Monthly Archives: January 2014

Building Community, One School at a Time

Josie Leavitt - January 31, 2014

Bookstores are known for building community in their towns. They’re often an anchor to the downtown, or village, where they happen to be located. But building community these days, with the internet and folks who are willing to travel, can extend far beyond the county. Sometimes, saying yes can really pay off for everyone.
In December we got an e-mail from an earnest principal at a school an hour and half away, whose nearest bookstore is actually in Canada, about working together. He wanted us to come up to the school and present a booktalk to the teachers on their specific themes with an eye towards ordering books from us. I’ll admit, we approached this somewhat skeptically only because of the distance. But we said we’d love to come to the school.
We spent two weeks pulling the best of the high-low books on the science and history themes the teachers requested. And once again, our coterie of New England booksellers were enormously helpful with title suggestions. We packed up five boxes of books and drove up to the North East Kingdom in a snowstorm, not knowing what to expect.
What we got were 22 very excited teachers who listened attentively to our booktalks  and then dove in to pick out books. We sold books on the spot, letting teachers take the books they wanted, to be invoiced later. Each team had purchase orders and, boy, did they fill them out. We came back to the store with three boxes of books and a cache of orders totaling well over $2000. This was a win-win for everyone involved. The school is in a very isolated part of the state and we are now their link to the book world. We will be sending them galleys as well as keeping them apprised of new books that we think their students would love. We will ship the books up via media mail which is surprisingly inexpensive and very fast in Vermont. Several teachers have made appointments to pick our brains at the bookstore about classroom books.
We are excited about working with this new school and thrilled to be extending the Flying Pig’s reach three counties over. This brand-new relationship all stems from one impossibly young principal reaching out and us saying yes, and that’s how it’s supposed to go.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, That’s How a School Visit Is Done!

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 30, 2014

Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a formidable name; the person attached to it could have been a lowering tower of intimidation. Fortunately, the author/illustrator of the Lunch Lady series, Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked, and several picture books (including Punk Farm on Tour)  turns out to be – like his books – funny, warm, and lively.
JJK by comicsWhen we were offered a visit to launch the newest Lunch Lady title, Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle, we leapt. We knew schools would be eager to meet Jarrett, and were they ever! We set up two visits and a store event, and the day was glorious. Jarrett does a fantastic presentation that really resonates with kids, and the schools created an amazing welcome for him. It makes all the difference when teachers get their kids excited about an author/illustrator, prepare them in advance for the visit, familiarize the students with the guest’s books, and invite the kids to be creative themselves. Both schools, Charlotte Central and the Orchard School, did that beautifully.
One teacher, Heidi from Charlotte, wrote afterward,

Dear friends,

Thank you so much for an amazing author visit. Jarrett, your presentation was just perfect. The kids (and their librarian) are still floating on air! Every single one of the teachers who attended told me that you are the BEST visiting author they have ever seen. They loved that you made immediate connections for their students. One of the 2nd graders told his teacher that today was “the best day of my life.”
Doesn’t get better than that, does it?!
She also thanked the bookstore, saying, “I am constantly grateful for your advocacy for young readers. Your work in connecting Vermont students with mentor authors is truly appreciated.” What a gracious, thoughtful thing for her to say. That is balm for a bookseller’s day!
Below are some images from Jarrett’s visit, and at the end of the post, a behind-the-scenes peek at how a bookstore prepares for an author visit like this.

lunch lady poster

In-your-face invitation just inside the Flying Pig front door.

jjk and ccs lunch lady

Jarrett with one of the Charlotte Central School lunch ladies.

JJK CCS lunch menu

The menu at Charlotte that day featured Fish Stick Nunchucks (with a caution: Do not throw!).

CCS had a Gadget Gallery students had created on display:
jjk CCS Gadget Gallery
The Orchard School also went all out, creating an entire Comics Corridor of art by the entire K-5 school. Their librarian, Donna, is a dynamo. She’s also a tech-savvy, social-media wonder who tweeted about the visit, made Vines of the Comics Corridor beforehand, and pretty much turned January 28 into Jarrett J. Krosoczka Day.
orchard cartoon wall

One small segment of the Comics Corridor at the Orchard School.

jjk packed auditorium

Jarrett speaks to a packed all-school auditorium at Orchard.

jjk signing aprons smile

The Orchard School had bought Lunch Lady aprons, which Jarrett autographed.

jjk with lunch ladies

The lunch ladies were completely surprised and delighted by their aprons! And shy about being in front of the crowd. One of the women said, “Oh, no! I’ve just come all hot from the kitchen!” But of course they looked lovely.

jjk drawing

At the end of his presentation, Jarrett draws for the kids. They can’t believe how fast he can create a lunch lady or a platypus!

