My Favorite Handsells

Josie Leavitt -- September 21st, 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.

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