Monthly Archives: December 2009

What Living Authors and Illustrators Inspire You?

Alison Morris - December 30, 2009

An article in the January/February 2010 issue of Poets & Writers magazine lists its staff’s picks for "Fifty of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World." Alison Bechdel, Billy Collins, Joan Didion, Dave Eggers, Haruki Murakami — these five authors and forty-five more made the list after meeting the following criteria: "Fearless, inventive, persistent, beautiful, or just plain badass—here are some of the living authors who shake us awake, challenge our ideas of who we are, embolden our actions, and, above all, inspire us to live life more fully and creatively."

Reading Poets & Writers‘ selections for these rather lofty criteria got me thinking about the talented (living) authors and illustrators who are "[shaking] us awake" on the children’s and young adult side of publishing. What follows is a list of five names that I came up with, to which I’m hoping you’ll add more:

M. T. Anderson
M. T. Anderson’s startling insights about humans and humanity are clothed in such entertaining rags that you can almost forget, while reading them, that your brain is expanding.

Geraldine McCaughrean
Old tales breathe more deeply under Geraldine’s direction, and her original stories crackle with life. How does she craft such perfect similes?

Marilyn Nelson
Raw honesty and lyrical beauty mingle in the lines of Marilyn Nelson’s poetry, painting a fuller picture of our past and of our collective conscience, too.

Elizabeth Partridge
I always come away from Elizabeth Partridge’s books feeling both educated and inspired. Hers is compelling nonfiction with the perfect blend of content, context, and character. 

Shaun Tan
It seems everything Shaun Tan turns his pen or brush to emerges as something surprising, insightful, and imaginative. I can never guess what strange and beautiful things I’ll find when I turn the pages of his books, which makes me all the more anxious to do so.

Who is missing from this list? What living authors and illustrators do you think "shake us awake, challenge our ideas of who we are, embolden our actions, and, above all, inspire us to live life more fully and creatively?"

Bookstores to Visit Around Boston

Alison Morris - December 29, 2009

Attending ALA Midwinter and wanting to take home more books than just those you’ll score at the trade show? Here are a handful of Boston-area independent bookstores where you can easily fulfill that wish. (See also my previous post about "Bookish Sites Around Boston" for other literature-related adventures in Beantown.)


The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, Brookline – 237 Washington St.
(Public transit directions: take the D train of the Green Line to the Brookline Village stop)
Cozy and inviting and s-m-a-r-t under the direction of all-knowing owner Terri Schmitz. If you want a wide selection of children’s and young adult titles both new and old, plus an expert staff who can make well-tailored recommendations or just shoot the breeze with you about the latest trends in children’s books, this is the store for you.

Curious George Goes to Wordsworth in Harvard Square, Cambridge – 1 JFK St.
(Public transit directions: take the Red Line to the Harvard Square stop)
While it can’t hold a candle to the Children’s Book Shop in terms of either service or book selection, this store is a convenient-for-tourists source of some great book-related toys, plush, games, and assorted other gifts. It’s just a stone’s throw from Hahvahd Yahd.


(Note that all three of these stores feature STELLAR line-ups of author events. Consult their respective event calendars to see who’ll be in town when you are.)

Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square, Cambridge – 1256 Massachusetts Ave.
(Public transit directions: take the Red Line to the Harvard Square stop)
If you like your stores jam-packed and/or you want scholarly selections that’ll knock your socks off, this is the store for you. Its children’s and young adult sections are on the small side but packed to the gills with quality stuff. Ask Kari Patch or Carter Hasegawa what they’d recommend for teens or young readers.

Porter Square Books in Porter Square, Cambridge – 25 White St. (in the Porter Square Shopping Center on Massachusetts Ave.)
(Public transit directions: take the Red Line to the Porter Square stop)
If you like a warm atmosphere and a store that’s easy to browse and thoughtfully stocked, Porter Square Books is just your speed. Their friendly, knowledgeable staff will hook you up with great ideas for all ages, and the coffee shop at the front of the store will hook you up with a warm beverage to take with you. Carol Stoltz is the children’s book buyer who keeps their young readers’ sections more than up-to-speed.

Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner, Brookline – 279 Harvard St.
(Public transit directions: take the C train of the Green Line to the Coolidge Corner stop)
As Brookline Booksmith is a sister store to my employer, Wellesley Booksmith, I’m admittedly biased here, but I’d shop here even if they didn’t sign my paycheck. One glance at the approximately 200 reviews of this place on Yelp will show you that I’m not the only fan of this city store that features a savvy selection of books for all ages, a hip and knowledgeable staff of booksellers, and a darn-it-I-always-find-something-I-don’t-need-but-have-to-have assortment of clever cards and gift items.

Other suggestions:
For the brainiac: The MIT Press Bookstore (Kendall Square, Cambridge)
For the world-traveler: The Globe Corner Bookstore (Harvard Square, Cambridge)
For the comic book fan: The Million Year Picnic (Harvard Square, Cambridge)
For the poetry fan: Grolier Poetry Book Shop (Harvard Square, Cambridge)
For the linguist: Schoenhof’s Foreign Books (Harvard Square, Cambridge)


Boston. com has made my posting very easy for this category! Check out their slideshow featuring photos and info about local used and antiquarian bookstores and go from there.

Note that this list of suggestions is focused on stores that are very close to town, on that assumption that that’ll be more relevant to the majority of ALA Midwinter-goers. If you’ll have a car and want to travel farther afield, I’d also recommend visting the very obvious choice of Wellesley Booksmith (ahem) in addition to The Blue Bunny in Dedham (a children’s bookstore owned by author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and his twin brother Paul, expertly run by Paul’s wife Janet), the lovely Newtonville Books, and the overwhelming-and-rather-baffling-but-worth-the-experience New England Mobile Book Fair.

Fellow locals, have I left out your favorite stores? If so, feel free to list them here.

Happy shopping!

Bookish Sites Around Boston

Alison Morris - December 28, 2009

Heading to Boston for ALA Midwinter and wondering what other book-related stuff you could do or see around town? Here are a few tips!

The most obvious suggestion is to point you in the direction of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that wends its way past 16 significant historic sites. Stop at Old South Meeting House where Phillis Wheatley (the first published African-American poet) was a member of the congregation, then practice your recitation of Longfellow’s "Paul Revere’s Ride" as you walk by (or stop to visit) Paul’s house and head up the hill to Old North Church. (Think "One if by land, two if by sea…".)

Visit the Literary Trail of Greater Boston website, which outlines a 20-mile trip and some 17 stops at places like the Old Corner Bookstore and the Boston Athanaeum (see photo above right). It’s ten years old now, but in 1999 the New York Times featured a lengthy article in which a new Boston resident describes his literary trip around the city, beginning with the stops on this tour. It’s a fun look at some of the featured places, and includes nice mentions of the literary bits of Boston that lie a bit further off the beaten track.

Do not pass up the chance to visit the Boston Public Library, "the large free municipal library in the United States" and marvel at the architecture of the McKim Building, one of my favorite buildings in all of Boston. While there you’ll want to be sure to poke your heads into the Reading Room of Bates Hall, see the John Singer Sargent murals, and admire the beautiful Italianate courtyard. In the Johnson Building, visit the Margaret & H.A. Rey Children’s Room and take a peek at the current Literacise exhibit, which I haven’t seen yet but look forward to checking out myself. (Public transit directions: take any Green Line train to the Copley stop.)

Fans of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings will, of course, want to take a stroll through the Public Garden in downtown Boston, following the ducklings’ route and admiring the sculpture erected in their honor. Sadly, at this time of year you won’t have the option of taking a ride on one of the famous Swan Boats depicted in the book, but you can put that on your calendar for next time. (Public transit directions: take any Green Line train to the Arlington stop.)

Mount Auburn Cemetery (which I’ve blogged about previously) is a beautiful spot, even in the dead of winter, and home to the graves of such literary significants as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Jacobs, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Amy Lowell, John Ciardi, Robert Creeley, and Fanny Farmer — to name just a few. It’s located on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge and is easily accessible by car or by bus. Additional tip for cemetery visitors: find an excuse for food at nearby Sofra. Yummmm! (Public transit directions: take the Red Line to Harvard Square, then switch to the 71 or 73 bus. After about a five-minute ride you’ll get off in front of the Star Market, which is right across the street from the cemetery.)

