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.

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