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Twenty-Five-Year-Old Toddlers? Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 14th, 2014
Eileen Christelow Drawing

Eileen Christelow drawing one of her little monkeys.

You can’t mention “five little monkeys jumping on the bed” to anyone in Vermont and have them NOT be familiar with the colorful series of exuberant picture books by Eileen Christelow. I suspect this is true in the rest of the country, too. Those little monkeys are so mischievous, and channel toddler energy so impishly, that it is impossible to think of them as 25-year-olds. But the first book in the series did, indeed, turn 25 this month, and we had the privilege of celebrating that milestone with a store full of real toddlers in party hats, who enthusiastically chanted along as Eileen Christelow read her books aloud.

Because of the way the event was set up in the store, there was no way to get behind the group to take photos of the backs of the kids’ heads (we don’t show their faces for privacy reasons), so you will have to take my word for it that they were ADORABLE! And the gasps and the looks on their faces watching Eileen draw her monkeys was priceless; she was making beloved characters appear out of thin air!

We had party treats for the kids set up outside on a table for children after the lively reading, drawing, and Q&A. They were invited to enjoy cake or cupcakes and apple cider on the porch, after leaving the bookstore (a sticky-page-saving endeavor that worked like a charm). We’d bought a couple of Barrel Full O’ Monkeys games and popped those on the sheet cake.

Monkey Cake

And even though the Harvest Festival and a giant soccer tournament were going on during the busy Columbus Day weekend, families turned out in numbers for the monkeys’ birthday party. We had some signboards outside that I’d drawn (apologies to Eileen Christelow for the imperfect renditions). I’d covered the signs with packing tape as a sort of laminate against rain. Good thing, too, because during the couple of weeks they were out, we had some downpours.

We don’t always have the time to try replicating picture book characters on signboards, but when we do, I think it really increases the attention our signs receive from passing traffic.

Christelow signboard side 2

christelow signboard side 1

It was one of those events that feels great from start to finish — even with the slightly hectic last-minute easel assembly (all of ours had gone missing, so we made a trip to the store that morning and had an amusing time wrestling with the nearly wordless, not-very-clear instructions).

And while the event is now past, we get to celebrate (as we do with all events) a while longer with displays of autographed stock, including Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat just in time for Halloween.

I can’t wait to see what story Eileen Christelow cooks up for the monkeys’ 30th!

A Visit to Bunch of Grapes

Josie Leavitt -- October 10th, 2014

I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard all week at a writing retreat. Yesterday I took a break and ventured to Vineyard Haven to do a little sightseeing. Of course, I didn’t really get much farther than the bookstore: Bunch of Grapes. I have never been to the Vineyard before, but I remember so well hearing about the devastating fire on July 4, 2008 that forced the bookstore to close. They relocated across the street in an old livery stable, and the store is just lovely.

I love bookstores with character. Bunch of Grapes is welcoming and full of the old livery beams that were used for horse stalls that add height to the space and give it a unique feel. The store was bustling with staffers that morning. I asked Karen, who seemed to be in charge that day, why so many staffers were working and she said, “They’re training.” It seems that the summer crew has gone and there was a new crop of booksellers learning about the store – it was one person’s second day! – and getting ready for the fourth-quarter rush. They were a very nice bunch, but with the exception of Karen, none had worked at the store longer than a month. I must say, for folks in training, these staffers were all busy and really seemed to know what they were doing. This speaks to a very well-run store with a great training program.

photo 1Bunch of Grapes sells some unique items. The one that really caught my eye were the book bird houses. They were simple and elegant and made out of old books. I asked Karen about them and she said they sell really well, and I can see why. Some were of children’s books, and some were made out of adult books. I love the note next to them: Don’t pick up by the perch.

When I visit other stores, I always look at how they display books and sidelines. I must say, Bunch of Grapes has a very clean, uncluttered feel and everything is very nicely displayed. They pack a lot in their space without it feeling crammed. Their kids’ section was lovely and inviting.photo 3photo 2I love the sideline case. The puzzles look so good together and it’s smart of them to have their own place.  I also really enjoy seeing what books other stores feature. Their picture books display has some of my favorites and some I wasn’t familiar with. Lastly, I covet their display table in the front with adult books. It’s large enough to really feature a fair number of titles, and it’s really just an antique table, and the arrangement of the books really works. photo 4Such a simple and effective way to highlight almost 20  titles. And the stacks of books are just the right height, not too many to feel overwhelming and not too few so customers wouldn’t feel comfortable taking one off the stack. I love traveling and going to other stores, but my favorite part of traveling is returning to my store and seeing it with fresh eyes.

