In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December First

Dear Annie,

Today at work was many things: the last day before the first night of Hanukkah, the deadline for buying advent calendars, and the first nutty-December holiday day of crowds and chaos.  The crowds have been building, but today felt like the store does only about two weeks of the year.  People come in clutching lists -- some of them handwritten by kids, others printouts of e-mails -- with a determined, sometimes grim look in their eyes.  They accumulate armloads of books and piles of toys before checking out.  The line at the gift wrapping table grows.

There's lots of pressure this time of year -- I'm going to be up late tonight doing a lot of book ordering.  Things get chaotic, we start running out of things people want (Lego Advent Calendar: sold out three days ago: oh no!  And I'm down to my last Grumpy Bird, although more are coming.). But it's fun too -- if one is going to work in retail, one has to see this time of year as an adventure, not a burden.  One of the enjoyable aspects of all this for me is talking fairly intensely about books with a higher percentage of customers whom I haven't met before.  The regular customers are great, but it's fun to find out about new kids.

So this month I may check in from time to time with dispatches from the front -- leading up to the story of The Customer from Hell, who appeared in the store two days before Christmas a few years ago and traumatized us all (although the story has a happy ending).  I was going through some of my notes from previous years, and thought I'd share the story of one fascinating kid whom I never met.

It started with a call from his grandmother, asking if we had a 19th century naval uniform costume that would fit a five year-old.  We've got lots of costumes, but not that many. She and I chatted briefly.  Then she came in the following day, looking for books.  She and her husband had given this five year-old boy Treasure Island and he liked it. (That's how old Lizzie was when we read it to her: it's a great book, with lots of fascinatingly scary characters and the very likable Jim Hawkins to identify with.)  This boy wanted to know more about pirates, and especially about the people who fought them.  We have books about pirates, but this was a new question.  I offered books on Sir Francis Drake, a pirate sanctioned by his queen to attack the Spanish: not quite right.  Books about Queen Elizabeth -- also not quite there.  At that time, we had a lovely book about
Old Ironsides
, the USS Constitution, which chased pirates through the Mediterranean by the shores of Tripoli.  I think that struck the grandma as too much about the ship, and not plot-driven enough.  The winner in all this was a small biography of Lord Nelson, from a British-based publisher which, alas, is now out of print (link is to Alibris).

The following year, both grandparents were back because their grandson's interests/obsession/intellectual meandering had brought him to Waterloo.  Yes!  I had a book on that, too. 

So out of the tumult and confusion of the season, the shining stars of interesting kids who will grow up to be interesting grown-ups cheer us all.



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