Want to wave to the places where your favorite books are published? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt‘s offices can be found at 222 Berkeley Street in Boston, a few short blocks from the BPL and/or the Public Garden. Candlewick Press is at 99 Dover Street in Somerville, right near the Davis Square stop on the Red Line. (Note that, no, you cannot just drop in and expect to be given a tour of either of these places. But I’m including them here in case, again, you want to wave at them from the street or stand outside and hope for autographs from passing literati.)

Got time to get outside the city limits? A half-hour drive west will get you to Concord, Mass., where you’ll be in literary Heaven. Visit the homes of Louisa May Alcott (there’s nothing quite like seeing the actual home in which all those lovable girls had the adventures that inspired "Jo’s" story), Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Visit the land that so inspired Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond. Visit the graves of all of these dignitaries at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Drive or take the Commuter Rail north to Salem, Mass. and visit the House of the Seven Gables, or the Witch Trial Memorial and the Old Burying Point Cemetery.

Prefer to read your way through town? has a Reader’s Guide to Literary Boston that provides excerpts from books, each highlighting or describing specific spots in the city.

AND, of course, if your real goal is to go home with books beyond those you pick up up at the trade show, you might want to visit a few bookstores. My next post will feature suggested spots for browsing (and buying!), so stay tuned!

Fellow locals, help me out! If there are spots of note I haven’t included here, please let our visitors know what they are and where they can find them.

See you all at ALA!

Happy Holidays!

Josie Leavitt - December 24, 2009

On  Christmas Eve, we are taking a moment to wish all our ShelfTalker readers a very Merry Christmas (no matter what you celebrate, there’s something lovely about the country taking a holiday together). Our holiday shopping season has been hectic, fun, profitable and exhausting. Our editor at PW asked if we could somehow corral our staff into the holiday section to take a photo. Well, getting everyone in one festive spot was impossible today, we were so busy. So here is the hard-working staff (minus Kelly, who was off today) behind the counter, wrapping and ringing up customers. What you can’t see is that for the photo, all were singing Christmas carols.

 From left, we have Emily Raabe, our very first employee, who helps out every holiday season when she comes home to visit family. Next are J.P. Schittina and Darrilyn Peters, who have been with us since our move to Shelburne in 2006. Finally, meet our newest wonderful staff member, Sandy First. These women have worked tirelessly this holiday season and made our store a fun and knowledgeable place to shop.

Here is a rare picture of the two of us, Josie and Elizabeth, during a holiday lull.  The Santa hat is a fixture for Josie until Christmas Day, when she retires it until the next year.

Josie hopes that everyone gets a book (or two, or three) that they have time to read and enjoy during the holidays. Here’s to a 2010 filled with great books that haven’t been discovered yet.

Elizabeth wants to share two brief stories, one old and one new, which encompass the spirit of generosity and connection one hopes the holidays celebrate and encourage.

The newer story is from 2005, and involves a humpback whale trapped by fishing lines and heavy crab pots. Not only was the rope wound tightly around the whale (who had also swallowed some of it), but the weight of the crab pots (hundreds of pounds) made surfacing to breathe very difficult for the whale. Rescue divers dared the risks of working so close to the large creature, and carefully used curved knives to cut away the ropes and traps. When the whale was finally free, instead of immediately fleeing, it swam around in what seemed like joyous circles, cavorting like a happy puppy, then went up to each diver, nudging him gently, as if taking time to thank each man for saving its life. One diver mentioned the creature looking deeply into his eyes with its one great eye. There are so many mysteries and wonders in life, and animals continually provide examples of them. I’ve always wondered why humans have so much trouble acknowledging the intelligence of animals and their ability to connect with us. Stories like these are a gift, and a reminder of the great importance of our stewardship of and relationship with all living creatures.

