Monthly Archives: July 2012

When a Honk Turns into a Sale

Josie Leavitt - July 31, 2012

I’ve written before about the ease with which folks in my town give me their special orders. I can be at the supermarket and get followed down an aisle. Or at the drugstore in the shampoo section when someone comes up next to me and starts talking about what book they need.
I really thought I had heard it all, until the other day. I was taking my usual morning walk as I try to before work starts. I find that some brisk exercise before the busy retail days of summer really helps me have a better day. So, I was walking and listening to my iPod rather loudly when a car kept honking. I’m used to people honking at me when I walk; it seems to be the standard country greeting. But this honking was insistent.
I took off my headphones and saw a car actually backing up on the road to pull even with me. The driver, a man named Jeff, shouted out the window. “Can you save me the new Bohjalian? I’ll be in later.” I was five minutes into a 40-minute walk. I used my phone to set a reminder for an hour later to save the book. This actually worked.
Three hours later the honking man strode in and got the last copy we had left. So, the combination of modern technology and old-fashioned honking turned into a hardcover sale. Not a bad way to exercise.

Fun with Mailing Lists

Josie Leavitt - July 30, 2012

Like most bookstores, we have an e-mail sign-up right on the counter. We usually start off the sign-up sheet to show folks how it’s done. It’s not complicated, but often, having started the list people are more eager to sign up.
You’d think we’d just use our names, but that’s boring and I like to have fun. So, every email list I start begins with a character from a children’s book. The very first list I started was with I like to see how many people notice. Sadly, not as many as I’d hoped. Although, my did get a lot of comments.
Elizabeth even got into the act and began a new list page with Pierre LaPin, whose email is But finally, when I was inputting the addresses last week, I noticed someone had played along with us. There before my very eyes was an email for Inigo Montoya whose email was I laughed out loud and noticed the handwriting was from a kid and that just made it all the more cute.
Sometimes it really is the little things that brighten my day.

Top Young Adult Books, Ever?

Josie Leavitt - July 27, 2012

I love NPR. I listen all the time and it’s been really heartening how much time they’ve devoted to children’s books this year. There are kids’ book appearing in their summer reading lists and now there is a monster list of Best-Ever Teen Novels. The list is vast and wide-ranging, with many of my favorite authors, some glaring omissions and a lot of really interesting books.
While I’m not normally a fan of these sorts of “pick the best ever” lists, this one intrigues me because it’s on National Public Radio and it’s a young adult list. I have noticed that more and more adults are reading YA. I even blogged about it. But to have NPR have a massive contest about the best YA is a wonderful thing. It just reinforces to me that YA is being read by a wide range of people. Clearly most of the people who submitted titles and who will vote are adults (I know some kids are precocious, but how many teenagers actually listen to NPR?). This makes me so happy.
I think every adult should read at least one or two new young adult novels a year. This year it’s been an absolute pleasure to sell Daughter of Smoke and Bone to adult women this summer. They come back as soon as they’re done, clamoring for the sequel just like the kids do.  They are surprised at how good it is and how much they enjoyed it, some often expressing, “I thought it was just a kids’ book.” Ah, the beauty of being a reader is that any book can be read and, hopefully, savored.
So, go vote for your favorites, go to your local bookstore and grab a young adult novel and enjoy!

