In the rush to provide digital content for children who are home because of the new coronavirus, children’s booksellers around the country are emphasizing the importance of thoughtfulness and sensitivity to the needs of young readers during a difficult time.
Over the last week, children’s booksellers saw what many believe to be the last in-store sales push for some time, with readers stocking up on books. “Our school closed and then the libraries closed, so customers and families are stocking up on books,” said Margaret Brennan Neville, children’s manager and buyer at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, on Monday. “It’s nice to know that so many people see books as valuable in this crisis.” The store will shortly transition to a pickup and delivery model.
At Politics and Prose in Washington D.C., children and teens department manager Donna Wells also saw a burst in sales last weekend. “It was a bit like the grocery stores where people were coming in to try to stock up on things as soon as they realized that schools were going to be closed,” she said.
While the store remained open, Wells was curtailing her orders from publishers and making a shift toward digital for some aspects of daily operations. A book fair to support local schools last weekend was held entirely online, with customers entering the name of the school they wanted to support in their orders. School events with We Are Water Protectors author Carole Lindstrom were canceled, but Lindstrom still came to the store Tuesday morning to sign hundreds of pre-ordered books, along with copies for P&P’s book of the month club and signed first editions club.
Still, Wells said that the store’s children’s booksellers were focused on ways to help kids and families manage an untenable level of anxiety, a process that they believe cannot be hurried. “We’re trying to sit back for a little bit and process and figure out what is really going to continue to engage our customers in conversations around books,” she said. “It’s not so much about just providing another video online that kids can watch. It’s about really trying to figure out how we get kids to delve into stories with people around them that might cross generations and help others get into stories. We have a great opportunity right now to facilitate conversations.”
At the Children’s Bookstore in Baltimore, Md., Daniel Doty said that part of helping young readers through the outbreak is to be thoughtful about the kinds of social media posted by the bookstore. “We’re trying to keep our messaging positive, hopeful, and most importantly, not scary to the kids whose parents let them watch our social media,” Doty said.
The store remains open to customers, with extended hours to minimize the number of people inside at any given time. A sign on the window reminds customers to be respectful to one another and respect the social distancing that people need. At the same time, Doty is bringing books to people’s cars and the store will begin free local delivery on Wednesday.
Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s book buyer and programming director for BookPeople in Austin, Tex., and a PW blogger, believes that the role of booksellers will only grow in the coming weeks. “School has officially closed for the month, and I think young readers are having some initial excitement about that,” Goel said. “But they might not realize how stir-crazy they’re all going to get in the coming days.”
BookPeople is closed to browsing, but Goel has ordered a supply of workbooks and other learning material for parents. She also plans to provide online book talks with recommendations and other resources for people planning to homeschool. “Our mission for the foreseeable future is to be a resource for Austinites of all ages as we collectively figure out how to navigate this new normal,” she said.
At Politics and Prose, Wells believes that books can be the way to deal with the anxiety that comes with so much change. “We’ve got to really be able to manage our social and emotional needs in all of this, which I’m finding is a challenge for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s something we need to acknowledge and it’s something we can manage. Sometimes stories—being able to read a little bit—but also being able to talk about it and process it with each other is important. In times of high stress, a picture book could really help.”