This weekend, we had the cutest parade of little kids. Each was more adorable than the next, wobbling in with their flyaway hair and haphazard winter-into-spring clothing layers. And they were fabulously well-behaved at the bookstore, at least, until Mom and Dad stepped over the invisible toddler patience line and lingered too long, chatting and browsing. Then would come the tot meltdowns, which are also sort of heartbreakingly adorable, at least when they are skillfully and relatively quickly managed by parents. (I mean, who doesn’t feel like crying with outsized, totally inappropriate rage and exhaustion while running errands? But as adults, we’re supposed to have stopped doing that.)
I feel for parents who bring their toddlers shopping. We booksellers try, when we have a moment, to entertain and distract little ones long enough for the grownups to browse for a few minutes, but those bouts of peace are generally short-lived. One mom came in with twin two-year-olds and a six-year-old, looking for Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop, and she looked so frazzled I wanted to wave a magic wand and give her a three-hour nap. “I long for the time when my body is my own again,” she said. “Someone is always hanging on me.” She immediately looked guilty for saying it, and I had to reassure her. “I hear a version of that sentiment at least once I week,” I said. In fact, I hear it so often that I once wrote a parody of Hop on Pop in honor of all the moms we know. It’s called Glom on Mom: Or, What Dr. Seuss Should Have Told Expectant Mothers About Life with Toddlers. Continue reading
I wrote a while back about the literacy program I have been participating in at my son’s school. Basically, I stop by every week to read with two second grade readers who could use a little extra one-on-one time. Each reader joins me in the hall for 15 minutes. The first reader brings out a book from his or her backpack and reads it to me for about 6 minutes before we chat about it. Then I read from a book I’ve brought for about 6 minutes and discuss. Then the kids switch and I do it again.
It’s been an interesting process for me. Obviously as booksellers we recommend books all the time for reluctant readers or their parents. But this is a completely different setting—one that has proven both tricky and rewarding as a handselling test. I bring a handful of books each time, but the truth is that I don’t always get it exactly right. Of the two kids, one is a far harder sell than the other. He’s very sweet, but he’s not always in the reading mood and just isn’t grabbed by every story. This experience has been a great reminder that while we give tons of tips and tricks to parents who want to engage their reluctant readers at home, that one-on-one work can still be hard even with a pile of terrific books at the ready. At the end of the day, though, the willingness to keep showing up to try something new goes a long way.
“Why are these two covers so drastically different?” You see, I had asked one of our customers for her opinion on the hardcover versus the paperback edition of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and got a question in return.
It was a good question. Another related question is why had I asked for her opinion in the first place? Fair enough. When I first saw the new cover that was to be used for the paperback edition of Gertie I had a visceral reaction. Why was this happening was my first thought. Gertie is a wonderful book and a store favorite featuring a strong-minded character, completely immersed in her own persona. She has no artifice to speak of, no degree of identity separation. Impulsive, creative, with a warm heart and feelings that run hot, she is deeply likable but also trouble for herself. It is a story with a terrific lesson about mistakes not being the end of the world, and the enduring value of truth to self. Gertie is also immensely relatable to her audience of 7 to 11 year old readers.
“Have you heard that Toys R Us is closing? You must be so glad!” is the greeting from dozens of customers over the last few weeks. “Yes, I heard that,” I reply. “Did you guys come in to visit me today—or is there something I can wrap for you? I am unpacking new books… would you like to see?”
“So how’s business? Are you guys OK?” is usually the follow-up query, delivered either sotto voce with a sympathetic look from a parent, or in the appraising raised eyebrow glance of the grandparent—that look that causes you to check your shirt for dribbles of donut frosting and a stray sprinkle or two. “We’re just great—how are YOU guys? Wow, the kids get bigger every time I see them—my goodness, you’ll be taller than me in a week or so! Did you get an April calendar of activities? There’s a great author event tomorrow!”
