I’m spending five days in Pittsburgh for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association annual Marketplace and Academy with several thousand of my closest playmates — so come join me for a playdate, and let’s talk toys!
ASTRA’s annual event is part educational conference, part tradeshow, and all fun and games. It’s also the place where I discover new brands and products, and finalize my ordering for the rest of the year, divided into multiple shipments and delivery dates. We have a saying in toy retail: “If it’s not on the water in June, it’s not on the shelves in December,” reflecting the importance of booking orders early for holiday sales and catalog publication. This year, in the shadow of impending tariffs, that saying could be more true than ever before.
A few of my childhood go-to’s. I’d usually have three or four books going at once.
One of our regulars, Lincoln, came to the store the other day with his dog, Zeno. This isn’t unusual; Lincoln and Zeno often end up at the bookstore after their jaunts through the woods and lakeside trails in our town. What was unusual was that Lincoln wasn’t looking for a book. “I’m reading five at the moment,” he said, “and while I’m tempted, I can’t add another to the mix.”
This led to a lively storewide discussion of reading habits: who reads one book at a time, and who likes to have several books going at once. (The store was split about 50/50, though that may be an atypical sampling.)
As Elizabeth mentioned this week, BookExpo has become less about book discovery for booksellers and more about other kinds of business conversations. Partially because I have been trying to mix it up between conferences—especially with Children’s Institute in the rotation—I’ve missed BookExpo the last couple of years, but I enjoyed being back. Coming to New York always offers the value of meeting more people from the home office, so I took advantage of the chance to set up some business meetings. I also walked around and had some first-hand conversations with smaller presses and graphic novel imprints. You know, one thing I find challenging as a buyer is to differentiate true YA-appropriate graphic novels from those that are really for adults in some of the mixed catalogs, especially when they aren’t sold in by graphic novel specialists. (Make a kids and YA Edelweiss catalog, Diamond Books!) So I took the chance to make the rounds and ask all my questions, which was great!
While there’s certainly less book discovery at the show now, I still always leave with my thoughts focused around at least one book that I really want to tell people about, and this year, that was the remarkable Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. Set in the near future, Emezi depicts the utopian aftermath of a righteous revolution in which a group of legendary “angels” has rooted out the “monsters” of society and eliminated evil wherever it lurked—in government, law enforcement, or behind closed doors at home. Now, in the idyllic enclave of Lucille, residents rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the monsters are forever gone and everything has changed. Continue reading
I got an unusual, bittersweet but wonderful phone call six weeks ago from a kindergarten teacher at Rumford Elementary. Rumford is a mill town about 40 minutes from Farmington. Rumford Elementary has two kindergarten classes with a total of 48 students. It turns out that the teacher had been curious to know how many of the children had ever been to a bookstore. The answer turned out to be none.
She had called me in the hopes of rectifying that sad fact and we arranged for an official field trip to our bookstore. Friday, May 17th was a rainy day and we were excited to see a yellow school bus appear in front of DDG.
My mother, who is 92, lives in a nearby assisted living residence, and I visit her in the mornings on my way to the bookshop. We sit together at her breakfast table with three other ladies, and while they eat (cornflakes or oatmeal, followed by scrambled eggs and toast, or pancakes on Tuesdays and Thursdays) I drink my coffee and jot down my staff projects list for the day. I share tales of store events and funny customers, and they give advice about store layout (too many places don’t have enough chairs, or good light) and staff attire and shelf height and well… everything, including an admonition to “put on a little lipstick, dear, before work.” I sometimes tuck a new impulse item or two in my bag for their amusement, and leave behind both publisher swag and puzzles with damaged boxes that are headed for our clearance rack – new puzzles are very popular in the activity room, and those shiny padded envelopes that some publishers use for ARCs are just perfect to recycle to mail packages for great-grandchildren’s birthdays.
I think I’ve only missed two or three BookExpos — that former lion of trade shows for the book industry — in 23 years. Held every spring, BookExpo was the arena for serious bookseller education, for us to see all the upcoming fall books, socialize with colleagues from around the country, meet with publishers and publicists, collect some prized autographs from authors and book-writing celebrities, and attend dinners and parties held by publishing houses celebrating their star book lineup for the fourth quarter. We can still do much of that BookExpo, but it’s become a shadow of its former self for many booksellers.
Our weekly story time and preschool activity schedule (This Is the Way We Sweep the Floor) has a new addition this year, and it’s been such fun to implement that I wanted to invite you to play along, too. On Wednesday mornings we are now hosting “Stories and Play,” a 30–45 minute session devoted to the literacy of games, introducing preschoolers and their parents to the value of table games. The idea for this session began during last holiday season, when our staff noticed that games for the five- to eight-year-old set we selling briskly, but those games targeted for younger ages of two to four were not turning as well. We began to talk about all of the pre-literacy and verbal skills that are strengthened and supported by these types of games, and how easily we could incorporate game play into a story time, just as we now use art and music. As an easy-to-plan and even easier-to-run summer programming idea, I’m sharing the dice and spinners with all of you, too.