This week all of us at BookPeople are putting last touches on all the prep for Texas Book Festival this weekend. This is the second time we’re partnering with them as official booksellers, and we’re so excited to see everyone this weekend. If you’re in town, make sure you stop by the Children’s Sales tent and say hi — I’ll be there all weekend long!
Ta’Necia, Natasha, and Staci busily prep recommendation cards for the TBF sales tent!
The one thing that always happens when I’m in the midst of festival madness is that the stacks of mail get a little higher than normal. I triage what we know is time-sensitive material, but there’s an inevitable backlog. As I looked at the stacks in my office and realized I didn’t have much time to put together a blog before TBF, it seemed like a good time to follow up on my previous post about the delightful surprises that come to booksellers every day in the mail!
We do some course adoptions here, mostly for English classes at the University of Maine at Farmington. One professor talked to me prior to putting in her course book order about a compelling quandary. She had used Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian regularly for a particular course, and to great effect. The accusations and admissions of sexual misconduct leveled against Alexie earlier this year raised a host of interrelated issues for her from the standpoint of usage in a college course. Was misconduct different for a living author than for a dead author? Was assigning the book financially benefiting an abuser and therefore a non starter? What is the relationship between a work of art and its author in the context of higher learning? Could she decide this issue on her students’ behalf?
In the end she decided to use the book, but to have the students reflect on these issues along with writing an essay making a case for using or not using the book in the future. She also invited me to come in and speak to the class about how these issues affected the bookstore.
Those of us who sell books to and for children are rewarded in many ways. We spend our days with young readers who are honest in both their requests and their reviews, and who see us as the “good kind” of adults who like the same things they do, and who remember how it feels to be a kid without acting like it’s a big deal. Of course, kid lit is big business, too. In many years, we are the tail that wags the publishing dog, as our markets expand, our sales increase, and our licensing revenue commands attention (if not always respect) from our colleagues in the general book market. (We don’t say “adult book market”, because it sounds a bit, well, “adult.”)
As a part of that giant and still growing children’s publishing marketplace, those of us in independent stores really have the best gig, in my opinion. We interact with all the market segments — the authors, the publishers, the distributors, the sales reps and marketing team — and every piece channels all that effort through us to reach the customers. The kids. The people that we get to talk to, and read with, and hear from in our shops every day. This week, I’m going to share just a few days of those stock dividends, by letting you listen to of a few of my conversations with young customers.
Before the days of NPR’s Moth story hour, I confess I used to think of storytelling among adults as an alarming and generally tedious art form, where someone exceptionally ungifted at narrative holds an audience captive while they gleefully stroke their beard. My friend Sue Schmidt, one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard and the producer of Burlington’s Moth, calls this the “Let me tell you a maritime tale” school of storytelling, or “Now I’ll rummage through my box of puppets.” Happily, The Moth changed all that, and storytelling is everywhere, as it should be. All we are as humans are our stories (our experiences) and our connections to other people, so when someone knows how to shape a story arc and make us laugh and see through their eyes and feel through their heart, something magical happens.
This week we had the immense privilege of hosting a stop on Dav Pilkey’s hilarious “Howl with Laughter” tour. And I’ll tell you that over the course of the three events, there was plenty of howling to be heard … punctuated with screaming, shrieking, wailing, and even hyperventilating. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But, of course, that’s the magic of Dav Pilkey. His signature blend of exuberant silliness; a goofy, unintimidating cartoon style; and unabashedly juvenile humor speaks to kids in their own language and slyly builds avid readers where reluctant ones sat before.
Because he’s a great sport, and we wanted to get him in front of as many kids as possible, Dav Pilkey allowed us to pack his day with three back-to-back events for almost 4,500 Austin readers. Honestly, it was a huge thrill to see so many emerging readers, many of whom who have probably heard the word ‘reluctant’ thrown around, completely and utterly losing their minds over books. Continue reading
Bill Palizollo of Northeast Publishers Reps has a different style and presence than any other sales rep I’ve worked with. Bill, a book industry veteran of 41 years, owned a bookstore for eight years,, from 1977 to 1985, and then turned to a life of commission repping. He is a book person to the core though his gruff, Friar-Tuck-waiting-for-his-first-cup-of-coffee demeanor lacks all the literary affect in which the rest of us are immersed. His frankness, honesty, humor, sneaky moral compass, and uniquely acerbic professionalism make Bill a rep I both respect and enjoy spending time with. I decided to put a few children’s book-related questions to him for our edification.
Kenny: If you were going to write a children’s book under a pen name, what would your pen name be and what book would you write?
Our local elementary schools all have Guest Reader programs, in which parents and grandparents can sign up to visit their child’s classroom to do a read aloud for the class. This is such a popular program that customers tell me the sign up for guest reader slots is mobbed on Back-to-School nights, and one school even reserves each child’s birthday as a “guaranteed” sign up day for their family, to prevent carpool line skirmishes between disappointed parents. (I realize as I write this what rarefied air we breathe in this neighborhood, where parents fight over the chance to be active in their children’s days, and can afford the time to do so.)
I’ve always wished we could afford to give away books for Halloween. I suppose it’s possible for booksellers to give away extra ARCs past their pub dates, but in neighborhoods that receive hundreds of trick-or-treaters, that’s not really feasible, and besides, we want kids to take their time choosing a book. Running door to door doesn’t really foster mindful pondering. However, one of our customers has found a beautiful way to share the magic of words and imagination on Halloween night.
It’s funny what can happen when you throw around industry jargon assuming everyone is familiar with only to find that they are not, in fact, familiar. I’ve written here before about trying to phase out my usage of the terms “middle grade” and “young adult” in store signage and handselling. These phrases tend to be heard as “middle school” and “young adult” (as opposed to 12 years old and up) by anyone not in the book business. And what’s the point of holding on to a phrase that doesn’t communicate what we intend it to? Continue reading
Last Saturday, thousands of readers from all over Texas celebrated the 10th annual Texas Teen Book Festival at St. Edwards University in Austin. As I wrote last week, the months leading up to the event are filled with planning meetings, emails, and spreadsheets, as BookPeople, the Texas Book Festival, and our dedicated team of librarian volunteers put everything in place. Once the day arrives, though, there’s nothing left to do but let it all happen and enjoy the show. We did have a few uncertain moments when we decided to enact our rain plan for the first time, but the show must go on, and it was great!
We kicked off the morning with an exclusive roundtable discussion for our We Need Diverse Books Essay™ Contest winners, all of whom wrote thoughtful essays about “The hero I want to see…” These lucky young writers got to sit down with authors Julissa Arce, David Levithan, Tochi Onyebuchi, and Cynthia Leitich Smith along with Brenda Conway from Random House to ask questions and share thoughts about writing and publishing and the power of representation. One of my personal favorite moments of the day came when Julissa Arce realized that a number of the winners were from her old high school in San Antonio. They couldn’t have been more delighted. Continue reading