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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday madness

Dear Annie,

We have a Laura Krauss Melmed city book here too. 
Capital! Washington D.C. from A to Z
is one of my big favorites in our city section.  It's full of kid-friendly information, and I'm very fond of  the primitive-painting feel of Frane Lessac's illustrations.  Melmed lives here in D.C. and has written a number of books, including Christmas and Hanukkah ones and some lovely folk tale-ish stories.

As for other alphabet books, I'm very fond of Mick Inkpen's
Kipper's A to Z: An Alphabet Adventure
.  I know Kipper is a television figure now, but we first encountered him in books.  This one is an alphabet book with suspense.  Before it starts, on the copyright page, Kipper the dog tells a zebra, "We won't need you till much, much later," and the disappointed-looking zebra walks off-page.  Kipper and his friend Arnold find an ant, a box, and lots of other stuff.  The ant and the caterpillar stick around while the two bigger animals (Arnold's a pig) trudge through the alphabet.  The zebra shows up from time to time, asking if it's his turn, but he keeps getting shooed away.  Finally, when the zebra pops up yet again, asking, "Is it my turn? Is it? Is it?" the response is, "Yy is for Yes!" The zebra then poses in the middle of the next page while the other characters proclaim, "Zz is for zebra!" Very satisfying.

I can understand your feeling Christmased out.  Given that I'm surrounded by people shopping for the holidays from late October on, I forget that the rest of the world isn't like that.  That said, I have promised the story of The Customer from Hell, and am offering it here.

This took place maybe five or six years ago, on a busy late December day in the toy store.  I was first aware of him when he approached me toward the back of the store and said he had a toy to return.  I gave the stock answer: sure, just take it up to the register and they can take care of it.  No, he said, he'd already been told that, but there was a line and he didn't want to wait.  He was very busy and had to return it now.  I think this was the point where he got madder and madder and threatened to get his friends at the Washington Post to write nasty things about us.  My boss Steven showed up, and shepherded him away.  I went back to other things, but a few minutes later heard the man screaming, "YOU HUMILIATED ME!!" at Steven.  He kept screaming; a few other customers started muttering about calling the police.  It turned out that Steven had taken him to the front of the store where six or seven people were waiting at the register and said to them that this man was very busy and felt he needed to transact his business before the rest of them.  No one objected, the man got his money back, then blew up at Steven.  After several minutes of tension, two customers in the store got on either side of the man and escorted him out of the store.  Customers and staff were all rattled, but those of us who work there was also touched that customers helped to end the confrontation relatively peacefully.

I've thought about that guy a lot over the years.  Steven and I even talked about him today.  I wonder what made him such a jerk that day.  One's immediate suspicion is that it was his personality: he was a man who went through life believing himself a Master of the Universe.  Or maybe something awful had just happened in his life: the end of a marriage, a child's illness, a job lost.  (Not that I believe being under stress justifies attacking others.)  I think it wasn't coincidental that the whole incident took place within a week of Christmas, when any emotional upset can seem more charged.  Because our store feels very connected to the surrounding community -- although shoppers come from all over -- the fact that customers ended the incident felt like a gift.  Even though it was very unpleasant and a little scary, it left a be-good-to-your-fellow-humans feel among many of us. 

So there's my odd little story.

Back to that pile of Christmas books in our living room next time...



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