A hedgehog walks into a bookstore ...

“Are you sitting down?”, the e-mail began.   “No, I mean really…..are you sitting down?  You’re not even going to believe this!!”

This note from Hilary Emerson Lay, the manager at The Spirit of ’76 bookstore in Marblehead, Mass., greeted me last Monday morning.  Yes, I was sitting down (hand wrapped firmly around my second cup of hot coffee), and I was ready to read the rest of her note.

You may recall the awesome Spotlight on Bookstores guest post about The Spirit of ’76 that Brunonia Barry wrote a few weeks ago.  Well, that post was read by someone who works at Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet tv show, and the part about Hilary’s pet hedgehog, Stanley, caught his eye.  It seems that Animal Planet is filming for a new show about people with exotic and unusual pets. 

Hilary had recently thrown a children’s ‘hedgehog party’ at the bookstore, and Animal Planet asked if she’d like to do something similar … with the film crew there!  I imagine Hilary hesitated for about negative .3 seconds before saying YES, then started working on the guest list. 

I was thrilled to be included on that list, and, since I gave a resounding “Do I ever!” response to her innocent query of “Do you have kids? Would they want to come up, too?”, we drove about an hour north yesterday afternoon to attend our inaugural hedgehog party!

The store fills three rooms; yesterday they were three rooms full of children excited to be at the party, parents trying to keep the excitement in check (or, maybe it was just my child who kept whining for ANOTHER cookie), the Animal Planet crew, Hilary, and staff and friends of The Spirit of ’76.  Author Brunonia Barry was there as well; it was an example in pop psychology as I wore Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘connector’ hat and hosted her post that caught the attention of Animal Planet.

Aside from being a bookseller and storyteller extraordinaire, Hilary must harbor a secret life as a caterer.  Check out the hedgehog watermelon bowl (before the kids got to it, the toothpicks in the individual watermelon bites made adorable quills).  Not to be outdone by healthy fruit, the cookie tray offered frosted hedgies with shaved coconut quills — incredible! 

My youngest was filmed choosing a cookie and chomping away on it; he kept taking bite after bite without swallowing!  It may end up on the cutting room floor, but it was fun to watch him in the spolight – the kids were told not to look into the camera (about a 6-inch lens a foot from his face), which proved to be quite a challenge.

A special guest in the guise of Jan Brett’s hedgehog came to say hello to all the children.  It was in the low 90s yesterday (we’re about a week into a brutal heat wave; hard to imagine after the floods of this spring), so I think Hedgie was pretty warm inside those soft quills!  He (or she?) was a very good sport, though, posing for endless photos, hugs, and the occasional tail/nub pulling (yes, that was my youngest again).

The kids assembled in a large circle on the rug, and Hilary brought Stanley out of his crate and introduced him to the group.  She explained that hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, and that he might be a little nervous, “it’s like your parents waking you up at 3 in the morning, bringing you into the bright living room and asking you to smile and say ‘hi’ to all these people.”  Stanley was the perfect host – he showed his face a bit, squirmed around Hilary’s hands for comfort, and, when all the children had had a chance to see him up close, burrowed back into his ‘hedgehog sleeping bag’ (a pillowcase).

Despite the initial physical similarities, hedgehogs are not related to porcupines.  In fact, hedgehogs aren’t found in the wild in North America; native to Europe, Asia, Africa, China, and New Zealand, any that are kept as pets have been bred here.  Hilary passed around a bag of Stanley’s bedding (so soft!) and a plastic container of his favorite treat – mealworms (so gross!), and shared more cool facts and interesting hedgehog trivia. 

Everyone wanted a chance to ask a question or make a comment, Hilary was adept at turning seeming non sequiturs like “I eat Cheerios for breakfast” into a hedgehog-related statement: “Stanley also likes to eat hard-boiled eggs for a special treat.”  After an extended Q&A, she read a hedgehog picture book to the group.  If she ever tires of the bookseller-storyteller-caterer routine, I’ve got a nanny position for her!

Of course, the Too Fond of Books family finds it nearly impossible to venture into a bookstore without selecting a few books to bring home.  Each of the kids chose a book; we added Looking for Alaska (John Green), My Life As a Book (Janet Tashjian), The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary (Jack Kinney) and Hurry Up, Hedgehog (Deborah Dennard) to our bookshelves.  (This pic was the only time I caught LM12 on camera, so I wanted to include it).

When Hilary learns the date the show will air, I’ll be sure to share it with you so you have a chance to meet Hilary and Stanley, too!  Thank you to Brunonia for writing the piece that caught the attention of Animal Planet, and to Hilary for being part of a store that is so involved in the community.  More than a bookstore, that’s The Spirit of ’76!

27 comments to A hedgehog walks into a bookstore …

  • So much fun and so cool! I hope you all are on TV — can’t wait to see it. This is so exciting.

  • Well, HOW exciting!! The cookies are adorable – and the entire event sounds like a perfect summer surprise. I look forward to watching it when it airs.