The older story is a family favorite, and took place many Christmases ago in a townhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona. The family had gathered to exchange gifts on Christmas morning, and our littlest family member was baby Fred. Freddy was about fifteen months old, maybe a year and a half, and all morning, he had been delighted by the opening of gifts with their fun wrapping paper and contents. After breakfast, everything had been tidied up, and my sister was doing a last bit of reconnaisance around the tree. She came upon one last gift that had been overlooked. "Baby Fred! This one’s for you!" she said, holding out the box with its bright red paper. Baby Fred looked at it, then around himself. There was nothing there, just the rug he was sitting on. His little brow furrowed, and he looked worried. Then he took off his shoe and held it out to my sister. He clearly wanted to give her something in exchange for the gift she was handing him, having observed all morning the customs of Christmas. There was something so beautiful about that small gesture of care and its embodiment of the spirit of giving. I think of it every year at this time.

Here’s to all creatures great and small, and their beguiling, ineffable, miraculous selves. And that includes you. Cheers! And thanks for a wonderful nine months of reading and commenting on our posts.

Two Thrills Worth Seeking – The Pricker Boy and Sleep No More

Alison Morris - December 23, 2009

A post about scary stuff might seem an odd fit for the holiday season, but as one of my recommendations here is time-sensitive, I’m not going to let that stop me!

I’m not usually drawn to things of a horror-type nature, but recently two things — a book and a play — have found me actually enjoying my walk on the dark side, or at least enjoying the feelings that washed over me AFTER my initial rush of fear had dissipated. 

THRILL NUMBER ONE is Reade Scott Whinnem‘s young adult novel The Pricker Boy (Random House, September 2009). Haunting and beautiful, this book was so much richer than I expected, and such a wonderful surprise for me given that (full disclosure here) Reade is a personal friend. Being my friend, though, is not enough to get you a mention on ShelfTalker. Writing a book as memorable and thought-provoking as this one is.

Deeply suspenseful and emotionally complex, this is the story of Stucks, a teenage boy living in a woodsy vacation town where he and his friends (some locals, some summer residents) are spending the summer together, passing time in the same basic fashion as they’ve done every year since they were kids. This year, though, things feel different. As they gather around the campfire for an annual ritual of storytelling, Ronnie (the most socially awkward of the bunch) tells the same story he spins for them every year, each time with more embellishment — the story of the Pricker Boy. A trapper’s son who was caught in one of his father’s traps, the Pricker Boy became part of the woods around him after his skin hardened into bark and thorns grew all over his body. For years, Stucks, Ronnie, and the others have been leaving peace offerings in the woods for the Pricker Boy — not believing he actually exists, but doing it, well… just in case. This year, though, things are getting freaky. Ronnie’s story reveals some odd new twists, Stucks keeps waking up to find that he’s sleepwalked into strange places, and a strange ball of furs appears for the group — which contains all of the offerings they’ve ever left for the Pricker Boy, as if he’s rejected them all and none of them will ever be safe.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the complexities of the relationships between Stucks and each of his friends. They treat one another the way teenagers do, testing the waters with one another in sometimes uncomfortable ways and tripping awkwardly through emotional territory. Ronnie, who is the brunt of many of the group’s jokes and knows they aren’t always kind to him, can’t help coming back for more. Stucks, the unofficial leader of the group, is in love with Emily but can’t even acknowledge that fact to himself.

It’s hard to say much about The Pricker Boy without including any spoilers, which I don’t want to do. Suffice it to say that what begins as a story about teens encountering a supernatural evil turns out to be much more about the evils we inflict on one another, and the evils that some of us must battle within ourselves. (That does not mean, however, that you won’t find yourself choosing to read this book during daylight hours only.)

You can learn more about Reade Scott Whinnem and The Pricker Boy at The Ruby Winkle Review.

THRILL NUMBER TWO is the American Repertory Theater’s production of Sleep No More, which the A.R.T. describes as "an immersive production inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, told through the lens of a Hitchcock thriller." British theater company Punchdrunk has staged this performance/art installation in the rooms of the Old Lincoln School in Brookline, Mass., where play-goers are let loose to wonder through the school’s seemingly endless maze of rooms on four floors, each of which has been transformed into a different space or tableau you might find in Macbeth’s mansion, in the witches’ lairs, or on the set of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Cast members walk or run from room to room and floor to floor, engaging in strange wordless encounters that feel sexual or violent or some combination of both. A review in the Boston Herald described the experience as "wandering through a dream someone else is having," which pretty aptly captures the experience (though it should be noted that much of this dream feels like a nightmare). Every intricate detail of these rooms is laid out for you to walk upon, brush up against, run your fingers over, or stare at for as long as you feel inclined to.

