Monthly Archives: September 2011

Sunday at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - September 12, 2011

Okay, yesterday was decidedly not a regular Sunday, as renowned fantasy writer Terry Brooks was visiting. I worked in the store, while Elizabeth and PJ ran the event in our upstairs loft space.
The day began by checking the email to see if we had more RSVPs and questions about the event. We did. Elizabeth dealt with those while I ran an errand. Terry Brooks’ publicist said that we had to have a microphone, so I went to my friend’s to pick it up. Sadly, a miscommunication resulted in only a microphone being left for me, no cord or stand to go with my amp. It was 11:15 a.m. and Terry was coming at 1 p.m, and the store opens at noon. Okay, time to scramble. Enter Elizabeth, who sped to Radio Shack and got a really decent mic, stand and cord. All that scrambling resulted in Terry not needing the mic anyway, but at least now we have one.
I noticed that Terry Brooks’s fans are as varied as they are dedicated. One couple drove seven hours – one way! – to meet him. I was pretty awed by that. His fans spanned from teenagers to seniors. Several fans actually had rolling suitcases filled with books. I can’t speak more about the event, except to say that I heard laughter in store from the event and many misty-eyed fans came into the store afterwards to say how much they enjoyed the event.
So, while the event was going on I had my hands full with a bustling store. Yesterday seemed to be a great kid day. I found myself listening to a 12-year-old explain to her mom why she had to have The Sono Baking Company Cookbook: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion, that’s been out since March. “I’ve been in love with this book my whole life.” Her mom smiled affectionately and the girl, sensing she might just get that book said, “It’s about SWEETS!” They got the book.
Later I found myself embroiled in a heated debate with two 10-year-0ld girls about the relative merits of mermaids. For people who know me, mermaids are not really my thing, but I can see why they’re cool. The mermaid, because she can be in both water and land, is, of course, awesome, it’s obvious.The friend said the fins freaked her out and a mom chimed in that mermaids weren’t always nice.
And then the phone rang. A gentleman with a very heavy Australian accent was calling to find out about the Terry Brooks event. I told him it was almost over, but if he hurried he could still meet Terry. The man chuckled and said,”I’m calling from Melbourne. I wanted to speak to Terry Brooks.” Okay, that’s never happened before. I asked if he knew Terry and he said he didn’t. A kind customer brought the phone upstairs and gave it to Elizabeth who let Terry decide. Apparently, he took the call after clearing it with the folks waiting in the signing line. I know we were Terry’s only Vermont appearance, but to get a call from Australia was awfully exciting.
Lastly, towards the end of the day, one of my favorite older customers came in and told me her wallet, with her Social Security card,  got stolen earlier in the week. We discussed why you don’t leave your Social Security card in  your wallet. I then spent the next 20 minutes working with the three credit bureaus to freeze her credit so someone couldn’t steal her identity.
All in all, an excellent day.

Getting Ready for Events

Josie Leavitt - September 9, 2011

Our store is turning 15 years old this November. The mere fact of that still astounds me. I keep asking myself, How did that happen? And how has time gone by so incredibly quickly? While I’m not a fan of a decade and half zooming by, I’m loving our author line-up for the next 10 weeks of celebration. We’ve got Terry Brooks on Sunday and then we have a week off and after that it’s pretty much a dead run with events – sometimes two on one day! – until November 19th.
So, how are we gearing for this massive flurry of events? Well, it’s amazing what a dash of panic can do for a staff that’s really organized. We are now hyper-organized, really, it’s a little scary to me. I’m more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” person, and while this style makes me thrive, it makes my staff more than a little insane.
It’s been a very interesting education for me to see what’s making all  the staffers anxious about this slew of events. One thing that is concerning to them is what to do if Elizabeth or I are unavailable. This never occurred to me as something to worry about. But it was a huge concern for them. We created a fairly easy fill-in system so every event has a point person who will effectively run the event, from introducing the author to getting the right number of books signed for stock.
Their need for great organization forced me to do something I’ve actively resisted for 15 years: creating a real events checklist. I must say, it felt really good to get the list done. Now that I have something to refer to, I can happily see that we’re farther along than I assumed, and this is a good thing, because I hadn’t realized that my anxiety was starting to get pretty high when I saw all the events on our calendar.
So instead of not falling asleep because I’m counting which authors need event books ordered, I can go back to counting sheep and sleeping like a baby.

Bringing Books to Readers—Outdoors!

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 8, 2011

David Elliott and Randy Cecil’s joyous celebration of life, And Here’s to You, is one of my favorite picture books of all time. Of all time! It’s utterly perfect, one of those under-known books I recommend to everyone (along with Linda Smith and Marla Frazee’s Mrs. Biddlebox and Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar’s Down the Back of the Chair). So you might imagine my delight when Facebook/book-world pal Kirsten Cappy posted this status update:
“Proud to announce that David Elliott‘s picture book AND HERE’S TO YOU and Scott Nash‘s picture book BUGLIEST BUG (both from the marvelous Candlewick Press) will become permanent parts of Portland, Maine’s green spaces. More soon…”
I had to know more. (Not the least of which was, how I had missed Bugliest Bug, which sounds adorable! I love both Carol Diggory Shields’ and Scott Nash’s work, but hadn’t seen the buggy one. This is being rectified.) How were these two books being immortalized in an outdoor space? How were they chosen? How did this work for the authors and their publishers? How can other communities take this amazing idea and bring it to life?
I emailed Kirsten some questions to find out. Aside from my questions in italics, the rest of the post is from Kirsten. Enjoy!
How did this project begin, and how did you get funding for it?
The idea for StoryWalk started in your fair state [Vermont]. Anne Ferguson at the Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpelier, VT, developed the first The StoryWalk™ Project in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition. Anne and her group simply (and brilliantly) disassemble an actual picture book, laminate it, staple the pages to stakes, and spread the story along a trail or walk—encouraging both physical activity and literacy.
[Anne’s niece,] Victoria Rogers, MD, the medical advisor for the Maine community health project, Let’s Go!, brought the idea to Maine. When Portland was awarded a Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant in 2010, the administrators at Portland Public Health thought of StoryWalk—already a tool in the community health realm in Maine.  The grant in Portland is to be used to increase physical activity, and provide more education on making healthy eating choices.  Partnering with Curious City and Portland Public Library, the grant produced one mobile StoryWalk using NEST, NOOK, AND CRANNY by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge).

