Every summer, we get the call. “Hello, this is May Tuttle. Will Elizabeth be in on Saturday?” They’re asking for me because we have a longstanding book relationship. The Tuttles (not their real name) are one of our favorite summer families, a couple whose daughter is a voracious young reader. They come in once or twice a summer to stock up; for years now, I’ve been helping her discover stacks of new books to take home and devour.
It’s one of my favorite sights of the year: this fresh-faced, lively, beautiful kid hops into the store and rushes up to the counter with a big “I’m here! And you’re here!” grin on her face. No matter how busy or stressful the day has been, it’s just turned into a great one. We head into the middle grade section to start exploring.
(For this post, I asked our young friend to create her own alias. As big a sports fan as she is a reader, she chose “Slugger,” which I love, because she may look delicate, but she’s also fierce!) Continue reading →
I have been feeling a little blue for the last week or so, as most of my young customers have headed back to school, and the store is quieter during the day (see First Day of School Blues). Rather than retreat to my office to focus on fall orders and staff schedules, I volunteered to do the story times this week, hoping that a bit of time sitting on the floor “criss-cross-applesauce” would do some good for both my mood and my flexibility. The preschool crowd at our morning events has changed over the summer, and as we graduated a group of newly-minted kindergartners, suddenly toddlers from the spring have become “threes” — that stalwart group of story and playtime leaders who make regular visits to the shop, rotating adult in tow. As old hands now at the story time routine, they wait impatiently for their grown-up to pull open our front door (which is heavy, and jingles) and then rush in to take over their spot at the train table, doll play area, or blocks. They confidently pull all the diecast cars down from the display to drive on the rug, knowing that as long as the vehicles get put back in some random fashion, no one is going to mind. Busily rearranging all the impulse bins and pushing around the child-sized shopping cart, the three year old crew is happy to share their news, their opinions, and their emotional support. Continue reading →
Evan gamely playing Waldo at our recent Waldo party.
Are children who read a lot of books more likely to do the right the thing in a tough spot, and if so do we then have a responsibility to make the real world aftermath more like a book’s narrative for them when they do the right thing? My assistant manager Karin’s son Evan certainly reads a lot of books. Last week he found himself in a tough spot analogous to many he had read about. The upshot made me ask our lead question.
Evan, who is a middle schooler, was at a playground with a group of friends. A black child either visiting or new to the area was there. One of Evan’s friends began making racist comments to the black child. Evan told him to stop. He did not. Evan continued to tell him to stop. Finally Evan said, “It’s okay when you are a jerk to me, it is not okay when you are a jerk to him like this.” The boy then punched Evan in the face, blooding his nose in such a way that his shirt and pants were also bloodied.
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It’s a sad, sad day here in Hoosiertucky, as the big yellow busses rounded neighborhood street corners and stopped at the end of cul-de-sacs, gathering up clusters of kids wearing new sneakers and brightly colored backpacks. They carried iPhones and “show and tell” treasures, gym bags full of cheer and cross country and soccer gear for practice after school, permission slips and lunch money, and a little piece of our hearts… for now, there are no “big kids” in the store during the day.
We’ll still see the school-aged crowd in the store occasionally, but they will be different. Tired from a long day of classes, recess kickball, and after school activities, they might stop in on weekdays if they have an appointment at the dentist next door, or the allergist just down the block. They’ll ride their bikes over in the evening, on those precious nights when the homework is light and the sky is too… but this will end quickly. We’ll see them in cleats and shin guards after practice sometimes, dropped off at the door while Mom or Dad waits in the idling Suburban outside, just to pick up a title for school reading or a new release that they just can’t wait to get their hands on…. but they can’t stay and chat, for strength training or Chinese classes or math tutoring awaits, and their dinner to be eaten on the way is getting cold in the car. Proud little kindergartners will stop by after school to share news of teachers and school lunch (“Mrs lady Cynthia…. there was PIZZA today! And I got to sit with my best friend!”) but soon they will have Daisy Scouts and Fall Ball and Chess League and Math Pentathlon… and we will be only a weekend destination.
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Recently, we had a jam-packed offsite event weekend planned: a Friday evening launch party for two of our favorite Vermont authors whose books were releasing on the same date, and afternoon events on both Saturday and Sunday for a visiting author from out of town. While one of them went with barely a hitch and the other had major hiccups, both were joyful celebrations that built community.
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Last week, we had three preschool field trips in three days, which served as a really sweet end to our summer programming in the store. It’s true that summer’s not exactly over, but everything has definitely entered back to school mode around here. The schools in our area start heading back as early as August 15, so we’re just on the cusp of launching into a new season. Part of what that means these days is field trips. Over the summer we host mostly preschool tours, since their programs run year round, but during the rest of the year we increasingly host groups of all ages.
We keep the program pretty simple, focused around a storytime or book talks (depending on the age of the crowd) followed by a tour and some shopping time. We’ve hosted several schools for annual field trips every year, but we just formalized the program about a year ago after seeing an uptick in inquiries. We love having groups in, but because these events take staff time to facilitate, we needed to create some kind of structure. We came up with a $4.50 per head fee that we then give back in the form of $5 coupons for each child to use while they’re onsite. We’ve had about 15 different schools participate in the new program in the last year, and with just one exception, the schools have chosen to let the kids use the coupons in the store to pick out something to take home that day (usually telling the parents to send extra money if they want). Since it’s been about a year, I thought I’d check in with Eugenia Vela, who runs the program, to see how it’s been going.
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My son Reid on one of the island’s less accessible features.
We booksellers spend a good deal of time, effort and energy engaged in that noble task of influencing the titles housed on other people’s bookshelves. Yet we also take a professional interest in decoding and learning from bookshelves that we encounter in the wild. In fact, there is no respite from the exercising of our bibliographic muscles, even on vacation, or perhaps I should say especially on vacation as the books on the shelves of vacation homes are of peculiar interest.
Vacation house bookshelves are meant to provide ambiance of course, as all domestic bookshelves do, but are also much more likely to be read by guests, and are much more like a library than the shelves of unrented homes. My wife and I spend a week every year on a Maine island we love. Indeed I am there now post-hike and pre-quaffing hour.
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