8:06 am: (ring) “4 Kids Books & Toys, this is Cynthia…. Well, we open at nine, but I’m here, so how can I help? Yes, there’s story time today at 10:30. No, you don’t need a reservation. Yes, this rain is neverending, isn’t it? Three kids indoors since Saturday? Absolutely, come over early to play.”
8:15 am: (ring) “4 Kids Books & Toys, this is Cynthia…. an AmEx card? No, we didn’t find one, but give me your name and phone number, and if it turns up, we’ll text you right away. Yes, I remember you were here last night to get a couple of titles for that Accelerated Reading goal for your son that’s due today. Which one did he read? Is he in the car? Tell him I said good luck, and I’m holding his spinner.”
Yesterday I watched a roomful of young children watch and listen with rapt attention to a story set in a country none of them had ever heard of, in a time before any of them were born, and in a circumstance none of them have ever experienced and hopefully never will. Not only were the children gathered here visibly moved, they also came away with a feeling of hope and empowerment that they, themselves, even at their tender ages, can do concrete things to make the world a better place. Such is the power of story.
Vedrun Smailovic, aka The Cellist of Sarajevo
We get a lot of questions at the store from parents looking to introduce that special chapter-a-night reading experience to their kids and wondering where to start. I definitely don’t think you have to have kids to be an incredible children’s bookseller, but this is one question that my experience as a parent has helped me personally answer with a little more context than I used to.
Let me say at the outset that I don’t think anyone needs to rush into longer stories. With the dynamic interplay of text and art, picture books remain the best format for exploration and discovery and conversation for my kids, and we read them every day. But my four-year-old loves stories, and there’s something really special about sinking into a story that keeps going and evolving past the end of the chapter—not to mention the joys of running upstairs every night to continue the tale.
Having a bookstore in a small college town is a bittersweet undertaking when it comes to staff. Legolas knew what he was talking about when he said, “For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.” We always have at least two college student booksellers at DDG and during 26 years I have been fortunate and saddened to have many terrific booksellers work with us here at the store for a few years and then graduate and move on, leaving a living relationship which endures even as it changes.
See if you can spot Konner in the picture above!
This is as it should be, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t mark the spot now and again. You see the whole staff is in denial over losing Konner Wilson, who just graduated from UMF and will be leaving for Chicago, for a Master’s program in Writing for the Screen and Stage. Konner proves an important point; skills are interchangeable but personality is not. Konner has a great work ethic and is a real team player, absolutely, but most of all she is a true original. She has a fun and decisive character which includes entertainingly purposeful bad advice and a great sense of personal theater.
We’re all going to miss her but we’re also excited that she is staying in bookselling and has taken a job at The Book Cellar out in Chicago. The title of this post came from the idea Konner put forward when we were preparing to do our video store tour. “Everyone should always refer to me by saying, ‘yes, that Konner Wilson,’ as though I’m super famous and it’s hard to believe I work here.” In order to help explain how she is that Konner Wilson, an exit interview was clearly in order.
“Do you have any spinners?”
It’s the predictable chant at the end of most phone calls at the shop these days. There are two distinct sets of phone flurries: one at opening time, when adults (usually moms), dispatched by their school age chidren, call the list of local stores who stock fidget toys looking for new shipments. Then there’s the 3:30 pm “just off the school bus” group, who make the same round of calls, hoping for better news. On good days, when we HAVE received a new batch, our affirmative response is often met by a yell. “MOM!!!!! WE HAVE TO GO TO 4 KIDS NOW!!!” We’ve learned to hold the receiver a little further away from our ears.
Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin’s brilliant graphic, illustrated by artist David Huyck, showing the dismal percentages of children’s books in 2015 reflecting kids from various diverse backgrounds. Even cartoon animals get more representation. If you subtract them from the mix, the white representation skyrockets even higher. (Thanks to Sarah, Molly, and David for making this image available via a Creative Commons license.)
While progress has been slow, the conversation about diversity in publishing has grown and changed and strengthened in the past several years. Thanks to social media movements like We Need Diverse Books, as well as longstanding efforts by trailblazers like Cheryl and Wade Hudson, and vocal social critics and activists like Zetta Elliott, Edi Campbell, K.T. Horning, Daniel Older, Debbie Reese, Christopher Myers, and many, many others, the discussions and definitions of diversity have become increasingly nuanced as more and more people join the conversation and begin to raise the thorniest issues underlying the lack of diversity in the book world.
Last month I attended my first red carpet event. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and the venue was the auditorium at the downtown branch of Asheville’s public library. The A-listers being feted were the kid filmmakers participating in the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, which was having its Asheville debut.
In my very first post for ShelfTalker back in January, I shared the experience of networking with other community organizations to bring a public screening of the film festival to Asheville for the first time. As promised, here are the results… Continue reading
It’s Reading Without Walls week at ShelfTalker! As my colleagues have been writing all week, we collectively decided to take Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls challenge and blog about it. I’m so glad we did because I am a huge fan of this initiative. It provides a welcome push to hit pause and look past the books on our (always too long) must-read lists to try to see which ones aren’t there, and maybe ask ourselves why.
Like all booksellers, I try to be an omnivorous reader, with various books stashed in my purse, diaper bag, and glove compartment at any given time. While I love mixing up genres, themes, characters, and voices, I have reading gaps just like anyone else. I admit that I don’t read enough sports stories, and that romance-heavy novels aren’t always my first choice. But I ultimately decided to focus on the graphic novel. And that’s for very selfish reasons. Honestly, I really want to understand the world of graphic novels better than I do.
As you may know this week all five of us ShelfTalkers have been writing about books we’ve read for Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge. Meghan had put forward the idea and we were all excited to read something on what would be, for us personally, a road even less traveled than the one at Frost’s intersection in the woods.
The challenge asks us to read books with which we have at least one of the following relationships to.
I was interested in reading books in an area that met all three criteria for me and which represented a true gap in my reading and settled upon a genre, early chapter books written specifically for girls, which was an undeniable personal weak point. I do have go-to books there like Dory Fantasmagory, The Princess in Black, and Utterly Me Clarice Bean, but these titles are singular and exceptional. The vast rank and file world ruled by mermaids, pet clubs, rainbow fairies, magical animals and princesses I have left unsampled.
I chose two books for the challenge. The first was Purrmaids Book One, the Scaredy Cat, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, and the second was Third Grade Mermaid by Peter Raymondo. These books clearly met all the challenge standards. As a mostly bald 55-year-old male I do not resemble either a young cat mermaid, or an eight-year-old mermaid, nor do I know much about either of their personal lives
I love a good reading challenge! Several weeks ago, fellow ShelfTalker blogger Meghan Goel at BookPeople (in Austin) suggested that all five of us take on Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge and blog about it.
I loved the criteria Gene set out to encourage a nation of readers to read outside their comfort zones: to read about characters unlike you, to read about topics you don’t know about, and to read formats you don’t usually read. As a bookseller, it’s kind of my job to read outside my comfort zone; I have to read books across all genres and formats in order to stock the store for all of the readers who walk through the doors, not just readers who share my reading preferences. And as a human being, I’m a fairly curious beast, and open to the unfamiliar. So at first. I wasn’t sure where my areas of reading discomfort lay. But during our five-way email conversation, in which my colleagues identified their own zones of avoidance, I realized of COURSE there are books I avoid. But did they meet Gene Yang’s criteria?