How much Sleep No More feels like an actual play, though, is open to interpretation. Each visitor to this performance has a completely different experience, depending on how many scenes they stumble upon, how many rooms they explore, in what order they see them, and so on, and so on. At the end of our three-hour adventure through the Old Lincoln School, neither Gareth nor I felt as though we’d seen enough to piece together any actual narrative. But I had experienced enough general creepiness to leave my nerves feeling rattled for a good 24 hours at least. At one point, we entered a room just in time to see a white-masked visitor being led into a locked room by a beautiful costumed woman who pushed the man’s friend/girlfriend/wife aside when she tried to follow. (My husband was stolen from me for a time, later, in much the same fashion.) An accidental trip through the same room later in the night showed a basin of bloody water on the floor, a cloth beside it. Like walking through a series of snapshots, you come away with distinct, detailed images of things that have happened — things you may or may not seen — but very few clues as to how to put them together.

When you arrive at the school you’re ushered into a bar area where you can order drinks, check your coat, and mill about waiting for a musical performance to begin. When the number on your playing card is called, your group is ushered out into the hallway and each of you is handed a white plastic mask with a conical nose. (Yes, these are sterilized after every use.) Thus attired, you’re let loose to wander at random through the building, where other mask-wearing guests are doing the same. I was fascinated by the fact that, though, there might be 300 of you scattered throughout the school’s four floors, it can easily feel as if you and your companions are the only people left in one very bizarre universe. It’s easy to forget that there are other people in the room when you can’t see their facial expressions and when none of them are talking, as very few people seem inclined to do at the time. What sound is happening during Sleep No More (and there is a lot of it), comes not from the cast or from the so-called audience but from the combination of eerie music, familiar tunes, and unnerving waves of sound you encounter as you move from room to room. Just when you begin to relax, having been lulled by the quiet music playing in one particular space, music changes, or an agitated character rushes into the room, returning your nerves to their heightened and uncomfortable state.

The whole e
erience of this production is disorienting, unnerving, and COMPLETELY absorbing. Rare were the moments when I felt aware of the fact that I was just in a school, on a weeknight, accompanied by other play-goers. It feels creepy to poke through other people’s rooms and pore over the details of their worldly possessions. It feels creepy to glance around and see other formless, masked faces doing the same. It feels creepy to suddenly have costumed people rush into the room with you and do baffling (if beautiful) dances with one another while exchanging few, if any, words. It is creepy to grab a doorknob and find it sticky with (fake) blood. It is, in short, CREEPY, CREEPY, CREEPY to see Sleep No More.

But wow is it memorable — without a doubt the most unique and fascinating theatrical production I’ve had the (creeped-out) pleasure of attending. Which explains why so many people are going to see it again and again. As he mentioned in a recent blog post, Gareth has one friend who’s been three times and swears 80% of what he saw last time was stuff he hadn’t seen before. It also explains why the run of the show was very recently extended, providing more of you with the opportunity to take it in, which I hope many of you will do.

Sleep No More is playing at the Old Lincoln School until February 7, 2010. Take it from someone who generally doesn’t like to be scared and is not sure her nerves could handle seeing it a second time — this is still, most definitely, a thrill worth seeking.

Joyous Thoughts

Josie Leavitt - December 22, 2009

As the year winds down, I can’t help think of just a few of the things that made me smile during the past year.

– My staff, who have been tireless workers this whole year, working extremely hard and recommending great books, even when facing daunting challenges of lack of information and time, and a constantly ringing phone.

– The great kids who come in eager to read, and requesting books even as young as two and a half. This little girl came right up to the counter, stood on tippy toes, head barely visible and asked in a loud, piping voice, "Do you have any books on moo-cows?" Well, everyone on staff practically leapt to help moo-cow girl, who left with a charming touch-and-feel book. It made me really happy that her dad was training her for a lifetime of being engaged in bookstores by making her ask for the moo-cow books, not just finding one for her. Okay, I have to admit, moo-cow is a really fun word to say, which is why I can’t stop repeating it.