Jarrett had brought his adorable, amazingly patient five-year-old daughter with him for the day. She had her own moment of fame when a small group of students learned that, not only was she the voice on the book trailers they had watched, but she had created some of the art in her Dad’s books. They oohed and aaahed over the colors she had painted on a boat in Jarrett’s upcoming picture book, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, and she beamed when an older boy said, “I couldn’t do anything that good!” (A side note: if Jarrett ever grows tired of creating books, and we hope he won’t, he could do a great business in giving parenting seminars. He was so gentle and fun and patient and kind with his daughter, it was just lovely to see!)
After his presentations, Jarrett signed and personalized more than 300 books for the kids in the schools. He also found time to razz a couple of illustrator friends, Bob Shea and Peter Brown, who had been mock-arguing on Twitter about whose books, Bob’s or Peter’s, would be more popular with kids in Vermont. This was Jarrett’s answer:
jjk razzing bob shea and peter brown
After the school visits, Jarrett came to Shelburne Town Hall for our store event.
Normally, we would have had a cake with his newest book cover on it, but both of the bakeries in the area that have food-grade printers couldn’t do it. One had run out of toner (for some reason, this struck me as so funny, that you have to order toner for a cake) and the other’s printer was broken. So the bakery had to make do with using some of the colors of the book:
lunch lady cake
jjk town hall

You’d never know Jarrett had already done two big presentations and signed 300 books. He was fresh and entertaining and give an entirely different talk at the store event. What a champ!

jjk eb and jl

Happy exhaustion at the end of the day.

For anyone wondering about behind-the-scenes prep for events like this, here’s how it works. When authors are launching a new book and are touring for it, the publisher is often willing to offer school visits in conjunction with the tour. Because this is a huge gift on the part of both publisher and author, those visits need to be supported with book sales and wide exposure. So at the Flying Pig, in addition to selling the books and promoting our own store event, we have a responsibility to (1) choose schools that go out of their way to create a special day for the visiting author and (2) invite book orders from those schools to support the visit. (Another behind-the-scenes tidbit: we offer authors first to schools that support us back by shopping at the bookstore. I’ve been surprised to be approached asking about free author visits from schools who don’t even do business locally!)
We create order forms and teachers send them home a few weeks before the event. We offer schools 20% off these event titles. That’s our normal school-purchase discount anyhow, and it gives a little break to families who might not have a lot of extra funds for books. One thing the Orchard School did that we LOVED was to ask the PTO to buy a book for all of the kids who use the free or reduced-fee lunch program. That way, no child who wants a book is shut out because they can’t afford it. This is so, so important, and something we’ve struggled with about these events. I don’t want ANY child to feel left out at an event! So this is a marvelous solution we will mention as a possibility to all schools in the future.
Once the orders come back, it takes a few hours to process the checks and cash and hilarious math mistakes (it’s figuring out the tax that trips people up; I’ve vowed that next time, I’ll just build tax into each book’s cost on the order form).
Then we pull books for each order and make Post-Its for each title with the child’s name, so that Jarrett can autograph quickly and accurately.
the process
We rubber-band individual orders, then sort the books into bags separated by classroom. We box up the bags, and off they go.
bags of jjk books
That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about the back end of a bookstore-coordinated author visit, but there you have it!
With something like 600 inspired children, scores of delighted teachers and customers, two satisfied principals, and lots of wonderful books sold, well, it’s not hard to imagine that that adds up to happy author, publisher, publicists, and us!
Thanks so much to Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Random House, Deb Shapiro, Deborah Sloan, Heidi Huestis, and Donna Macdonald for a fabulous day!

A Little Gratitude for the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - January 28, 2014

