioned rotary phone. A phone! That kills me. A dial that goes around in circles helps Ellen protect her books. Brilliant.

People need to hold a book, some need to smell it, before they buy it. I understand that, I even welcome that, to a degree. There are lots of ways to look at books without hurting them. I think what makes booksellers insane is when books get hurt and then are hidden back on the shelves only to be discovered when someone wants to buy it. If you accidentally hurt a book, just tell me. I won’t get mad. I’ll thank you for bringing it to my attention, and ideally, you’ll offer to pay for it.

Catching Fire, Before Dawn

Josie Leavitt - September 1, 2009

Up before dawn and drinking coffee, I am gathering myself for the last day of retail summer: the release of the long awaited Catching Fire. I am up this early because my dogs wouldn’t sleep past 4:32 a.m. and I thought, wow, I’ve got so much to do, I might as well get a jump on things.

Preparing for a release this big requires planning and stamina. Because school starts tomorrow, we didn’t think a midnight party would pass parental muster, so we’re opening at 8 a.m.  The cartons of books that have been secreted away in the back room can finally be opened and the books can be put in tidy stacks on the display in the front of the store. This sort of arranging, while not rocket science, takes time to do right and make look inviting. My goal is make sure that anywhere an eager reader is likely to look for the book, the book can be found.

We are short-staffed at the moment, so much of the grunt work of setting up for the 11 a.m party is falling to me and Elizabeth. We are setting up our event space (a great room above the store) as a training center. Each kid will pull a number designating their home district and also where they’ll train first. Since we’re in a room, we can’t have all the training stations, but we’re going to have archery, yes, probably the one thing that should be outside; we found suction cup and Nerf archery sets, so no one should actually get impaled. A customer’s dad is coming to show knot-tying and our ten and six-year-old nephews will be in the loft of the room with parachute men lobing the tributes to those who are worthy.  Instead of bread we’ll be using bagel bites and just lob them down from on high.

Elizabeth has designed a Hunger Games word search. Proper completion with speed will garner a prize. There will also be a "guess what happens" quiz, with one lucky winner to get a certificate for book three. 

The great thing is because this is training, there are no winners. This takes a lot of the stress out of it for participants. They’re just supposed to have fun. Although, I wonder how many kids, the day before school starts, are going to stay for a party when there’s such a great book to read. It’ll be an interesting and great day.

I’d write more, but I’ve got a ton to do.