– The customer from Albany, N.Y. (three hours away) who made me a scarf last week because I helped her find a book and complimented her on her beautiful scarf. Now I’ve got a stunning scarf to wear for the holidays, and a really sweet note.

– The woman who came in asking for the book that was in the window last year, who was patient enough to let us help actually find it for her. Hugs all around on that coup.

– The customer who just yesterday sent me a 16-month tea-cup piglet wall calendar. Adorable mini-piglets for more than a year. I can hardly stand it.

– The many children, boys and girls, young to teens, who have left the store hugging their book.

– One other thing that always makes smile are the many customers who surreptitiously sniff their books after they buy them.

– And lastly, the customers who come back to us and say how grateful they are that we’re in their families’ lives. This is why I love going to work every day. A book can make a huge difference in someone’s life: be it a moo-cow book, the breakthrough book for an emerging reader, the book that reminds teenagers it’s fun to read when they feel oppressed by schoolwork. It can be the book that is full of wonder, the great story they might not have picked up on their own, but the one that we enthusiastically told them they had to read.

So, enjoy the books you’ll get on Christmas morning and spend some quality time with your family, all cozy, all reading books.


Words for Welcoming Winter

Alison Morris - December 21, 2009

It looks like Boston is in for a White Christmas this year, given what Mother Nature dropped on us over the weekend. The photo at right shows how one of our apartment windows looked on Sunday morning, before a passing storm had finished blanketing our streets (and trees and cars and anything else left uncovered).

This, the season’s first BIG snowfall, brought to mind for me some of my favorite poems about snow and winter. I thought I’d kick off the week by sharing two of those here and close it, on Christmas Day, with a third.
In the meantime, the retail frenzy will continue, as Josie and Elizabeth meet the needs of customer after customer at The Flying Pig and we at Wellesley Booksmith do the same for our crowd — just as soon as they’ve finished shoveling out their driveways!

Today’s first poem comes from Moon, Have You Met My Mother? The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (HarperCollins/Laura Geringer Books, 2003), where it appears on page 165.

Summer is gone
and so are the roses.
Sidewalks are icy
and so are our noses.
Noses are rosy
and so are our cheeks
and will be for many long
wintery weeks.

This next poem appears in Winter Poems, selected by Barbara Rogasky and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Scholastic, 1994). (Note that this poem offers some comfort to those of you are NOT fans of this particular season.)

I Heard a Bird Sing
by Oliver Herford

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember:
"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,"
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Anyone else have favorite words for winter? If so, please share them here.

A Holiday To-Do List

Josie Leavitt - December 17, 2009

It’s the holidays and all booksellers are harried. I thought I’d take a moment to give readers an insight into what a busy day at a small store is really like.

The store opens at 10:00 a.m., but I try to get there by 8:00 to get caught up with what didn’t get finished the night before and to work on my to-do list.

This is the list:

– Check website for overnight orders and get the books ready to ship

– Follow up on all the back-ordered special orders. This involves calling all the distributors to find out when they’ll be getting the books, making notes of that and calling all the folks who have books in limbo

– Change the out going store answering machine message to reflect what’s on sale

– Print out what sold yesterday and order what we’re out of stock on

– Anticipate what I think people will want for the weekend. This includes holiday books, hot books, newsletter restocking, and staff favorite handsells. This is the part of ordering where I need to think. I need to really look at what’s been selling, what folks have been asking for and what I feel like we have to have to successfully recommend books over the weekend.

– Work on a purchase order for the distributor I think will have the highest fill, or the one I have the most credit with.

– Send the order by noon to get it the next day.

– Shelve any books that didn’t get shelved yesterday because our usual 11 a.m. delivery arrived at 5 p.m.

– Call the special orders who didn’t get notified yesterday that their book(s) came in.

Here’s what happens.

– I get to work, coffee and yummy breakfast in hand, at 8:20. I go in my office, such that it is, and check the website and store email.

– I print out the orders from the website and start building my purchase order.

– At 8:45 I answer the phone and help a customer find a book whose title he doesn’t know, can’t remember but has to have. After five minutes I find it, only to be told that he’s going to call around and see if another store has it in stock.

