I’ve been avoiding mentioning the name of the store, since I had no idea how my interviews were going, but since we’ve gotten so far along in the process I might as well go ahead and name the store: Hicklebee’s. Local institution. Great store.
I arrived about twenty minutes before the event started. Staff was already in place at the door, asking for tickets. I hesitated and then explained that I worked at another bookstore, and I’d been invited by Valerie to observe and help out at the event. It seemed the easiest, smoothest thing to say since I didn’t know if Valerie had told staff to expect me or not. As I entered the store, I noticed a large pile of canvas bags with Neil Gaiman’s face screen-printed on one side. The teachers in attendance would all receive one of the bags, which were loaded with teaching aids, coupons, and upcoming book information. Lucky teachers!
I spotted Valerie and hurried over to ask how I might help out. She took me to the back and introduced me to several authors who were going to talk about their books later that evening. I chatted amiably with them for a few minutes about this and that. We didn’t talk about their work at all, and Valerie had only introduced them by their first names, so I didn’t realize until an hour later that “Larry”, the cheerful author I’d been shooting the breeze with, was Laurence Yep, one of the most beloved authors of my childhood. Just as well – knowing that would have surely made me too nervous to have a normal conversation with him.
Soon I was summoned away to take a tour of the store’s temporary layout for the evening. One of the bookstore’s employees walked me through the parking lot, where temporary booths of bookshelves were set up. One area held free books; each teacher could select one to take home. The other held ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and other sample books; teachers could take up to three items from this area. A pair of banquet tables was loaded with wine and treats. I wondered if I might get stuck with wine-pouring duty (it seemed the sort of patience-testing job you’d test someone with) but the bookkeeper was already manning the station. She leaned over and whispered, “Valerie told me you were considering the manager position. Congratulations and welcome!”
That’s a good sign, right?
Suddenly, I found myself floating on the sales floor, not sure what to do. The event was such a well-oiled machine; they didn’t need an extra pair of hands to stock the shelves, hand out tickets, or even pour the wine. Valerie had said to find her after the presentation, so I floated around the store until I spotted Jeans in the crowd and rushed to her side, grateful for a familiar face.
There were probably between 130-140 people crowding around the bookstore’s small stage, so Jeans and I Decided it might be best to find a place to stand. We found a pretty prime position to watch the presentation towards the back of the room and settled in. Valerie came out and started talking. First, she would talk about one of her book recommendations, holding up the title and discussing why she’d selected it for the evening. If the author was present, he or she would be called up to the stage – much to the delight of the crowd, who had no idea that the authors were even present.
Laurence Yep and his wife Joanne Ryder came out first to talk about their collaboration on A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans - this was the point my jaw dropped as I realized that Larry was the author of Dragonwings and Child of the Owl, two of the earliest books I can remember reading about Chinese-American life. A Dragon’s Guide has nothing to do with Chinese-Americans, of course – it’s a charming chapter book about a curmudgeonly dragon and her new pet human, Winnie.
Another author familiar to me was Bob Barner, whose colorful collages set to the text of the song “Dem Bones” was a huge hit at Village House of Books last year. He introduced his new book Sea Bones, which follows a similar format. A sing-song rhyming test is accompanied by colorful collages, while supplementary text provides fun fishy facts about aquatic life. I plan to pick up copies of Sea Bones and Dinosaur Bones for my nephews at some point; the illustrations are just too lovely. Bob was clearly comfortable chatting to a loud audience, and even whipped out his ukulele to sing a round of “Dem Bones” with the audience.
Less flamboyant on the stage was Carter Goodrich, a cartoonist and character designer introducing his latest picture book, We Forgot Brock!. Quiet and reserved, Goodrich talked briefly about his book and some of his work as a character designer for Pixar. We Forgot Brock! is absolutely wonderful, my favorite book of all those presented. A little boy and his imaginary friend Brock go to the fair, but when the boy’s parents take him home he’s horrified to realize they left Brock behind. Scared to be alone, once Brock realizes a little girl and her imaginary friend, Princess Sparkledust, can see him he goes home with her, but he wants to be reunited with his boy. It’s incredibly sweet and the illustrations are just perfect for the story.
Mitali Perkins talked about her new book, Tiger Boy, a story that I think will resonate very well with readers in this area. The main character, Neel, is torn between his desire to protect a tiger cub that has disappeared from the reserve near his home in the Sunderbans, and his parents’ wish that he study hard so he can win a scholarship to attend boarding school in Kolcatta.
Jennifer Holm talked about her work in creating graphic novels, including her latest work Sunny Side Up. She grew up in the Bay Area, so she talked a bit about her memories of Hicklebee’s and her partnership with her brother Matthew. She has an author event scheduled for Saturday that I might try to make if I can slip away from work.
Rana DiOrio has written a series of books for children that focus on different concepts: What Does it Mean to be Green? What Does it Mean to be Global? and What Does it Mean to be Present? the latest addition is What Does it Mean to be Kind? and it’s one of the strongest books in the series. It celebrates kindness and shows how a child can be kind through words and deeds. It seems like an easier entry into the series than Global or Present, and it’s another book I’d like to pick up for my nephews.
After the last author presentation, they were seated at tables and teachers could have their books signs. It was a FRENZY – all the educators rushing to pick up copies of the books. I was amazed to see great big stacks of books utterly decimated in a few minutes. I’m pretty sure they sold out of What Does it Mean to be Kind? and We Forgot Brock! and stock was pretty low on most of the other books by the time folks had picked up personal copies, classroom copies, and gifts for friends. At first, I tried to direct people to where the books were, since that had been pointed out earlier in the evening. Then I floated to the back, where teachers were being called by number to check out the free books area, and helped direct them to the different areas and letting them know how many of each thing they could take.
As I was helping a librarian choose between two Mac Barnett picture books, Valerie came up and said, “When you’re done, I have a task for you.” Oh? She explained that I might enjoy talking to the authors when there was a lull in their signing line, since I was relatively new to children’s books and many of these writers were veterans of the industry. It sounded like great fun, so I happily did just as she suggested. As it turns out, most of the time all seven authors were busy, but every once in a while I had a chance to learn a bit about Barner’s collage techniques or Holm’s inspirations.
I stayed after the event ended to help clean up. Jeans got roped into it too, but I don’t think she minded too much since she secretly misses working retail and creating product displays. The employees were all very friendly, happy that the event had gone well but eager to head home, so they moved quickly to move fixtures back into place and reset the displays.
The owners pulled me aside and asked what I thought of the evening. “Does it scare you?” they said.
“NO!” I said with stars in my eyes. “I loved it! It made me think ‘I HAVE TO WORK AT THIS STORE’! There was chaos, but everyone was prepared and knew what their role would be so it went very smoothly.”
“Great!” they said. “Let’s meet on Monday to discuss the offer.”
Music to my ears. WOO HOO!!!