This past Friday we hosted Annie Barrows, author of the wildly popular Ivy and Bean series. Our event space was brimming with young girls ages 5 to 10 clutching their books, eyes wide waiting for the author. These Ivy and Beaners, as I started calling them, showed up early and were eager. And, it turns out, they were patient.
Annie Barrows is on a large tour with a very tight schedule. Thursday night she went to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Friday she was scheduled at a school in Plattsburgh, N.Y., four hours away, then she came to our store at four, which meant taking a ferry. Or, missing the ferry by three minutes, as the case was. She called the store and explained she’d be late. Armed with the knowledge that I’d have to entertain 50 kids and their parents, I got creative.
The first thing I did was get the kids talking about how much they like Ivy and Bean. I asked questions like, what’s your favorite book and why?, are you more like Ivy or Bean? Do you have a best friend? Those didn’t take that long and I got a little worried about keeping everyone happy. Then I had an idea. I asked the kids to pretend I was Annie Barrows so we could practice asking the author questions. The kids were shy at first, but then they got into it, asking question after question. Finally, I asked a parent if they would read a book to the kids. Ginger Williamson, a regular customer, happily volunteered to read the first book.
Annie arrived a mere 10 minutes late and with no time to take a deep breath, leapt in and started running a great event. Annie is a wonderful reader. She is full of energy and highly engaging. All the kids piled up to the front of the room so they could hear and see her better. The seventh book in the series, Ivy and Bean: What’s the Big Idea?, is all about the science fair and it’s full of escapades. I was in the back and honestly, all I could hear were peals of laughter, which was just delightful.
When the reading was done, the kids asked questions. Really good questions about her inspirations, were the characters based on real people, why did she start writing Ivy and Bean, what was her favorite book when she was a kid (her answer: Time at the
Top). Annie did what a lot of seasoned authors do that’s so helpful in a large room when shy children ask questions: she repeated the question so everyone could hear it. I must say the adults in the room, who were clearly fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, kept their questions for Annie until they were getting their books signed, so the kids could really have a great Ivy and Bean event.
One of the things I liked best was Annie describing characters. “They are like cake. You pull ingredients from differences places to make a cake, just like you pull from different people to make a well-rounded character.” What a great way to describe a writing process that most kids can understand.
One thing that I never knew were the clues in the covers. Every cover has spot varnish on it and the shape it makes is a clue about the story. Of course, all the kids knew this, but the adults were all thrilled to discover this fact. Annie did drop a hint about the eighth book: it has to do with money and cheese. Yum.