Last month the Book Barn
in Leavenworth, Kan., received an early
holiday gift. The store was selected as the winner in a contest held by
Peachtree Publishers to promote the publication of Christmas in the Trenches
by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Henri Sorensen. The Book Barn won
a free concert by McCutcheon--a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and
musician--for the community. The event is scheduled to take place in
April. "It was wonderful, and we were shocked and surprised when we
won," said Bob Spear, who owns the Book Barn with his wife, Barbara.
According to Peachtree, the contest recognizes an
independent bookstore "for exceptional community involvement. . . . The
Book Barn reached out to the residents in the military town of
Leavenworth, KS (pop. 35,000) in ways that best exemplify the spirit of
Christmas in the Trenches
." McCutcheon's book, which comes with
a CD of songs and a reading of the tale, recreates the Christmas Truce
of 1914, when during World War I, British and German soldiers
spontaneously laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together on
The Spears' efforts in their town have included organizing book drives
for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as hosting free
interactive educational events at the store on topics such as the Civil
War, the Underground Railroad and World War II.
The seasonal spirit seems to have influenced sales at the Book Barn,
where holiday-themed titles are among the top sellers. "That's not
always the case," said Spear. Nearly 20 books are on display in a
section of the store where volumes are rotated to tie in with holidays
such as Valentine's Day or Easter. "We find it reminds people that a
holiday is coming up," said Spear. "It's a strange phenomenon we've
noticed over the years."
Two children's fiction titles are among the holiday-themed handsells--The Blacksmith's Gift
and The Orphan's Promise
written by local author and former Hallmark executive Dan T. Davis.
Other titles in the category recommended by Spear (who describes them
on his blog Bob's Book Blurbs
) include The Polar Express
and Madeline's Christmas
, along with classics such as The Little Match Girl
and A Child's Christmas in Wales
Also selling strongly at the Book Barn is the children's series
Discover America State by State, a 51-volume alphabetic tour of the
United States from Sleeping Bear Press.
Here is a sampling of some of Spear's recommended titles:
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. "This is a
soul-touching hoot about the family of community thugs who take over
the Christmas pageant at church and give it a very different
- The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado and illustrated by Liz Bonham. This
"nativity story about a crippled lamb who cannot go with the other
sheep to a different pasture and is left behind to warm the Christ
Child upon his birth is a touching favorite for young children. It
teaches we all have worth and purpose, even if we don't yet know what
Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy by Carl R. Sams II and
Jean Stoick. "Incredible" with "startling and beautiful" photos. In
this winter wonderland of a book, wildlife photographers Carl Sams and
Jean Stoick capture the reactions of animals and birds to the snowman
who appeared in their midst after a storm.
- A Cup of Christmas Tea and A Memory of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg and
illustrated by Warren Hanson. "Unless you hate having your heartstrings
tugged," Spear recommends these two books. "Both are about the
benefits and importance of communicating with older and younger
generations, reliving old memories and making new ones."
The Book Barn held a Christmas open house on December 2 with two local
authors headlining the festivities: Lisa Harkrader and Marci Penner.
Harkrader's latest book is the teen fiction title Airball: My Life in
, a take on The Emperor's New Clothes
set in a small Kansas town.
Marci Penner is "the guru of places to go in Kansas," said Spear. Her
book The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers
is a popular gift-giving choice
among the Book Barn's customers who perhaps are looking to inspire
recipients to follow in Penner's footsteps. Penner spent two years
logging more than 40,000 miles to discover interesting, out-of-the-way
places across the state.
Attendees at the open house were served homemade chili and other fare,
and people who spent $10 or more received a free Christmas ornament.
Between signings, customers were treated to live jazz with Spear on
guitar and his musical partner playing the violin.
The Book Barn is expecting its share of last-minute shoppers this week
rather than the last few days leading up to Christmas. "We're almost at
the peak, and it's already starting to taper off a bit," said Spear.
"Because we have so many people here aligned with the military, people
buy gifts early and ship them out."--Shannon McKenna