Bookseller Blind Spots

Kenny Brechner -- October 9th, 2014

One of the nice things about buying and handselling is being pushed out of our comfort zones and appreciating the pleasure other readers take in genres to which we are not naturally inclined to give our own custom. Nonetheless, we all have very real blind spots as buyers. Categories we loathe, categories we like too much, categories that decline to offer us any personal interest, all offer the opportunity to incur the ill considered fruits of bad buying decisions.  How to overcome our own biases and pull the best titles across these perilous areas and into our stores?

To explore this idea I have put forward some examples into a spreadsheet, which, as we all know, confers a strict scientific character to any enterprise in which they are employed.

Category

Problem

Solution

Cat Books

They are not dog books

Show them to cat people

Meaningful books

I have the spiritual depth of a goldfish and only the vaguest idea of how deep minds work.

Study the track record of the author. Compare them in your mind to other meaningful books that have sold in the past.

Picture books that demonize electronic media and celebrate reading and physical books

Preaching to the choir, agree with too implicitly

Attain a zen-like calm and be fair-minded and critical

Picture books with goopy rhyme schemes

As Andrew Lang once said, “The urge to parody is really too strong.”

Flippity flappity flunk
Don’t bring in the junk

YA books in which the female protagonist’s stomach does flips when exposed to the love interest

Physical inaptitude for understanding

Iron-willed suspension of disbelief

This is just a tiny sampling of the epic shoals that lurk beneath the surface of unwary buying. If anyone wants to confess their own greatest challenges in this area and share their best solutions, toss them in below!

 

Reading Runs in Families

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 7th, 2014
Family Reading

The family that reads together, dreams together.

Maybe it’s the gorgeous fall weather we’re having right now, but suddenly whole families are coming to the bookstore to shop together. Usually, the families generally pile in en masse on weekends. During the school week, it’s more usual to see one parent with an assortment of the kidlings. For the past 10 days, it has been the season of dads and moms and offspring! Dads reading to their children in the picture book section, dads and moms browsing for books while the kids scatter to find theirs. It’s just lovely to see entire families of reading enthusiasts sharing stories together.

And while it is true that many passionate lifelong readers have grown up in families that didn’t share their love of books, I can’t help but think that growing up with parents who take the time to sit and read with their children, who make it a priority in their own lives, too, can’t help but greatly influence even the most struggling reader. There is something so moving to me about the gentleness (and liveliness, and silliness, and seriousness, and thoughtfulness, and joy, and inquisitiveness) about families sharing books. What better way to help a young person find his or her way into a love of story and discovery, and give them a fluency with the written word? As more and more people disappear into their devices, even and especially when they are spending time with kids, I am heartened beyond measure that the simple pleasure of page-turning still beguiles families.

Tips for Successful Teacher Nights

Josie Leavitt -- October 6th, 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Karen Rosenthal, children’s events coordinator for RJ Julia Booksellers, about working with schools. The panel should have had four of us but because of illness it was just me and Karen. I have to say, I couldn’t take notes fast enough when Karen was talking how RJ Julia plans, organizes, and runs it two very successful yearly teacher nights.

Teacher nights are a wonderful way to bring educators into a store. But often it can be a hit or miss karen_2propositions that require a lot of effort. Karen made it all seem not only doable, but very profitable and a great a way to build good will. She starts by saving all the publisher promotional items – bookmarks, pens, posters, doodads and whatnot – throughout the year. Then she contacts reps and asks for tote bags to put the swag in, and reps are all too happy to help out. Every attendee gets a bag. They have an ongoing raffle during the night that seems to generate a lot of buzz with the teachers.

RJ Julia has two teacher nights a year. The autumn one, usually in November, is a general night. Teachers are invited for an evening that starts at 5:00. Promoting them is done largely through the existing teacher email lists, the store website and in-store promo. They serve wine and cheese (wine is vital) and do their best to make it feel like a night out for the teachers. Timing of teacher night was something we’ve all struggled with. Four is too early, seven is too late, etc. Karen hit on 5 p.m. as a good time because it gives the teachers time to finish up at school and still get home by seven for their family dinner. Teachers are encouraged to sign up in advance, but it’s not required. The staff takes a quick poll of grade levels among attendees and then quickly booktalks new books, both in hardcover and paperback, for those levels. Then they let the teachers browse while they pull the raffles. All purchases made by teachers that evening, for themselves, or their classrooms, are discounted 20%. This makes the evening all the more fun and teachers tend to buy more for themselves, Karen said, than their classrooms.

