Tag Archives: Booksellers at Laurelwood

Dragons Among Us?

kent dragon

My friend Teri read the post yesterday about Firmin, and asked about its suitability for her eight-year-old.

Uh, probably not. Firmin has intense, child-unfriendly issues in his whiskered, oversized head. But that did set me thinking about great children’s books, and my friends Nicole (who sells them out in Memphis) and Chris (who gets kids excited about checking them out of the library here). We each have books we recommend over and over, so I’m inviting them to leave their comments on this post, or do a guest blog about favorites.

My most beloved childhood book doesn’t seem to make the “hit parade” very often. In fact, looking up pictures to add to this blog, I found its illustrator celebrated on a “forgotten geniuses” site. Hmmph.

Jack Kent was famed for his cute, plump, round-nosed drawings of people and his startling juxtaposition of odd things against calmness: children followed by lions, dragons having pancakes for breakfast. When I was still too young to be able to read, I had a book called There’s No Such Thing as  a Dragon, with accompanying record.

I “read” (lip-synced) Dragon over and over; in fact, that’s why my dad gave in and taught me to work my children’s record player–so he wouldn’t have to keep restarting the stupid thing. I think that book taught me to read. It’s the kind that, as Nicole says (quoting somebody famous), you can read at 50 as happily as at 5.

The premise: Billy wakes up to find a dragon about the size of a kitten at the foot of his bed. He tells his parents, “I have a dragon!” and his parents say (firmly, throughout the next 10 pages) that there’s no such thing as a dragon. So the dragon gets bigger and bigger until it takes off with the house on its back and finally the parents admit that the dragon is there–whereupon the dragon shrinks back to kitten size. Billy gets to deliver the final kicker: the dragon kept getting bigger until someone believed in it, because it just wanted to be noticed.

As an infant, toting this book about the house, lisping the word “dwagon” and shouting there was one in my bedroom, I might not have gotten all the intricacies, the symbolism, the plot development. But like any child, I knew what it felt like to be ignored sometimes, and that adults didn’t always understand what they couldn’t see–which was a silly way to live.

Growing older, I still couldn’t have explained that the drawings– the dragon’s tongue sticking out of its mouth, Billy’s cheerful aproned mother, the father’s Fedora hat–contributed to the enjoyment of the story. I couldn’t get my tongue or brain wrapped ’round the vocabulary needed to talk about the 1950s neighborhood where Billy and his dragon-that-wasn’t-there-except-it-was lived.

But I took the book with me when I left home as an adult, and now I can analyze the symbolism of a dragon that keeps getting bigger until someone acknowledges it, the sweetness of the story’s simple-yet-wise plot. The record is long-gone, but I can recite the words without looking as I turn the pages, engrossed in Jack Kent’s illustrations.

Sometimes you can go home again, and it’s the books of childhood that take you there.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, VA

Full-Circle Pleasantness

The day before Thanksgiving, a woman called to ask if we’d be open on Black Friday.

Well, yes. “Oh good,” she said. “I’m from Memphis, and my husband and I will be in Kingsport for Thanksgiving with his parents. And I just read this book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap and loved it so I wanted to come up and see the shop. Will the owners be in?”

I laughed and told her that Jack and I would be spending the morning of Black Friday signing books and greeting customers outside Glen Moody’s charming shop “I Love Books” in Kingsport Mall.

“That’s a great store and my in-laws are familiar with it, but we want to come up and see Tales of the Lonesome Pine,” she said, hesitantly.

“You’ll be as welcome as Spring rain,” I replied.

We enjoyed our time at Glen and Deb’s shop in Kingsport–it’s always nice to talk trade with fellow bookslingers–then headed back to home, sweet bookstore. During our chat, Glen said something that stuck with me. “Time was that bookstores as close to each other as yours and mine are would be competitors. But not now. We’re allies.”

Yes, we are.

We’d not been back twenty minutes when the door opened and Debby came in with her mother-in-law. They were delighted to see the bookstore, and Jack was delighted to show them around. Debby had bought my book at Booksellers at Laurelwood, one of our favorite bookshops ever (Hi, Nicole!). There’s just something very full-circle-pleasant about a woman from Memphis making a casual purchase in her hometown bookstore–one that has fought hard to stay independent in its community, I might add–then visiting relatives near our store and driving up to us while we were down in her in-laws’ town, signing at a friend’s bookshop.

Jack and I have much to be thankful for this season, including a circle of new reader and bookslinger friends. Here’s to all the fun, interesting people who read Little Bookstore and searched us out on Facebook to leave nice comments, and to the new friends in the bookslinging world that this week has brought–particularly to Peregrine Books that just opened, and to ReBook out in Utah. We hope your Black Friday has been as fun and filled with full-circle pleasantness.

Wendy will be signing at Fountain Books in Richmond, VA this Monday from noon-2 pm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, VA

Happy to be Here

We pulled into BOOKSELLERS AT LAURELWOOD just after lunch on Friday. It’s a dignified, orderly store of honey-colored wood and pretty displays.

Don’t let the exterior fool you. Like the class clown in a prom dress, this bookshop’s personality can’t help but shine through.

For the full story of what BaL has endured to stay standing, visit their website or google their press coverage from last year, but the nutshell version is “regional chain liquidation from Davis Kidd, nasty games with head financial officers, corporate shenanigans involving rights to use their name, and the hero of the piece–Neil–hiring back the existing staff when they re-opened as BaL.”

Those who work in animal rescue will understand instantly what I’m going to say next, and I hope the rest of you find it a non-derogatory, non-odd comparison. If you’ve ever fostered a dog rescued from a shelter at the last possible moment, or a momma cat and her kittens sprung on euthanize day, you know that animals–even cats!– show gratitude. Those who came closest to complete loss never forget, and express appreciation even as they revel in snow and grass and water and life; they just plain lick your nose or purr more often, and they’ll do anything for you.

Permit me this metaphor among those who have not shared this experience, because every time I walk into Booksellers at Laurelwood, their joy in being there shines through. Liquidation was 3 days away, and they got rescued. Since then, they’ve been rescuing their community every day.

One of the people who’s worked there longest is Nicole. A more cheerful person you will not meet. The petite blond was described to me by another staff member, JoAnne, as “an artery for this store.” If you’ve read my book, Nicole was the person who stood in the children’s department on Dec. 24, 2011 chatting with us as the place filled up around her, turning amiably to say “top shelf at the back, next to the dragon” or “I’m so sorry; I sold the last copy Monday” as customer asked questions. She is a poster child for why bookshops must remain, because her orderly department is brimfull of happy kids whose parents are buying them the books they read as children, and she knows which ones are for what personalities and ages. The woman is a walking encyclopedia of Curious George trivia; she can tell you things about Pippi Longstocking you didn’t know you didn’t know.

As we stood chatting once again last night before our book talk at BaL, a little girl came whizzing past to play at the cars and roads table behind us. Nicole turned and looked at this child in her bright pink and green dress, a bow the size of a magnolia blossom behind her ear, and smiled.

“See?” she said, indicating the oblivious toddler with an unobtrusive shoulder roll. “Even on bad days, how bad can it be? Look what I get to do for the next generation, surrounded by all that energy and cuteness.”

Go, Nicole – and Carley and Chad and JoAnne and Scott (these last two get their own blog post later this week) and the rest. Bring back the joy in bricks-and-mortar bookshops!


1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA