Meet the author whose book became Amazon’s top bestseller during the coronavirus pandemic

Clémence Michallon
Owen Kassimir

Carole P Roman didn’t expect The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids, one of the 50+ children’s books she has authored, to become Amazon’s top bestseller any time soon. The book came out in August 2019. Sales began to climb around Christmas, until – as Roman recalls on a phone interview conducted from her home in Long Island, where she’s confined – the stock ran out. New books couldn’t be printed fast enough to meet demand, and The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids lost its edge.

“It was really disappointing,” says Roman. “I was really kind of sad. I didn’t think it was going to get another opportunity.”

Sales picked up again by February. Then came an event few authors expected to ever have to factor into their career plans: the coronavirus pandemic.

In a matter of days, schools across the world shut down. Many parents were told to work from home. As the US reached what was, for many, the second week of confinement, children’s books took over Amazon’s Best Sellers list. The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids, specifically, climbed to number one by Wednesday 25 March.

This is no small feat. Amazon’s Best Sellers list spans the entire books category and isn’t restricted to a specific age group. The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids is currently competing with some of the biggest bestselling novels of the moment, such as Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

“Nobody was more shocked than I was,” says Roman.

The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids’s success came as much-needed good news for the author. Writing is Roman’s second career in addition to being the CEO of BLS Limousine, a transportation company she started with her husband decades ago with a $1,200 investment. The business has grown considerably over the years – it now has 10 offices in 10 different states, and its fleet includes vehicles from Tesla Model 3s to full-size motorcoaches. But with the country going on lockdown, the company “is taking a beating right now,” says Roman. (That, by the way, is a nom de plume. Roman was born Phyllis Okon.)

“It’s just been terrible,” she says. “So I woke up in the morning and all of a sudden, the first thing I saw was that I was number one, and I have to tell you, it brought a smile. I called my kids right away and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re not going to believe this, but the joke book is number one.’ And we all have a giggle because it felt good. In all this darkness, it was just such a delightful thing to happen, you know?”

On Thursday 26 March, The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids remained number three on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. Where the Crawdads Sing had taken the number one spot, followed by It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny, a picture book. The overwhelming majority of Amazon’s top 50 bestsellers were children’s books – including workbooks and even a cookbook for “young chefs”.

Upon closer inspection, it’s not hard to see why The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids would prove a top choice for confined families. First, there’s the appeal of comic relief – presumably a necessity during these worrying, uncertain times. Then, there’s the book’s format. The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids contains more than 800 jokes for children, divided into categories such as tongue twisters, puns, and riddles. It makes for an interactive experience, more so than the traditional bedtime story. Roman knows this firsthand from sharing the jokes with her own grandchildren during weekly brunches (a tradition now on hold to abide by the rules of social distancing).

“I tested them out on my grandkids and it opened doorways to whole discussions,” she says. “I could do a cow joke and then we ended up talking about animals for an hour. So it’s a great gateway.”

Such increased demand for children’s books is vital information for the publishing industry, which, like many others, has been disrupted by the pandemic. New releases are likely to get delayed. The very concept of a book tour has become a pipe dream – for now. Roman has grasped the significance of this moment for kids’ books. “If I owned a publishing company, I would be promoting these books right now,” she says.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, what do you call a fish without an eye?

A fsssssh.

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