When Squarespace contacted me and asked me to collaborate with them, I said yes. I usually say no to everybody. But, everybody I know uses them for their sites and their sites all look so good. And I thought it would be really good for my brand to be working with Squarespace. So I said yes. Then I did a lot of thinking about the best way to do the partnership with them, because I had a million ideas and you can do anything on Squarespace.
My grandma had a children’s book store. I helped her do the book buying to open the store. I got to pick the books for the kids my age.
I remember thinking this is so fun. And also, why does she get to have a store and I don’t?
Every day after school I went to the bookstore. There were after-school snacks in the fridge and dry shoes if I forgot to wear boots. I loved opening boxes of books and hearing the crack of a new spine.
The inventory system was all on handwritten index cards. My grandpa taught me calligraphy and we wrote the name of the book and the author and the publisher, and then we sat next to our card, rereading it, while the ink dried. Then we tucked it into the book, significantly slowing down the already-slowest inventory system in the world.
Ask me the publisher of any children’s book published from 1975 – 1990. Really. I know every publisher. Every author. When I hear about how people with Alzheimer’s remember stuff from when they were young, I imagine myself in a nursing home shelving imaginary books, first alphabetical by author, then by publisher.
When there was an auction for my first book of career advice, I toured big publishing houses with my agent. When we got to Dutton I felt like I had entered the Versailles of book publishing.
“Don’t get so excited,” my agent said, “you have interest from better publishers.”
I said, “The children’s book list at Dutton is amazing. No one else comes close.”
I spent the whole Dutton meeting talking about their children’s books. The editor who would be bidding on my book took me to meet the editors in the children’s department and, in a star-struck moment, I asked for their all their autographs.
The hardest part of a career change isn’t having to learn something new, or taking a risk, or the pay cut. I’ve changed jobs a lot and the hardest part is leaving behind all the hard-won knowledge.
I know the history of children’s books. I know how to run a children’s bookstore with my eyes closed. I know what book to give a sixth grader who hates to read. And a five-year-old who thinks picture books are for babies. A third-grader who likes history. Working at the bookstore was nonstop Trivial Pursuit and I was the nonstop winner.
Also, for those of you who have kids with Aspergers, retail is a great job for those kids. I had no social skills, but I got to interact with people all the time because retail is a structured, repetitive interaction where it was my job to say what I know: an Aspergarian dream! If I had known then that I had Aspergers I could have stocked a whole section of books on the topic.
There weren’t any of those books, of course. And maybe that’s why I got fired from every job. Including my job at the book store, actually. I had no social skills to fall back on as I was going through my career. All I had was my confidence I gained from running the bookstore, memorizing the books and helping tons of kids find a book they wouldn’t hate.
What did I do with my book knowledge after I left the bookstore? Well, I funded the beginning of my beach volleyball career by selling first editions of Caldecott winners to book dealers in LA who depended on me to set the price. (High. Very high.) Later at the farm I started building shelves and sorting books by size and now in Swarthmore I’m sorting by color.
But there’s one more thing. I want to tell you that picture-book advice is great for choosing a career. Really. I noticed it while I was sorting books one day. I looked at books I had read so many times, but I looked at them differently, with the eye of a career coach.
Each November I tell myself I should put together a list. At first I told myself I shouldn’t just give away the list. I should make a book club and overcharge people for each book recommendation. When I never took action I decided it’s because I want everyone to see the list. I want everyone to read the books.
So I vowed to just publish the list. And I wrote it all up in a post, but it didn’t look right. This is not just another blog post. These picture books are my friends. They saved me. I sold them to hundreds to hundreds of people and then I carried them all over the country with me. Boxes and boxes of picture books, going in and out of moving trucks for 20 years. Because I couldn’t live without them. (Well, unless they were first editions. I’m not THAT sentimental.)
My list of books needs to be on a special page. Because I want you to know how special my knowledge is and how special the books are. So I did what everyone does when they decide something is super special and important: became incapacitated by the pressure of doing something good.
And even though I should never have put off doing this for so long, I hope you see this as a gift to you. And you give these gifts to people you love. Here it is: Nine Books I Love.
Please read these books with your friends and your kids and notice that a picture book is like a poem – using so few words to say big ideas that could otherwise take a lifetime to discover.