“If You Ever Wonder If You Make a Difference…”

Elizabeth Bluemle - January 27, 2022

Well, hello, long-lost friends of ShelfTalker! After 10 years of blogging for PW, I took a looong hiatus as we scrambled and pivoted and launched ourselves into this new world of Covid-era bookselling. It is lovely to be back—especially this week, when the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced and so many glorious books earned medals and a world of new readers. This post celebrates two Vermont winners, and then shares the most heartwarming story we’ve heard lately, from a customer involving a young person, art, and a gift inspired by Peter Reynolds.

Our own brave little state of Vermont saw two of its finest honored with multiple seals. Kekla Magoon‘s Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther’s Promise to the People from Candlewick Press has so many awards they barely fit on the book jacket: National Book Award Finalist, Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, Michael L. Printz Honor, and Walter Dean Myers Honor.

Image from Candlewick Press via Penguin Random House’s website, with thanks!

Jason Chin‘s Watercress from Neal Porter Books at Holiday House—written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Chin—brought home the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, in addition to having been named a Boston-Globe Honor Book and winning the New England Book Award.

Image from Jason Chin’s website, with thanks!

Both books are powerful, enduring, and beautifully written, designed/illustrated, and produced. We could not be prouder here in VT for Jason and Kekla and their incredible accomplishments! (And, not too shabby for a state of just over half a million people. Per capita, that’s got to be some toploaded talent, just sayin’.)

In other news, our little store went back to window service in January as Covid numbers soared. We anxiously watch the numbers, and as they drop, consider when we can safely open the doors again for our customers, especially the vulnerable and the too-young-for-vaccines. Three quarters of the people who come to the window appreciate our caution, while the rest are surprised to find us closed for in-store browsing (2000+ cases/day spoke loudly to us, especially since we are a small 1500-sq-ft space), and a tiny few throw fits outside the window, demanding to be let in. This isn’t the part of the roller coaster we love being on, and we can’t wait to open the doors again. It energizes all of us to have people in the store, especially kids, sharing their joy in books and their funny anecdotes. So, fingers crossed for numbers continuing to drop.

One moment that helps keep us going happened last month when we were still open, and a customer marched in to find me. “If you ever wonder if you make a difference,” she began, “I want to tell you that you do.” She had been in a few weeks earlier, looking for books for a young artist. She asked for how-to drawing books, and during the conversation, it came out that this little guy was struggling to make his artwork look the way he wanted it to. He was so frustrated that he had stopped drawing. “Oh!” I said. “We’ve got the perfect book!” And I led her to Ish by Peter Reynolds.

In Ish, young Ramon crumples up his drawings in frustration until he discovers his little sister Marisol has been un-crumpling them and keeping them on her wall in a little art gallery. She loves his drawings, and when Ramon complains that his vase doesn’t even look like a vase (echoing his older brother’s careless cutting remark), Marisol replies, “Well, it looks vase-ish.” This acceptance opens up a new world to Ramon. Looking at life ish-fully restores Ramon’s joy in creating art.

Ish is a great book for perfectionists of all stripes, and I hoped it might help this young artist accept and love his own drawings again.

So when this customer came back to the store a few weeks later and found me, she held up her phone to show a photo. It was a drawing of a sweet big cartoon duck, labeled DUCKISH. It was joyful, goofy, adorable. She told me she had been on the phone with the young artist’s mother, who told her that as her son started drawing again, he hummed a little song to himself as he put lines on paper: “It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay if it’s not perfect,” and so on, a little tune of self-encouragement and happiness.

“So,” she repeated, “if you ever wonder if you make a difference, you do.”

That “you” goes way beyond the bookstore, of course. It means all of YOU, every author and artist and publishing team and bookseller and librarian and teacher and parent who make and share books with children, helping them find themselves and love themselves, and love and understand the world and each other that much more.

This customer’s words and her kindness in coming back to share the story with us are a source of warmth in these below-zero days, and a helpful reminder to hang in there and, despite the challenges, be the bestish booksellers we can be.

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