I generally buy most of my books online. In my heart I want to support local business and independent bookstores, but the price and convenience lure me to my favorite dot-com nine times out of ten.
Finding an enthusiastic and knowledgeable vendor such as Linda Devlin and watching her at work causes me to second-guess my book buying preferences. I was able to see her expertise at work first hand when I was in her shop recently.
She was on the phone when a woman walked into her store, Linda's Story Time, 447 Monroe Turnpike. After Linda hung up, she greeted her customer with a "How can I help you?"
She was looking for the Animorphs series. Linda told her they were out of print, but that she could see if she could order them. The woman asked Linda if she could recommend anything similar. The store owner immediately sprung into action as she sought to make a good connection.
"The Animorphs are people who turn into animals, right?" Linda asked. "Maybe she would like something where there are animals who act like humans."
Linda enthusiastically recommended Erin Hunter's Warriors series, having read them herself, and offered feedback from satisfied customers, "Girls love them as much as boys."
She warned her customer to be careful buying books in the series, since there are several different series about the same characters under the Warriors name. Linda told her to start with the first book in the first series, and the woman her up on her recommendation.
After the customer left, I asked Linda about some of the other titles she recommends to customers that come in asking for assistance.
Books for Babies
If someone walks in and asks for help with a new baby gift, she takes them to the baby and toddler area, and shows some of her favorites, including Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann and Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton.
But before selling the book, she seeks to find out more information. If it's a second child, they probably need something new or unusual, since they have all the standards, she said.
"If their grandmother is a librarian and she's bought them every book in the world, we have to try to find something more unique," Linda said.
When buying for a preschooler, she notes that there is a big difference between what a three-, four-, or five-year-old child might like. She promotes books that have been popular in her story time hours, such as P.D. Eastman's classic Are You My Mother or Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.
Treasures for Tweens or Teens
Linda and her husband can offer detailed information about content, because they have read many of the books offered for tweens and teens.
"If they want to buy a picture book, they can stand here and read five or six to find one they like. They can't do that with these kinds of books," she said.
In order to get the right book in the child's hands, she asks what kind of reader they are. For a guy who does not like to read, she recommends books that will grab them right away with action, such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.
She also recommends funny books like Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner.
"Books in a series are great, because they know what to read next. It's so satisfying to have someone who didn't like reading, come in right away for the next book in a series," she said.
Books are sorted by age, and staff favorites are prominently displayed. The buyer could stumble across a good book just by browsing, but the next time I visit Linda's Story Time, I'm not going to say "I'm just looking," when she asks "How can I help you?"
I am going to let her give me the benefit of her expertise and see what we might stumble upon together.