These pictures of its appearance in the woods of Peaks Island are lovely….
How did you get involved with the project?
After many months of unsuccessful calls to publishers seeking permissions they brought me in, as I consult for Raising Readers, a Maine state literacy project. I decided not to call into the permission/legal dept. of the pubs, but to work with local authors, who would message their editors, who in turn would message the permission/legal depts. Approvals came fast as we pitched it as a great marketing opportunity for the book/author.
How did you choose which books to include?
The books should be of universal appeal, of course. It certainly helps if the books depict appreciation of our grand outdoors or show a character being active. It also helps GREATLY to work with a creator who can serve as an advocate for the program with their publisher or with a publisher who readily picks up the phone. Boston-based publishers Charlesbridge and Candlewick Press gave us immediate and enthusiastic permission. [Charlesbridge gave permission for
THE BUGLIEST BUG by Carol Diggory Shields and illustrated by Scott Nash is a naturally and wildly rollicking read aloud complete with bugs performing great physical feats to be declared the “bugliest bug of them all.” These silly feats and Nash’s hilarious bugs, allowed for some deliciously fun actions for kids to perform as they read the story.
AND HERE’S TO YOU by David Elliott and illustrated by Randy Cecil is simply a perfect picture book. Its celebration of the peculiarities of animals, birds, insects, people, and finally ourselves is a joyful ordering of the world. The location for this StoryWalk is home to many ESL children and adults and I wanted a book that could grow with readers. The right hand page simply states for example, “I love dogs!” –easily read by a new English speaker while the left-hand panel delights in alterative language that a reader can explore over time.
Both books have been “road tested” with Maine readers. AND HERE’S TO YOU was given by the Raising Readers program in Maine in 2006-2007 to over 12,000 4-year-olds. THE BUGLIEST BUG was given to over 12,000 5-year-olds in 2006-2007 and is being repeated to another 12,000+ 5-year-olds currently. I am the book consultant for this amazing health literacy program that has given over 1.6 million books to Maine kids in the last 11 years.
What will the StoryWalk look like?  Is this considered a permanent installation? What happens to it in the winter?
Here are some photos of the outdoor site itself.  The signs will be approximately 30” x 40” on laminated weather-proof board. They will be posted on cedar stakes and will stay up year round. They will both be in the ground by 10/11/11. The first sign will sport the cover of the book and the following 12 signs will be a photograph of the actual open spread of the book. At the bottom of each sign will be a character encouraging kids to move or pretend some aspect of the action on the page.
For a prior StoryWalks project, I worked with a local company, Banacom Sign, and we decided to transfer digital scans of picture books onto weatherproof real estate signage. Like real estate signage, they came with metal pronged stakes so they could be planted anywhere.

Photo © Curious City

Together we produced signage for two books: SCOOT! By Cathryn Falwell (HarperCollins) and DOWN TO THE SEA WITH MR. MAGEE by Chris Van Dusen (Chronicle). For both books, I designed “actions” or ways to move with the story or characters to increase readers’ physical activity or just PLAY with the book. Cathryn Falwell and Chris Van Dusen were both delighted by this and drew their characters in the various poses. These became smaller signs that ran between the picture book spreads.

Photo © Curious City

 Full set of pictures from Let’s Go’s StoryWalks.
Let’s Go! and Curious City have since partnered with other organizations to reprint SCOOT! For example, The Beaver Brook Association in NH reprinted one in association with NH Children in Nature and Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition printed several sets for Maine libraries. (Cathryn Falwell is a big fan of the program and her book has been used in a similar project called Story Trail at the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio.)

Dawes Arboretum Story Trail © All rights reserved by Cathryn Falwell, Frog Song Pond

And then Winter Kids worked with us to create one for SNOW DAY! by Patricia Lakin and Scott Nash (Penguin).
What does this mean for the publisher and the author and illustrator, financially speaking, if anything?
No one gains financially off of the project. The project is simply a commitment by publisher, author, and illustrator to community literacy. It is, though, great exposure for all three.
Any tips for other towns or cities considering a project like this?
The StoryWalk Project has great tips on their website for the laminated picture book pages version. I am happy to share budgets and work plans with anyone who wants to explore more permanent options, either portable or stationary.
Elizabeth here. I just want to thank Kirsten Cappy for bringing this amazing project to the PW ShelfTalker readership! This makes me want to put StoryWalks in every park around Burlington!

