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  • Writer's pictureT.J. Hendrix

Ivy, Books and Basements

Updated: 7 days ago

Down Below in Berkeley with the Best Writers...

So I had an adventurous day May 4 (May the 4th/Fourth Be With You!) at the first ever Bay Area Book Festival Family Day at the Berkeley Public Library.

It was the huge Art Deco/Mission Interior style main library branch at Shattuck and Kittredge. It is the reason why I can now automatically spell Kittredge.

It was exactly my third "author event" - but by far the biggest one. ("The Pack, The Dare, and The Draugar" came out in summer 2021.) It was Big Time Covid. No public gatherings. No indoor gatherings. Masks everywhere. Just Stay Home, People. THAT time. Remember that? So I was one of 25 authors selected to participate in the BABF Book Market. It sounded great! A whole-day book festival aimed entirely at kids and families. Everything from picture books to chapter books to middlegrade books (that's me!) to young adult, with graphic novels and comic books in between. I asked other authors what to do at a book fair or book market. "Stand behind the table! Stand up! Smile at everyone who looks at you! If they slow down, talk to them!" "Have your book pitch ready!" (Uhhh, my book pitch?) "You know! In two sentences, what's your book about and why should they buy it? What's your sales pitch?"

This, I realized, was going to take some energy.

On the big day, I stood behind my table and smiled at everyone who looked at me. Most were with kids. If either the kids or the adults slowed down to dawdle and look at my covers/books, I said “This is spooky, not scary. No one who reads this should get nightmares.” All the parents and kids liked that and laughed. (THAT, I realized, is my sales pitch.) Some moved on, some stayed.

During the course of the day, all of us authors in the book market realized something. It turns out all of us “not famous (yet)” authors, and the Book Market, were down in a basement-ish room off the ground floor lobby. We could look up through tiny windows, and see the sidewalk. All 25 tables of us.

All of the “currently famous and hot and longtime famous” authors were upstairs. On the beautiful, light-filled second floor, at the top of a grand staircase, where Books Inc. was selling their beautiful books at one big huge colorful store table. (I love Books Inc. They stocked and sold my book when it came out - at their stores in The Marina, Oakland, and Campbell.) And upstairs, there was a giant room with about 100+ chairs set up for the audience for speaker sessions.

SOMEDAY, me and my bargain basement book author buddies will be in THAT room, I thought when I saw it. Not because I'm such a hot writer...but because I wrote down a great STORY that kids love -- one that pretty much popped into my head.

The best part of the day was…who am I kidding? When someone decided to buy my book.

The other BEST THING was meeting and talking with actual kid readers. In two cases, very long talks. I found out that with my new cover, I now draw 8- and 9-year-olds to the table. I think it works like a kid magnet. It worked on 10- and 11-year-olds too. The book characters are all 12, and just “graduated” from sixth grade.

I was chatting with 9-year-olds and their parents all morning. I may have to rethink my vocabulary a bit now. When I'm writing, I always sprinkle in a few words that I know kids will have to look up. I also know they can figure the word meaning out by paying attention to circumstances in the surrounding paragraph/sentences/story if they don’t want to look it up.

I think the highlight of my day was Ivy, 9. She lives in Berkeley. She bought my book after quizzing me about it…with her own money. She was there with her mother and big sister Eden (12). Her mom was busy volunteering or attending author talks upstairs all afternoon, I think.

I probably talked to Ivy a little over an hour in small bits as she came to talk to me for 10 minutes or so all afternoon, then buzzed off to go somewhere else, then came back for another 10. I got to find out what she likes in books, what she thinks about dogs, her dog, how she’s going to Martha’s Vineyard with her family this summer to stay with her grandparents, and how they’ve done it before, and it’s really fun back there, what her yard is like for playing in, etc. ("Are you guys driving to Martha's Vineyard?" I asked her, at one point. In response, I got a look. THE look. The super dry, I-can't-believe-I-have-to-explain-this-to-you look. From a 9-year-old. "Martha's Vineyard is an island," she told me firmly. "You can't drive there.")

Ivy left at the end of the afternoon, a few minutes before the end of the event. She came down with her mom and sister to say goodbye to me. I missed that little gal afterwards. She was really cool…

Also really cool was getting to meet the authors all around me. Two of them were actually already famous: Anna Wong, the author of “Doubly Happy.” She and her friends at the table next to us were nice, gracious and funny! Also, I got to meet Cort Lane, who actually IS FAMOUS and is a big shot at Netflix and now with Marvel (comics/movies) and has an illustrated upper elementary/middle grade series titled “Monster and Me.” It’s something he originally plotted for an animated movie, but he wound up breaking it down into little bits and making a book series with lots of illustrations. WHY someone didn’t pull him up to the “famous” floor, I do not know. He was super nice, and so was his dad, who was there with him.

I also met AnneMarie Mazotti Gouveia. She's got a great new middlegrade fantasy series set in the future. I Had a super nice picture book author at the table next to me: Cortney Cino Pritzlaff. Her two books were beautiful and she's wonderful with children.

I even bought a book - I got the author discount! I couldn't resist the salesgirl. She was six. The book is "Mika's Quest for the Lost Artifact," by Cat Fan. Her salesgirl was Cayla Fan - Cat's daughter. Cat was at the book festival market all day long with her parents. She was back and forth to my table a lot. We developed a good relationship after I told her I loved her skirt (blue tulle with silver sparkly stars on it, paired with a denim jacket. MAH-vellous). And also that I have a granddaughter her age. At the end of the day I wound up giving her one of my witch broom pencils - I give them away "free with book purchase" at book events. She wanted a pencil at the end of the day, and I told her that I give them away to people who buy books. And I watched her face fall a bit when she said, "Oh." So I leaned across the table and whispered, "If you don't TELL anyone, I'll GIVE you a pencil. Because you've been so nice to me." Her face lit up. She grabbed one, and skipped away. A little while later, she skipped back to the table, holding two treasures that looked like palm-sized soaps. For me. From her mom. She explained they were not soap, but treasure eggs. "You use these to carve them away," she said, holding up a little plastic tool. "Inside one is a dinosaur. Inside the other is a gem. But I don't know what color. They're from my mom." So, of course I had to buy her mom's book. Cayla took my money and skipped away, and came back with change and a book. Signed by her mom. And Cayla too. It's got the Golden Gate Bridge, a little girl with a secure look on her face holding a map, and a friendly unicorn with a purple tail, mane and wings. My granddaughters are going to love it.

Maybe Natasha Bedingfield is right, and the best is yet unwritten. But there were some mighty good stories in that basement room.



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