Every day kids come into the bookstore wanting a book, or two, that their parents say no to. I see it as my job to help these kids get the books that they want while keeping the parents happy. This can be no easy feat sometimes. I try to balance the parent’s needs with the child’s desire for said book(s).
It’s very easy to assess the need for books. I have a surefire test to know how badly, and how legitimately a kid wants a book. Quite simply, will they do chores for the privilege of getting the book? If they balk, then I know as do their parents, they really don’t want the book. If they start smiling and then are open to suggestions about chores, then they want the book.
Last week an earnest boy about 11 was here with a big desire for a hardcover. His mom said flat out no in no uncertain terms. The child was crestfallen because he had no money and this was a book he’d been searching for for quite some time. The mom and I made eye contact and I went for it. “What would you be willing to do around the house to help your mom out for this book?” Evan looked at me and said, “Well, I could clean up my room.” I sensed this could be a good experience for all involved. I suggested since the book was an $18 hardcover perhaps three things could get done around the house. Evan and I brainstormed while his mom stood back smiling. “I could feed the cat,” he offered. I shot him down on that one and he looked surprised. “Having a pet is a privilege. Feeding it shouldn’t be rewarded. You should just feed it. The litter box, however, is nasty and (I looked at his mom on this one, she nodded) that can totally count.” So, we had Evan cleaning up his room, dealing with the litter box and the final chore was setting the table for dinner. I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen a kid happier to do three chores for a book, ever. He understood the value of the book. As they left I heard him muttering, “Litter box, room, table. Litter box, room, table.” His mother thanked me for helping to redirect their whole experience.
This tactic only works on the right people. What other ways do you booksellers have to help kids learn how to bargain for books?