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?