LAST NIGHT AT HICKLEBEE’S

16 Sep

Hicklebee’s Children’s Books in San Jose is not your average children’s bookstore — assuming that such a thing exists. Children’s bookstores have always been thin on the ground in this country. A spate of them appeared in the late 70s and 80’s, but many have closed their doors. So far, Hicklebee’s is still going strong. Or at any rate, still going.

Valerie Lewis, the presiding genius of the place, maintains a store that is not so much a place for events as an event in itself. There’s almost always something going on, an author or illustrator visiting, or, like last night, an Educator’s Night. And when there isn’t, the numerous and knowledgeable staff are there to talk books with. And did I mention it’s a sort of museum? Valerie hits up writers and artists for things for the store. Imogene’s original antlers are above one doorway, a miniature reproduction of C.B. Mordan’s cover for my first book Lightning Time is around somewhere, and the walls and doors are covered with signatures of children’s lit types who have passed through.

But back to Educator’s Night.

Valerie had told me that there would be a number of other writers there, including Rosemary Wells, but apart from that I had no real idea of what to expect. I showed up five minutes after seven with an armload of personal copies of The Juliet Spell, Harlequin Teen having been adamant that they weren’t going to ship out a box of them to sell in advance of the 27th. (God forbid they should make money early or something )

I walked into a mob of teachers and librarians from all over the area, standing around and waiting for the event to begin. I was taken in hand, given a glass of wine, and relieved of my burden of books. Then, precisely at 7:15, Valerie started a long string of booktalks about new releases. Whenever she got to a title whose author or illustrator had been invited, she’d say,

“But why should I tell you about it when insertname is here?” and insertname would come up and talk about it.

I had to admire the stamina of those hundred plus educators. You had to know most of them had been on their feet all day, and an hour of booktalks, fascinating as they may be, cannot completely compensate for the absence of a place to sit down. Nonetheless, they were an attentive and responsive bunch.

When it came my turn talk, Valerie held up three of my titles, including The Juliet Spell. I got up on the podium with her, looked at the crowd, and had no idea what I was going to say.  I decided to say something about The Juliet Spell, wandered over the subject of the book, what little we know about Edmund Shakespeare, and let it be now than the ten copies i had brought were the only copies for sale in the world until 9/27. Something must have worked. They all sold.

Signing books afterwards I met some amazing teachers. I often say that half our teachers are better than we have any right to expect, the other half are what we have every right to expect. Last night’s contingent appeared to have been recruited entirely from the first half.

And now, everybody could have wine, which may have helped to compensate for the fact that there was, of course, still no place to sit. It was a great evening, and if I am ever asked back, I can be there in fifteen minutes.

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