Monthly Archives: September 2018

A Bookseller’s Fall Juggling Act

Meghan Dietsche Goel - September 28, 2018

Natasha makes space for more overstock.

At bookstores we always talk about the holiday rush, and that’s a real thing. Come December, it’s an all hands on deck situation on the floor, putting books in hands, giving recommendations, and keeping the shelves impossibly full. But, in a way, the September-October-November whirlwind is harder to manage. There are just a lot more different balls to keep up in the air. The store gets busier, as families get back from vacations and camps, kids need books for school, book fairs start going out, and all the new releases start hitting the shelves. But it’s also when frontlist orders need to be placed for Winter-Spring, holiday planning gets underway, and event season really kicks in. Keeping it all on track takes a bit of strategic juggling.
As the towers of book boxes stack ever higher and inboxes (virtually) groan with the weight of their contents, it’s sometimes hard to see past each day’s urgent tasks. Yesterday, as our marketing team spent the day setting up offsite sales for the Texas Tribune Festival; our school event team helped facilitate six school events around town with Max Brallier, Jonathan Auxier, and Alexandra Penfold; and we capped it all off with two packed evening events for families, it started to feel like the balls in the air might just start to blur.

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A Quieter Banned Books Week

Cynthia Compton - September 27, 2018

This has been a quieter, more reflective observation of Banned Books Week in our store, and I think it might have been so in other places, too. We look forward to this week on the calendar as one of those absolutes of independent bookselling, like the annual observance of Indies First and the weekly Tuesday launch of new titles. It’s part of what makes us “indie” – we pause to make a fuss, along with our colleagues in the public and school library system, about the challenges of access to books that have been confronted in the last year. We marvel at the repeat titles (“Really? Someone still objects to that?”), we shake our heads ruefully at the lack of understanding demonstrated by groups who choose to protest books (that they haven’t even READ in their entirety!), and we admire our stalwart champions in schools, libraries and universities who battle these onslaughts.
Surely, we think, in a time when information and unrestricted physical access are as easy as the click of a cursor or a finger on the screen of a tablet…. surely, now, we don’t need to waste time or energy trying to ban old-fashioned print books? When the nightly news contains more horror and violence than can be invented in any dystopian YA fantasy series, when sexual content is presented without filter as advertising for consumer products, and when hatred against people for differences as insignificant as hair color are commonplace front page news…. surely, now, there is no need to remove books from curriculums or library collections? But challenges to content continue, and brave colleagues saddle up yet again to defend, to explain, to invite others into a world where we read broadly to understand deeply.
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Preschool Bookfair Season

Cynthia Compton - September 26, 2018

We are knee deep (or knee high) into preschool book fair season in our store, which peaks annually in the early fall and again right before Easter. We started offering onsite book fairs to preschools and childcare centers almost 10 years ago, and now have a schedule of repeat business that keeps us hop, skip and jumping through the last two weeks of September through Halloween. I’m writing this post from a little chair, pulled up to a teeny tiny table in the entry hallway of a local Montessori school, but my schedule the next few weeks lets me hopscotch across the county, as up and down as the wheels on the bus.

Book fairs are big business for some stores, and require warehouses and trucks and dedicated staff. At 4 Kids, we focus the book fair activity into a smaller, more concentrated group, mostly serving the 0 – 5 year old set, and market our book fairs to private preschools. Our events are two to three days in length, coordinating either with parent/teacher conferences, fall family festivals, or just the daily schedule of the school, offering books for sale at morning drop-off and afternoon and evening pickup. We bring 100 to 200 titles, a lot of book racks and bins, and some flexibility with both merchandising and cash/wrap options. Our POS system, blessedly, is accessible anywhere there is WiFi service, and all we need is a laptop or tablet with a SQUARE credit card processing attachment. In the “old days,” however, we carried a “kerchunker” – that terrific device that imprinted carbon receipts, which would be collected and entered at the store at the end of each day.

