My Favorite Handsells

Josie Leavitt - September 21, 2009

There are lots of great books out there. Every day booksellers have the opportunity to literally place books in the hands of customers. The art of handselling is just that: an art. It involves quickly assessing what the customer wants, even when they’re not sure, and more quickly finding a  book for them to consider.  Often I will just hand the customer one book to look at. I find sometimes that pure confidence in your choice makes it easy for the customer to trust the selection.

My favorite books to handsell change with each season, but there are some that I just love season to season.  I’ve tried to pick one from each section.

A board book that I just love selling is Good Night, Gorilla. Charming art and a very clever story, full of humor, make this one an easy choice for people looking for a baby book that isn’t Goodnight Moon.
Perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, Sector 7 is a wonderful adventure. There is something so magical about this wordless book. Every time I show it someone I discover something new. Because it’s wordless, it works for a myriad of ages from toddlers through adults. Every once in a while, I have to really walk someone through the book, because they don’t trust a book without words, but once I get going, usually they’re right there with me.

Moving to chapter books, I have two that I love to recommend. I think of these as less common than the usual chapter books out there. I absolutely adore Johanna Hurwitz’s series that begins with Pee-Wee’s Tale. Take a guinea pig who teaches himself how to read by reading the newspaper on the bottom of cage, throw in a Central Park adventure and you’ve got a great book for emerging readers.  The other series I love to give to new readers is animal-based as well, More Favourite Animal Tales by Jill Tomlinson. This is a collection of three of the books; they are also available as single stories (there are six stories in all). These feature animals having real human emotions. I like that both of these are series books, so kids can really sink in and enjoy.

The middle grade section brings two very different handselling options. The first, Shug, is a fun book to recommend to girls (and boys) who want a little romance but aren’t ready for more than a first kiss. The book rings so true that kids actually handsell it better than I do. For kids who want more of a fantasy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is one of the all-time favorite handsells at the Flying Pig. I came to the book as a adult because my partner Elizabeth read it 25 times when it first came out in the 1970s, and it’s just so good.

There are so many young adults books that are great, but there is one that I consistently go back to when kids are looking for realistic fiction that is well written and deals with tough topics realistically, and that’s Sarah Dessen. Dreamland is my favorite book of hers because it takes the topic of abuse and really sheds a light on it. I always suggest that parents and kids read this one together. Another book that’s great fun to hand to readers looking for something different is Feed. Nothing sells a book better than the first sentence of this book: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
These are just a few of my favorite go-to books — books that don’t often disappoint customers, that I feel really good recommending and selling.

I’d love to hear from other booksellers about some of their favorite books to handsell.

17 thoughts on “My Favorite Handsells

  1. Brandi

    My favorite books to suggest right now are the Polo books by Regis Faller. They are mostly wordless as well, and my 2-year-old and 4-year-old are completely captivated by them.

  2. archie1

    Any attempts to hand sell books that you love just to try to help keep them in print? There are so many great children’s books that just fall by the wayside…I guess that’s life, but I wish there were 100’s of booksellers like you out there recommending stuff like “The Ghost’s Dinner” etc. It’s just too wonderful to be forgotten …you can’t even find this gem anymore, and it’s perfect for this time of year!

  3. Trish Brown

    Thanks for some new ideas. We love Hooray For Fish for the board book set; Gooseberry Park for 8-10s; Best Bad Luck I Ever Had for 10&up; and I Capture the Castle and My Most Excellent Year for YAs.

  4. val hobbs

    Ah! One of my favorites, too. Must have read it a hundred times to my grandson. Now, with the youngest, it’s the Llama books. One of those “wish I had thought of it” books for sure.


    My favorite new baby/baby shower books are the Black/White board books by Hoban. The accordian fold is great for cribs. And the Clubhouse Books by Daniel San Souci–awesome picturebook series for 6 year old boys that I’m personally trying to keep in print!

  6. Alison Clement

    Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer, about a puppy who oinks and meows and snorts, is so much fun for 4-6 year olds. They love recognizing George’s mistakes. I also recommend any of the Minerva Louise books, by Stoeke. Minerva Louise is a chicken who always misinterprets things. I guess it’s just human nature to get a kick out of knowing more than someone else, even if the someone else is just a dog or a chicken.

  7. Jerri Patton

    The Young Reader’s Edition of ‘Three Cups of Tea’ is my favorite hand sell for 8 and up. I usually can sell the mom on the adult edition, I tell them to have a mother/daughter book club. It’s my favorite hand sell because it’s my favorite book. My daughter’s fourth grade raised over $200 in pennies for Pennies for Peace.

  8. Jenny

    My favorite is Owl Babies by Martin Waddell. A great shower gift (in board) or a good book to read when starting up school again (or for parents just going back to work). Goodnight Gorilla is still a favorite in my house and it is fun to sell and what people discover how fun it is!

  9. Kat B

    My daughter’s fav, and a fav of mine to refer when I was a bookseller, is the Patricia Wrede Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Loved Cimorene, such a strong character. I must have read those books to my daughter a hundred times each.

  10. Donna L.

    Wild About Books by Judy Sierra with illustrations by Marc Brown of Arthur fame. If you don’t know it–pick up a copy IMMEDIATELY!! It’s delightful, whimsical and fun and has an underlying theme that everyone can be a reader if the right book is put into their hands.

  11. Joanne Fritz

    Great post, Josie. Thanks for some new ideas. I handsell Good Night Gorilla too, along with Time for Bed by Mem Fox — my favorite for those customers who think they want Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon. I sometimes tell them everyone at the baby shower will give one of those books so I suggest they give something different. I Love You As Much by Laura Krauss Melmed works well for that too. For older kids, I sold dozens and dozens of copies of Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements with this one line: Bobby wakes up one morning to discover that he’s invisible. I adore books that I can handsell with one sentence like that.

  12. Laurie

    Good handsells direct to kids: Face on the Milk Carton by Cooney, Zach’s Lie by Smith. Handselling books to keep them in print: when I worked in a bookstore, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series and Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy series. (Look for new Betsy reprints from HarperCollins next week!) If I were working a bookstore now, I would be seriously handselling the Alvin Ho books. Hilarious. Favorite board book for new babies: Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden


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