  • What a wonderful surprise for Hilary, Brunonia, and your family. Wow, Animal Planet…that’s fantastic. I cannot wait to watch the hedgehog birthday party. Kudos!

  • I was so excited when I read the piece in Shelf Awareness yesterday, so I’m glad to see the party went off so well. Thanks for sharing with us, Dawn! It just goes to show you never know who’s reading your blog!

  • How totally cool! And you’re right about the catering!

  • So, so cool! That hedgehog is totally adorable, and now I want one! The other day, a woman brought in a female anteater on a leash into my husbands office. He works for Sea World, and I had no idea they even had anteaters there! We got some great pictures of it, and it’s been the story of the week around the house and at church.

  • Kay

    That is the coolest thing ever! Loved the whole piece here. And the watermelon hedgehog and the cookies. What an event!!

  • I see that when I say this is cool I;m only repeating everyone else, but it really is SO COOL :) I love the hedgehog cookies, watermelon and special guest. What an event. You did good ;)

  • Beth Hoffman

    Love, love, love this! In fact, I read it twice and grinned at all the pictures. And you know how much I adore that precious little hedgehog!

  • What an incredibly cool story. And thanks for sharing the photos.

  • So much fun! What a great experience. Your daughter looks just like you!

  • Hi Dawn,

    It was great to see you yesterday! Your description of the event was perfect. I think Hilary has a second career as a cooking show host! It was a wonderful party in a wonderful community book store. I ate too many hedgehog cookies, though, only one actually but it threw off my diet, and I had only salad for dinner. But hey, that’s better than the mealy worms and cat food that Stanley had.

    Brunonia Barry

  • I was thrilled when I read the Shelf Awareness article yesterday. Thanks so much for sharing the photos and the experience!

  • Sue Montgomery

    Go Hilary!

  • I bet Hilary thinks you are a goddess! I am so completely impressed that you drew the attention of Animal Planet!! You can bet I will definitely be watching this episode.

  • This all sounds like so much fun! And what a cool story – how a blogger helped a book store score a national TV spot – awesome!

    Loved all the hedgehog stuff – so cute!


  • Looks like you all had a wonderful time! What a neat event!

  • [...] A recent post came to the attention of someone at The Discovery Channel and it resulted in a fun hedgehog party at The Spirit of ’76 bookstore in Marblehead, MA.  While I’m sure that my post [...]

  • Makes me miss my little girl Matilda! She’s a hegdehog but when my ex and I split up, he got her. She was always a sweet girl though and she loved getting baths!

  • Oh .. how wonderful for everyone involved!!!! It looks and sounds like it was a fun and educational event … and it must make you feel so proud to have played a part in it!

  • And to think it all happened because you write a book blog! How very cool!

  • Nicole

    what a fun day! those cookies took some talent! wow!

  • Kim

    I remember the first time I saw a hedgehog, it was at a children’s program that I took my kids to, I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since, as long as I don’t get poked!

  • [...] (She is Too Fond of Books) and all the little Too Fond of Books kiddos went to a hedgehog party at a local bookstore. The pictures look like so much fun – I so want a hedgehog cookie! (Shaped like a hedgehog, not [...]

  • How fun! And Stanley is quite the little cutie!

  • Dearest Dawn,

    As Anne Shirley once said: “I could never express all of my gratitude, not even if I used up an entire dictionary!”

    We owe every bit of this wonderful event to you, Dawn! None of this would have *ever happened* had it not been for you and your fabulous book blog. You invite Brunonia to write for your blog, she writes about The Spirit of ’76, Animal Planet sees mention of my hedgehog…what a wild, strange world we live in!

    I was so thrilled that you and your brood could come up for the big event; it was really something having you there, as the pivotal piece holding all of us random parts together.

    I would be remiss in not mentioning that my very good friends Hannah and Katie made and decorated those hedgehog cookies; I lifted not a dainty finger in the food prep! I was busy in hair and makeup (*half kidding; I did my own hair and makeup, Animal Planet just kept blotting my sweaty upper lip…..ah, the glamor of stardom!)

    You are the BEST, Dawn!!! I will certainly let you know when the episode is due to air! And, of course, let’s keep in touch!

    With utmost fondness to you, for everything (and to your kids for coming!),

    Hilary Emerson Lay
    Manager/Pink-Hair Wearer/Proud Hedgehog Owner
    The Spirit of ’76 Bookstore
    Marblehead, MA 01945

  • [...] Soon we’ll bid a fond farewell to one of our favorite booksellers: Hilary Emerson Lay. Hilary is leaving the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore in Marblehead, Massachusetts on February 29. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with Hilary for several years, and we’ve found her to be a tireless proponent of good books and a “Fearless Seller of Literature” at every turn. She also understands and supports local-interest books as well as anyone in the business, and as a result she’s been an invaluable resource for our sales reps, publicists and acquisitions editors. And while we’re at it, she happens to be funny, fiercely intelligent, and kind to animals. (If you don’t believe it, ask a hedgehog.) [...]

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