I found the most amazing book in the PGW display at my fall regional show (I’m a member of the House of Heartland; we wear TWO scarves, because it’s cold in the Midwest) and it’s been sitting behind our counter at the shop for the last few weeks, passed between staff members, consulted and wagered upon like a Magic 8 Ball of books. It’s called The Story Cure, An A-Z of Books to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, published in 2016 in the U.K. by Canongate, and distributed by our PGW friends stateside last month. It’s the second book by these bibliotherapists-turned-authors, following their adult-themed The Novel Cure (Canongate, 2013) and it is a simply charming collection of bookish recommendations for all nature of childhood maladies, from “tummy aches to teenage mood swings”, for the times “when a book is the best medicine of all.”
It’s time for our store’s annual “IT’S 4TH QUARTER, LET’S PANIC!” staff meeting, a Sunday night pizza-and-pop extravaganza when we review all the events scheduled in the next two months (and I do some mea culpas for booking the dog rescue AND the ninja event on the same weekend WITH the offsite author festival AND the reindeer visit….), unveil all the new wrapping paper, and do some staff training for new and returning holiday help. We vote on our staff Top 10 book choices in the picture book, middle grade, and YA categories, debate the dress code for Plaid Friday, and engage in some wheeling-and-dealing over shift coverage to accommodate everyone’s holiday obligations. Somewhere between the breadsticks and the Cranberry Sprite, slip in some staff training on customer service. Specifically, I want to give our folks some helpful words and phrases to use in conversation with customers, and some “red hot lava” sentences to avoid. Just in case you’re in staff training mode, too, I’ll share my list of “please, never say this”:
We are experiencing a baby boomlet in central Indiana, borne out (hah!) by both the sudden length of the birth announcements in the local paper and the increase in sales activity in our board book section. If I were more of a detective, I’d probably investigate the increase in local “activity” about nine months ago… which was during a spell warmer than usual January temps, but full of thunderstorms, heavy rain, and lots of evenings just perfect to stay home. Our NFL Colts franchise quarterback (and great reader: check out andrewluckbookclub.com) underwent shoulder surgery that month, and our NBA Pacers maintained a rather uninspiring 8th place in the Eastern Conference Division, just enough to predict that we’d probably make the playoffs, but we’d probably have to play Cleveland early. All in all, it was a good month to stay home and work on personal relationships.
FROM THE DESK OF THE SHOPKEEPER
Memo to 4 Kids Staff re: displays
It’s September, which means we need to keep “Back-to-School” picture book rack out (but further back, towards the puzzles), “Apples and Apple Picking” on the front counter, and move “AUTUMN” to the front display right by the entrance. Tape those paper leaves to the coat tree, and just set it right in the middle of the table. Over in Middle Grade, make sure that “SOCCER” is rotated with the “FOOTBALL & CHEER” display, but that can leach over into the YA department, as long as you don’t take over any of the John Green space. (Some things shall not be disturbed, no matter the sports season, and we need to presell a LOT of TURTLES, you guys. A LOT of TURTLES.) Oh, and since the Cubs are doing pretty well (ahem), just find a place to keep baseball books and Cubbie stuff out, too, OK?
Yes, I know there’s no room. Yes, I know that I want to keep the hurricane and We LOVE Texas books right out on the table. It’s important. Kids are watching the news. Their teachers are signing up to adopt classrooms in Houston and they’re recording readalouds on the Hurricane Harvey Book Club site… they need context. But while you’re straightening those hurricane and storm titles, pull out anything we have on Florida. There’s a lot of snowbird grandparents down there that our kids will be Skyping with this week.
The regular event calendar for our store is consistent year round. We host a preschool and caregiver event every weekday morning at 10:30, and then keep our event space free for birthday parties on the weekends (for more on that sprinkle-filled festival, see Happy Birthday Party Blues). Mondays are for Paint-a-Story (described in The Messier the Better); Tuesdays bring Stories & Snacks, a more traditional 4–5 stories on a theme followed by muffins and conversation; on Wednesdays we host MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) and playgroups, and on Thursday we celebrate Silly Songs & Stories, a half hour of shorter tales and rhythm instruments, dancing, singing, and on my braver weeks, my ukulele or guitar.
We established this routine years ago, and often laugh when customers ask if “that messy book and art thing” or the “books and bongos” class will happen next week—of course it will. Other than holidays for which we close (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter) we ALWAYS keep our regular events in place. Even in December, when our party room is rimmed with tables for gift wrapping and an embarrassing amount of unreceived books (the elves work nights, thank goodness), we just push everything back and host our weekly silliness. Partly, we do that to maintain a sense of destination about our store, and keep our regular customers engaged. Surely, we use events as gentle ways to bring in new people, meet their children, and try to charm our way into their hearts (and maybe budgets.) Relationships take time, and we want to offer as many opportunities as we can to become friends. Being part of a parent’s weekly routine, and seeing children frequently allows us to ask about progress with potty training and phonics and wiggly teeth, and share momentous occasions like first words and wobbly steps.
I went to sleep with the Edelweiss grid open and now there’s drool on the keyboard and my author visit pitch for that new YA fantasy is just fjkldkjslkdfldkfjlsdkfjlkjlksdjfldkfjlsdkfjldskfjldksfjldskfj….. and it’s submitted and when I got out of bed I tripped on that stack of ARCs and I spilled coffee on my last clean shirt (and I have a school presentation this morning) and I could tell it was going to be a really bad day.
At morning staff meeting Antonia got the jelly doughnut and Nichelle got the last apple fritter so I had to eat the leftover granola bar from the drawer under the register with no coffee because I spilled it. All of the folding chairs were gone, too, so I had to sit in the bean bag chair. I said I would get a backache in the bean bag. No one even answered. I could tell it was going to be a quite horrible day.
I think I might move to Canada.
We have a thriving birthday party business at our shop, both to the joy of our bookkeeper and the local bakery that supplies our cupcakes, but sometimes success is just, well, exhausting. We began offering parties when we moved to this location some 10 years ago, using our back room/event space/Lord-where-do-all-these-boxes-go? space. Over the years, this business has grown to a consistent weekend schedule, often hosting up to five frosting-filled celebrations in a weekend (followed by almost as many glasses of wine and a nap for yours truly).
We spend a lot of time on the sales floor handselling in the summer, when kids have more time to read, and less assigned reading by genre to complete for school. Usually, at our store, this is a conversation between three people: the bookseller, the young reader, and the parent or grandparent with a credit card. Often, the adult is the one asking for recommendations, as left to their own devices, most kids are very capable of finding reading material that they think they would enjoy. Adults, too, often have an agenda for their children. They want summer reading to be something healthy like exercise and eating kale, with a vaguely educational tone to the content or the process itself. Sometimes they want the “magic bullet” for a reluctant reader… “I don’t understand it, his brother LOVES to read, and but he’s just not that interested. He’d rather play (fill in the blank with sport, video game, or fidget device). ” Cue sympathetic look from the staffer, who then gives our secret sign* towards the register, alerting another bookseller to engage the kid as quickly as possible, in hopes that we can have a conversation without a hovering parent. Perhaps they want to feed the voracious reader with a new series, preferably one with lots of titles for ease of purchasing subsequent books, or a shiny sticker that exudes quality. Perhaps they want to share books they remember from their own school days, or provide some context for an upcoming family trip (quick, name three middle grade titles that reference Colonial Williamsburg. Ding! Ding! Ding!)
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.”
“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.