The Mother’s Day displays are down in our little shop, replaced with Indy 500 themed books and graduation titles. The weather has turned from winter directly to summer temps, and the sneezing and sniffles of my poor allergy-ridden staff indicates that the pollen count has achieved May-in-Indianapolis levels. Mothers of school-aged children look haggard and over scheduled, and newborn-ish babies are making appearances, toes revealed, in brand new expensive strollers, and most days there’s a teenager or two dropping by after school asking about summer employment….. it’s time, indeed, for our summer reading program sign-ups.
When you’ve been a bookseller for more than 21 years, you see a lot of trends come and go. When we opened in 1996, middle-grade realistic fiction and mysteries were big and the young adult genre was considered “dead.” Ten years later, YA was exploding, and picture books were declared to be critical condition. When Harry Potter burst onto the scene, catapulting longish MG fantasy into the stratosphere, realistic MG fiction languished. When The Hunger Games launched a torrent of dystopian fiction, classic fantasy took a backseat. Then, when Game of Thrones hit the small screen — well, you get the idea. One genre rises, another falls, and thus spin the wheels of publishing.
A frequent question I get from customers at the bookstore is whether a particular book series needs to be read in order. Depending on the series in question, I’ll usually respond with a) Yes, each installment builds on the previous one and it would be difficult to follow if read out of order; or b) You can read them in any order and not miss anything, like Nancy Drew (a reference that always clicks with parents and grandparents); or c) Well, each book has a stand-alone plot with a beginning and end, but there’s also an overarching background plot that builds throughout the series. And, then again, there are some series that defy any of those broad categories. I began wondering recently if there are standard publishing terms for the different types of series–some better, more succinct verbiage I could borrow for booktalking and, possibly, for some handy in-store signage.
We have seen an exciting spate of new local releases this spring, many with coordinating pre-order campaigns. I feel like it must be such a personal thing, sending a new book into the world, so I love seeing what each author builds out around their launch. When I met Samantha Clark recently to talk about her new book and her launch plans for The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast, she showed us these ingeniously soothing comfort squares that she had printed with the hashtag #MakeYourOwnCourage. If you’ve read the book, you know that the boy at the center of it all must do exactly that under perilous circumstances, battling his own fears along the way. She gave each of us a square, and as we chatted, we realized that we were all rubbing the velvety comfort squares against our cheeks or fingers without even thinking about it. We loved them! She told us that she was going to be highlighting them as prizes in an upcoming scavenger hunt that she had coordinated with 11 other debut authors from around the country, and I was intrigued.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced having a long forgotten* passage or scene from a book, one that resonated particularly with us as a child, suddenly resurface to mind as though summoned by a spell cast by the present moment. I devoured Peanuts books as a lad. My collection was acquired by walking to town with a quarter to get a new Fawcett Crest Peanuts paperback from a little bookstore there anytime I had the means. There were a handful of pages that I came back to many times, even though I had no clear sense as to why I was drawn to them. The other day, as I was thinking about the anemic response to this year’s Children’s Book Week at the store, one of those long forgotten Peanuts pages suddenly reappeared to my thought.
My colleague Elizabeth Bluemle wrote a lovely post yesterday entitled Why Children’s Books Creators Do What They Do, and little parts of it echoed in my head today as I moved through a list of events and errands for and at the shop. I’m going to borrow her idea and extend it a bit (even though she, too, runs a bookstore and does many of the same tasks – WHEN do you find time to make books, Elizabeth? – I struggle to find time to READ every day!) because her post made me think about all the reasons I love owning a bookstore.
The title of this post is a little misleading; for any reason I could isolate as the reason we do this thing, someone could pipe up, “Not me! That’s not the main reason I write/illustrate/edit/design children’s books!” But I can say with utter faith that all of us live for the moments when we see our work connecting with young readers. That is joy. Witness three-year-old Duncan’s delight reading a Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie book:
As booksellers, the daily mail delivery brings all kinds of good surprises. A lot of those surprises are from publishers sending us different kinds of materials to make our jobs easier—from advance copies of books to collateral to storytime kits to whimsical tie-in promo items. These mailings are invaluable, so I am definitely not complaining. That being said, managing the mail can be a surprisingly challenging task. When a busy week rears its head (say, during the final throes of planning an upcoming festival), it feels like I can blink and the walls around my desk are suddenly closing in. I always get asked about what mailings are useful to our store, so I thought I’d take a little tour through the boxes after a small build-up. What’s inside, you ask? Well, let’s see! Continue reading
As I was making my way to the Glade for our seventh annual interview with Summer, I found myself reflecting on a recently finished book, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. My thoughts turned unbidden to the nature of the very Glade which I was approaching and whether it might in fact have common aspects with the Hazel Wood. Was storytelling a metaphor or a spell for world building, and if a spell who was telling the story here in the Glade? Now I’m not normally much of a lad for this sort of reflective thought, and I began to wonder if I was in fact ensorceled myself. Or was it just the odd turn of the seasons back in Maine where all the talk was of having pared down from four seasons to two this year, jumping from Winter straight to Summer. I put my disquiet aside. Needlessly.
“You should be going to every Girl Scout Jamboree in the country!” urged a troop leader to author-illustrator Sarah Dillard. Sarah, whose Mouse Scouts chapter book series is beloved by Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scouts the nation over, had been invited to the Girl Expo in Vermont on our state fairgrounds, and her publisher, Random House, arranged for a booth where we could set up and sell the books. What struck me was how many Daisy and Brownie leaders hadn’t known about the books and were intensely interested in them. It was as though Sarah had filled a need in the Girl Scout universe heretofore unrecognized.