On my first week working in a bookstore an old lady came to me and said "I heard about that book on the radio today...do you have it?". I asked "what book?", and she just said "well, that book...I don't remember the title...you don't have it, no?".
I was lost for words, but it taught me something, which could be Rule n. 1 of bookselling: "Never be surprised by the level of vagueness or inaccuracy that a customer can achieve when desperately trying to remember the title of THAT book!". It's always on the tip of their tongue. They always wrote it down on a piece of paper and left it at home. Sometimes they're polite enough to apologise for not even being able to provide the subject of the book, let alone a title or author. Sometimes instead they throw fits if proved wrong. Example:
Angry customer:"No, I'm absolutely certain that this is the title, it can't be the one you just said".
Me: "But your title doesn't come up anywhere. It just doesn't exist. Could it be...".
Angry Customer:"Achh, I'll just go somewhere else!". And storms off.
This is not daily routine but it happens often enough to make you realise that customers are a dodgy breed.
But what frustrates me the most these days, what pushed me to write this ranting post in the first place, is the way adults see children's books. Or actually, how they don't see them. I understand that not all of us are kids books experts and therefore need an advice on what to buy. Fair enough. But it's how they ask for it which drives me mad. Their favourite question is "where do you keep books for _ year-olds?" (fill in the blanks with any age up to 16/17).
Now. Why do we bother to have
-a new books section.
- a chart.
-a non fiction section by subject.
- a character section.
- a picture books section.
- a fiction organised by reading level.
...when all they want is books by AGE? I'm usually very nice and ask "what kind of book were you thinking of?" or "do you know the child?" so that I can narrow the request down. But when they go "Could you not just point me in the direction, please?" I don't know what to do. I want to help them, I really do. Because I think of the children who will get a random book based on their age or on the idea that an adult have of children of that age, and feel sorry for them.
Would you go in a bookshop and ask "where are the books for 43 year olds?". No, I didn't think so. Then, why do you think that for children is different? Just give me more information! Are they fluent readers? What genre do they normally like? What are their interests?
I feel like a nosy intruder asking all those questions, and indeed sometimes they look annoyed cause I'm delaying their shopping time or being too particular!
I understand that for whatever reason it can happen that the person doesn't know the kids very well, and has no idea of what to get for them. Fine. But still I don't get why they think kids books should be categorised by age.
Age doesn't define them!
The only fine line I can accept is when it comes to "adult" content, which normally means that a book contains sex/drugs/drinking/swearing or all of the above. For that we have a clearly marked "Young Adult section", which is for teenagers.
For all the other books it really comes down to personal judgment.
Not all 6 year olds can read at the same level. We're not robots which can be programmed. I would have thought it to be a concept easy to grasp, as we've all been there, right? But perhaps, I'm beginning to think, I have an exceptional good memory of my childhood. I remember my first book, I remember what I used to read at 4,5,6,7,8,9,10 etc...I use this parameter when recommending books to avid readers. Now I wonder, why can't people do that? Just think of what kind of level of difficulty you were reading at a certain age, and then take it from there? It's sad to think that people don't remember these things. But it would explain a lot. Certainly it would explain the lost looks they have when they step in the kids section.
Then there's the matter of picture books or books for babies and toddlers. They are completely helpless when coming to choosing those. I am no expert either but I know enough to know that:
- They can't read. So, no, activity books with word searches and puzzles are NOT suitable.
- Small parts can be ingested by babies, yes, but babies should never be left alone. You'll have to be there with the baby to play with her/him. This part usually discourage grannies and aunts, I don't know why. They just want books to keep the children quiet, probably.
- Toddlers tend to tear up pretty much everything they have in sight, so probably a board book is the best option. But passed that stage, normally, they can follow a story and enjoy a good bedtime read. Any picture book. It doesn't matter if it's not perfectly suitable for them. Nothing ever is. No matter what the back of the cover say.
I stand by my position that every child is unique. I haven't studied child development, or child psychology or anything like that, really. It's just my perception.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that adults should try to think of children as individuals. With their own taste and preferences. Regardless of their age.
Age guidance at the back of books just encourages this laziness of thinking. They let the "age groups" decide for them, while they could take their time looking at the book, maybe read a page of two to understand the tone of it, and then decide.
Oh I've so much to rant about when it comes to these issues. I should just stop here or it will never end.
And don't get me started on the whole gender thing. The "tractors are for boys and flowers are for girls" crap. That's definitely a subject for the next ranting post.
For now, just take this lolcat's word.