– At 8:52 I hear knocking on the front door. I open it and let a very grateful customer in. She picks up her special order and a few stocking stuffers and then asks for recommendations for her great-uncle who loves nautical history. 

– The phone rings with an elderly woman wanting to have us send a gift certificate to her grandson and could we make it out to Boomer, Love Gogo and Paw Paw (I love the nicknames grandparents have; I find it a lovely window into the family. Plus, it’s fun to write. )

– The man calls back and says no other bookstore has his book whose title he still can’t remember, and he’d like me to order it for him. I take all his info and add the book to the purchase order.

– The two staffers on with me that day, arrive, and bring with them three customers.

It’s 9:30 and my store is now full of customers in varying states of shopping/ordering experience. Pretty much, customers in the store trump all else. I don’t really take a breath until 11:45 and I realize a carefully thought-out purchase order isn’t really an option. Right now it just needs to get done by noon. So frantic staffers are trolling the aisles shouting titles at me, or tossing lists at me that I’m furiously getting into the computer. 11:50 a.m. comes around and I send the order. I get the confirmation back at 11:52. I take a breath and start another purchase order.

It’s barely noon and my list is now scrap paper with random phone numbers, partial titles and coffee stains. The best thing is the store is slamming busy with happy customers, the staff and I are working really well together, and someone brought in sugar cookies since we know lunch won’t really happen until 4.  And there will be another hopeful list tomorrow morning.

Snow Angels – The Book Kind

Josie Leavitt - December 16, 2009

Our store has been blessed by holiday book angels, more than a hundred of them this year. Book angels are the people who bought books from our snowflake tree. Each snowflake represented a child who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten a book this holiday season. Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our customers, we helped select, wrapped and delivered well over 150 books to kids in need.

Our book angel program started years ago when we worked with the Charlotte Food Shelf. Our goal was to give every family who used the Food Shelf during the holidays some books. We’d get the ages and sex of the kids (no first names, as ours is a very small town, and there needed to be some anonymity) and we’d make paper snowflakes for each child. Customers would pick a snowflake, buy a book or two at a discount, and we’d wrap and deliver the books to the Food Shelf in time for the holiday basket delivery.

The first year we had maybe 25 kids. This year, we worked with the Food Shelf, the Lund Family Center and the Northeast Family Institute. We had more than 90 kids who needed books, a high number that represents just what this economic downturn has done to families. The nicest part of this program was the families who picked books together, and seeing eager nine-year-olds carefully selecting their favorite books in the hopes that another child would like as much as they did.

I’d love to hear what kinds of programs other stores do. My other favorite part of the Snowflake program is I get to wear a Santa hat, pretty much every day, and that’s a good thing.

The ABA Really Does Work for You

Josie Leavitt - December 14, 2009

They don’t just advocate on our behalf, they come work at your store. It seems Oren Teicher, chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association, wanted senior staff to spend some time in the trenches during the holidays. We were lucky enough that Jill Perlstein, director of member services, has family in the Burlington area, so she kindly offered to work all day Sunday and Monday at our store.

And work she did! She began her day by stating she was there "to do whatever needs doing." She was a trooper. We had her dusting, something that tends to fall by the wayside when the store is outrageously busy, shelving, re-alphabetizing picture books, tidying up the board book area and when I left to walk the dogs, she was reorganizing the stacks of special orders. These may seem like mundane tasks; they are, but they are really important mundane tasks.

Oh, and the best thing Jill did was wrap, a lot. Not only did she wrap customer books, she wrapped all the books that were part of our book angel program, saving us a ton of time on Wednesday morning when the books get picked up. If you ever need a wrapper, I can heartily recommend Jill: fast, crisp corners and nice ribboning

When she wasn’t busy doing work for the store, she was showing me the best way to use the Givex portal so I could better manage my gift cards. This was invaluable and will make my holidays go a lot more smoothly.

Jill might be vacuuming this morning before we open and then helping rearrange the window displays. I’ll be sad to see her go. She was a cheerful extra set of hands that we needed. And like most bookstore employeess, she ended her shift by shopping.

I wonder what the ABA will cook up next: maybe for a week they could pay all our bills?