Yes, It Is Boring. And, No, You Can’t Do Something Else

Josie Leavitt - July 26, 2012

We have a new teenage staffer this summer. We haven’t had a new teen hire in a few years and there’s something about training a teenager that makes me realize how dull parts of bookselling can be. Summer help often winds up doing the grunt work of the bookstore, and let’s face it, that’s not exactly thrilling stuff.
Alphabetizing, while vital to the store, is oh so boring to the adolescent mind. This is always what I have kids do first. I know it sounds cruel, but the picture book section is usually the section that teens are the least familiar with, and checking that all the books are in alpha order is a great refresher. I encourage staffers to really take their time with this task and to stop and peruse any and all books that look interesting as often these forays can turn into handsells weeks later. There is a method to the madness, but kids often cannot tolerate this task. The first teen who worked for us said after a scant five minutes, “Can I do something else? I’m bored.” Wow. No was the answer that time, and every ten minutes thereafter until she feigned a migraine an hour later and went home, for the rest of the summer.
Training people, especially teenagers, can be a challenge. Often we are someone’s first job and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with this. I try to make the job seem fun while still imparting the responsibilities needed to actually succeed at a job. I’ve noticed that many kids have only been told that they’re doing a great job at everything they do, so to be told by someone that their effort is lacking comes a surprise to them. Luckily, the kids who’ve been in this situation have risen to the challenge and become very strong workers.
One amazing thing about teen staffers is their total fluency with computers. They are not afraid of the computer because it’s the only thing they know. This is a revelation to me. I have a new employee question for my next hire: do you know how to do control, alt, delete? If the answer is no, well, then, that might actually lose you the job. Ask a kid that and they’ll probably go on to tell you how they’ve built their own computer from parts. This is the kind of computer skill the 21st century bookstore needs.
So, while the manual tasks of bookselling may allude some younger folks, their speed at picking up how the point of sale works often balances that out. Not being afraid of the computer is a huge positive in the kids’ favor. And, while I might find some aspect of teenage staffers to be a little irksome, I love their enthusiasm, and I love how they can sell the same book to a kid who just rolled their eyes at me.
I have been told by my staff that I “can be scary” when I’m mad. I try so hard not to be, but I do get this focused look that can be a little frightening. It’s become a rite of passage that you’re not really a full staffer until I’ve scared the bejeebers out of you. Well, several weeks our newest hire, David, found this out first-hand. We had an honest discussion about his work habits in one area (alphabetizing) being unacceptable. Before I even said a word, he looked ghostly pale. I asked if he was all right and he said, “You’re really intimidating.” I had to stifle a laugh. This mean look comes from being a substitute teacher in New York City where the kids would eat you alive if you couldn’t hold your own. We spoke about what needed to change, what he was doing that was great, and I sent him back to put the animals back in the right order in our animal section. He did a tremendously good job on reorganizing so the pandas were no longer mingling with the polar bears and kittens weren’t mixed in with the sharks.
One unhappy consequence of our little discussion is I’ve sufficiently scared him that he now calls me Ma’am.

The Hobbit Bag

Josie Leavitt - July 24, 2012

It’s finally happened. The staff is fighting over swag. An all-out war for a Hobbit bag. Katie McGarry, my new Houghton Mifflin Harcourt rep, has no idea what bringing me a lovely Hobbit bag of galleys has done to my normally calm staff.
I kept the bag, because, well, I took the meeting.  To my mind, this lovely bag should remain with me. But not everyone sees it that way. PJ, our college student staffer, who seldom asks for anything,  saw the bag and asked, “What are the chances I can have that Hobbit bag?” I told her that one was mine, but I’d see if I could get her one.
Then, my partner, Elizabeth, an avid bag collector (to a fault) assumed that the cute bag would be hers, even though this bag was already in my car. I don’t normally covet bags. But there is something about this bag that I love; its lovely Hobbit cover from the original book and its thick cotton straps that are long enough to go over your shoulder make this old-fashioned bag a keepsake. I just love this bag, but now I’m scared it will go missing. PJ would never steal my bag, but I can’t say what Elizabeth would do.
So, I have to wait for the fall trade show to get two new bags. In the meantime I will protect my bag and hope that others will behave as Bilbo Baggins would and leave the bag to its rightful owner.

Our Newest Hire

Josie Leavitt - July 23, 2012

I’ve written before about how customers bring in their puppies for us to play with. Meg, who owns the bead shop down the street, brought in her 11-week-old Havenese puppy, Topper Cosmo on Sunday. They had been at the lake all day and poor Topper was just pooped. He slept on the counter for at least half an hour while Meg and I chatted and children came up to pet him.
Topper Cosmo was like the best kind of greeter. Very polite, accepting of everyone and just about the cutest, softest ball of fur ever.   We’ve met a lot of puppies at the store, but I can safely none was as mellow as this ball of fur. I wish he would visit everyday.
I asked Meg, “Is your store closed on Sunday?” She blanched and looked at me askance. “Is today Sunday?” I told her it was. She just started laughing and said, “Well, screw it. I guess I needed a day off.” Meg doesn’t have any help at the shop. I cannot imagine what that would be like.  To have to be at the store everyday, without fail would be such a burden, not to mention a real drain on trying to have an actual life, I know I couldn’t do it.
We kept laughing about her date whoopsie straight through when she bought an 18-month calendar, “To help me know what bleeping day it is.” In the meantime, it was all I could do to give the puppy back.

