The good news is that one of your elementary school educational partners has $5,000 of grant money to spend on a new Common Core resource area for reluctant readers and she is going to spend it with you. How can there be any bad news, you ask? Actually, there can be many layers of it. Your educational partner, as do many of her colleagues, has turned to direct solicitations from specialty educational publishers for most of the titles on the purchase order. Some have come from catalogs that have been sitting in a closet for 10 years. More importantly, some of these specialty publishers, such as Pioneer Valley Books, will sell to you only at the same non-discounted rate that they will sell to a school. Others are selling product at very high rates and are very labor-intensive to get. Worst of all there are those that won’t sell to retail bookstores at all. You want to keep the business, and you want to deserve the business. What to do?
Owning a children’s bookstore means that there can be a lot of firsts for young customers. There is something wonderful about being the place where milestones are achieved. All too often we don’t stop and notice what astounding things kids are doing because, well, they’re not our children. But at the bookstore, in a small space, often with customers we know, there is a wonderful opportunity to see what happens when something “clicks” with a kid.
Usually the first milestone is walking. There is nothing more fun than being at the store when a little one figures out that he can put one foot in front of the other and get from over here to over there. Parents stand by nervously or excitedly, depending on the baby’s wobbliness, as they watch their child walk over to one of the bookseller’s outstretched hands that have a book in them. I do love that kids will often walk over to the person who’s holding a book. What better way to reinforce that reading is fun? Of course first smiles are always great to a part of. I’m a fan of making little ones laugh.
There is something amazing about being present when a child becomes a fluent reader. This usually happens when a kid is picking out a book, usually a chapter book, but sometimes a picture book, and the light clicks on and suddenly reading just makes sense and the words flow freely and the struggle is gone, replaced by ease of reading and comprehension. This has happened time and time again in our 18 years of business. Every once in a while this can happen with a very young child, sometimes no older than three, who walks by books and starts reading all the titles. When this happens we all just sort of stand around stunned while a smiling parent realizes that somewhere along the line their little toddler has taught herself to read.
Other milestones that can happen at the store include a myriad of things. Potty training success happens a lot, although this one can be a little more fraught, as there are whoopsies, but that’s why we have mops (it’s actually funny, but every bookstore bathroom also seems to double as the utility closet) in the bathroom. Every milestone deserves a celebration. Paying for a book and working on manners happen every day. I can always feel a parent’s bursting pride when their two-year-old not only says “thank you” but makes eye contact while doing so.
Saturday, the milestone happened with my visiting cousin’s six-year-old son. Justin is a sweet boy who can read quite well, but couldn’t yet figure out how to tie his shoes. The entire family was visiting and all were busy looking at the store which they hadn’t seen yet. Justin was left to his own devices and he found a book on tying his shoes (which sadly was purchased by another child before I could jot down the title). He sat there quietly and then figured it out. We were leaving for lunch and we found him on the floor just tying and retying his shoes. His mom was beaming, his grandparents were choking up, and I was wondering what the fuss was about. “It’s the first time he’s done that.” I was told by my other cousin. Ah, that explained the joy and why we found him on the ground the rest of the trip, tying and untying his shoes.
We all can talk about Amazon as the scourge of the book business, the reason indies are struggling and that might be true, but there seems to be little people actually do about Amazon. Here in Vermont, one small publisher, Common Ground Communications, is trying something unique to support indies: he is not offering former Governor Jim Douglas’ autobiography for sale on Amazon. This book promises to be a good seller in my small state. It’s not every liberal state that has had a successful Republican governor, so his story should be a good one.
Chris Bray is the publisher of the book The Vermont Way. And his decision to sell the book only in stores and bypass Amazon sends a strong message that sales to bricks and mortar stores matter. Chris, a long-time customer who actually spent time in the Statehouse as a representative, clearly understands that backing up the message with thoughtful, possibly risky action, is the best way to support local Vermont bookstores. Chris is all about collaboration. Maybe that’s how we can get back to supporting stores and selling more books.
Working with stores and talking with us about things like discounts, shipping and setting up events well before the book comes out is a great way to get the stores invested in the book. I even suggested that Chris waive shipping if invoices are paid within 30 days, which he is doing (following the example of other small publishers like Godine). So here we have a book that will likely be a hugely popular book in my state, that is comes with free shipping if you pay your bill on time and is only available in physical stores. No one can buy it on Amazon. I can barely wrap my head around what this means. It will be very interesting to see if I see any customers who haven’t shopped in our store in a while because they’ve gotten a Kindle.