Australian Curriculum

I try to visit each preschool several weeks before our event, to meet the teachers, check out their library, and learn from the pictures on the walls just what subjects have been discussed in the classroom recently. In a perfect scenario, we also invite teachers or a representative from the school to our store, where they can browse and identify titles that might be of interest. Sometimes, we even get “wish lists” from individual classrooms of books that the teacher would like to have, and these can be highlighted in a notebook or a display for parents to purchase and donate. More frequently, however, it’s my advance scouting that drives the selection, enhanced by the ability to return to the shop after the first day and bring back more requested titles or subjects. Certain themes, like early literacy and numeracy, multicultural awareness, and the “holy trinity” of preschool books are always popular (that would be any books about a new baby sibling, peeing, or this year, unicorns. The ideal title – are you listening, publishers? – would be  Superhero Sam’s Mommy Is Having a Baby Unicorn in the Bathroom).
There are some unexpected benefits of holding the book fair onsite, including longish conversations with teachers who are waiting for parents to arrive, and parents who are waiting to see teachers at conferences, or waiting for a young child to finish an activity and be ready to go home. Better still are the conversations with students:
“Mrs Book Lady, do you know Llama?”
“Llama, Llama? Who wears red pajamas? Yes, I do.”
“Well. My sister has red pajamas. But she’s a baby. And she can’t read and she poops. But we have a cat.”
“Like Pete?”
“Yes. And I have Paw Patrol pajamas.”
“That’s really cool. I like Paw Patrol. Do you want to look at a Paw Patrol book with me?”
“I will pick out some good books. I am a good book picker. You can read them, if you don’t be boring. Sometimes my dad falls asleep. But he says he’s resting. Do you need to rest? And I like fairies. Those are not just for girls. I am a boy.
“I am wide awake right now. And  And you are a very good book selector. And I like fairies, too. Yes, there are boy and girl fairies. That is good.”
The value of the preschool book fair to our business is measured in more than pajama comparisons with charmingly articulate three-year-olds. The lives of young parents are hurried and overwhelming, particularly if there are two careers to be managed alongside Pee Wee Soccer, field trip permission slips, and delivery of (organic, allergen-free) snacks for the class on a weekly schedule. Trips to the local bookstore may be few and far between, and the friendships we form in the lobby of the daycare center may be the only chance we have to reach those future customers. We sell books at these events, to be certain, but we also build trust and awareness, and make friends through our mutual understanding of sleep deprivation and multitasking. Our role as book ambassadors must extend everywhere if we are to make bookstores as accessible as big box stores, and we must imprint individual literacy as clearly as the other brands that surround every waking moment of our future customers lives. Local bookstores have the unique opportunity to be present, to be current, and to be personal in the lives of every customer, even those that don’t have the time to visit their stores.


Good Kate DiCamillo! Good Harry Bliss!

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 25, 2018

Oh, ShelfTalker readers! The Flying Pig had the most fantastic visit from two of our favorite children’s book creators on the planet, Harry Bliss and Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press brought them to Vermont to celebrate their new picture book, GOOD ROSIE!, and we were lucky to host them offsite on Sunday. This book is 100% adorable, brilliantly written and illustrated, about a little dog who, while happy with her human companion, is lonely for a dog friend but isn’t sure how to find one. Her experience at the dog park is hilarious, and the way she happens upon unexpected friends will charm the hearts of introverts everywhere. Plus, the line about Rosie feeling lonely “in an empty-silver-bowl sort of way” is my favorite picture book phrase since “Trixie went boneless” and “and it was still hot.” Perfect perfect perfect.
It’s a testament to how much of a draw Kate and Harry are that people were willing to leave the allure of the absolutely glorious fall day outside and head into the Main Street Landing Film House, but they were. More than 200 folks poured in and filled the seats—except for the front row, which I’d diligently reserved for a particular 10 guests, but then forgot to tell those guests to head for reserved seating. Oops! That counts as one of the goofiest oversights in event history. I hope Kate, Harry, and Jennifer from Candlewick will agree that otherwise, all was smooth sailing. Continue reading

Elements of Pre-Order Success

Kenny Brechner - September 20, 2018

As Independent booksellers look to gain traction in the pre-order market, many of us are actively engaged in understanding its nature. Successful pre-order campaigns, like many of life’s other notable missions, involve a complex of factors working together effectively. These factors include early discovery, established customer buying patterns, in-store and online marketing done in conjunction with publisher marketing efforts and the carrot of desirable swag.
The ABA put together a pre-order task force recently which I participated in. Seven titles with fall release dates were chosen for our promotions and we all looked to explore the means to grow our individual store’s presence in this key market. There is no question that the effort was a success. At DDG our pre-order numbers for these titles was much higher than they would have been without the outreach.
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A Story Time Drag Queen Is Born

lhawkins - September 19, 2018

As promised, here is a follow-up on my post from last month about planning for Spellbound’s first-ever Drag Queen Story Hour.
Readers, I am pleased to report that this event was a huge success by every metric (attendance, enjoyment, sales) and we will definitely be doing it again, ideally as a regular story time offering. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outpouring of love and support for this event. Continue reading

