On the very last day of our month-long road trip, we stopped by Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS. It was one of the most impressive stores we visited--one of those places where you just wished you could spend the night. A huge selection spread across lots of rooms, big and little, with lots of light and good energy.
It was there we met Clara Martin, bookseller, book buyer, book review, and book writer! We were so impressed with all that Clara is doing in the world of books that we asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions for us. She was kind enough to agree, and in part 1 of our interview, Clara discusses the joys and challenges of bookselling, why independent bookstores are important, what she's looking for when considering books for the store, and positive developments in the kidlit world.
Clara Martin is the Children’s Books Buyer and Event Coordinator at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the owner of TwentybyJenny.com, where she reviews books for children of all ages. Clara attended Vanderbilt University where she received a B.A. in English Literature and Art History, and she also received a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
PCB: What's your role at Lemuria Books? Describe a typical day at work.
CM: I’m the Children’s Book Buyer and Event Coordinator at Lemuria. A typical day will involve buying inventory that sold the previous day, contacting schools to set up author events, helping customers find everything from a book for a newborn baby to a book for a reluctant-reader who is six, to gushing about a new YA novel with a teenager who has been waiting for that book to release. I plan story times and I try to think about displays and what our customers might like. I also choose books for our Lemuria’s Young Reader’s First Editions Club each month. I pick a picture book and a middle grade book for each month, they are signed by the author and/or illustrator, and sometimes there’s a fun print included. We’ve picked award winners like Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and my current favorite is July 2018’s pick, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins.
PCB: What are some of the challenges of the job that customers might not know about? What are some of the joys?
CM: Challenges…when we don’t have the book in-stock and then the customer goes to Amazon. Of course, if the customer needs the book immediately, then there isn’t much we can do, but there are many factors that go into why we may not have that book. Maybe the book is out-of-print, maybe it is in high-demand, maybe it is on back-order with the publisher, and maybe it hasn’t sold in over three years, or customers haven’t been asking for it. However, our team is really good at finding just about any kind of book you would like, and the turnaround is really fast. Support your local indies!
The joys outweigh the challenges! Particularly in the children’s section. Every day, I get to help kids find the book that might make them a reader, and that’s so much fun! There is a book out there for everyone, and if you say you aren’t a reader, you are wrong! Just go to your local bookstore and ask for help. It may take trial and error. I love finding new authors and illustrators that we can help support.
PCB: What role can a bookstore play in today's hyper-partisan political environment? What role should it play?
CM: The amazing thing about a bookstore is that any person, from any background, can find what they are looking for. Truly. It is a space that brings left-wing and right-wing together, sometimes side-by-side on the shelf, or next to one another at the cash-registers. It’s a place where debate is healthy and respected.
PCB: What brings people into your store? What keeps them coming back?
CM: Well, I’d like to say books, but really, it’s the booksellers. We aren’t computers, so we make connections between what you’ve read and what you want to read next in a way that isn’t an algorithm. Booksellers read a lot, and in a wide variety of different subjects. When you tell me the last book you’ve read, it’s possible that I’ll recommend something to you in a different section of the store. The best thing is when a customer comes back and says: “I loved that book you gave me—what should I read next?” Customers make connections with the books they read, and the booksellers who put that book in their hands. Every book store has a different set of “readers,” so stepping into various independent bookstores means you may discover books those particular booksellers are currently reading. It’s always fun to go into different bookstores when I’m traveling and see what people around the country are reading.
PCB: What are some big trends and/or positive developments you've noticed in children's books lately? What do you look for when selecting titles for display at Lemuria?
CM: I love original stories, good writing, a book that is fun to read aloud, and that has amazing illustrations. It’s a high bar! And luckily, there is a lot of incredible work that is coming out that meets it. I think that the trend in publishing is to accurately reflect the world we live in today—whether that be shown in an illustration of a classroom filled with children of different races, different religions, and different socio-economic backgrounds. It is refreshing to see stories that are seeking to reach all kinds of children. I especially love the huge boom in graphic novels! There is such a positive trend of understanding that for kids, “reading” also includes visual literacy. There’s no rush to get a child away from books with illustrations!
Stay tuned for part 2 next week when Clara discusses her own writing, her work as a children's literature reviewer, and how all the facets of her creative and professional life fit together.