Working together with a small press to drive sales into the bookstore is so refreshing. Chris really wants to support the indies, and obviously, wants to sell lots of books. I have no idea how many sales he’s risking by not offering the book on Amazon, but the fact that he’s willing to take that chance and work with indies exclusively, means I’ll work harder to sell the book. This is what a publishing partnership looks like: both publisher and bookstore on the same page (pardon the bad pun) working together to sell a book while supporting what’s important.
I was looking at our face-out display of picture book New Releases today and noticed a whole bunch of cute elephants staring back at me. This happens sometimes; something’s in the zeitgeist and all of a sudden there are 84 moose books coming out in one season, or seven authors have written poetry collections about bugs, or every fantasy novel seems to feature a severed hand. I’m not as enthused about severed hands as I am about elephants (although those severed-hand books, from a publishing season at least 10 years ago, were actually really good). But elephants! They were one of my two favorite wild animals growing up, and what’s not to love about them? In their small size, they are nothing short of ADORABLE, and as they age, they acquire an enviable depth and wisdom. They’re like people, only better.
So here are the world’s newest elephants, at least on the picture-book page:
Always by Emma Dodd (Candlewick/Templar) — In this sweet, silvery book for little ones, a baby elephant feels its parent’s love and warmth no matter what it encounters in its everyday adventures. Very simple and lovely, and the shiny silver accents on the pages add a little magical sparkle.
Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox; illus. by Emma Quay (S&S/Beach Lane) — This one sends tiny tots to bed with rhymes that start off lively and giggle-inducing —”I could eat your little ears / I could nibble on your nose” — and end up quiet, “There comes a time for sleeping / and our sleepy time is now. / So fall asleep, my angel / with a kiss upon your brow.” Mem Fox (Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes) Fox has a gift for read-aloud rhythms, and the art is cozy and joyful. Some readers could find this story a little claustrophobic (cf. I’ll Love You Forever and The Runaway Bunny), but most will welcome its snuggliness.
Moses: The True Story of an Elephant Baby by Jenny Perepeczko (S&S/Atheneum) — Full of photos and interesting facts about elephants, this book introduces young readers to a playful, mischievous real-life little pachyderm rescued and relocated to a reserve for orphaned animals in Malawi. This book departs from usual nonfiction by anthropomorphizing little Moses to the extent of recounting “thoughts” and dialogue, which is a little odd. Children privy to the separate author’s note at the end will be sad to learn that Moses died unexpectedly young after an operation — but this is well handled and can be a springboard for discussion.
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato (Henry Holt) — It’s not easy being a very small, cupcake-loving elephant in Manhattan, but Little Elliot finds confidence and stature (not to mention a new friend) when he helps someone even smaller than he is. Curato’s art provides the wow factor here; the rich, retro feel and color palette of these illustrations are striking. Plus, the elephant has subtle polka dots, which makes me indescribably happy.
And as if those aren’t enough trunks coming at you this fall, it looks as though September 2 will bring two more elephant stories, that I will come back and report on when they arrive. In the meantime, here’s the title info and cover art:
The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey by Sophie Strady; illus. by Jean-Francois Martin (Chronicle)
And now I’m going to put this out into the zeitgeist and see what the wind brings back: for next season, I’d like seahorses. Red pandas would be good, too, but really, seahorses.
It is in the nature of pyramid style table displays that something has to be on top. This is a dark irony when it comes to books about a child’s first day of school, since elementary schools are not meritocracies and stark Darwinian undertones are not quite the thing in kindergarten anymore. Ah well, there it is.
Now if you look at the top of the display you’ll see my new go-to book for the first day of school, Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School. When you read the pages of Edda you will encounter all the qualities that constitute a perfect first day of school book. It’s reassuring, funny, and full of both challenge and adventure.
Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in Asgard. As much fun as she has helping seek out unruly monsters, feasting, and riding magical animals, Edda yearns for some companionship with children her own age. Her father, Odin, has the answer. Edda can attend school down on earth.
The story excels at finding constructive comparative humor in all the things Edda finds challenging and is struggling to adapt to. For example…
When adventure rears its head it is a parent’s job to be entirely calm, peaceful, and supportive of the experience. Tove Jansson fans will recall that when Moomintroll decided to swim down into their flooded house to retrieve breakfast plates from the kitchen the Snork Maiden protested, saying “Tell him not to, please, please.” To this Moominmamma replied, “Well, why should I if he thinks it thrilling?”
This peaceful relationship with adventure and wonder is the sort of parenting you’ll find in Edda too. When Edda makes friends with a boy in her class, Odin takes the two of them off to Asgard on his flying horse for a play date, and the Mom of Edda’s friend waves them off with the same cheerful grace one might have expected were her son being driven to a friend’s house in a minivan.
