As is common in summer, several groups of families and visitors overlapped at the Flying Pig at the same time the other day. It was immediately clear who was local and who was from out of town. Sometimes we can tell when tourists aren’t familiar with small, personal bookstores; they are surprised and sometimes initially uncomfortable when we call out a greeting, then warm up when they realize we aren’t going to hover obsessively nearby while they browse.
One of the families – parents with their two daughters – was from a big city in the west, and they seemed to be having a rough day. Their older daughter, 11 or 12, was in a bad mood and taking it out on the rest of the family: scorning her father for trying to recommend books to her, complaining about every aspect of their Vermont trip, ridiculing her little sister for showing enthusiasm about anything. It was hard to want to initiate conversation because her behavior was so off-putting, but I wanted to try to break through her bad mood and help her have a better day. My experience with kids is that, even if they seem crabby and difficult — maybe especially when they are crabby and difficult – they are still hoping to connect to something or someone in a positive way. So I did my best to be friendly and kind and show her books I thought she might like. Can’t say I succeeded in completely turning her day around, but I did my best. At least she and her sister did find books they wanted to read.
Meanwhile, three kids ranging in age from 10 to 12, unaccompanied by grownups, were also in the store. They spent a lot of time in the fantasy section, which is near the cash-wrap area, so we could hear a lot of their conversation. They were a well-read trio, and helped each other recall titles and authors. They were having fun, testing out some of the toys (and informing us of a little bin of bouncing balls that had gone flat). At first I thought they might be siblings close in age, but it turned out they were just pals who had biked to the store. We got into a lively conversation about books we loved, and they kept exclaiming enthusiastically about new titles they wanted to read. “We biked over here without our wallets,” said the 12-year-old girl. “I thought it was going to be fine coming in without our money, but this is hard!” She said it good-naturedly. All three kids were so relaxed and cheerful, I kept wishing some of their good juju would transmit itself to the girl who was having the tough day.
I couldn’t bear for them to leave empty-handed, so I went to the office and pulled out six advance reading copies. I showed them the books and invited them each to choose one to take home and read. “Pick a book,” I said. “We’d love your opinion. No time pressure; just read whichever book strikes your interest and come back and let us know what you think of it.” Their eyes were huge with the unexpected delight as I left to go help some of our other customers.
About 15 minutes later, they came over to me. “We have a plan!” they said. “What we’re going to do is, we’re going to start our books July 1, and then when we’re done, we’re going to have a book club and tell each other about them. And then we’re going to come back here and tell you what we thought.” They were as excited as kids getting ready to build a fort. “We want to show you that we’re worth this,” said the 12-year-old girl. How touching is that? How appreciative and earnest and wonderful! And how cool is it that my job allows me to be Santa Claus now and again?
Exchanges like that always renew my own enthusiasm for bookselling – especially children’s bookselling – and make me wish that all kids’ days could be as easily enlivened by that simplest of items, a book.