It all started when my son refused point-blank to even try a book because he didn’t like the cover art and the title.
We got into an interesting (read: heated) discussion about author and illustrator each doing their part of the job to produce a book, and if one is more important than the other, and what happens if one does something you might like and the other not so much, then you would miss out on something great.
I tried to plead the author’s case but my son remains unconvinced to this day, so I’m not going to jinx it by naming the book in question.
Soon after I noticed that the City hall of our district hosted a small Children book fair with some twenty authors and/or illustrators signing and selling their books that afternoon. I thought that it was a good opportunity for him to see that books were made by real people.
We ventured into the normally-closed-on-weekends City hall like tourists in a haunted palace. It was a rather small affair, with just a few tables and a few cookies and sweets hastily offered on plastic plates. Nothing comparable with a major international book fair. The musical ambiance was dominated by the next function hall that hosted the end of year show for parents of the local dance school (5 years old in blue tutus running to and fro to the tune of Frozen). The authors were trying hard to stay friendly and positive in an almost empty hall. Of course, the district mayor had her photo taken with a few smiling writers, and the closeup shot ensured that it looked like a hugely successful event.
The weirdest participant of all was a man-size mascot in garish plush fabric, a person in full-fledge costume with a huge head of a huge mouse, that was the hero of a commercial book series. I cannot even imagine the heat and the humiliation inside that costume. All I hoped was to avoid having to buy one of those books from the poor man trapped into a mouse.
My son was pretty intimidated by the setting, and when he is, he just stares and whispers to me. The limited number of people browsing made it difficult for me to continue speaking about authors and illustrators anyway. I retreated to the back of the hall, let him fill up on sweets, and told my son that we were going to buy a book, but one only, and that he wasn’t supposed to say to the writer’s face that he didn’t like the cover art of the book he’d written or created, because it would be rude, so he could look around until his choice was set.
Was I too strict? Everyone was gracious, but I thing it was torture for everyone involved, from my son (“why did she say only one? how am I going to choose?”), to me (“oh my, we’ve already looked around at each table twice, I feel like I am the ball rolling inside a casino roulette before stopping at any number”), to each writer who got visited twice (“I have explained everything to this little boy the first time around, and he stares without saying a word, what am I going to tell him this time, please don’t come back a third time!”). My son was dead serious, as if he was going to choose the one book for his entire year (he’d already forgotten that library day was the same afternoon, where he could stock up on dozens).
Eventually I got into a nice conversation with a writer who not only writes for kids, but also for adults with a different pen name, and I happened to have heard of her. If possible, I felt even more awkward by then. Obviously she had come for her kids books, and she was probably disappointed by the poor turnout. She was around my age, and during a brief instant I wondered if we could have traded sides, she with a kid in tow, explaining books and trying to instill love for them, and me with some published books on the table, waiting for some kid to choose the book I had spent so much energy and love into creating, over the next person’s book on the next table.
We ended up buying her book, of course. And I promise I didn’t influence my son. I’m not really sure if it’s the writing, the cover art or the extra friendly writer who won him over. As for me, the odds that I will one day be a published writer is about the same as the casino roulette, I guess. I was so relieved that we didn’t need to strike up conversation with the giant mouse, and I bet my son was too.