Book Groups Made Easy for Indie Booksellers

Elizabeth Bluemle - July 19, 2012

A few years ago, we lucked into discovering an incredible resource: a book group (for adults discussing children’s and YA literature) that someone outside the bookstore plans, organizes, and even creates promotion for — free! They choose excellent books, provide background materials, create brochures and rack cards personalized for each store, and host follow-up sharing for participating bookstores afterward. All the indies have to do is find interested attendees.
This is a godsend for busy booksellers, and I have been wanting to share this terrific program, called Chapter & Verse, with my colleagues for quite a while now. Several indies from all over the country already participate, including The Red Balloon in St. Paul, MN, Redbery Books in WI, and Hearthfire Books in Colorado.
I thought the best way to share Chapter & Verse might be to chat with Vicki Palmquist from Children’s Literature Network in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Vicki is the dynamo behind this monthly boon.
ShelfTalker: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Children’s Literature Network?
[To quote from their website, “CLN is an independent source of news, information, and book reviews, supported by our members. Children’s Literature Network connects, informs, and educates those who have an interest in children’s and teen books, authors, and illustrators.”]
Vicki: Children’s Literature Network is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. We formally launched the concept in 2002, intending to be regional, but we received so many requests for information about books, authors, and illustrators all over the country that we expanded to a national organization in 2005. We saw the need to bring together a diverse coalition of children’s book enthusiasts, inspiring and aiding them as they help children and teens become lifelong readers.
I worked for Hennepin County Library, B. Dalton Booksellers, an independent children’s bookstore (Toyworks), and studied children’s literature with Dr. Norine Odland, Dr. Patricia Parker, and Dr. Karen Nelson Hoyle. The realization that all lives are more informed, more capable, and more inspired by reading became a passion of mine in college. It took me a few years to figure out how I could best turn that into a mission. Luckily, I met and married a man who feels as strongly about this as I do. Steve Palmquist has been an essential partner in brainstorming and implementing CLN, and by being our technology specialist.
ShelfTalker: What made you decide to start the Chapter & Verse book group collaboration with bookstores?
Vicki: Independent booksellers have the hearts and smarts about the books they sell. I’ve been there. I know about the long hours and low profit, as well as the irreplaceable feeling of knowing you’ve placed the right books in the right hands. It was our dream to focus attention on booksellers as community partners who are committed to the same goals as CLN is.
ShelfTalker: How does the collaboration work?
Vicki: Independent booksellers host a 90-minute Chapter & Verse meeting on the third Wednesday or Thursday of each month. Each store decides on a potential discount for bookstore members—those vary widely. CLN provides the book selections, a monthly rack card and a web page listing upcoming selections, a discussion guide for group facilitators, and a blog that features a summary of what each location decided about the books, focusing on positive reviews, and offering a photo of, and links to, the bookstore.
ShelfTalker: How do you choose the books each month?
Vicki: It’s often collaborative, or a suggestion, or books that are trending.… Our book club members have expressed a wish to feel current in their knowledge, acknowledging that paperbacks are more affordable, and wanting to read classics they may have missed. Our group members range widely in their interests, so we are determined to discuss books that reflect content from early readers to nonfiction picture books to steampunk to edgy young adult fiction to graphic novels to classic fiction … and many genres in between.
ShelfTalker: What have been some of your most successful experiences?
Vicki: The group at The Bookcase of Wayzata has been meeting for four years. We’ve gotten to know and trust each other, we attend events together, we call on each other to help out at our children’s literature events. The discussions are often energetic and people share their experiences with the books, students’ reactions, and personal discoveries. When we read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, almost no one knew anything about steampunk. Now they do. When we read Ellen Hopkins’ Crank, many people admitted they would never have picked the book up on their own. When we read Eleanor Davis’ Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, we picked up new graphic novel converts. In fact, we hear that often … “I would never have discoveredTahese books if it wasn’t for Chapter & Verse.” That makes it all worthwhile.
ShelfTalker: What are your plans for the future with the CLN and Chapter & Verse?
Vicki: We have a lot of things poppin’ at CLN. Our Advisory Council is busy putting the finishing touches on several programs, but Teen Literature Network will probably hit the ether soonest. We’re about to launch a nationwide program to get more Chapter & Verse book clubs meeting on the third Wednesday or Thursday of the month.
ShelfTalker: In your dream world, what would happen next?
Vicki: We’d have every independent bookseller signing on for this once-a-month book club for parents, educators, grandparents, librarians, professors … anyone who wants to discuss books for kids and teens. We’d do our best to help promote the store and provide materials that help with running the book club. We’ve always thought it would be a thrill to know that, all over America and in foreign countries, people are discussing the same two books on the same night, creating an energy for the books and finding other people we can trust as reliable resources in the children’s literature field.
ShelfTalker: Thank you SO MUCH for all that you do to support indie booksellers, kids, readers, and reading!
Indies, if you are interested in exploring Chapter & Verse for your own bookstores, contact Vicki and CLN at info  at   childrensliteraturenetwork  dot org.