At first glance, Julie Berry’s books might seem to be all over the map in terms of subject matter, tone, and intended audience. Her debut novel, The Amaranth Enchantment, was a sparkling fairy tale for ages 10-14; her Splurch Academy middle grade series was unusually fresh and funny, comic kid-vs.-monster hijinx adventure fare for 7-10-year-olds; and her All the Truth That’s in Me was a startling, powerful, gorgeously written young adult novel in stark, poetic prose for ages 12-17. When I heard she had a new novel coming out this fall, I perked up; what on earth would she have in store for us this time?
Turns out, it’s something different once again: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is Jane Austen meets Frances Hodgson Burnett by way of Edward Gorey. It’s a gleefully farcical, Victorian-era boarding school story with a hint of romance for ages 11-15, featuring seven female students and a twist:
Today is the last day I’ll be working with David. As Elizabeth pointed out earlier this week, he’s leaving us for college. Yes, it will be a sad day, but also a fun day. Today is the day I make good on losing bets to this smart teenager. Today, lunch is on me.
I try to make work more fun by upping the ante when there’s a minor disagreement. The other day I asked David to remind me to change the message on the our receipt paper so it didn’t say we were having a sale. He said, “Laura already did.” I didn’t quite see that change, of course, because I only looked at the first line of the message, not the whole message. The first line looked the same. David mentioned it again, and I said, “Are you sure? It looks the same to me.” David smiled a wicked smile, and I could see the idea taking hold. Not one to back away from silly things, I offered to bet lunch that I was right and he was wrong. The tension ramped up as we reprinted a receipt. I read the first line and felt victory was surely mine. Then I kept reading the four-line message, and sure enough, Laura had changed it, I just hadn’t read it all the way through.
David looked appropriately victorious. Later that day, we went double or nothing on something ridiculous, like the weight of an outgoing returns box. (Sometimes, when it’s a little slow, we do silly things.) I’d like to say that I won, but I think we all know that’s just not true. So, it will be my absolute pleasure to buy our soon-to-be-college freshman whatever he’d like for lunch today, and even though tomorrow is my day off, I’ll be picking up lunch for him as well.
There are different methods of gauging the success of frontlist picture book titles based on in store resources. These ordering criteria methods vary in their probability of success. Here is a chart.
Objective Evaluation of Success
Actual Percentage of Success
|I love the book||Infallible in theory but fallible in practice||82.73%|
|Bloggers heart the book on Edelweiss||Fallible in theory and practice||27.99%|
|A potpourri of industry types heart the book on Edelweiss||Fallible in theory and practice||50%|
|43 booksellers heart the book on Edelweiss||Okay, okay I’ll bring it in||82.73%|
|My rep really did love this one||Okay, okay I’ll bring it in||82.73%|
|The blad was shared around the store after someone fell in love with it and everyone loves it||infallible in theory and infallible in practice||100%|
A quick glance reveals that the final method of uncovering high probability handselling success stories is by far the best. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is hard to argue with the certainty of success. For example when I came into the store last week I found an f&g of a book coming out in April 2015, I Don’t Like Koala, sitting on my chair. “Read this one,” I was told, “it’s awesome.” Over the next few days every staffer made certain that I had read it because it was either “awesome,” “great,” or totally wonderful and hilarious.”
Is it all those things? Of course it is. Look at the chart. Everyone will like I Don’t Like Koala eventually. You see even if they are so misguided as to not like it immediately Koala will handle it himself. That’s what he does with his terrible eyes and his warm, mysterious, determined heart. Terrific illustrations and a great story, what’s not to like?
Oh, ShelfTalker friends, that bittersweet day has arrived when we must bid farewell to one of our own. Young David, now 18, is leaving the Flying Pig for college. Must these high school students do their work and actually GRADUATE from high school, abandoning us for university and their real careers?! Clearly, we are doing something wrong.
Sure, sure, so David’s been playing the saxophone for several years now and has enormous amounts of talent. He’s been a prominent member of his high school’s Jazz Band and Symphonic Winds Group, has played for three years with the Vermont All-State Jazz Band, has attended numerous summer jazz camps, and has taught saxophone to middle school students. He wowed guests at my book launch party this spring playing a duet with equally talented fellow staffer, guitarist and singer/songwriter Laura. He was so good on the horn that the professional jazz band invited him to sit in on more songs. So, the kid’s got some chops.
