Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Fair Weekend An Amazing Experience

This past weekend my husband Rich and I were invited to be part of Random House's Annual Book Fair fundraiser for Carroll Community College, facilitated by the Random House Warehouse team.

But before we even got to the Fair, we arrived at the Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, PA, where we stayed for the weekend. This place is a little gem nestled in the heart of Snack Country. Think Utz's and Sturgis pretzels. The mansion was built in 1913 by the co-owner of the Hanover Shoe Company and has been meticulously preserved. The lavish Tiffany lamps, Persian rugs, beveled glass windows and spiraling staircases lead to 6 guest rooms, many with canopy beds and about the square footage of the first floor of our house!

The great granddaughters have transformed the home into a luxurious B & B. The added surprise was the restaurant, gaining credit in culinary circles for its indigenous selection of foods and turning Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine on its ear. For example, we had freshly made potato chips with truffle dipping sauce for an appetizer and sauerkraut ravioli. Not too far from Gettysburg, the mansion is certainly worth a stop.

The next day we met with the Random House warehouse staff at their massive distribution center in Westminster, Maryland. When I say massive, I'm talking about a million square feet of storage space which works out to about 26 football fields! The Center is so huge, we toured it on golf carts.

It takes a thousand people to keep the Center running smoothly. Not only do they know about the business of selling and shipping books,(telephone sales is also there), they really know about books! And it was a thrill to see LITTLE JOE on a shelf there, too.

The employees are voracious readers, so I can see why they are so involved in the Book Fair. From Customer Service to Operations and Packaging, we got the chance to meet most of them and chat about titles they're reading.

All the staff had on t-shirts with images of our book covers on them and we signed the backs of a lot of those tees. Not only were Rich and I featured authors, but LEAP INTO DARKNESS by Leo Bretholz,(I can't wait to read about his numerous escapes from the prison camps in Germany),Susan Fraser King's, QUEEN HEREAFTER, and Jennifer Arnold's THROUGH A DOG'S EYES, who even brought a companion dog, Butch Cassidy along.

This center churns out half a million books on any given day, shipping them anywhere in the country. Each picker alone selects and packages at least 400 books an hour and unlike them,I wouldn't last a day here as an employee. I'd be too distracted reading all the titles I'd be picking. And some of the employees are adept at using a machine akin to a forklift, soaring 6 stories into the air right along with it, to pick books from vertical slots. They also have on headsets where a women tells them which books to select. I'm already imagining who she is and have created a whole life for her, so you can see how I would fare in the warehouse.

The best part of the day, though, was at lunch, where the Customer Service team created exact likenesses of our book covers onto homemade cakes! LITTLE JOE's was chocolate chip and so was Rich's KICKERS. SPORTS CAMP was red velvet, my favorite. Yum! Leo Bretholz turned 90 that weekend, but his enthusiasm and spirit seems ageless. He had no problem blowing out the candles on the carrot cake made for him, and telling us jokes along the way.

And Finally, Saturday was the Book Fair. The annual event, in its fourteenth year, raises an average of 30 thousand dollars for Carroll Community College, which is in the same county as the Random House warehouse. We met with Dr. Faye Pappalardo, the College President at a lovely breakfast put on by Gypsy's Tearoom. Dr. Faye is someone you never forget. Her enthusiasm and quest to ensure higher learning for all in her community is so contagious, I found myself dreaming up new ways of making community colleges truly a part of their community, like Dr. Faye has done with Carroll Community College.

My presentation was the most well attended public event I'd ever spoken at, with a solid mix of eager-eyed kids, parents, librarians and community members. The College really knows how to promote their special day, and the community is eager to support it. And lunch at the college surpassed Ivy league food fare. We had slow roasted apple-laced pork with house baked potatoes, for starters. Not typical college cuisine, that's for sure.

The happy ending was the fact that we sold out of our books, signing them all. And the books stacked on rows of tables were moving fast too, which means the College was sure to have another banner year and able to award 10 scholarships with the proceeds. Rich and I were actually sad to leave this warm cocoon of a place, where reading is celebrated and cherished. We hope to be back in the very near future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

First School Visit on Dr. Seuss's Birthday

I couldn't think of a better event to celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday than to participate in my first school visit! Rich and I spoke to the entire Wheelock Elementary School in Keene, New Hampshire. Librarian Eva Roeder had the library all set up for us to speak to the classes, from kindergarten through to fifth grade. It was so much fun!

I spoke about LITTLE JOE and read my favorite parts from the book. Rich read BALL HOGS, from Kickers -- the four-book soccer series -- and SPORTS CAMP. Most popular with the kids were the blown-up pictures of all the farm animals in LITTLE JOE, like Spider, the barn cat and Tater, Eli's dog, who's a lot like my dog, Lucy.

Rich's HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine giveaway to all the kindergartners and first-graders was majorly huge. They rolled onto their stomachs and started coloring immediately. The group loved listening to Rich read THE TIMBERTOES (he writes them), and the fourth and fifth-graders enjoyed getting grossed-out hearing the ghost story from SPORTS CAMP.

But the number one element surprise came when I had a few of the students open up the show box to see what was inside. (Can't tell you or it would spoil your school visit!)

The biggest elements of surprise for me were all those intriguing questions the students asked, from if we were really married,(the answer is yes), to if Little Joe was in the show box and if I could bring him for our next visit.

Everyone took first place for their enthusiasm and went home with a blue ribbon, courtesy of LITTLE JOE. But Rich and I went home with lots more story ideas, glowing from the warmth of the great Wheelock welcome we received.Thanks so much Wheelock!!

BEST IN SHOW: Mason & his class for going the extra mile (just like the swim in SPORTS CAMP)and drawing me with LITTLE JOE and Rich with Big Joe, the snapping turtle in SPORTS CAMP.

RUNNER UP: Our third-grader who paints houses the color of flesh. How many illustrators can say that?

BEST QUESTION: Where do I keep Little Joe while I'm writing?

BEST IN CLASS OUTFIT: Tied: A fourth-grader Star Wars belt buckle-- super awesome!And his best friend's mohawk.

HONORABLE MENTION: Second-grader bejeweled tiaras, and the third-grader Pippi Longstocking's socks. Perfect for being a pirate, later on.