Jesse Post is a bookstore manager at Postmark Books in upstate New York. He wrote the following on Facebook, reproduced here with permission. Get ready to share this. A lot.
Two years into running a bookstore, I’m no longer surprised by parents refusing to let their kids (almost always boys) self-select their books, though I’m still dismayed by it.
But today, holy crap.
Unlike most kids who just grab whatever Pokémon manga they don’t have yet and say they’re done, this barely nine-year-old kid spends 10 minutes or so thoughtfully considering the books, then has the presence of mind to ask me MY opinion about a Ben Hatke graphic novel, which I give him (double A+, excellent choice, kid). And literally, while we’re in mid-sentence, his grandmother says, “No, you need more words. More words than pictures.” He complains, really wanting that book, and he pulls out evidence, including my recommendation, to support his claim that they should let him buy it.
Having done this before, I pull out a prose read-alike and whisper, “I love that one but if she says no, this is great, too.” He gets it and says OK.
He makes another plea but grandma says, “No, I’m not buying a comic book.”
“But I want to read it.”
She turns to me and says apologetically, “He does know how to read.” Because obviously, he must be illiterate if he’s literally begging for a book.
At that point his mom picks up a book in the Penderwicks series, which is great but obviously not this kid’s vibe (well, obvious to anyone willing to listen). She asks me what it’s like and I say, “It’s very classic and sweet, kids having fun during the summer.”
The kid says, “No I don’t want something simple like that.”
Mom says, “It’s not — look at all the words.” Which is obviously not what he meant.
He holds up my prose read-alike, a funny quest adventure, and says, “No I mean that’s about kids having fun in the summer and this has things that happen and monsters and treasure.”
Grandma and mom say in unison, “But this one isn’t fantasy!” So now he can’t pick fantasy, either. He objects and mom says, “No. No fantasy.”
Seeing the writing on the wall, he asks me if I have any books about World War I or II and, because now I want to stir this pot, I cheerily say, “Sure!” and hand him the Hazardous Tales graphic novels. The kid is thrilled and it starts off a whole new war, with grandma saying she’s not buying a comic and the kid saying, “But these are all my favorite topics! Look this one has more words!”
So I’m watching this complete failure play out before me, where literally no one is getting what they want, the kid’s reading life is being physically blocked by his own guardians and, unlike every other kid in this type of situation, he perseveres, insisting that his choices are good instead of becoming ashamed of them. This is only causing mom and grandma misery. Eyes are rolling, the baby is crying, the toddler is knocking over book stacks.
Finally, grandma realizes she has to end this utter fiasco and extremely begrudgingly lets him buy a Hazardous Tale. Kind of a sad victory but hey, the kid successfully lobbied his parental figure to buy him a HISTORY BOOK against her will so let’s take our victories however we can get them.
He picks one and as I’m handing back the credit card he sees the “Hazard Level” rating on the back and says, “Wait! What does that mean.” I explain that it’s a funny way of saying how much death and danger will be in the book. The book he picked was level green, but the other one is level black. His eyes go wide. “I want the bloodier one!”
Grandma opens her mouth to object and I say, “Makes perfect sense to me,” and I swap the books. “They’re the same price.” (They’re not — I lost a dollar on this maneuver.)
Grandma sighs and says, “Well it makes no sense to me, but OK.”
The family walks out and the kid lifts his graphic novel in the air triumphantly behind them.