Visiting a Store

Josie Leavitt - September 6, 2011

I was recently traveling out West and my sister-in-law took me to her local store, a well-respected independent bookstore, and I was excited. My excitement was short-lived. I walked in and saw many dark cases filled with books, lovely books. A bookcase of staff picks case contained only one staffer’s choices, but I counted well over 20 books with intriguing, well-written shelf talkers covering an amazing range of current titles. I was impressed by her choices and thought it was a great case to have right by the door as you walked in. Cozy chairs and a table or two sat invitingly by the window. People on laptops sat contentedly. What I saw looked great. But what I didn’t hear once, in the 20 minutes I was in the store, was, “Hello. Let me know if I can help you.”
I saw staffers milling about (the store was not busy) and several looked at me, but kept moving without saying hi or extending any sort of greeting. This was really off-putting. I was in an indie, not a massive big chain store. I expect to be greeted in some way, especially if I’m roaming around. I understand folks need their time to browse in peace; I’m not suggesting following people around the store, but everyone should be welcomed to the store.
I ventured to the children’s section and found no one there. It always bothers me a little when there’s a large kids’ section and no staffer there. To me it sends a message that this section is on its own, and it’s actually the section that benefits the most from help, as customers often get overwhelmed by it. So, here I am alone in a room of kids’ books and I start walking around. The section is organized sensibly, but it looks a bit like it’s suffered a tornado. Books are all cattywampus on all the shelves, books are on the floor, whole shelves are full of books just leaning to one side with massive gaps and the staff picks in this section are from last year. The selection was sparse. I was so disappointed. I was left wondering why they even had a kids’ section. I know I sound critical, but if a store is going to dedicate a fair amount of space to kids’ books, then make that area cozy and inviting and full of books and staffed with someone who knows the section.
This experience rededicated me to the power of good customer service and looking around my store with fresh eyes to see how it looks to someone coming in. Ironically, I stopped by the airport bookstore on my way home, and the woman behind the counter piped up immediately with “Hi, let me know if you need anything.”

Let’s Make 2012 the Year of the Picture Book

Josie Leavitt - September 2, 2011

Okay, I love picture books and I want them to be revered, but love is not necessarily enough for country-wide celebration. A year-and-a-half ago, Marie C. McHugh went to a NECBA meeting and had a great idea: The Year of the Picture Book. Why? because picture books seem to be continually under assault by mainstream articles that decry the death of the picture book. Kids don’t need them, they’re going to be replaced by new technology, etc. There is a place for picture books in the lives of all readers and the Year of the Picture Book was a great way to celebrate that.
We all loved the idea. People brainstormed partnership possibilities, we were enthused and then we all went back to our stores, got busy and lost our steam.  Now 2011 is effectively finished in terms of planning a year-long celebration. So, let’s not lose 2012 our year for feting the mighty picture. Here’s the problem-I’m not sure how we do it.
I can see working with publishers to help promote backlist treasures, public relations for the value of the picture and funding in some way that would give a book to every child in the country. I know this might sound crazy, but how satisfying would that be? Bookstores could work together with libraries and schools to promote the value and fun of picture books. So, dear reader, here’s my question: How do you think we could pull The Year of the Picture Book? Share your ideas here and maybe we can make this happen.

Kicking Off Our Fifteenth with Skippyjon Jones!

