Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Trip to Carmichael's Kids in Louisville

I love to visit bookstores! Recently my summer bookstore road trip brought me back to Louisville, Kentucky. I've been there twice before, once for a bookseller conference and once on my own, just because I wanted to go on vacation somewhere new.

My earlier trip continues to come up in conversation whenever someone's talking about Louisville food. I organized my first trip so I'd get a Hot Brown (it's an open-faced sandwich), Modjeskas (it's a candy), Derby pie (it's trademarked), For some reason, having a glass of bourbon didn't make my list. Amusingly enough, here's a blog that pretty much sums up my Louisville eating, and she even stayed at the Brown Hotel. I had a hotel detour, as I first stayed at a hotel (not to be named) that smelled like ketchup and cigarettes and had broken furniture in my first room as well as the room I was moved to. This time I stayed at a Drury Inn along the freeway. it had a very high rating in Trip Advisor.

Unlike my first trip, where I toured the Louisville Slugger factory and Churchill Grounds, and took a long walk through the city, passing by a very pungent slaughterhouse, this was a much shorter trip and my focus was bookstores, most notably Carmichael's. Aside from dinner with Kelly from Carmichael's and my sales rep friends Johanna and Bob, I did little besides visit this fabulous sculpture of bowling bowls (at right). 

I made a return visit to their locations on Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenues, and made a virgin voyage to their new children's store, across the street. While the stores are not strangers to moving (each location has moved at least once), they chose to open a new storefront in the Highlands (that's the Bardstown Road neighborhood) instead of expanding in a new location with room for a kids store. In my years of bookselling, I've seen both options be successful. Square Books has Square Books Jr. a block away in Oxford, Mississippi, while Harry W. Schwartz had a separate kids bookstore in Brookfield for several years, until we expanded again and combined the two stores. 

The nice thing is that a separate kids bookstore gives you the opportunity for a distinctive personality. Carmichael's kids had chalk board category headings and a library ladder. Bins below the books held gift items, and we got some nice ideas for products. I spoke to three dedicated kids booksellers. We traded ideas on books that were working, public events, and school visits. There's nothing like a little networking! We're sharing Ben Hatke, for example. Our public event is Tuesday, October 4, 6:30 pm, at Cudahy Family Library.

Of course I wanted to buy something, so I asked about local authors. After a few options, I wound up purchasing Saving Wonder, written by Lexington-based Mary Knight. It's a first novel that takes place in Wonder Gap, a small coal town outside of Lexington. Curley is twelve and has already been through a lot. His dad died in a mining accident and his mom and little brother were killed in a slurry landslide. Now he lives with Papaw. There was a settlement for the second accident but Papaw decided to take it off the books.

Curley's best friend is Jules, but like many friendships in middle grade books, a newcomer is going to cause havoc with this relationship. In this case, it's J.D., whose moved down from Indiana. He is rather cool, with a nose ring and everything, but his most notable connection is that his father is the new owner of the area coal mining business.

The three of them wind up being brought together to work on a project about the extinct Eastern Elk, but it's when Curley leans that J.D.'s dad is planning to start mining nearby Red Hawk Mountain that they really bond. The relationship's are complicated. J.D. doesn't really get along with his dad, who has recently separated from J.D.'s mom. Jules's mom is very active in environmental issues, a city woman whose gone back to the land. A Cherokee woman comes to help - the mountain may have sacred importance. And Curley's family has been, needless to say, hurt by the coal industry more than they've been helped. 

In some ways, it reminded me of a new book coming out soon, Gertie's Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley. (There's a lot of buzz on this book - we can get you a signed copy when she visits schools for us in October - just request on your order.) In that case, the issue is offshore oil drilling instead of coal mining, but there are a lot of parallels. And in that case, Gertie's dad is still employed by the oil company, making Gertie see the situation differently - she's the kid on the other side of the controversy. In Curley's case, there doesn't seem to be anybody except J.D.'s dad who is making the argument for the coal company, which was definitely not what I expected from a small Appalachian town. But that's not case here.

In the end, Curley has to come to terms with change, whatever happens to the mountain. And that's a lesson everyone can agree on - change is the only constant. Saving Wonder was an interesting and enjoyable book - I particularly enjoyed Curley's slowly developing friendship with J.D., despite being predisposed to not like him - it was just the right thing to buy at a Kentucky bookstore. 

Continuing my trail of Appalachian reading*, now I've started reading Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance's bestselling memoir about growing up in Ohio and Kentucky. But I didn't buy this one at Carmichael's. I found it on an old pile of galleys I was clearing out. 

*Boswellian Chris would recommend reading Crapalachia next. 

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