Commerce at the Flying Pig Bookstore screeched to a halt the other day when a picture book, newly unpacked, proved to be so charming, so chock full of loveable goodness, that staff couldn’t get any work done until each last picture had been perused. The customers, drawn by our exclamations, hastened over to be part of the experience and were immediately sucked in to the lure of this book. I hate to say it, but there may even have been some squeeing.
The traffic-stopping book was A Little Book of Sloth, by British photographer and Animal Planet baby-sloth filmmaker Lucy Cooke. Chock full of photographs of baby sloths (both two- and three-toed varieties) who live at “Slothville,” a sanctuary in Costa Rica, this book is both an introduction to the habits of these funny, expressive, mellow little animals and a tribute to the sanctuary and its founder, Judy Arroyo. (Slothville’s real name is the Aviarios del Caribe sloth sanctuary.)
While there is quite a bit of information in the book, its tone — in keeping with its subject matter — is relaxed, unrushed, lighthearted. Cooke strikes the perfect tone here, managing to be friendly, funny, and laid-back without slipping into irritating slanginess. And her photos! Even the greediest sloth lover’s thirst will be slaked by the dozens of bright, colorful, clear close-ups of the fuzzy little critters, each of whose face is appealingly distinctive and surprisingly human. There’s a lot of hugging in here: baby sloths cuddled up together, or slinging a long arm around a soft toy. Basically, there is just no way to look through this book and not feel happy. It’s impossible. So thank you, Simon & Schuster, thank you, Lucy Cooke, thank you, Judy Arroyo, and thank you, baby sloths. You made our day.
And that’s worth slowing down business on a Monday morning, isn’t it?
One of the lovely things about owning a bookstore for as long as I have is you get to know people you might not otherwise meet. Chris Bohjalian has become a friend of the bookstore and of me. In March we provided books on extremely short notice for a talk sponsored by the Armenian Society and the local library.
Each group thought the other had gotten in touch with us about the event. Neither had. Elizabeth, thinking ahead, had ordered multiple copies of Sandcastle Girls, in anticipation of the folks wanting the book. The day of the event we got a call about selling books. We had neither the staffing nor all the multiple stacks of backlist we like to have at these events. The library took our dozen hardcovers and sold them all. Chris wrote a lovely email to us thanking us for having the books. Then he and started started chatting.
When I’m not at the bookstore I teach and perform stand-up comedy throughout New England. Chris and his wife, Victoria, have been to many shows. Chris also writes a column, Idyll Banter, in the Burlington Free Press every Sunday. He had an idea to write a column about me in advance of a comedy show. The column: Throwing the book (seller) at Comedy came out yesterday and the comedy show was last night.
Chris interviewed me two weeks ago and marveled at the process of comedy and my work with teaching in the prisons. It was fun to be interviewed by Chris because usually I’m the one asking him questions. He knew I was having my gallbladder out last week and he didn’t want to interrupt my recovery with fact-checking questions. So he wrote the column ahead of time and called me on vacation to fact-check. Picture this: I’m walking back from lunch in Key West while Chris reads me the draft of the column. Pretty cool stuff. Even my college friend, Isabelle, who does not impress easily, was fairly amazed at what was going on.
So, all the comics killed last night. And, I’m fairly certain we all had Chris’s column and enthusiasm for comedy to thank for the standing-room-only crowd.
Well, you CAN get this online, strictly speaking, since you’re reading ShelfTalker, but let me tell you, the real live moment was sublime. There I was, having just parked at the Flying Pig, when I got out of my car and spied the following across the lot:
“Hey, Elizabeth!” called the grown man reading a picture book in the far end of his hatchback. “We just got this at your store and are waiting for the rest of the gang.” As I got closer, I recognized one of our lovely regular customer dads, M, hunkered down with his toddler reading Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. He explained that they had lost their former copy of this favorite family book in a basement flood and had been yearning for it. While his wife and older son were doing a little more shopping at the store, M and his littlest one came back outside to cozy up with the book.
Even Golden Retrievers like Richard Scarry.
Small moments like this make me SO happy to be a neighborhood book store. I love that people grab stolen moments — even while running errands — to read with their little ones. I love that we can help replace losses from flood and fire. And I love that on any given day, someone might call out, “Hey, Elizabeth!” in a parking lot to share their love of a good book.
(Photos posted with permission of M, his toddler, and their dog.)
Recently, we received a phone call from a customer in California. She has a grandson in our town, and she asked if we had a monthly book club we could set up for him. She used to live near the marvelous Hicklebee’s bookstore, and she had loved their book-of-the-month club for her California grandchildren. “Absolutely,” we said — and then we set about creating one.
“Re-creating” is actually more accurate. For several years early on, we did feature such a program, but we were a new store in a teeny town, and our staff was small. For the first three years it was just two people, Josie and me, and for some years after that, we had only one or two employees. Any program that wasn’t a store mainstay didn’t receive our limited marketing efforts and dollars, and so the book-of-the-month club lapsed over time. But it was a terrific program, so I was delighted when this California grandma called. Her request was a timely reminder that one of the best services a bookseller can provide is to help put the right book into a child’s hands at just the right time, and doing so on a regularly scheduled basis is helpful both to the customer and to the bookstore. It’s also a wonderful thing to be able to offer our long-distance customers and regular summer visitors.