The spring teacher night is one where they bring in publisher reps who talk about their books; last spring’s topic was the Common Core and it was packed. Karen asked two or three reps to come in and speak about their books and how they can be used to fulfill various requirements. Kate Sullivan from Random House was at the panel and said for her schedule it’s best to plan four to six months ahead. All the reps in attendance said that they were more than happy to come to a store a do a teacher night with enough notice.

Teacher nights are such a good way to work with all the local schools, public and private, that all stores should really do them. Karen’s very practical tips make it seem easy. And, to bring educators into the bookstore, rather than only having them order via email or phone, is an easy way to build community. The teachers get to see the whole store as they shop in all the sections and they make connections with other teachers they might not know. It’s a win-win for all involved, plus it’s a great way to give away all of the promo items that bookstores are fairly drowning in.

Bookstore staffers, how do you organize your teacher nights? and teachers, what kind of teacher night works best for you?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Kenny Brechner -- October 2nd, 2014

When I sat down to do Usborne’s frontlist with my rep I found that I was unable to auto import the titles through my POS, Booklog, which uses Ingram’s ipage data. Cross referencing, I found that the titles were literally not in ipage. The reason behind this was then revealed to me, namely that Ingram is no longer carrying Usborne titles. Technically the titles should still have been in the extended first-sticker-book-marketdatabase, it is true, but the fact that they were not presumably reflected the unhappy rift between Ingram and Usborne. To discuss this turn of events I will use two whys and a what. Why this is bad for small to mid-sized Independent bookstores, why it happened, and what it would behoove the two parties to do about it.

I have been doing business with Usborne for 24 years. I consider them an important line. As do many stores our size I do two big buys from Usborne a year, including frontlist and backlist titles. The rest of the year I pick up what I need from Ingram, consolidating it with other restock items. Usborne’s terms strongly encourage large buys, as favorable terms begin at 100 units. The inability to pick up needed items at a wholesaler has a number of negative impacts. Making frequent direct orders to Usborne means worse terms and more work. Furthermore, it penalizes us for testing the water with frontlist, in that if we only order one or two copies and a book sells quickly, we are hampered from getting it back in via good terms. On the other hand if we go big on the initial frontlist buy we are in mortal danger of the buyer’s lee shore, being wrong about a book selling. Finally, the absence of these titles from ipage means that we have to manually create these books in our inventory, a needless, laborious time-waster, particularly as the current frontlist is the biggest in Usborne’s history, over 140 titles.

tnm-pirateAs I understand it the rift occurred because Usborne’s direct sales reps for schools and home parties were losing out from their customers buying from Ingram. Thus Usborne felt that it had to choose between their direct sales reps and having their books available at Ingram at wholesale discount. They tightened their discount to Ingram which chose instead to discontinue carrying Usborne books.

Surely there must be a better solution than to penalize a completely different class of customers, small to mid size Independent bookstores, over a dispute involving direct sales customers. I see two possible options, though I am sure others might be found. First, that discount restrictions could be made to direct sales accounts at Ingram, while maintaining regular terms to bookstores. Second, that Usborne could provide better terms for smaller orders from bookstores, thereby recognizing that they are the only wholesale outlet at present. Those of us who spend a good deal of every day working hard to make our customers happy would appreciate something along those lines here. I am sure that we would all like to be able to say again…
bigpirate

Crashed Witch Outside Bookstore

Josie Leavitt -- September 30th, 2014

Every year, for the 18 years I’ve had the bookstore, I have always wanted to do a Halloween decoration outside the store that was funny. On Sunday I finally achieved thishat goal. I am not a crafty person; in fact some would say I’m the opposite of good with an artsy project. But this weekend I was driven to create a crashed witch on a tree in front of the bookstore. A crashed witch is quite simply making it look like a witch crashed into something. I’ve always found them amusing and thought it would a nice touch for the store.

