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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Swag I Have Known

A tragedy hit New York City this week.  Babes cried.  Women rent clothing.  Grown men clutched their hearts and wondered if the end was near.

My Bink & Gollie watch died.

I am a children’s librarian.  As such, I get swag.  Not a lot.  Before the economic crises took a hit swag was a far more common occurrence, particularly on the floors of the ALA Conferences.  Now the upcoming New Orleans ALA Conference is near upon us and a girl’s thoughts turn to swaggy moments of the past.  Those little nabobs and doodads that clutter up a gal’s suitcase home, yet make the kids in the library so very very happy.  That is the proper use of swag, of course.  One uses it to amuse the children.  Yet once in a while I get swag that has no purpose aside from amusing me, the adult librarian, and it’s hard not to resist its charms.

Example A: My Bink & Gollie watch.  I received this watch in the mail after I’d already praised and feted the book on my blog, calling it out as the piece of genius it was.  So when I found a real honest-to-god watch in the mail (albeit one of mere plastic) I was thrilled.  I don’t wear watches generally and this one was keen!  For a full year there you could see me donning it to every party, large or small.  I think the only time I actually removed it was for a funeral (its charming orange band didn’t quite fit the occasion).  Then, as all things must, the watch hit the end of its natural lifespan.  The band started breaking apart.  It couldn’t keep time anymore.  So, with great reluctance, I sent it to that great garbage pile in the sky where it can frolic with that Mickey Mouse watch I had when I was six.

Then I started thinking about swag in general. It’s such an odd subgenre of book marketing.  You want people to remember a title so you create odd little bits of fluff with which to amuse the masses.  With that in mind, here is some of the swag that has stuck in my brain over the years:

The secret message pen: From Michael Buckley’s N.E.R.D.S.

I think I was definitely supposed to pass this on to the kids in my library.  I failed to do so, and can you blame me?  For a woman who spent a portion of her childhood trying to write invisible ink messages with lemon juice on paper (then you brown the paper over a lightbulb to see the message appear) this pen was like a MacBook Air to my Commodore 64 flailings.  Look how perfectly it works!

Step One: Take pen

Step Two: Note the white ink

Step Three: Write on hand, wall, or any other surface you prefer.

Step Four: Shine blacklight from end of pen onto surface.  Message will mysteriously appear.

Downside: I washed that hand continuously for a week and then, at the end, tried the blacklight again.  The message was faded . . . but definitely still there.  *shudder*

The wooden spoon: From Peeny-Butter Fudge by Toni Morrison

Yeah.  This one was clearly just for the librarians.  Be that as it may be, I adored it.  My theory is that you can never have enough wooden spoons, and to get one free in the mail was just a bonus.  Beautifully done.

The make-up cell phone: From some YA novel involving spy cheerleaders.

Okay.  Obviously not the most effective swag in the world.  I had to do a little digging, and after trying to figure it out what it was and I believe the series went by the name of The Squad (by Jennifer Barnes).  This, however, is a case of the swag living long past the book in terms of memory juice.  I don’t have an image of this swag, since I must have gotten it back in 2008 or earlier at an ALA Conference.  It was just the cutest little thing too.  Because the series was about cheerleaders who spy (this was right before the crush of supernatural romance YA novels now out, so a series could still be about that sort of thing then) the swag looked like a cell phone.  You could pop it open to reveal blush and lip gloss, however.  And since I get most of my make-up from conference floors (I wish this were slightly less than true) this was an ideal gift!  I see that Ms. Barnes mentioned it on her blog from that time.  Wish I had a pic.

Want some swag of your own?  I can’t promise you wooden spoons (they don’t grow on trees, y’know) but MotherReader has just debuted her Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge for this weekend.  Go.  Read.  Win pretty swag.  And failing that, tell me what swag you have received or seen over the years that’s stood out in your mind.

Thanks to Sharon Creech for the idea of this post.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Does anyone remember the show Ghost Writer? (Oops, just dated myself.) My dad worked for Nike (a show sponsor) and I was the proud owner of a pen necklace like the kids wore on the show. It was one of my proudest childhood possessions. Wish I’d kept it.

    I just watched the Ghost Writer opening credits on YouTube. Ah, I feel young again.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I used to watch that! There was always this overarching mystery as to who Ghost Writer had been in life, but I never got to the end of the series to find out. Was that ever solved? I’ve wondered for years.