I know sometimes I share the little things and big things that can drive me crazy about owning a bookstore. Today, I’m trying something different: a list of things I’m grateful for about my job.
– I get to be surrounded by books and people who love them, all day. This is a unique place to work. People come in happy (usually) to a bookstore. No one really dreads a visit to the bookstore like they might to other places, and that makes me feel good.
– My sales reps are gold. They are on top of their books and will do many things to help me sell books more efficiently and effectively. They also are astoundingly good at making me look good if I’ve forgotten something.
– I still marvel at the speed of delivery of books. I send in an electronic order and the next day a distributor has sent my books. This process still amazes me. I create an order based on bookstore needs, customers desires, and my own curiosity about titles. I send that order from my computer screen to either the publisher or a distributor. Those exact books that I want get picked and put in a box and then get sent on their way to me. The fact that 98% of the time my order arrives exactly as ordered and undamaged is still a mystery to me, and one that delights me every day.
– Children often just smile when entering the store. Knowing that my store is creating memories for kids and families either by the actual visit to the store or by the books purchased with me, is a pretty heady experience.
– Every book is a revelation to someone.
– The real friendships created within the bookselling community has forged some truly wonderful relationships that I have come to absolutely adore.
– Access to galleys makes the job a little sexier.
– Sharing the joy of reading with customers is a great way to spend the day. One of my favorite parts of the day is the lively debate about authors, genres or speculation about what will happen next in a series, etc. Talking about books is fun!
– Meeting authors and illustrators is just the icing on the cake. The best part of that is sharing these people with our customers who fill the store and rented halls to meet their literary idols.
All in all, it’s a pretty sweet job.

Awards Morning, Bookstore-Style

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 27, 2014

While elusive gold and silver medals dance in the restless dreams of all the children’s book authors and artists whose books deserve recognition, booksellers have their own Newbery/Caldecott/Printz/King/Sibert award dreams. We dream of books we’re rooting for, the well-known ones and the dark horses. And, being booksellers, we dream of being able to have all the award-winners and honor books on hand for customers on the day the awards are announced.
This is a bit of a pipe dream, of course, since many thousands of children’s books are published each year, and we can’t keep *everything* in stock every single day. Books sell, and re-order cycles vary, so while we do the best we can to keep high-demand books and books we adore in stock most of the time, there will be gaps. And once the awards are announced, booksellers across the country are pouncing on any available stock the warehouses have. When the dark horse books win, they may have had small print runs, and publishers – taken by surprise by the award – need to reprint to meet demand.
We receive phone calls from all across the country from customers looking for first printings of award-winning books, and we get excited drop-in buying visits from teachers, librarians, author and illustrator customers, and alert civilians who keep up with the American Library Association awards.
So that means Josie and I are a veritable SWAT team of readiness on awards morning. We divide and conquer. I monitor the ALA’s live webcast and the various Twitter feeds (this year, #alamw14), and send winners to Josie instantly so she can do stock checks with warehouses. We place our orders as fast as we can—with real-time stock checks, we can see numbers dwindle before our very eyes. And timing is important even for backorders; for the most part, orders are fulfilled in the order received, so promptness is key.
And then, orders sent, flush with the fun rush of the Big Day, we spend the rest of the week debating the results along with everyone else.
By the time you read this, the ALA awards announcements will have been made. Are you happy with the winners? Surprised by any underdog victors? Distraught by overlooked favorites? Weigh in!

“Use Your Inside Whisper”

Josie Leavitt - January 24, 2014

Nothing is cuter than little kids who fill the store with energy and enthusiasm. They are joyful and often this can be loudly expressed. It’s never a problem with us, frankly a little boy or girl shouting, “We have this!” when he sees a book from home is endearing. But, I don’t have to live with it. Over the years I’ve seen parents adopt many different strategies for quieting down exuberant children.
The least effective way to silence loud kids is to tell them to be quiet. I’ve seen this time and time again. It seems to have the exact opposite effect. Children just seem to not hear this, just like how moms can ignore shouts of “Mom” for long minutes. Kids must hear this a lot, I know I did as a kid. I was a pointer-outer who liked to shout at things as I noticed them. My mom would always ask me to quiet down, and it never worked.
One technique I’ve seen that’s just genius is the “Let’s-see-how-quiet-we-can-be because we’re spies game.” Who doesn’t love a fun game? I’ll often join in on the fun and play along. It’s a fun way to help kids focus on picking books. There is another game I’ve played with kids who are not only loud, but won’t let a parent get a word in edgewise. I’ll suggest they count to 10, 10 times. This usually works and it’s just enough time that the mom or dad can spit out what they’re looking for and we can pull things to look at.
For younger children who might find counting to 10 a challenge, one mom devised something very simple: the inside whisper. Not just the inside voice, but inside whisper, so gentle and so effective. I’ve only seen this used with one little boy about two and a half. This little blonde-headed moppet was surprisingly loud and very happy. His shouts of, “Truck! Look! Mom!” were actually adorable. He pointed out everything. His mom very patiently suggested that he use his inside whisper. He quieted down until he forgot and she’d gently remind him and they just keep repeating the cycle until everyone was chuckling.
It’s funny, though – more often than not I’m telling people they don’t have to whisper in the store.

