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Publishers Weekly Children's Features

April P try Promotions
-- 3/13/00
Children's publishers and booksellers celebrate a week devoted to the world of verse

Harcourt's poster features a daily
quote from p t Douglas Florian.
Forget about mixing memory with desire--April is now National P try Month, and April 10 will mark the start of the second annual Young People's P try Week. Sponsored by the Children's Book Council in cooperation with the Academy of American P ts, the week brings special events from booksellers and special promotions from publishers.

PW has observed two patterns: first, that while publishers naturally focus on promoting specific titles and authors, booksellers have been building events that offer children a chance to show off their own original p try; and second (and perhaps consequentially), that while p try titles are increasingly scheduled for March and April publication, relatively few publishers are supplying promotional materials for Young People's P try Week (see below).

Carol Curren, community relations manager for the Barnes & Noble store in Freehold, N.J., is looking forward to P try Month because it occasions one of her favorite events--the store hosts 50--60 gifted students from a nearby public school, who come in and read their own p ms to an audience that includes about 100 parents. The students, who call themselves the P matics (a name coined by the first group of students several years ago), have been preparing "for months and months" with their teachers, says Curren. She is always surprised at how good their work is: "I wish you could be here to listen to these kids! It's one of those nice fuzzy warm type events that everyone loves."

"Fuzzy" and "warm" also translate into sales, although not necessarily in p try titles. "Anytime I have 50-60 kids and even more parents, it always boosts sales," Curren says.

In its fourth annual children's p try event, the Los Angeles store Storyopolis emphasizes specific titles as well as kid performances. As in Curren's store, the event is popular, bringing in as many as 95 kids. "It's snowballed," says Storyopolis co-manager Stacey Zarcoff. "Kids have returned year after year and brought their friends. Some of these kids you see only once a year--at this event."

This year, Storyopoliswill be splitting the spotlight between two books from Houghton Mifflin and an "open mike" for readers and p ts five and up. This year TV actors Kathy Kinney (of The Drew Carey Show) and Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman) will read some personal favorites, as well as selections from Calef Brown's Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers, and Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd's The Pain Tree: And Other Teenage Angst-Ridden P try. Brown, Watson and Todd will be present to sign books. Then, says the store's co-manager Stacey Zarcoff, Storyopolis staff will read.

In years past, staff members have read favorite p ms from their own childhoods, but this year, in keeping with the teen-angst theme of The Pain Tree, they will be reading p ms they wrote in high school. Zarcoff gleefully notes that they typically throw their own performances. "We read pretty lamely, so that kids will think, 'I can't possibly do any worse than that!'" Finally, it's time for the open mike. Kids and teens clamor to read their own p ms, and, Zarcoff adds, "We work the audience. We pass outbooks and books of p try, so even kids who might have been dragged along will find something that grabs them. We might hand a boy a book of sports p try, and next thing you know he's up at the mike reading a p m about soccer."

The store prominently features a table with p try titles during April, and Zarcoff reports that she sees "heightened sales" of p try. But the p try event has intangible benefits as well: "We do this one for the sheer joy of it," says Zarcoff. "It inspires us for the rest of the year."

Over in Tucson, Borders Store 18 will be reprising the promotion that last year won a P try Jamboree bookseller contest sponsored by Harcourt. Working in conjunction with the Tucson Arts District Partnership, the store brought in a 15-foot-tall blue refrigerator front, and encouraged customers (adults as well as children) to use word magnets to create p try. A slot in the "Big Fridge," as the Partnership dubbed its creation, served as a receptacle for both Spanish and English entries in a p trycontest, with Borders awarding gift certificates to the winners. Community relations manager Andrew Greeley will be bringing back the Big Fridge (which has a permanent home in the city's children's museum) for two weeks this April, and will once again be inviting students from local elementary and high schools to come and read their own works.

Harcourt Brace national sales manager Paul Von Drasek takes the long view on these kinds of events. "The promotions that work the best are ones in which other people's books can participate," he says, "and that give booksellers a chance to present a group of books instead of a specific title." Estimating that p try titles now make up 10% of Harcourt's annual publishing program (of children's and adult titles), he also senses"growing retail interest" in p try. Finally, there is the never-to-be-underestimated personal factor. As Von Drasek puts it, "Many booksellers have a soft spot for p try, and promote it beyond its sales."

Freebie Verse?

In time for Young People's P try Week, here is a sampling of publishers' promotional materials:
  • Harcourt Brace offers a P try Jamboree 2000 Kit, each containing 25 "Start Each Day with a Douglas Florian P m" posters; 25 bookmarks featuring a p m from Florian's Mammalabilia; a curriculum guide; and a flyer listing all of Harcourt's children's p try titles. A teacher's kit is also available upon request.

  • Random House features art from Wake Up House by Dee Lillegard, illus. by Don Carter, in its National P try Month Event Kit, which includes bookmarks, buttons and a brochure with suggestions for p try games and activities.

  • Bookmarks from Oxford University Press promote The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's P ms, edited by Donald Hall. The book is also the anchorpiece of an activity sheet prepared by Oxford publicist Jennifer Slomack, who developed a successful children's p try workshop when she worked at a New Jersey branch of Barnes & Noble.

  • Houghton Mifflin and Clarion are producing a promotional audiotape of Kristine O'Connell George (most recently the author of Little Dog P ms) and Calef Brown (Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks) reading their own works, with an introduction by Bernice E. Cullinan.

  • Farrar, Straus and Giroux offers bookmarks with Erik Blegvad's art from Around My Room by William Jay Smith.

  • A poster from Barefoot Books spotlights Judith Nicholls's p m "Best Friend" and Giovanni Manna's art from the collection Someone I Like, edited by Nicholls.

  • The Children's Book Council is selling a 2000 P try Kit ($32), which includes a poster by Norman Gorbaty, an audiotape featuring such p ts as Nikki Grimes and J. Patrick Lewis, a pack of 100 bookmarks with a p m by Nikki Giovanni and a pack of 30 p try postcards. Items are also sold individually.

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