We do a lot of handselling at our store, and not just in the children’s section. People who shop at independent bookstores generally enjoy talking about books, and many become used to getting a bookseller’s imprimatur on a novel or nonfiction title before they commit to buy it. While the reasons people choose books surprise us occasionally, the reasons they reject them are infinitely various.
One of our most loyal, longtime customers flatly dismissed Water for Elephants because "I don’t do books about elephants set during the Depression." Didn’t matter that about a hundred of her closest friends had read and loved it; she was unmoved: no elephants during the Depression. We still laugh about this with her.
We had a customer reject a book that delights us—Kevin Sherry’s I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean—because the cover was "too blue." Well, okay then. She wouldn’t even look inside! What a loss; it’s a terrific book. But of course we found something less blue that suited her just fine.
A very earnest new mother once turned down The Story About Ping "because the duck gets spanked at the end." It’s a quick bop on Ping’s behind as he scurries up the boat ramp, late to join his siblings, but that was too much. "I worry about the message it sends," she said. While I do see her point in a broad way, and would prefer to err on the side of nonviolence in general, The Story About Ping is hardly The Lonely Doll. (Actually, I loved The Lonely Doll as a kid, though the spanking was definitely, um, unsettling. See right.) What I mean to say is, dozens of my friends grew up with Ping and were not traumatized, nor became spanking parents.
This weekend, Josie was helping an older customer who came in to look at nature books for her four-year-old grandson. Josie handed her a little stack of nonfiction possibilities, along with a charming picture book about a friendly man who uses his truck and backhoe and chainsaw to help his neighbors throughout the year. The book is Here Comes Darrell by Leda Schubert and Mary Azarian. The customer loved it, at first. Then came a spread suggesting that Darrell might put in a pond for someone at the edge of some woods. The customer was incensed. Not a single environmental impact study had been made or mentioned! She refused the book. "I can’t have Johnny growing up to think you can just put a pond anywhere," she said. Never mind that Johnny was four, and would surely learn (if not from training or education, then certainly from his grandmother) that digging a pond is not to be undertaken lightly.
When I put out a call on the children’s bookseller listservs for some of their rejection anecdotes, Camille DeBoer, co-owner of Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, MI, had these to share:
Funniest (or sad) customer rejections:
Taro Gomi Coloring Books: "if he colors in these, how will he know he can’t color in just any book?"
Books in general: "Don’t you think in the internet age, kids are bored by books?"
Three Bears (Galdone, maybe, I can’t remember): "The middle bear doesn’t look enough like a girl"…referring to a possible relationship with which the customer did not agree. [Shelftalker can’t help adding: "Yes, where are all those eyelashes and aprons and big hair bows that bears in the wild wear to identify themselves as girls?"]
King’s Equal: "She really likes girly stories but I don’t want her growing up all princessy and feeling subservient to men."…The book is called the King’s EQUAL!
Booksellers, what’s the funniest failed handselling experience you’ve had? Customers, what’s the strangest reason you’ve ever had for turning down a book suggestion?