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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hey Baybeeee... And Kid Expo!

I think this photo speaks volumes about my trip to York, PA to read and sign books at the Baby and Kid Expo. The cup on the right is the cup from my drive there and the cup on the left (Mr. Fry-head, trying to hit on Miss Mermaid) is from my drive back.

I should've known that people attending this event did not come to buy books. Especially books not featuring Elmo, Dora or any other two-syllable character popular enough to be emblazoned on diapers. Don't get me wrong: my kids have been smitten with the heavily merchandised characters, too. But I fought the good fight to out-number them with children's book characters that did not suffer from overexposure in the popular media. Like the characters in my books, for example.

I'm just going to come out and say it: this event was kind of sad.

Not just because I sold far fewer books than I usually do, which is sad enough when you've begged your husband to skip his Ultimate Frisbee game and watch the kids and put 180 miles on the car. It was sad because there was such a colossal lack of appreciation for the kinds of things that I think matter for babies and kids. Quality health care, quality education - including good quality illustrated books - and quality support for working parents. I watched people breeze past the nurse at the Breast Feeding Kiosk to sign up to win prizes like wipe-warmers and other utterly useless baby gear. Sure, many of the people at this event were poor, or at least low-income. Winning baby gear probably sounded pretty good, as did books priced at $4.99, as many of the Elmo titles were. But the whole event had a really depressing feeling I couldn't quite put my finger on. Sure, the false cheer of the baby industry - and all the ugly goods that masquerade as cute - is a turn-off, but it was more than that.

As I drowned my sorrows in a big Mr. Fry-head-sized (aka "small") coke, it came to me. There was no sense of aspiration or ambition in the air. People did not bring their children over to meet an author because that was a cool learning experience. They didn't seem to care and neither did their kids. They were there for the free balloons, the free lollipops, the chance to kick a few stroller tires and maybe win a prize or get a deal on some handpainted craft items. That was about it, and that was O-K. Okay?

Usually, when I sign books or read my books, parents and kids swarm or at least flit around a bit. The kids want to ask me questions, want to pet the stuffed animals I bring along, want to tell me about their favorite books and characters. The parents want to find out about writing and publishing children's books.

There was none of that.
It was a long morning. Parents hurried their kids by me, like I was some sort of strange perverted creature - The Author - and dragged them to the moon bounce or the karate demonstration instead. A karate-kicking hamster and cat duo drew a better crowd than I did and they ran on batteries.

There was one hopeful moment for me. When a man with a bright red goatee and an unironic trucker hat thumbed through The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I overheard a young woman point at the book and say to him, "He was here this morning. It was awesome!"

"Eric Carle was here?" I asked, surprised at this possibility but impressed by her gush of enthusiasm for children's literature, the first I'd heard all day.

She stared at me, confused.

"Who?" she said.

"Eric Carle," I repeated, pointing at the cover. "He wrote and illustrated the book."

"Oh," she said flatly. Then her voice brightened again. "No, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was here! He had all these cute little feet, so he had to take these real tiny steps so the whole thing didn't fall over. The kids loved it."

Bartender? Yeah, that Mr. Fry-head drink? Make it a double.

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