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 1, 2011

Anniversary logo design by Kevan Atteberry

It’s hard to believe that we’ve had our bookstore for fifteen years. That babies who were barely toddling when we opened our doors are now driving their younger siblings to The Flying Pig. It’s incomprehensible to Josie and me that we went from idea to opening day in just ten weeks that fall of 1996. Ten weeks! Were we crazy? (Quite possibly yes, but that’s a blog post for another day.)
So when we were talking about how to celebrate the store’s 15th, Josie came up with “Ten Weeks of Fifteen.” The plan was to stud the calendar with events for the ten weeks leading up to our official anniversary on November 23. It’s been a giddy process, gathering these events. Lots of old friends in the mix, as well as new. And, really, because of the way timing has worked out, it’s really thirteen weeks of events, but I don’t think anyone’s going to mind.
We’ve been so excited to get started with the party, and on August 30, we kicked off the festivities with the hilarious Judy Schachner and her irrepressible creation, Skippyjon Jones.
I almost called this post, “Plan B,” because on the day of the Skippyjon event, everything started to go flooey. The reasons for the slight chaos were good: RSVPs for the event well surpassed our Flying Pig Loft’s 85-person comfortable capacity, so we decided to shift the venue to the Shelburne Town Hall, which seats 200. This meant phone calls to all of the customers who’d RSVP’d (we were at 103 reservations and counting) to let them know about the change. The store was jam-packed with regular customers, which is terrific, but made it tough on staff, since we’d removed from the floor three booksellers who were now needed to pack, move, and set up all of the event books offsite. We also needed someone to make a couple of signboards indicating the change. And in the midst of this, we learned that the teen who was going to appear as Skippyjon Jones was claustrophobic and wasn’t going to be able to don the six-foot plush costume after all. Hellllpp!
Some quick emergency calling led to the heroic intervention of one of our fabulous customers, Mary Catherine, and her lovely daughter, Caroline, who became our new Skippyjon Jones. Whew! Our lone staffer left at the bookstore was also heroic in her efficient customer triage. And Town Hall was the perfect place to relocate what turned out to be about 180 kids and adults pouring in to see our special guests. We had Skippyjon on the top step up to Town Hall, greeting children as they came in. You should have seen the expressions on their faces as they rounded the corner from the parking lot and caught a glimpse of the tall white fuzzy beast-kitty! It’s a great costume; looks just like Skippito, and even the most trepidatious tiny tots managed to overcome any overwhelm and at least pet Skippy’s paw. We took loads of photos, asking the adults in each group if it would be all right for us to post the pics to our store’s Facebook page for them to access and download later. They all accepted the offer happily.
After a photo with Skippy, folks streamed into the Hall, where we’d loaded tables with books. There was a happy buzz, and Judy was already there, signing pre-solds, and managed to sign several books for fans before the event started, a huge time-saver taking some of the burden off the back end. People were thrilled that SKIPPYJON’S CREATOR was right there like a regular normal human person, and they could talk to her! I’m always charmed by that shy awe. We forget sometimes how magical it is for people to meet authors, especially those whose work has become part of the fabric of their families. It was so clear how much Judy’s books meant to the people who came to meet her.
If you’ve never heard Judy Schachner in person, you really want to make it to one of her events! She is a stitch, a character, a stand-up comedian. She surprises even herself with the things that pop out. She is just SO funny. She draws a picture of one of her cats, whose brain is “the size of a dried frozen pea” because—her theory—he’s spent too much time sleeping with his head in between a favorite lampshade and its lit light bulb. She mentions loving Peeps so much she wants some included with her ashes. She mentions Skippy fondly and ponders having her paleontologist daughter exhume Skippy and reconstruct him, “like a dinosaur.” (There was absolutely no kid trauma with this remark, in case you’re alarmed. The littler ones didn’t understand it, and the older ones were fascinated.) She also tells kids that “crazy pets do crazy things to make you a writer.” She gets serious for a moment when she says that, adding, “I want you to be writers, too. Your stories are important! All of your stories are important.” And the children seem to sit up a little straighter when she says it. I love it when speakers encourage kids to write, and connect this magical thing they do to what children already know how to do: tell their stories.
After Judy spoke for a bit, and read her new book, Skippyjon Jones: Class Action, she signed books up at the podium (Judy actually prefers to sign standing up wherever possible), chatting with the kids and parents and teachers, and drawing amusing illustrations in their books. I was acting as Judy’s “flapper” (opening the books to the signing page) and, um, time management specialist, so I got to hear what people said as they had their books autographed. “You saved our family,” one person told her, describing a hellacious car ride during which the reading of Skippyjon books managed to soothe the breasts of the four younger rebels in the backseats. A daycare teacher said that Judy’s books were her “go-to stories,” the sure-fire hits she turns to again and again. “You are my hero,” said another teacher, but I didn’t get to hear exactly why, as I was called away to distribute more Post-Its for people to spell their children’s names. Such is the life of a bookseller at an event.
There was a happy buzz as people left, saying goodbye to Skippyjon on the way out and clutching their books. On the way out, so many people came up to us and said things like, “Thank you so much for bringing events like this to the community,” and “That was amazing!” We were feeling the indie bookstore love, and it was a perfect event to kick off the celebration of a bookstore that is, like Skippy and his creator, a little offbeat, pretty funny, and always looking for a new adventure.