Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Took the urchins to their first book signing/reading yesterday at Galleria. The author in the spotlight was Judy Schachner, who has penned and illustrated the very popular Skippyjon Jones series of children's books. They're entertaining books that our kids enjoy greatly (again & again & again) and they're also fun to read, which every parent knows is a critical aspect of good kidlit.

Her popularity--or maybe Skippyjon's--was evidenced by the impressive turnout of harried parents (mostly moms) and excited kids. The chairs and free handout kits ran out quickly.

The scene was--as you imagine--one of chaos. Kids of various ages wearing the cardboard Skippyjon Jones masks that came in the handouts. Parents trying to keep their kids in one place on the floor. Others trying to find a place to park their strollers. Parents lining up to buy more Skippyjon Jones books or get numbers for the post-reading book signing. In the background, the constant din of kids chattering in nervous anticipation and parents barking commands, occasionally punctured by a plaintive wail from an aggrieved party (mostly kids).

And then the Skippyjon Jones mascot arrived (this pic not from yesterday's event). What had been somewhat controlled chaos became bedlam. In theory, the idea of a lovable children's character come to life in a cute costume sounds like a dream come true. In reality, when children get a glimpse of a larger than life animal coming at them in a goofy suit, it can be a nightmare. My experience has been then that about 25% of kids love seeing their favorite characters in costume, 25% are absolutely terrified to the point of hysteria, and 50% are cautiously on guard as they keep a safe distance while carefully observing the mascot for any sudden movements (much the same way that adults behave in the presence of Anderson Cooper).

My offspring were content to look at Skippyjon Jones without getting close enough to touch. One youngster near us began shrieking in terror as soon as Skippyjon appeared and continued until his mom (grandma?) finally wheeled him away from the monster. She attempted to bring him back a couple of times although I'm not sure if he ever recovered his composure. Bet he slept well last night.

Before the reading and signing, Judy Schachner lead off with an introduction and brief Q & A session. It was apparent that she's proud of her work (and well she should be), but I got the impression that she was talking more to the parents--making sure we understood how clever she was--than the kids and that was a little off-putting. I also think she could have left out a few of the background details she mentioned--did we really need to know the real life cat who Skippyjon was based on has since passed away or that her daughter went to the University of Pennsylvania to be a paleontologist?

By that time, our middle un had decided that he had enough of the crowd and the sitting still and so my wife took him and the youngest for a stroll around the mall. I held down our position with the eldest boy as we hunkered down what we had come for, the reading. Which of course was of a book that we didn't own. Given how much children savor the familiar, this lessened his enjoyment of the experience somewhat.

After the reading, we elected not to wait to get a book signed. Holding position number twenty-six, we reckoned that it would mean waiting at least half an hour in line and at that point the idea of further waiting had little appeal. My wife bequeathed our number to a woman holding a forty-four, moving her up a little in the line.

It was good to attend such an event to get an idea of what they're all about. It may now be a good while before we decide to attend another.