'I Love You': Indies Celebrate Esther Day

Yesterday was Esther Day, named for Esther Earl, the teenager who died in 2010 at age 16 of thyroid cancer. She was an early "nerdfighter" who became friends with John Green and his brother, Hank, and was the inspiration for the character of Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars (which Green dedicated to Esther). Although yesterday was not the first Esther Day--that began in 2010, when the Green brothers honored Esther's request that her birthday become a holiday on which people express love for friends and family to whom they may not otherwise say the words--it could become the first unofficial holiday to be inspired by literature and spread by independent booksellers.

The bookseller part began at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., in January upon Dutton's publication of This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl, a collection of Esther's blog posts, writings and pictures and those of people she loved, which fulfilled her dream of becoming an author. BookPeople's children's book buyer Meghan Dietsche Goel said she brainstormed with store YA specialist Ta'necia Cannon over a way to create an interactive display that "captured the spirit of the book." Working closely with BookPeople's Teen Press Corps (a group of special teen customers who share their reading experiences, expertise and energy as BookPeople advisers), the staff culled a series of probing questions from Esther's work and invited readers to supply their answers on paper stars that were then hung from the ceiling in the YA section.

"The stars are still hanging today because they are so affirmative," said Goel.

Crediting BookPeople with the inspiration, Lisa Kelly, director of marketing of middle grade and YA at Penguin Young Readers Group, said the publisher created kits with an easel, poster and stars for customers to inscribe their messages of love, which it distributed to booksellers around the country for their own Esther Day celebrations on Esther's birthday on August 3.

"We just ran with it," said Michael Barnard, owner of Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif. Since creating its Esther Day display, Barnard has been following readers' posts from around the country on Instagram and Twitter (#EstherDay) and started snapping pictures of his customers who have filled out stars to display at Rakestraw.

At Andover Bookstore in Andover, Mass., Julie Chaisson said she had not heard about the Instagram campaign but said the store was eager to do its own interactive front-window display when it received the Esther Day kit from Penguin.

BookPeople display for Esther Day

In a USA Today article about Esther Day last week, John Green said, "It's the only day of the year in which Hank and I say 'I love you' to each other--before the first Esther Day, we hadn't said it in years--and it's become a hugely important holiday." John and Hank's Esther Day videos are on YouTube.

And on top of all that, it seemed fitting that Esther Earl, the girl who asked such bold questions and whose life influenced Green's The Fault in Our Stars, was the key clue in Final Jeopardy last week during its Teen Tournament. The spirit of Esther--who was called Star--continues to shine bright with a little help from readers, booksellers, social media--and even Alex Trebek. --Bridget Kinsella

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