Family dynamics can be seen every day at the bookstore. Some of it is downright scary, but more often than not, it’s charming. Summer tends to bring the *entire* family, not just one parent and a child. I’m talking both grandparents, sometimes all four grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and everyone in between.
When a large family comes in, I brace myself, for the increased noise, the number of folks all needing recommendations at the same time and the interplay with family that can be helpful for a sale, or be detrimental. We had a large family in the store yesterday. Two grandmas, one mom, several all-girl cousins and an aunt. They were a model family. They were from upstate New York and South Carolina.
Polite to a fault, the eldest cousin (about fourteen) came up to me and asked,"Will this book stay with me? Will I get scared?" She was looking at Norma Fox Mazer’s The Missing Girl. Yes and yes, I told her. And she seemed satisfied with her choice. The younger sister chimed in, "Lenore likes to get scared by real things in books, not monsters." Well, there you go. The sister’s banter showed a close relationship revealed in books as each could say what the last book was the other liked and didn’t like. Each child brought the books over to each grandma and book-talked them a little. I was charmed as Grandma nodded and smiled at each girl, happy they were excited about reading.
Not every family is so amiable. One thing I see over and over again is when siblings come in together and the parent said, quite pointedly, "He’s not a reader." Ouch. What a brilliant way to make sure he never becomes a reader. In this situation, I do my best to separate the child from the parent in the hopes that the distance will allow the child to talk about what he finds challenging about reading. I always say to parents that there’s no such thing as a non-reader, the kids just haven’t found the right book.
I often find it’s best to get the parents out of the conversation with kids older than eight. They can articulate what they liked, what they’re in the mood for, etc. Often parents speak too fast to fill the silence of a thoughtful child. Patience is the key for most kids — and adults for that matter — in finding the right book.
Another family dynamic I don’t enjoy is scolding in the store. I am never sure what to do, even after thirteen years. We once had a very harried mom with four toddlers all under five in the store. One boy hit the other and the mom shook his little arm very hard and said,"Stop hitting." I was dumbstruck by the mixed message.
Then there are the moms who can just ignore a child practically shouting,"MOM, MOM, MOM." Their ability to carry on a conversation while a toddler is just trying to show them something is wonder to me. How can they even hear themselves think with this little person so desperate for her to not be talking to anyone but him? I call these parents the "distracteds." They tend to not give anyone their full attention, probably because there are so many competing for their attention that they’ve just shut down a little. I marvel that these women can get as much done as they do.
We seemed to be blessed with siblings who really get along. We have a family in town who are voracious readers. The older girl and her brother bike in together and she pays for all the books if he carries them home in his backpack. They love this arrangement, and so do we. Although once I had to stop him from biking home with all the books. He is little and the backpack looked too full to be safe on a bike.
Families who share books delight me. Often I’ll recommend a book to a child only to be told, "My sister has that." Well, go borrow it and save your money, I’ll say. The parents often look at me like I’m crazy, sending a sale away. But, if it’s the perfect book, I want the child to read it. If it happens to be a shelf at home, well, I’m fine with that.
My favorite family exchange is when one sibling comes up short for their books and the other sibling just chips in the difference without being asked or asking for something in return. It’s a nice reminder that it’s the small gestures that can be the most meaningful.