Furry Creatures, Poetry Seekers

Alison Morris - July 11, 2007

June and July are two of the craziest months of the year at our bookstore. Between teachers rushing in to spend the remaining money on open purchase orders, schools asking us to provide them with their summer reading books, customers stocking up on enough titles to get their kids through several weeks of summer camp, and (this year) a little thing called Harry Potter, we tend to say no to most authors and illustrators looking to do events at our store in June or early July. We’re just too busy to make room in our schedules, and experience shows that at that time of year our customers are too. It’s almost the opposite of the problem we have from mid-July to the end of August, but the result is the same general stance when it comes to booking events. During that stretch we generally host few if any events, because the town of Wellesley is virtually empty, its residents having packed off to Cape Cod, Maine, or other vacation hot spots.

This year, though, we’ve hosted three children’s author events as exceptions to our "no events" rule, all of them great, if not overwhelmingly well-attended. The first featured not an author but a DOG. Catie Copley, the four-legged star of a new David Godine picture book of the same name, came to our store with her handler, Jim Carey, the Director of Concierge at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, where Catie serves as Canine Ambassador. (I’m not making this up.) During her visit to our store, Catie proved to be anything but Eloise-like in her behavior, and Jim delighted our story time crowd with his reading of the book and soft-spoken answers to questions from the 40 or so children and adults in attendance. The lesson I’ve learned from this event: Busy people will make time for furry four-leggers. (Good to know.)

Last week while I was in Missouri our store hosted two children’s author events that I was very sad to miss. The first was with poet Karen Jo Shapiro, who lives in North Carolina but just completed a month-long stay in the Boston area, where she grew up. She’s written two collections of poetry published by Charlesbridge, the newest being I Must Go Down to the Beach Again, which like its predecessor, features clever, entertaining parodies of familiar poems. Karen Jo’s event had a few things working against it:
1.) We wound up having to schedule it for July 5th, when we knew a lot of people might still be elsewhere, post-Independence Day.
2.) Karen Jo writes poetry, which (as much as it PAINS me) is often a harder draw.
3.) She has two legs, not four.
Karen Jo knew we were up against these hurdles, though, and graciously did her darndest to overcome them. She offered us a program that would truly work out to be an "all ages" event, she sent us an audio clip of her reading her poems to be used in our store’s e-newsletter, she offered to contact local camp and day care programs about her appearance, and she made me dreadfully sorry I wasn’t going to meet her in person to thank her for her willingness to go the distance and her understanding that it might not get us that far. In the end, there were only about six people in attendance at Karen Jo’s event, four of them friends of hers. We nevertheless sold about 15 of her books at the event and in the days before and after, which is probably about 15 more than we’d have sold otherwise. The lesson we’ve learned from this event: Post-fireworks poetry is probably poorly timed but perhaps still profitable.

The day after Karen’s event, though, we had enough people back in town to supply author/illustrator Brian Lies with a larger crowd for the appearance of his fabulous Batsmobile and a "batty beach party" to promote his bestselling picture book, Bats at the Beach. Elizabeth Wolfson, my summer intern from Smith College, sent me a message in Missouri telling me how much she liked Karen Jo Shapiro, Brian Lies, and Brian’s wife Laurel. About the latter two she said, "They were such nice people and totally on top of everything. They parked in front of the store and set up out there, with two tables for drawing and making bugmallows, and beach towels for kids to sit on. Brian did two readings, both with about ten kids plus parents and answered lots of questions. I think we sold about 30 copies of Bats at the Beach! It was great." The (selfish) lesson we’ve learned from this event: Don’t schedule fun events like this one for days when I’ll be on vacation!

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