Even though I order books constantly, there's still a Christmas-morning thrill to the moment they arrive. Inside all those nondescript brown boxes are books I know well. They're old friends, come to visit once again. It makes me think of when Eleanor came to visit the D.C. store and spotted books she knew -- oh look, here's Grumpy Bird! There's Chickens to the Rescue! The cosiness of familiarity.
A mere two dozen of the hundreds of books I unpacked at the new store over the weekend:
The Owl and the Pussycat
The Snowy Day
Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
Who Was Elvis Presley?
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
The Jolly Postman
Tintin in Tibet
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Moo Baa La La La
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Math Doesn't Suck
The Guinness Book of World Records
Miss Mary Mack
Fox on Wheels
Each Peach Pear Plum
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
Sports Illustrated Book of Football
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
It all made me think about my life selling books. I sort of stumbled into it, with my only expertise coming from loving to read to my children and doing volunteer work for a truly wonderful school librarian. Just as with human friends, I have many different ways to appreciate books. There are the characters I love: Saffy, Ramona, Bartimaeus, Mirette, Grumpy Bird, Little Bear, Frog and Toad, and on and on. There are the lyrical take-your-breath away books: The Arrival or The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, to name two. There's the rip-roaring action at any age: from No Jumping on the Bed through Harry Potter on up to Hunger Games and Chaos Walking. Books of courage, of hardship, of inspiration. And on and on.
But another thing I realized while unpacking all those books, is how many of them represent specific children to me. There are kids I know well like, for example, Eleanor. Whenever I look at So Much!, a book I've carried for years, I think of when you and Eleanor called me, a few days after I gave it to her for her second birthday. She was at that whispery toddler stage on the phone, but she breathed out, "I want to kiss that baby," -- one of the refrains from the book. We carry a feminist fairy tale chapter book called Dealing with Dragons which Steven, my boss, loves and sells a lot of. But for me it will always be connected to a 9 year-old boy who was tripping over his words with excitement as he told me, "It's so cool! The dragons are the good guys and the wizards are the bad guys!" I love being a matchmaker for kids and books. Sometimes they're arranged marriages: I speak with parents who then introduce their kids to the books. I can't count how many times a parent has come back and said, my child loved that book you recommended, but when I ask which it was the parent can't remember. I've stopped asking that, and just feel good knowing there was a match there somewhere.
Sometimes the job has counseling elements to it. How can we help your child get involved in reading? I love those challenges: how to entice a child who's already rejected a lot of options. A few years ago a woman appeared in the store who I recognized as someone I'd had a number of those conversations with. She hadn't been by in a while, but she had come to tell me that her son had gotten involved in some of the books I'd recommended and that now he was reading steadily. I said something kind of breezy about that's great that he's liking it. "No, you don't understand," she said, and she teared up. "What I'm saying is, you made my son a reader."
Another reason to love my job.