Authors: Where You Link Is Important

Josie Leavitt - January 23, 2014

Indies_First_328x233I have a friend whose first middle-grade novel is coming out. I’m thrilled for him and cannot wait to sell the book when it comes later this year. He recently sent out an email blast announcing the book’s release and included only a link to Amazon. I responded to the email and mentioned linking to IndieBound and he immediately did. But this brings up what I struggle with as an independent bookstore owner: why is Amazon often thought of first? and why do I have to have this “indies first” conversation with so many authors?
That people think of Amazon as the place to go for books is galling, but also a concrete reality in 2014. I totally understand that because of their near total domination of the online book world authors  would think they’re the best place to link to. Here’s the thing: Amazon will list your book, they’ll have all the reviews (legit and not so legit) and some other book suggestion. It’s fast and the site is beautifully run. They will sell your book, ship it to all your friends and family, and the book might just delivered on a Sunday, but that’s it. And we all know, that most books, not written by household names, need more help than that to sell.
I know I talk about this a lot, but every time the chance for education presents itself, I’ll take it: booksellers can do more to sell your book than Amazon. There, I’ve said it. And you know what, it’s true. Here’s the thing, if indies like your book we will talk about it. A lot. When Because of Winn-Dixie came out, no one had heard of Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick did a great chapter teaser mailing and indies fell in love with Winn-Dixie and we couldn’t wait to put in the hands of kids, parents, grandparent, and librarians, etc. Booksellers like to talk about books. Conversation sells books. One person’s excitement about a book is usually more than enough to have someone buy it.
Indies launched Harry Potter as well. Of course no one remembers that, but we did. We read the galley of the first book and put it in the hands of readers. We held release parties for each subsequent book. Readers didn’t have to wait for the mail to get delivered, they showed up at midnight and mingled with other avid fans in line. Kids and their parents talked about the books while they waited for the magic hour that heralded the actual release.
Independent bookstores love having events for authors we love. There is nothing more fun than having an event that introduces one of our favorite writers/illustrators to our customers. Again, it’s the real, honest human connection that makes the difference. So, it does matter where you link your books, because your links are the ways for your friends, fans, etc., to get your books, and that sends a message. If you only link to Amazon you’re sending a message that you’re not interested in bookstore support. And believe me, bookstores notice this. When bookstore owners are offered authors/illustrators for visits, we go to their websites to see who they link to. If there isn’t an Indie Bound link or a local bookstore link, stores sometimes say no to events.
Here’s the takeaway: link to the places that actually help sell your books. In the kids’ world, more often than not, it’s going to be the indies. I’m not saying don’t link to Amazon, although that would make my day, but link to your local independent store and to Indie Bound. (On a side note, this always brings up the frustration of why didn’t the ABA rebrand IndieBound with a name that would alphabetically come before Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)
By linking to indies, you’re acknowledging that we figure in the sales chain. By not doing that, you’re going to raise the ire of every independent bookstore that happens to look at your site, and an angry bookseller doesn’t sell your books. Put these links on your email signatures and your website and make booksellers across the land happy.

Thrice! For Birdy

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 20, 2014

I do so love it when avid readers come to the store with strong opinions about the books they love and the ones that leave them cold. I especially love it when the readers are kids, unafraid to speak with certainty and vigor about their preferences. That’s one of the many reasons I am always happy to see author Kate Messner pop into the bookstore with her daughter, whom I’ll nickname Birdy.
Birdy is around 12 now, and she was in the mood for a light read in between two heavier novels. She tends to prefer realistic fiction to fantasy (but is allergic to romance), and has definite opinions about what she’s read. Her face is so expressive; books she likes get bright eyes, a quick smile, and approving nods, while books she dislike are dismissed with a nose wrinkle and a head shake. She’s articulate about why she doesn’t like what she doesn’t like. She and her mom have animated discussions about the books, and it’s fun to hear their comfortable, incisive, funny conversations.
I showed Birdy several possible titles, including one of my favorite light reads, Jean Ferris’s Once Upon a Marigold. I said, “And if you read this one and like it, there are two more in the series: Twice Upon a Marigold, and —” I paused for mock dramatic effect — “Thrice Upon a Marigold.” At this last, Birdy and Kate both gasped simultaneously. Long, happy gasps. For a second, I thought perhaps this was a long-lost title they had been looking for, but since it was just published last April (I notice that the paperback is coming out this April), that couldn’t be. Then they burst out laughing.
“Wow,” I said. “I don’t think this book has ever gotten quite that reaction before.”
Birdy explained, “I’m on a mission to bring back the word ‘thrice.’ It’s a great word, and it should be used again.”
I agree. “Thrice” is a terrific word. It’s sharp, efficient, and satisfying to say. That “r” adds a little chewiness to the cool crispness of the word, doesn’t it?
Birdy found a couple of books she will undoubtedly share her opinion of with us on her next visit. For my part, I will happily support her cause.
So, in recognition of avid young bibliophiles and lovers of mildly arcane language everywhere, I hereby beseech ShelfTalker readers to help Birdy bring back “thrice.” While you’re at it, feel free to share your sparkling palate cleanser reading recommendations for 12-year-old readers!