And so we smile and tap dance and book talk and gift wrap and dazzle them with service, avoiding the hundredth or so conversation about another chain closing, another retail demise, another conversation about how “everyone buys online, now, you know.”
illustration © Liza Woodruff
I’m always telling my children’s book illustrator pal and Flying Pig staffer Liza Woodruff that her artwork would make the most charming greeting cards, but since that’s a completely different endeavor from the world of picture books, and Liza is really busy these days, she hasn’t bitten—yet. But over the past few months, I’ve been delighted to come across two new independent greeting card lines that feature the work of famous children’s book artists who have taken that leap. They couldn’t feature two more different styles, both of which are extremely appealing to our customers. Continue reading
Last week in Part 1, I delved into the natural world through the eyes of Jillian Tamaki’s irrepressible explorer from They Say Blue. Through her eyes, readers are launched into a whirlwind of endless curiosity and individual inquiry. I absolutely love the childlike energy of her quest. But as the spring weather pulls my attention outdoors, I also find myself drawn to slow down and spend time in the quieter, more contemplative world of Daniel Salmieri’s Bear and Wolf. As much a visceral journey of the senses as Tamaki’s, Salmieri’s ramble through the woods takes its time, pausing to examine and appreciate each new facet of the wilderness that his furry friends encounter.
When Bear and Wolf meet each other in the snowy woods, they observe each other from a distance before padding forward to observe each other up close. Golden eyes see deep brown eyes, smooth gray fur contrasts with soft black fur, wet black nose mirrors wet black nose. Both out to feel the crisp cold of a wintry day, crunch the snow under their paws, and enjoy the stillness of the woods, they decide to continue on together. Each in their own thoughts, but companions nonetheless, their shared journey beautifully evokes the transcendent peace that can come from immersion in the natural world. Continue reading
We all get an avalanche of marketing and promotional emails from publishers, many of which are useful but are nonetheless variations on particular themes: a book is about to get big publicity on television, the following backlist titles are just the thing to go with a trending news story, and so forth. It is always striking, therefore, to see a genuinely original and uniquely effective missive come into our inboxes. The best example of this I have ever seen is my Como Sales Workman Rep Maureen Karb’s Annual Fall Sales Conference Recap.
I think that most of us frontlist buyers take an interest in publisher sales conferences. These clandestine gatherings not only sound like fun but they are at least in part designed to prepare sales reps to prod us into buying their wares. How could we not be interested?
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Two of my favorite themes combine in a new title from Clarion this week: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s charming poetry collection With My Hands: Poems About Making Things, a book celebrating creativity and all the messiness of making art with children. We are big believers in process over product here at 4 Kids Books, and our own story and art sessions (Paint-a-Story Mondays: the Messier the Better) are usually some combination of the illustrator’s artistic medium and “all the mess your mom won’t let you make at home,” so this book seems especially suited to both our store activity schedule and our philosophy of celebrating childhood.
In marches all across the country children’s booksellers were on the move this weekend to demand gun control to stem our nation’s epidemic of gun violence. Saturday’s March for Our Lives demonstrations, organized by students, included among their ranks booksellers and other members of the kid lit community, many organized to march together by authors Raina Telgemeier and Jenny Han under the banner of Kid Lit Marches for Kids. In addition to helping organizing groups to march together, Telgemeier designed art for posters and banners to carry. Several other talented illustrators also designed artwork for the march, making files available online for free download. Here are some photos that colleagues shared with me over the weekend.
Designs donated for march signs by Dan Santat (left) and Raina Telgemeier (center). On the right is canine marcher Eli.
Happy Spring, ShelfTalker readers! As the East Coast digs out from yet another snowstorm, the calendar reminds us that it’s officially the first week of Spring. Although I’m flying to snowy New York City tomorrow for publisher meetings, here in Austin the bluebonnets have started to bob their heads on the sides of the roads. And while the days start chilly, they consistently end in the 70s and 80s. We’ll be in sweltering 105 degree weather soon enough, but for a small moment, we’re enjoying a temperate transition that I want to slow down and savor.
In the midst of our turn toward spring, I’m very much enjoying two new picture books that arrived just in time to send kids into the balmy outdoors armed for exploration and observation. Each book embraces the visceral immediacy of the natural world and centers around tactile, sensory perception, but they do it in completely different ways. They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki dives into the world headfirst, exploring all its colors both seen and unseen, pausing to contemplate each new wonder before leaping to the next. Bear and Wolf by Daniel Salmieri, on the other hand, has a slower pulse and a more deliberate pace, following two wild friends through the rhythms of a quiet woodland year, together and alone. Continue reading