For ages, I’ve been meaning to post that St Marks Bookshop is a terrific resource for quick birthday/drop-in presents for the wee. The children’s book section is tiny but extremely well-curated. There is no (OK, very little) crap therein. If you are a child-free individual looking for a gift for a friend’s spawn or weensy relative you are about to visit, it is painless and easy to drop into the bookshop, not be overwhelmed, and come out with something awesome. Bonus: Parents are grateful when you buy their children books, because we think it means you think our kids are smart. Also books take up very little space compared to BPA-laden plastic beeping monstrosities. Remember, we live in Manhattan. Our children’s rooms are the size of veal pens.
I did a quick interview with Bob Contant, co-owner of St. Marks Bookshop, on why his children’s book section kicks ass despite its minuscule size.
How do you decide what books to stock?
It’s a kind of seat-of-the-pants operation. All the major publishers have separate lists for children and separate salespeople, and none of those salespeople call on us because we don’t buy enough children’s books to make it work their while. And I don’t have time to go through all the catalogues. So what I do is this: When the adult sales rep for a major publisher comes, I ask them to tell me what the big kids’ books are going to be for the season; I want anything that’s quirky. The other sources of information for me about what to get are the New York Times book reviews for kids and Publishers Weekly, and there’s not that much I get out of those sources.
Which children’s books sell best for you?
We have an almost nonexistent YA [Young Adult] section beause there aren’t many YAs around here! Their parents have moved out of the neighborhood as their kids started school. So it’s mostly preschool, picture books, and some middle-grade fiction. Maurice Sendak sells really well for us; the new one is doing well. The new Shel Silverstein is doing OK. Right now Brian Selznick’s books [The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck] are doing great; people know about the Scorsese movie. If there’s a movie in the works, we sell the book. It’s a curious phenomenon. New Yorkers always know when a movie is coming out, so we benefit from the demand our customers make the moment a movie is announced. Maybe elsewhere that doesn’t happen until the movie’s actually out.
I imagine children’s books are a tiny percentage of your sales.
Actually, it never used to be as vibrant or robust as it is these days, because now there are more young people with kids in the neighborhood. And parents buy books. When ebooks first started in a serious way, and the New York Times seemed to be publishing an article every day about how books are over and bookstores are going to be dinosaurs, there was a letter from a guy with a Kindle who had a couple of kids and suddenly realized there weren’t any kids’ books in his house. He realized, “Hey, when I was a kid my parents got me books, and that’s how I got interested in reading!” [Note: I couldn't find that letter to link to, but here's a NYT Motherlode post by my pal KJ about how she stopped reading books on her iPad so that her kids would learn to distinguish between GADGETS and BOOKS.] Kids’ books are somewhat immune to the ebook phenomenon. Kids want to hold a book and look at it all the time.
And we have not yet reached the gentrification point in the East Village where every human of every age can afford their own e-Reader.
Not yet. And kids want and need books of their own.
There you have it. BOOKS, PEOPLE! BUY OUR CHILDREN BOOKS! We want our kids to love to read so they can become creative, flexible, visionary thinkers who will save the universe! Though I suppose instead of buying them anything you could make a donation to charity in their honor. But then they’d probably hate you. And it won’t save the bookstores.
PS. You really have to read this essay by Mr Knuffle Bunny on why we need books.