Intentionality in Bookselling for the Holiday Season

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In the second column of a new series from the American Booksellers Association’s Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, River Dog Book Co. owner BrocheAroe Fabian looks at incorporating holidays into booksellers’ stores.

We’re heading into the busy season of commemorative, religious, and secular holidays and there is room to be more intentional in the way we incorporate these holidays into our stores. Ads like “Memorial Day Mattress Sale!” have always confused me as to why we equate celebrations of service and civil rights advocacy with deep discounts. While we need to have profitable businesses, it’s possible to encourage people to shop with us in a way that is less exploitative and more in keeping with the spirit of the holidays.

Thanksgiving, for example, has a complicated past (which can be explored in this New York Times article). In a TIME article, Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef, wrote, “People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this…There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”

Here are ways to be honor the holidays and be inclusive with displays:

  • Instead of “10% off in honor of X Day,” try “10% of proceeds will be donated to X veterans-focused organization.” The Regional Veterans Benefits Administration offices is a resource to help find one in your area.
  • Partner with a service-based organization to honor the intention behind Dr. King’s message and the MLK Day of Service. Promote them via your social media and newsletters, provide information at the counter and on your website, and have organization volunteers act as guest book recommenders to engage with people in the store.
  • For Thanksgiving, consider promoting books that either educate the reader or sidestep the question about the morally complicated holiday, such as 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki), Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson/Jane Chapman, and cookbooks such as The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota Sioux). More recommendations can be found in these posts on the American Indians in Children’s Literature website: “Oyate’s List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid” and “Good Books About Thanksgiving.”

Lastly, this December the Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas will overlap during a two-week period, so here are some suggestions:

  • Pine trees and red/green décor are not religiously neutral, nor is the term “Angel Tree.”
  • Emphasize seasonal décor that matches the weather and your location’s geography (i.e., snowflakes, icicles, or white lights on palm trees).
  • Encourage staff to say “happy holidays” to customers whose celebratory preferences you don’t know.
  • Make book donations available on a Solstice Shrubbery (any Monty Python fans out there?) or Gifting Tree (as there may be copyright infringements for the phrase “Giving Tree”).
  • Showcase titles from some of these other December holidays celebrated around the world.