Summers at Island Books can be on the quiet side. Our owners and staff members take vacation, as do many of the locals (although the smart ones know there are twelve weeks of spectacular weather around here and it pays to stick around). The rhythm of kid traffic is the one thing that picks up, maybe because of our Ticket to Read program. Between June 1st and August 31st, every time a customer purchases a children’s or teen book we stamp their card. When they’ve purchased ten titles, they receive one free children’s hardcover of their choice. It’s like those buy-ten-get-one-free coffee or frozen yogurt cards, except books last longer.
One reason I like the program is because it makes me nostalgic for my own summer reading marathons, especially the books I read from when I was about seven to thirteen. That seems to be a crucial age for developing reading skills, because most children have acquired the ability and maturity to follow complex storylines and they’re not bogged down with the schoolwork, socializing, and responsibility of a full-fledged teenager.
For most pre-teens, reading is all about the series. We all get obsessed with a few at that age. Nowadays everyone asks for The Magic Tree House, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The 39 Clues. If I’d participated in Ticket to Read at that age, I would have asked for Sweet Valley Twins, The Babysitter’s Club, and Nancy Drew. Everyone continues to read Harry Potter. Kids love familiar characters that they can return to again and again. They’re almost as good as a friend that always wants to hang out, whenever you feel like it.
Favorite authors are almost as good as a reliable series. John Green is the hot one these days, but Judy Blume still endures near the top of the list. These writers become many kids’ best friend, and with social media being what it is today, their supportive and understanding voices are more accessible than ever.
As independent booksellers, we pride ourselves on steering readers towards less obvious gems. For the nine to twelve age group, these days we’ve been recommending, among others, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. I love the new stuff, but in the back of my mind I can still see myself in braces and a side ponytail, lounging in a hammock with Blubber, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
Our summer of Ticket to Read may be coming to a close, but as the back-to-school craziness creeps in, I hope our local kids will make sure to make it to their free book. There’s nothing like being a kid with a glass of lemonade in hand, a shady spot under a tree, and a book you can’t wait to crack open. That identity might seem trivial and fleeting, but trust me, the pleasure of the experience will provide a lifetime of good reading memories.
Miriam Landis is a web monkey for Island Books on Mercer Island, WA, where she also writes for the store’s journal, Message in a Bottle. She joined the publishing industry in 2004 with an internship at Simon & Schuster and worked as an assistant editor at Hyperion and a site merchandiser on the Amazon books team. A former professional ballerina, she’s the author of two novels about ballet, Girl in Motion, and the sequel, Breaking Pointe and the mother of twins Stephen Marc and Lynne Dena, born in September of 2012.