Middle-Grade Murders

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 18, 2018

In a recent foray into our advance reading copy bookshelves, I came across three or four upcoming middle-grade books featuring murder as a plot line. It’s almost casually mentioned on the back covers, with descriptions like, “When Alice’s friend is murdered, she and her pal Calvin are on the hunt for the killers. But can they stop them from striking again?”
The treatment of murder as a springboard for entertainment aimed at younger and younger children disturbs me. In an age where respect for human life and dignity is already in danger, how have we become so comfortable with the normalization of murder? Our culture’s endless thirst for violent death as entertainment does stymie me. I’m not immune to the effectiveness of high-stakes situations in entertainment; I found “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” brilliant (with some glitches here and there, but that’s not for this post), and they were extremely violent. I also understand why human beings are obsessed with mortality. But we have so normalized murder in our “entertainment”—especially the murder of young women—that I think there’s been a numbing effect on us all, and it is trickling down to our children.
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Celebrating the Readers in Our Neighborhood

Meghan Dietsche Goel - September 14, 2018

Last year, my son came home from kindergarten with a “Good Citizen” award. It was a cute little acknowledgement for doing something nice for someone else that entitled him to a gift certificate at a neighborhood hamburger place. He could not have been prouder walking in to redeem his reward and get his congratulations. It struck me as such a sweet way to make kids feel special and feel seen, and I had a thought: What if we could help do something like that, but for readers? We do a lot of work with schools—sending more and more authors out every year for incredible events, booktalking in classrooms, offering curated local bookfairs, partnering on large district-wide festivals and events—but maybe we can do a little more to build pride in individual readers who need some acknowledgement?
I sent out exploratory emails to some librarian friends at the end of last year for feedback and then worked with Tomoko Bason, our art director, to get some eye-catching cards designed. We went with two designs, one for younger kids who might be more excited by the idea of being called a Star Reader, and one for older kids who might prefer a less “cutesy” approach. For the kids who come in to redeem their cards, we’re keeping colored stars on-hand that they can write their first names on for celebratory display. I’m imagining that will be more appealing to the younger kids, but anyone who wants is welcome to put up their own. We’ve often done this for summer reading programs over the years, and I love seeing all the names fill in. So I can’t wait to see these special stars start to go up. Continue reading

Is This an Exceptional Moment for Picture Books?

Kenny Brechner - September 13, 2018

Sofonisba Anguissola Self-Portrait (1556)

The exceptional quality of several picture books released recently found me possessed of the belief that we are living in a time of unique excellence. It is perhaps wise, however, to suspect that our sense of the moment we live in, as compared to other points in time, is less than accurate. Every generation has felt that the previous generation was more moral than the current one, that teenagers are running wild, and that the world is being ruined by innovation. These perspectives can’t be perpetually true, of course, but the fact that they are always current is itself instructive.
Nonetheless our perception of the present moment, for good and for bad, can’t be discounted out of hand either. To find out if there is any merit to my belief that the present moment is an exceptional time for picture books I endeavored to ask someone who would know, an expert from another time period. I put the issue to the fabulous Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola.
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Special Orders at the Bookstore

Cynthia Compton - September 12, 2018

(phone ring) “4 Kids Books & Toys, how can I help?
“Hi, do you have any books about building roller coasters? For a six-year-old boy? And his birthday is Thursday, so I don’t have time to order.”
“I can help you. Thursday gives us lots of time. Does he already have any books about roller coasters, so that we don’t duplicate titles?”
Ahhh, the magic of special orders. With two wholesaler warehouses within one day of our store on a delivery truck, we have the luxury of racing against the mighty online behemoth to keep our customers well read and gifted. In fact, in our employee training notebook, we instruct our new booksellers to say that books not in stock “are in the warehouse, and can be brought over” rather than “ordered.” Customers who may be loathe to commit to a “special order” (which for some reason sounds like a big deal) are perfectly content to have a book or two “brought from the warehouse and held behind the counter.” (Semantics, thy name is retail.)
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