It’s really fun to set up book-of-the-month clubs with a caring relative or family friend. They specify a dollar amount they’d like to spend monthly or annually, and tell us about the child, his age and interests. (It also helps to know if a child is a particularly strong or struggling reader for her age.) Sometimes book club givers will suggest books they or their own children loved, which gives the monthly gifts an extra special quality of a shared experience. More often,customers will ask us to help with or make those choices based on the personal criteria we’re given, combined with what we know about children and literature. For a knowledgeable children’s bookseller, a year’s worth of gifts is a nuanced process. A book you’d give a just-turned-seven-year-old in January might be quite different from a book you’ll choose the following December.
We also try to get a feel for what the customer ordering the books prioritizes. Are they building a lifetime library for their young reader? Do they want to nourish or encourage a particular passion — for nature, for animals, for sports or arts? Would they like a mix of fiction and nonfiction? Are graphic novels welcome? Comic books? The variations are endless.
Now that our feet are wet again, I’m all fired up to expand the program. Now all I need is for me, or someone on our giant staff of seven (sometimes eight) to design a flyer or brochure, and a blurb on our website. Got any ideas for a name?
Before it closes after April 21, anyone with an excuse to get to the fabulous Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, should nab the chance to see Some Book! Some Art!: Selected Drawings by Garth Williams for Charlotte’s Web, which celebrates the book’s 60th anniversary and what would have been Garth Williams’ 100thbirthday. One particularly sweet note: the website mentions that the exhibit showcases, among other pieces, “The Carle’s very first art acquisition—the drawing of Lurvy tossing a bucket of water on Wilbur [p. 128].” Aww!
I haven’t had the opportunity to see the exhibit yet, and since Charlotte’s Web is my all-time favorite children’s novel (if I were forced to choose just one), I will be going! Hope to see you there.
Perhaps the sorrow over the closing of this exhibition can be partially assuaged by ogling original artwork and manuscripts at The Gorey House‘s tribute to the 50thanniversary of an Edward Gorey trilogy called The Vinegar Works: Three Volumes of Moral Instruction. The trilogy includes one of Gorey’s most famous works, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. (I had a poster of this alphabet of ghastly ends of unfortunate waifs on my college dorm walls — “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs / B is for Basil assaulted by bears,” and so on. I had thicker skin back then and thought it was hilarious.) The other two books in the trilogy are The Insect God and The West Wing. I’m a huge fan of Gorey’s distinctive, elegant, wickedly sly style and have always wanted to visit the Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. Now I have an excuse! The Vinegar Works exhibit will run from April 18 to sometime in December, so there’s time!
In case you’re looking for more children’s book-related outings, the Children’s Book Council has a nice ongoing Calendar of Events. I’d love to see this expand even more and be a clearinghouse for activities across the country! Ideally, there would be subsections: say, one for art and manuscript exhibitions, one for panel and scholarly discussions and lectures open to the public, and one for readings and signings.
And here’s a heads-up for next month: bookmark this link to keep an eye on a chance to own some brilliant children’s book art! One of the best events in children’s-book land is the Association of Booksellers for Children’s annual silent auction featuring original art—sketches and finished paintings and sometimes sculptural art—by children’s book illustrators who generously donate work in a fundraising benefit for ABFFE, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which is an organization dedicated to protecting free speech and fighting censorship. Published children’s book illustrators may donate art up until April 29, and the auction will have a live component at BookExpo America on May 29 at the Javits Center in New York City, as well as an online component here.
On my way home from Key West, I had a lengthy layover at the Charlotte Airport. As I’m wont to do, I scoped out the books that were available. Most small airport shops don’t have any children’s books. This airport had a small but interesting selection of six.
The first thing that struck me about the kids’ books was they were directly under one of the scariest magazine posters I’ve ever seen. An ad for some sort of automatic weapons. Because really, shouldn’t every small child look for a comforting board book under the gun poster? And, not just a little handgun, but a semi-automatic rifle?
Once I got past the horror of the guns, I looked down at the kids’ selection and while it was only six books, they were six good books. The top row had activity books: A Llama Llama:Birthday Party Sticker Stories, which doesn’t require precision of coloring that can be hard to do on the plane, and Disney Cars Mazes Book. Both are delightfully appropriate for little flyers.
The second shelf was for bears. The oversized board book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Is a great addition to any child’s traveling collection, though somewhat hard to pack. Then the real surprise was Bear Has a Story to Tell. I love this book, I was just shocked and happy to see it at the airport.
The last shelf had the message book. Max Makes Friends — what better book for a young child to read before or during a journey? Let’s all make friends during airline travel and maybe it would feel so arduous. The final book really speaks to all the bad flyers out there: My Brave Year of Firsts.
I think that pretty much says it all.