Everyone Can Read About the Donner Party

Josie Leavitt - July 17, 2012

Sometimes, a large family comes in and all the kids get a book, except there is usually one kid, often the oldest, who gets more. This can create chaos among the younger kids who are big on noticing that suddenly the book purchases are not equitable.
Usually parents deal with this in one of several ways. They either make one child put back a book, causing unhappiness and anger, or in happy instances, they let everyone get one more paperback, causing a slight break in the budget, or some parents just let kids realize that not everything’s going to be fair.
Earlier in the week there was a mom of four kids ranging in age from five to twelve. Each child got one book each. That was clear from the outset with the mom saying, “Everyone gets one book.” When we hear instructions this clear we all do our best to help the kids find that one book he or she will love. In this instance, the little boy wanted two books: Amber Brown Wants Extra Credit and The Donner Party.  At first I thought, what an eclectic little reader. I don’t usually think of Amber Brown and the Donner Party being books the same person is going to enjoy. But this little kid was happy about both. All was good until the middle sister noticed the boy was getting two books. The mom dealt with this in the most equitable way I’ve ever seen.
She looked at all of her children and said with a straight face, “Well, honey, everyone can read about the Donner Party.” They left with the whole family talking about cannibals and not one mention of one of them getting an extra book.

When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

Josie Leavitt - July 16, 2012

I was at the gym last week and my trainer confessed that she was getting angry with her book. I suggested that maybe it was time to just put the book down and start something else. She said that unless the book was absolutely horrible, she finished it. Every time. I have never understood this philosophy.
I read too many books to feel compelled to finish all of them. I give most books a fair shake, at least a hundred pages, unless it’s truly awful. I define truly awful as something that is poorly written, when all I can see are the errors. I don’t even mind reprehensible characters, as long as the writing flows well. There are books that will take me literally months to finish because I don’t want to spend too much with it, but I’m still curious about how it ends. I will often start another book while I trudge through the other book. This reading pattern happens with mysteries.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a particular book, even though it is exactly the kind of book I generally enjoy. For whatever reasons, our reading tastes are very particular and all readers know instantly if a book just isn’t right for them, right now. Books that immediately feel like the wrong fit don’t even get read more than 10 pages before they are returned to the bedside stack for a better time.
I’m curious, what makes you want to stop reading a book?


Elizabeth Bluemle - July 13, 2012

It’s not all books, books, books at an indie, people. Sometimes you find yourself learning the most interesting things about total strangers.
The last customers of the day on Thursday, for instance, were a baby named Bartholomew, his mother, and his mother’s mother. They were a relaxed trio, focused in the main around Bart, a handsome little guy with alert, inquisitive, thinking eyes and a fine head of blonde-brown hair.
The conversation started out typically enough, with a little chatter about books, the weather, compliments on the cute baby, whose name I would not know for a little while. The visiting grandma commented on the bookstore, wishing she had an independent in her town. Words about the inferiority of the e-reader were bandied about. We all waxed rhapsodic over the feel and smell of real books and the wonderfulness of libraries, and the grandmother said, “What else can you open up and just be transported away? You’re in a whole other world, just in a different world….” She drifted off, happily.
Then it got a little funny. As in quirky, unexpected, amusing.
I asked the baby’s name and received the marvelous four-syllable response, which led us to chat briefly about Cubbins and hats and oobleck (though not, surprisingly, Simpson). “We call him Bart,” said the grandmother, smoothing a stray lock of hair on the baby’s head. “That’s better than Thol,” I joked. “Or Mew,” said his mother. And then she got serious. “I wanted a name, first of all,” she said, “where the initials looked good together: B.R.H. Those are good initials. And they don’t spell something like A.S.S.” (I quote verbatim.) The grandmother caught my eye and shrugged.
The mom continued, warming to her subject. “And then I wanted — and this is a pet peeve of mine — I wanted a nickname where the first initial was the same as the initial of the first name. Not like William and Bill.” She let this sink in a moment. “Or Robert and Bob,” I added, helpfully. “Right,” she said. “That’s a big pet peeve. I’ve always hated that. Why would you have a name where the nickname started with a different letter?”
The grandma shrugged again, looking a little embarrassed. She said, distancing herself, “Who knew a person would think about these things?”
I loved this. I heartily enjoy a good pet peeve when it’s word-related, and even if I don’t share that particular irritation, I can cheerlead. “I hear you,” I said.
Then the mom put her finger in the air. “I’ll tell you something about me and books, though,” she said. “If I’m reading a book, and I’m not finished with it yet….” Her tone took a sudden turn for the ominous. “Don’t touch it.”
I had to know. “Are you afraid someone will lose your place, or put your book where you can’t find—” “No, it’s because it’s mine, just leave it alone,” she said emphatically. Her mother nodded in agreement, echoing, “Yes, mine, don’t touch it until I’m done.” This was clearly a shared, perhaps genetic preference, and I thought I caught Bartholomew giving a little nod.
I assured them that I, for one, wouldn’t dream of violating a person’s no-touch-book rule, and we all smiled. The three of them headed out into the lowering sunshine, waving their goodbyes. Well, Bartholomew had a little help from his grandma’s gentle guiding hand on his forearm.
I can’t help but wonder if he will grow up to love books as passionately—and perhaps as fiercely—as his matriarchy.