  2. I told you this story at FB, but my favorite swag was a beach towel from a tech company (at an ALA) during the booming tech years when they gave out good stuff. I believe the towel was a “prize” of some sort in their booth, but I was able to procure it by a friendly, “so… how do I get a towel.”

    My favorite less-rare swag is book promotions on seed packets. Everyone should write a book that has something to do with gardens, flowers, or veggies just to be able to give out those seed promotions. Just my opinion.

    Thanks for the 48 Hour Book Challenge plug where I can say that swag includes spy pens, booklights, and it wouldn’t be swag without a tote bag!

  3. Well, I hope you still have your Bink and Gollie socks!

  4. I’ve always wondered too! As I recall, the show was canceled before we learned.

  5. So jealous you’ve had the opportunity to wear out something I never had the opportunity to see! I would pay major bucks for a Bink & Gollie wristwatch. Seriously. You should drag that thing out of the trash and buy a new band at Wal-Mart. (Or at least send me the broken baby, out of pity….)

  6. From Wikipedia: “The producers’ intent was to reveal Ghostwriter to be “a famous 15th- to 16th-century writer, but not Shakespeare” at the end of the first season, although this eventually never happened. D.J. MacHale, who wrote the pilot episode, stated: ‘If memory serves, Ghostwriter was supposed to be an ancestor of Jamal’s, who was an escaped slave from the south who educated himself and learned the value of reading.’ ”

    Also, I just learned there was a spin-off book series. Talk about swag.

  7. Scholastic had beautiful Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows bags at an ALA convention. Scholastic was bullseye from the entrance, and when the crowd saw the bags, there was a beeline to the poor representatives holding the bags. They were nice, big, and sturdy; I used mine for a long time.

  8. I think my favorite swag was a glittery pink pen with feathery fluff on the end. I have to keep it in a drawer because my cat LOVES it and will play with it all day if I let him. 🙂

  9. My favorite swag from BEA was a keychain flashlight with several LEDs. My old flashlight had just died so this was a lifesaver (Pink Pig Press – also a great bag!)

  10. Jenifer May says:

    My favorite swag was from Greenwood Press, when they were promoting the “All About…” literary encyclopedias. I think I came pretty close to wrestling other librarians at an ALA conference for the Jane Austen bobblehead that they gave out to promote the All About Austen set. Ah, the days of quality swag!

  11. Oh, I remember those Harry Potter bags! With their exclusivity they were like the Prada of the library world. Which says a lot about our world…

  12. My favorite goody at BEA this year was the wonderful Wonderstruck bag, promoting Brian Selznick’s fall title. It has terrifically detailed drawings–different ones on each side, as well as in between. I love it!

  13. The Tintin bag I got from LIttle Brown at BEA this year is gorgeous and has been getting a lot of attention on the subway. But my favorite bag of all time (still in use!) remains my Captain Underpants “Time For New Underpants” bag. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

  14. I can’t find it just now (oy did I toss it in one of my de-cluttering episodes?), but I loved my Harry Potter wand/pen/flashlight from Scholastic (I think it was for the last book) — green with these tendril things on the end that lit up.

    I also have to say I really like the gavel pen I got with that fancy mailing for that Grisham Theodore Boone book, not that it helped me to like the book, unfortunately.

    And then there is my Mockingjay pin….

  15. Mockingjay pin — You got a Mockingjay pin? (turning green)

    I got one of those makeup cell phones too, and it was immediately captured by my granddaughter. I never saw it again.

    My favorite swag is still in use today. One year Scholastic had a carnival bash (ALA in Canada) and was handing out large shoulder bags at the entrance. With many pockets! That’s been my traveling bag for years.
    And another year I got the last zipper canvas bag from It had a printing error and they weren’t going to hand it out, but I begged. I’m still using it as well. It has a cartoon on it that looks as if it was drawn by the “Unshelved” guys, but the copyright says 2008, Overdue Media, LLC.

    Remember the lizards advertising HOLES? (I use it for one of the creatures at my Harry Potter parties.)
    Ah, good times.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, the Mockingjay pin was considered one of the top swag items for those who got it. I missed my chance to get mine (left a party early without getting the goodie bag and felt guilty ever since). I expect you’ll be able to buy one from SkyMall any day now anyway.

  16. Overdue is actually the name of the company that is the Unshelved guys, so your eyes did not deceive you.

    Some day, I’ll actually be able to go to a conference and get fabulous prizes, or at least a themed bookmark. Pretty much every conference is far from Kansas, though.