The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 17, 2014

With this post’s title, it would be easy to think I’m about to sling a little mud. But really, I want to sing the praises of a graphic novel memoir by one of my favorite cartoonists, Jimmy Gownley. As graphic novels go, I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I don’t read every one that crosses my path, but I have loved many since cutting my GN teeth on Alan Moore’s The Watchmen a zillion years ago (okay, in the late ’80s). I like everything from the whimsical — the hilarious Binky the Space Cat series is an instant sell to everyone I show it to — to the adventurous (Zita the Space Girl, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword) to the quirky (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, almost anything by Edward Gorey, etc.) and many, many others. I’m also a huge fan of Scott McCloud’s brilliant Understanding Comics. Anyhow, all this by way of saying that I have a genuine, if amateur, appreciation of the graphic novel, and Jimmy Gownley is the bee’s knees.
I can’t recall who turned me on to Gownley’s Amelia Rules series, but I remember thinking, “Why haven’t I seen these before?! They’re fabulous!” Amelia Rules is sort of a slightly older Peanuts, full of wry observations, hilariously mortifying experiences, great friendships, and appealingly flawed characters. I’m not sure how well known the series is among kids nationwide, but it’s deserving of a very wide audience of readers.
So when an ARC of Gownley’s memoir arrived at the bookstore recently (The Dumbest Idea Ever!, Scholastic/Graphix, publishing February 25, 2014), it had one of the shortest shelf-to-read time spans in my personal galley history. I grabbed it and finished it the same night, in one fast, happy gulp. It’s the story of how Jimmy Gownley started drawing comics as a young teen, and how “the dumbest idea ever” from his best friend, who suggested Gownley abandon the superhero story he was struggling with and instead write about kids like themselves — and what happened when he finally did.
Gownley’s comics always have a generous spirit and boatloads of humor, and that’s true in this book, too. Here, much of that humor is at his own expense. For example, after his comics have brought him local fame at a young age, Jimmy’s ego becomes a little much until he is firmly pulled back to earth by an exasperated friend.
One of the things I love about this memoir is that Gownley doesn’t limit his story just to his love of drawing. He was also a really good basketball player, and he had a range of friends — including girls — that he admired and respected. Gownley excels at creating a full, rich sense of a teenage world.
Beyond the laughter, I think young readers will come away impressed with Jimmy Gownley’s persistence in pursuing his passion (a passion, by the way, that he wasn’t born into, but discovered) despite the frustrations and false starts, and inspired by the serendipitous way that dumb ideas, combined with an open mind, imagination, talent, and satisfying hard work, can lead to brilliant success.
(Note: the ARC lists the age range as a narrow 10-12, but the story follows Jimmy up through his middle teens, including a first girlfriend, and I’m planning on giving this to my 14-year-old nephew, who is a sophisticated reader I know will enjoy it.)
ShelfTalker folks, I’m curious: has anyone ever given you a really dumb idea that turned out to be an unexpected boon?

