It’s a sad, sad day here in Hoosiertucky, as the big yellow busses rounded neighborhood street corners and stopped at the end of cul-de-sacs, gathering up clusters of kids wearing new sneakers and brightly colored backpacks. They carried iPhones and “show and tell” treasures, gym bags full of cheer and cross country and soccer gear for practice after school, permission slips and lunch money, and a little piece of our hearts… for now, there are no “big kids” in the store during the day.
We’ll still see the school-aged crowd in the store occasionally, but they will be different. Tired from a long day of classes, recess kickball, and after school activities, they might stop in on weekdays if they have an appointment at the dentist next door, or the allergist just down the block. They’ll ride their bikes over in the evening, on those precious nights when the homework is light and the sky is too… but this will end quickly. We’ll see them in cleats and shin guards after practice sometimes, dropped off at the door while Mom or Dad waits in the idling Suburban outside, just to pick up a title for school reading or a new release that they just can’t wait to get their hands on…. but they can’t stay and chat, for strength training or Chinese classes or math tutoring awaits, and their dinner to be eaten on the way is getting cold in the car. Proud little kindergartners will stop by after school to share news of teachers and school lunch (“Mrs lady Cynthia…. there was PIZZA today! And I got to sit with my best friend!”) but soon they will have Daisy Scouts and Fall Ball and Chess League and Math Pentathlon… and we will be only a weekend destination.
Recently, we had a jam-packed offsite event weekend planned: a Friday evening launch party for two of our favorite Vermont authors whose books were releasing on the same date, and afternoon events on both Saturday and Sunday for a visiting author from out of town. While one of them went with barely a hitch and the other had major hiccups, both were joyful celebrations that built community.
Last week, we had three preschool field trips in three days, which served as a really sweet end to our summer programming in the store. It’s true that summer’s not exactly over, but everything has definitely entered back to school mode around here. The schools in our area start heading back as early as August 15, so we’re just on the cusp of launching into a new season. Part of what that means these days is field trips. Over the summer we host mostly preschool tours, since their programs run year round, but during the rest of the year we increasingly host groups of all ages.
We keep the program pretty simple, focused around a storytime or book talks (depending on the age of the crowd) followed by a tour and some shopping time. We’ve hosted several schools for annual field trips every year, but we just formalized the program about a year ago after seeing an uptick in inquiries. We love having groups in, but because these events take staff time to facilitate, we needed to create some kind of structure. We came up with a $4.50 per head fee that we then give back in the form of $5 coupons for each child to use while they’re onsite. We’ve had about 15 different schools participate in the new program in the last year, and with just one exception, the schools have chosen to let the kids use the coupons in the store to pick out something to take home that day (usually telling the parents to send extra money if they want). Since it’s been about a year, I thought I’d check in with Eugenia Vela, who runs the program, to see how it’s been going.
My son Reid on one of the island’s less accessible features.
We booksellers spend a good deal of time, effort and energy engaged in that noble task of influencing the titles housed on other people’s bookshelves. Yet we also take a professional interest in decoding and learning from bookshelves that we encounter in the wild. In fact, there is no respite from the exercising of our bibliographic muscles, even on vacation, or perhaps I should say especially on vacation as the books on the shelves of vacation homes are of peculiar interest.
Vacation house bookshelves are meant to provide ambiance of course, as all domestic bookshelves do, but are also much more likely to be read by guests, and are much more like a library than the shelves of unrented homes. My wife and I spend a week every year on a Maine island we love. Indeed I am there now post-hike and pre-quaffing hour.
We were fortunate to host middle school author John David Anderson at our local library today, and as I sat behind the table of his books, swiping parents’ credit cards to purchase books for excited young readers, I thought about other successful author presentations and signings that we have been part of this year. There’s a formula for a good event, I believe, and tonight’s was a perfect example of just the right ingredients, mixed together perfectly. Here’s the recipe to copy.
War and Peace, the board book? Image © Romchello | Dreamstime.com
A while back, I bemoaned the growing trend for publishers to turn pretty much every successful picture book into a board book, no matter the age of the intended audience. Stories aimed at 3-to-5- or 4-to-6-year-olds, I felt, did not make good board book candidates, since that market is primarily for the 0-2 crowd. Unsuspecting parents would buy these beautiful-looking board books, assuming they were great baby/toddler reads, and be very surprised to find their tots bored three pages in by all the text and the incomprehensible story lines.
Recently, though, I’ve had a semi change of heart.
It’s SHARK WEEK! No, this is a not technically a literary occasion or gift-giving holiday, but booksellers can turn anything into a reason for display and promotion, can’t we? Of course we can!
Our behind-the-counter display this week at 4 Kids Books… thanks to staffer Haley.
Shark Week is a television network holiday (like Sweeps Week or Season Finale Week or the annual airing of all the Christmas specials), and was premiered back in 1988 by the Discovery Channel, originally devoted to educating viewers about sharks, promoting conservation efforts, and taking full advantage of the interests of summertime beach-bound viewers. Over the years, as it returns each July or early August, Shark Week has developed an identity — a life motto of character Tracy Jordan on NBC’s 30 Rock “to live every week like it’s Shark Week,” and the blessing of Stephen Colbert, naming it “one of the two holiest holidays alongside Christmas.”
Earlier this year I was approached with a very interesting proposal to host April Stone, the librarian at Four Points Middle School, for an externship. Through a grant, the district gives educators a stipend to go on-site at a business for three days during the summer. They then create a presentation to share with their colleagues and a lesson plan to share with students. I was intrigued and obviously said yes. Not only did we get an extra bookseller who already knows her stuff for a few days, but librarians are our number one best community partners. I always want to know more about what they’re working on too. So it’s an obvious win-win!
Perusing stacks of picture book samples.
We packed a lot into our three-day window. She watched visits from preschool field trips each morning, she took on one of our storytime slots, made a display and some shelftalkers, sat in on a commission rep appointment, and came to our biweekly children’s book specialist meeting—where our Hachette rep also gave a fall book presentation. And, of course, we just talked a lot about the different (and not so different) ways we each approach what we do. Continue reading
Here is a little news quiz.
1. Dean Koontz’s recent statement that “The times are changing, and it’s invigorating to be where change is understood and embraced.” referred to Koontz…
- A) Attending Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature ceremony
- B) Attending the NYC Pride March – Worldwide Pride – Stonewall50
- C) Signing a five-book deal with Amazon Publishing
- D) Attending President Trump’s Rally in Greenville, N.C. Continue reading
Kites, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes and sand toys…. these are the traditional summer staples of a children’s store, along with graphic novels, a healthy dose of classics in paperback, and in late July and early August, the ENTIRE SCHOOL SUMMER READING LIST, ranked for us in sales order by the lowest number of pages per title added to the number of days until classes begin…. and just like golf, the lowest score wins.
Add to our hot list the “big” new releases, and those favorite staff backlist hand-sold titles that top the backorder reorder lists…. in our store, that includes a lot of sports titles and middle grade historical fiction. I think that it’s also fun and profitable to liven things up a bit with new impulse items in the summer season. Stacked next to the displays of patriotic titles in July and back-to-school picture books in August, those special little treasures just beg to be added into bags and tied on top of wrapped packages. Add-on items are good for both the bottom line and your customers’ sense of vacation whimsy, and keep the store interesting and fun for repeat customers and new visitors alike. For the adult gift givers who are “just not sure what the kids are reading,” we can offer gift cards for books to be selected later, and a “little treat” tied on top of the envelope… or a summer camp care package filled with small delights for rainy days.