I looked up what I’d need on the internet. Witch hat, hair, gloves, cape and witchy legs and of course, a broomstick. I left work and gathered my supplies, all easily obtainable from the hardware store, the local drug store (which was very well stocked in witchy ephemera) and the craft store. Tools were gathered and my co-worker PJ was a stalwart and able helper. Plus, as we kept saying as the witch took shape, “This is fun!” Sunday was a strange retail day that afforded big expanses of time where we could both work outside as we were customer-less, then we’d get really busy, then we’d have quiet again to work on the witch.

It was a little more complicated to do than I thought (isn’t that always the way with projects), mostly because the tree was large and the staple gun wasn’t quite cutting it, so I had to go back to the hardware store, not once, not twice, but three times to get things I needed as problems revealed themselves or it became evident that I’d forgotten something. PJ tried on the witch hat, then modeled the hair and then got busy affixing them together. We then stapled it to the tree and assembled her legs. In a perfect world we would have longer legs with striped tights, but neither one of us could find striped tights, so we substituted pre-made witch’s legs that were a little smaller than we’d hope for, but still worked. We stuffed a pair of kitchen gloves with bubble wrap as well as the sleeves of the body, so she’d look real. As it took shape, there was palpable delight from both of us.

witchFinally, she was done. She looked great. To create something funny for folks to notice when they’re stuck in traffic at the light by the store pleased me no end. And, to make it even funnier we added a sign above her head: Don’t drink and fly.

Keeping Business in the Village

Josie Leavitt -- September 29th, 2014

My store is in a village filled with wonderful shops. All of the business owners got together, first on Facebook, then via email, then in person to try and figure out the best way to work together to bring people in our town and get them to stay here to shop. Many wonderful things have come from these gatherings.

First, and perhaps best, is we all got to know each other better. Some photo 2shopkeepers I count as good friends, others I don’t know as well. All own stores or restaurants that I patronize, so it’s been nice to work together to increase business for all of us. We were originally focused on doing something special for Small Business Saturday in November, but our attention quickly turned to creating a brochure we could all use to highlight our stores and restaurants. It’s easy to think that just because we all know what treasures exist in our village, visitors do as well. This is just not the case. Parking issues make some folks stay where they’ve started and not venture forth. The goal with the brochure was to not only give customers a map of our village and surrounding shops up the road, but to encourage them to patronize all of them by offering a discount. Working together created something truly wonderful.

photo 1The brochure is eye-catching and professional, and it includes all the stores, save one (who didn’t want to participate because they don’t believe in discounting) that were happy to pass on a 10% savings to customers who used it. There’s a check box on the back that lists all the participating stores that allows for store stamps or initial to indicate the discount has been used. Customers then take their brochure to other stores and shop and save. The beauty of this system is it gives one family or shopper just one brochure to keep until they’re done shopping, so we’re not giving out multiple brochures to one family.

But the real joy of this brochure is how it came out. It’s a full-color tri-folded thing of beauty that would have been prohibitively expensive for one store to do on its own, but split 16 ways it only cost each store $50. So, by working together we created something that has driven business to all our stores and not broken anyone’s marketing budget.

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Banned Books Week

Elizabeth Bluemle -- September 26th, 2014

On Wednesday, right in the middle of Banned Books Week, a mom and her four children came in to the store. As we were ringing them up, we were talking about content in an adult book one of her high schoolers wanted to read. The mom was explaining where she draws the line for her teens, and her middle-grade daughter piped up. “They just banned a whole bunch of books today at school. Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in Our Stars and all the other John Green books….”

I said, “They banned those books?! Here?? During Banned Books Week?!?”

“Yeah.”

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Why Lying Is So Hot Now

Kenny Brechner -- September 25th, 2014

sealed-with-a-lie-9781481400527_lg

One clings to the belief that effects have causes, that, for example, Young Adult trends have reasons. That may not be so, of course, perhaps the endless parade of ballroom gowns on YA cover models is just the void getting in a good one. Nonetheless, when I noticed an obvious new trend in YA frontlist I decided to eschew the epistemology of despair and try to come up with a reason.

Lying has always been a popular term for book titles, of course, but between 9/14 and 6/15 the floodgates have opened. Here is a title sampler: Even When You Lie to Me, Liars, Inc., Krakens and Lies, Lies We Tell Ourselves, Secrets and Lies, Little White Lies, Sealed with a Lie, Dead Girls Don’t Lie, Perfect Lies, Lie for Me, An Angel Torched My Homework and Other Lies, Big Fat Liar, and Trust Me I’m Lying.

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