The Art of the Deal at the Bookstore

Josie Leavitt - August 23, 2016

There is something adorable about watching kids try to get their parents to buy them books. Often, families will come for gift buying, not personal buying, or a child has been told that they can only get one book. Children don’t always understand these strictures, or they don’t really believe them. Every day, I watch kids try to finesse their parents and get books. And I’m a very happy accomplice at times.
First off, I need to say that telling a child, especially a younger one, that no, they cannot get a book, but rather must help choose one for someone else, is a fraught, yet vital lesson. All kids benefit from learning how to be thoughtful gift-givers and also need to know that not every trip to the bookstore, or any store for that matter, will result in something for them. This is a hard one to watch, though. Three and four-year-olds don’t really grasp these concepts as well as they could and they fight against it. One child’s response to being told yesterday that they were in the store “…to get something for our new baby cousin” was so honest: “I don’t care.” The mom did a wonderful job rallying her daughter by saying the new baby would love a book she picked out. Very smart move on the mom’s part.
I do love the bargaining dance because it’s born of a desire for books. It is hard to resist an eight-year-old who bounces up the counter with several books when they’re been told they can only have one. Most kids try to be charming by explaining why they have to have a certain book. These moments turn into very good book talks the kids give to their parents. They explain why this book is a vital one in the series and what characters they’ll find out more about. This approach is a solid one and usually works.
Other kids plead with less success. This is where I come in. I will often tell the kid, “What will you do for your Dad if he gets you this book?” At first they look at me like I’m asking a crazy question. Then I gently explain why this is important. We talk about making a trade, a chore for a new book. I suggest that they empty the dishwasher or clean up after dinner. The more the expensive the book, the bigger the chore. I know a kid really wants the new Land of Stories book when they agree to vacuum.
Some kids talk about the equity of the transaction. This only happens when siblings are getting books as well. “How come he’s getting two books?” Life isn’t fair and it’s a hard lesson that can happen at the store. Some kids understand that there are times when one sibling will get more books, often on their birthday. But it still doesn’t seem fair, but so important for children to learn that these things happen. Most parents handle this situation really well. I will often try to smooth this with all the kids by offering fun bookmarks or stickers. It’s funny how a tiny gesture can make it all a little better.
The last thing I suggest to all kids who have successfully managed to get more books than the parent originally intended is to give their parent a hug. The best part of all these exchanges is often the child leaves hugging their book to their chest.

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