My Wish List for Marketing Departments in 2014

Josie Leavitt - January 16, 2014

In the spirit of the New Year, I am hoping to share my wish list on how publishers’ marketing departments can help out independent bookstores more in 2014.
– Please do not send a box of 10 mini-book teaser chapters from a new book that has $2.80 of rightpostage due. I got this package on Monday. I did not ask for this mailing. Some of you are probably saying, “Then why did you open it?” Honestly, when I shook the box it felt like there might be candy in it. Sadly there was no candy, just a small display.
– This brings up something that has always bothered me. Why can’t I sign up for the promo items I want? There are certain things I know I can never use. Yes, it is fun to have things to give away, but with very tight storage space, I reach a point of thinking: enough. Let me see what you have for the season and let me get the things I’m really excited about and can use.
– In-store displays that are too wide. Yes, I love Captain Underpants as much as every eight-year-old boy in the country, but a display that’s three to four feet wide is bordering on too big to fit. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this display, but it was hard to navigate around.
– This genius idea is from Elizabeth: create a digital poster template for promoting author events at the stores. This would be massively helpful for all stores on that author’s tour. Often, we (and by we I mean Elizabeth) create our own flyers and postcards, but boy, it would be great to have one that looks great and takes five minutes. Also, by making it digital, I can email it to libraries, schools and senior centers for them to print out and hang in their places. This would be a win-win for all of us.
raffia– Raffia. There, I’ve said it. Please no more.
– Keep sending us so many amazingly talented authors and illustrators. Visits from these people enrich our town, enliven our schools and create wonder in children and adults alike.
– Send more event kits. They are great. Kids love the activity sheets and color pages, and I’m happy to make copies to save the expense. The beauty of this, then, is I can print out as many copies as I need. And they are great for kids to play with at the event when they’re waiting for a book to get signed.
– More posters and bookmarks for adult books, please. One of the hazards of being well-known for our children’s section is that folks forget we sell a ton of books for adults as well.
– Remember that there lots of truly amazing independent bookstores north of Boston.
– Send us a calendar, digital, printed or on-line, with upcoming release dates, so we can be better prepared to more knowledgeably sell your books. This was the very first thing Elizabeth suggested when I asked her about this. So simple and so easy, and unbelievably helpful.
– Keep sending those yummy galleys. Our galley bookcase is almost full to bursting and that’s how we like it.
– Another winning idea from Elizabeth. This seems fitting coming from her, since I don’t know what a widget is. Create and send us widget codes for your book trailers so we can use them on our website and Facebook. We all love interesting content for our websites, but not every store has a dedicated social media person. So, I’ll happily take as much help as I can get, because if it’s simple, chances are I’ll do it.
– Every once in a while send us some candy.

Turns Out, She Is a Reader

Josie Leavitt - January 13, 2014

The life of a bookstore staffer is full of interactions with customers. We listen, we suggest, we share and often we get to hear, sometimes months later, an update on either the book suggestions or discussions we’ve had. This is one of the real advantages of working in a small town; people follow up. I had a lovely moment over the weekend. A mom came in and filled me on her 13-year-old daughter’s reading.
girl_reading_a_book_while_laying_on_the_floor_0515-1002-0104-0834_SMUFirst, some background. In March of last year this mom came in with her three kids. Her middle daughter (the 13-year-old) had her head down and seemed a little dejected. The mom said in a whisper, that all could hear, “She’s not a reader, like her brother.” I took this in and said nothing. This kind of statement has always bothered me. First of all, everyone is a reader; as Elizabeth always says: “There’s no such thing a bad reader, they just haven’t found the right book.” I have taken this to heart.
Several weeks later the mom came in sans children and I took a chance. I asked about Taylor, the non-reader. Her mom practically cried about her frustrations with not getting her interested in any book no matter how hard she tried. I told Christy that to compare the kids to each other, especially when one child is having a harder time getting into reading, just sets her up for failure. (It’s amazing how many times a week, in bookstores all over the country parents set their kids up as readers and non-readers.) I asked what sorts of things her daughter was interested in: boys, math and her friends. I said with confidence as I handed her The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, “Just leave this on the coffee table and say nothing.” In a house with all boys, I thought it this was a safe bet that the book would remain untouched except by Taylor.
This goes to rule number two: if a parents wants a child to read, then they should not push a book on the child. Let the child discover the book for herself. Book selection is critical to help a struggling reader. Sometimes, kids, like adults, get overwhelmed at the bookstore or library by the sheer number of choices available and just shut down. Plus, the repeated attempts to read recommended books that just aren’t engaging enough can discourage a kid.
I am thrilled to say that Christy came in and was practically bursting to tell me something: “She’s reading at breakfast now! There is always a book in her hands. Thank you.” We talked for a long time about Taylor and reading. By taking the pressure off FINDING SOMETHING TO READ, Taylor was free to relax about reading without someone checking in to see if she was reading. Also, hooking kids on a series is a great way to get them to keep reading because they’ve fallen in love with the characters and need to know what happens.
Here’s the beauty of reading: one good book experience begets another. Once someone realizes there are good books that appeal to them, they are much more likely to keep reading and try different things. All everyone needs is that first engaging book to get them started. For some of us that happens at six, for others 13. Taylor is now reading all kinds of books and loving them.