Monthly Archives: September 2012

A New Kind of Customer Service

Josie Leavitt - September 10, 2012

Generally, the bookseller is supposed to provide the service to the customers. We are expected to keep up the latest books, try our hardest to recommend books they will love, and much more. But sometimes our customers see that we need help and lend a hand.
I was at the coffee shop on Friday and two customers, Alison and her teenage daughter McKinley, were there. They motioned for me to come over and told me that they needed to return a book. This is generally not the way I like to begin my day, but my mood improved when Alison noticed that I was favoring my right shoulder.
“When we return the book, I’ll work on you.” I should mention that Alison does Thai massage. The thought of her helping my aching shoulder more than made up for the return. Alison was our very first customer in 1996. She did not come on the first day, she actually called three weeks before we opened. She brought McKinley, who was two months old at the time. We tried to convince her we weren’t really ready to have customers come in. She explained that she was going to Germany for several months and wanted to see the new bookstore.
We relented and let her in. She was appreciative and had a lengthy discussion with Elizabeth about classic books that she thought we should have. We had them, we just hadn’t unboxed everything yet. Alison let us know she was an author, but in a casual way, not in a “you must carry my books” kind of way. This was my introduction to Alison, who would be a constant in our lives ever since.
Alison is the author of one of my favorite picture books, The Drums of Noto Hanto. This book came out in 1999 and is a simple story about how a Japanese village fended off attacking samurais by beating their taiko drums and donning masks. The book’s message about nonviolence was fabulous, a message in 1999 that resonates even more loudly today.
We had one of our best events with Alison and that book. Two taiko drummers set up outside the store and drummed out the book. It was a traffic-stopping event that kids still remember. The kids had masks and the drumming was literally heart-stopping. We all felt the drums; Alison’s reading was inspired and every person at the event understood how the small village could have saved itself. I loved that the message was so clear, and based on a true story, that everyone understood its importance.
While Alison worked on my shoulder we talked about our love of The Drums of Noto Hanto. By the time she was done, I could actually raise my arm over my head for the first time in weeks and I had a great memory of a wonderful book that I hope someone brings back in print.

A Great Week for New Releases

Josie Leavitt - September 6, 2012

The leaves changing color isn’t the only joy of autumn.  There is also the stunning array of new books coming out. This week was a banner week for kids’ books. We unboxed so many books we couldn’t shelve before Tuesday, that we had our whole back counter full to bursting with September 4th release dates.
Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt had some yummy books that I was desperate to shelve. The first book that I adore is The Family Bedtime Treasury: Tales for Sleepy Times and Sweet Dreams. Normally  I’m not a fan of picture book treasuries because the art is reduced and often the text is abridged. Not so with this collection – it contains eight stories complete with musical or poetic accompaniment on CD that comes with the book. The books chosen are among my favorites ,ranging from The Quiet Book, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep, and Bedtime Bunnies. A book like this is perfect for grandparents to have in the house. This way, they’ll always have eight great sleepytime stories to read to visiting grandkids.
Of course the middle-grade fiction is great as well. It’s always a good season when Gary Schmidt has a new novel out. This time he combines high fantasy with realistic fiction with What Came From the Stars, as our protagonist grieves for his recently deceased mother. This book should appeal to Schmidt fans as well as garner him some new fans who love fantasy.
There’s also Malcolm at Midnight by first-time author W.H. Beck, illustrated by Brian Lies. When Brian came to the store he talked about this book and it sounded great. I’ll confess, I haven’t read this one yet, but any book about a classroom rat, an iguana who wears glasses, and a case of mistaken identity has just moved to the top of my bedside stack.
HarperCollins had an equally impressive stack of books that came out on Tuesday. It’s not every day that Sharon Creech, Mo Willems, and Melissa Marr come out with new books. I saw these three in the shelving pile and thought, Ooh, something for everyone.
Sharon Creech has once again delivered a gem of a novel. It’s easy to forget how good she is until I read her and then I’m blown away. Her writing is simple and eloquent, and this story about how we’re all connected is just beautiful. Creech makes multiple story lines work with a touch of Irish fairy magic, ghost stories, and tales of murder.
Melissa Marr introduces readers to a new series with her latest, Carnival of Souls. It’s always fun for me to have a new book by her to give to teenage girls and boys as well. This book has a little of everything: daimons, fighting, a very tight caste system, and a great lead character, Mallory, who has been raised by a witch. Marr, like Creech, has a talent for blending multiple story lines seamlessly.
The last book from Harper is from Mo Willems. He has a very funny retelling of the classic tale Goldilocks, this time it’s Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. The book is full of humor, and almost every page has a laugh-out-loud visual and just some flat-out funny passages. My favorite page is when one of the dinosaurs is laughing in Norwegian (why?). I love the randomness of that, and I think kids will crack up at it. In this story the hapless Goldilocks ignores all warning signs until she wises up and runs out the back door. She knows she’s supposed to be in the folktale and when she realizes that this version has dinosaurs and not bears, she hightails it out the back door.
These books are just a smattering of the yumminess that’s been coming this fall. This season looks to be chock-full of great books that I can’t wait to sell.

This Display Will Not Defeat Me

Josie Leavitt - September 4, 2012

Every season or two, there seems to be a display (or dump, as they’re called) that is very daunting to put together. I still remember from years ago the display for Swine Lake by James Marshall and Maurice Sendak, which had a stage, wings, and probably an orchestra pit. It took hours to put together. I can handle putting the usual nine-book cardboard display, but last week, the display for the new Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers presented a huge challenge.
I took out most of the pieces and laid them out. I tried very hard not to freak out at the sheer number of pieces there were. I reminded myself that I can follow directions. I mean, really, how hard would this be?
The directions, all 12 pages of them on 11×17 paper, were found at the bottom of the box. I skimmed and was immediately overwhelmed by the number of steps. There were 45! Yes, the pages were big, and the photographs were enormously helpful, but 45 steps, holy smokes, that would take all day.
I had the first piece in and it took fifteen minutes and  I started despairing because I just didn’t have all day. Right at my darkest moment, the store festooned with card board pieces that needed a home, my friend Sue walked in. Sue can re-roof her house. So I thought this project might be easier for her. I was right.
After reading all the directions through once before even starting (a novel idea that I will emulate), she gathered all the pieces and six minutes later she was done. I just sort of stood around dumbfounded that she would be done so quickly.
The display is eye-catching and books seem to be flying out of it. The best part of having Sue help is that she wouldn’t take a free book or even a coffee, she just wanted the dump when we were done with it for her son’s room.
Now, that’s a deal I can get behind: Sue puts it together and she takes it away.