Shoshana Flax, children’s bookseller at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., is having a busy season, thanks in part to the town’s school system’s strong advocacy of summer reading. She shares her observations on summer sales – and her enthusiasm for a handful of books she’s particularly enjoying selling.
Brookline schools compile great summer reading lists of both required and recommended books, and parents and students take them very seriously. They came in to buy stacks of books, often award-winners, and I’m especially happy to see books like The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, on summer reading lists. That makes people more aware of these books. When I went to restock the day after the last day of school, I was amazed by the number of books that had sold that day.
One book we’re doing well with right now is If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. It’s a picture book with a spare text that gives kids instructions on how to see a whale. The book never says that it’s actually about how to see a whale in your imagination, but it trusts kids to figure that out. I love that it gives kids a chance to feel smart and gives importance to things that kids imagine. Having a book with a summery, ocean-y theme for this time of year is great.
And we are selling quite a few copies of The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. It’s a very funny picture book and Oliver Jeffers’s illustrations are hilarious. One thing that’s great about this book is that it is a slightly longer story than most picture books, so it’s perfect for parents who say that they’re still reading aloud with their kids but are looking for something a little bit longer. We’re also definitely handselling this to kids who are starting to read on their own. Also, all kids love to color, so it’s easy for them to latch onto that theme. And it’s handwritten in what looks to be crayons, which I think is a little bit empowering to kids.
To leap to YA, there’s a book that might be a bit less high on the radar: Unnatural Creatures, a short story collection edited by Neil Gaiman. Each story takes a very different approach to the theme of griffins, werewolves, and other creatures. I handsell this to transitional readers who are bored with middle-grade books but might not be ready to commit to an entire YA novel, or whose parents may be wary of the content in some YA books. Short stories are a great pick, since kids can read one, or read all, in any order. This particular collection includes really topnotch and thoughtful stories. Neil Gaiman’s name is obviously helping sales, and it’s an original paperback, which is a nice little bonus this time of year, when kids can easily pack it for camp or vacation.
We are also doing well with Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. I love that realistic fiction has come back in such a big way, and I give credit to John Green for that. He also wrote a beautiful review of this book in the New York Times, and his fans are going straight to it. What’s great about this book is that it’s a romance, but it’s not only about the romance. Eleanor is dealing with some tough stuff – she has an abusive stepfather and not a very good sense of self, and it’s not easy for her to open up to Park and to find a new and better place for herself. It’s an accessible read, even though it deals with some difficult topics.
Another book that is not particularly new but is flying for us is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This is good, quiet realistic fiction. It’s not all about adventure, but about feelings and things that real kids are going through or possibly seeing their friends go through. And the use of multiple narrators in this novel is so smart. It makes me really happy that it is doing so well.