David tries to hide all of the accolades from us, because he is an incredibly modest young man and deflects praise like a champ, but word trickles in. He’s been invited to play with a number of prestigious groups, and this year, he won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award at his high school. Wikipedia describes the award thusly: “The Louis Armstrong Award is the ‘top senior jazz award,‘ a highly prestigious award to a musician. It is given out by high schools nationwide to recognize “outstanding musical achievement and an incredible dedication to the program.” ‘Typically there is only one recipient per school.” Not surprisingly, David was accepted and offered scholarships to by several music schools, including the illustrious Berklee College of Music in Boston. *sniffle* So proud!
Yet, we would prefer to be in denial.
After all, David is an excellent bookseller! He is an avid reader, great with kids, unfailingly polite to adults, helpful to customers and colleagues alike, cheerful all the time, and terrific with technology. He can recommend books to an impressive range of customers – from very little ones to adults, girls and boys, men and women – with great sensitivity to their interests and wonderful enthusiasm. He’s one of the most naturally upbeat people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Oh, and he’s an Eagle Scout! He often volunteers for the tasks the rest of us don’t want to do, the ones that involve hauling heavy things up and down stairs, or tedious data entry, or scary bathroom issues.
He has his faults, though, let me just say right now. As teenagers are wont to do, he enjoys mocking our outdated slang (I amuse myself daily by saying things like, “Hey, David, do me a solid?” or, “Psych!”) and in turn, he gleefully inflicts godawful new slang on us. (I still can’t figure out what “schweg” is supposed to mean. I’m afraid of looking it up in the Urban Dictionary.) And David is not a friend of the gift-wrap station. That’s about it in the flaws department, though, and I am sadder than I will ever admit to David’s face to see him fly the coop. But we will all be thrilled to see him soar. And he will come back to visit now and again, bringing with him some terrible new slang and phenomenal new songs. We can’t wait.
In a beautiful silver-lining loop of fate, the last high-schooler we said goodbye to, PJ, has just finished up a master’s degree program in Edinburgh — and is coming back to the Flying Pig part-time. So I guess it’s all right to let these brilliant young people pursue their passions out in the world, because in one way or another, they will always be part of us.
In parting, I can only say to David: Do us a solid and visit often!
As summer starts to wind down here in Vermont, I’ve noticed a trend. The bookstore is where a lot of people come first on their vacation or on their return home. It’s always interested and delighted me that the store is such an anchor for people. I know we’re not just a bookstore; no local, independent bookstore is just a store, we’re all so much more and the depth of that feeling gets revealed when people come by for the first day of vacation or the day they return to us when they’re going back to local colleges.
The folks on vacation are a great group. They come from all over the world, with the farthest afield coming all the way from Cape Town. This family has been shopping at our store for 16 years and now their daughter is off to college. It’s hard to imagine that little Alice with her proper accent asking on her first visit, “Where’s the loo?” is going to college next week. But, she is and it’s been great fun to see her grow up, summer visit by summer visit. Her family comes to the store usually on their first day here. They need to stock up on books and they get armloads. The parents are big readers, too. And honestly, there’s nothing I like more than seeing folks walk in the store like long-lost friends and getting hugs and getting caught up on the last year and what they’ve read.
Last week I was truly touched by a returning customer. A young man came in the store and looked to be in his early to mid 20s. He had a deep, resonant voice and seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. And then he asked for George R. R. Martin books, and I knew it was Casey, who had left for college in Washington state six years ago and stayed out there. I said, “Casey?” He grinned broadly, knowing that I was picturing him the last time I saw him: shorter, not shaving yet and still a kid. But he somehow (as they all do) grew up into a wonderful adult. He hadn’t seen our new location, so we talked about that. He loved the expanded adult section, but he remained true to his two loves from his first visit 17 years ago: the comics and science fiction sections.
What astounded me was he had gotten in at midnight the night before and here he was at 10:30 the next morning, buying books from the store that provided all his books for his childhood. It seemed to me like we were a bit of security for him. Casey had come back to Vermont to attend medical school; clearly he was a little nervous about it, but he was comforted by the store and our having Game of Thrones and Calvin and Hobbes. As I rang him up, I laughed a little and told him his reading tastes hadn’t changed much since he was seven, buying Redwall and Garfield collections.
I cannot say enough how much these encounters, which seems to happen more and more as our youngest customers from when we first opened are now marrying, getting graduate degrees, or coming to the store with their families on vacation, mean to me. They are a great reminder that the local bookstore means something. Something big. We may never know the true impact the store has on a life, but when I get a glimpse of how our store has been an anchor for young people it makes me happy and proud. And very appreciative that they all come by to say hi and tell us how they’re doing.