Sue Cowing for MUF: You’ve described Little Shop of Stories as the best independent bookstore for children and their adults in the observable universe! Obviously you’re proud of the store. What do you do best?
Dave: I think we’re best at getting kids excited about reading and about literature. We do this through our Summer Reading Program, our On The Same Page community-wide reading program, our author events, our school book fairs, our involvement with the Decatur Book Festival, our book-themed summer camps, and (most importantly) our own staff enthusiasm in helping kids select their next book.
MUF: What can kids and their adults expect when they walk in?
Krista: When people walk in for the first time, they’ll often look around and say, “Oh my gosh! This is just like that little bookstore in that movie! What was that movie?” And then we remind them that the movie they are thinking about is You’ve Got Mail. But other that that, customers can expect a friendly, knowledgeable staff, a fun atmosphere, lots of engaging events, and a great selection of books.
MUF: We at MUF are fascinated by your unique and apparently popular summer book camps, which are mostly for middle-graders. Tell us more!
Dave: Most of our camps over the years have been book themed. Camps this summer focus on characters from American Girl books, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Magic Tree House series. Any activities that we can think of that relate to the books are used. By far our most popular camps are the ones based on the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series. We have had, among many, many activities, archery, pedicab “chariot” races, Greek language lessons, and mini-catapult building.
MUF: How else does Little Shop encourage reading in the community?
Krista: By being a huge part of the community. We have a Summer Reading Program where children receive treats from local businesses in Decatur (frozen yogurt, candy, cookies) for each 10 hours they read over the summer. If they make it to 40 hours, they get to come to our award ceremony and pizza party at the end of the summer. We coordinate a giant Christmas tree lighting event in the town square in December. We do school book fairs and visit schools for special events. We host five book groups here at the shop (three of which are actually for adults.)
Last year we started On The Same Page, our community reading program, where we pick a children’s book and then get everyone in the community to read the same book. We host book clubs, movie screenings (if there is a movie version), parties, and events all fall and end the program with a grand finale visit from the author. We work with schools to incorporate the book in their curriculum, coordinate volunteers to lead groups, and donate hundreds of free copies of the book to at-risk students. Our inaugural book was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and we had over 2,000 people participate. We’ll make the announcement for our 2012 selection at the AJC Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend.
MUF: How do you select the books to carry in your shop?
Krista: We work with reps from the publishing houses and order each quarter to bring in frontlist titles. We are very aware of our customer base and make sure to bring in books our customers will like. We mostly have children’s books, but we do have a (very hand-picked, very high quality) adult section and even have two adult book groups, so we serve the adult market as well.
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: do you have a few favorite fiction and/or nonfiction titles, either recent or classic, that you especially recommend to middle-graders when they come in?
Krista: Right now we are super excited about Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, The Heroes Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, and The Candymakers by Wendy Mass. We also love always love to handsell Savvy by Ingrid Law, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and Divergent by Veronica Roth.
MUF: Have some memorable middle grade authors appeared at your shop?
Dave: The most memorable middle grade authors who have visited include: Neil Gaiman, Norton Juster, Rick Riordan, Kate DiCamillo, Jeanne Birdsall, Avi, Tony DiTerlizzi, Kevin Henkes, Sara Pennypacker, Jeff Kinney, Adam Rex, etc. etc. etc.
MUF:If a family came from out of town to visit Little Shop of Stories, would there be a local family-friendly place for them to get a bite to eat after book-browsing?
Dave: Little Shop is located right on a traditional town square, right across from the Old Courthouse, and surrounded by retail and restaurants and one block from the MARTA station. Here is a link to local restaurants. Nearly all are within walking distance.http://www.decaturga.com/index.aspx?page=577
Particularly tasty, particularly close, and good for small kids include: Farm Burger, Pastries A Go Go, Raging Burrito, Sapori di Napoli, Sweek Melissa’s, Taco Mac, and Yogurt Tap. If kids are a tad older: the famed Brick Store Pub. Mature kids or no kids (and more expensive): Cafe Alsace, Cafe Lily, Cakes and Ale, Iberian Pig, Leon’s, and No. 246.
MUF: And if they could stay the whole day or even the weekend, what other family activities would you recommend to them?
Dave: Located within walking distance is a small park for younger kids (0-4). The Decatur Cemetery is a great place for strolling and contemplation, as is Agnes Scott College. (Emory University is a short drive.) The city holds concerts on the town square every Wednesday at noon and Saturday at 7pm during the months of May and September. Downtown Atlanta is a short 15-minute trip on MARTA.
Krista: We are right on the MARTA line, so you could easily visit the Center for Puppetry Arts, the High Museum of Art, the Wren’s Nest[home of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of Uncle Remus], and one of my personal favorite spots in East Atlanta–Oakland Cemetery!
MUF: Tell us a bit about the Decatur Book Festival and your shop’s connection with it. When’s the next one?
Krista: The AJC Decatur Book Festival happens each year on Labor Day weekend and is jam-packed with authors, book signings, art, concerts, food, activities, a key note event, and much more. We work closely with the Festival staff to coordinate the children and teen stages, and it’s our busiest (and favorite) weekend of the year. We always have phenomenal authors and illustrators–Judy Schachner, Adam Gitwitz, Anna Dewdney, Loren Long, Tim Green, Kate DiCamillo, Rick Riordan, Lauren Myracle, Libba Bray, Stephanie Perkins, and many more.
MUF: Thanks, Dave and Krista, for acquainting us a bit with The Little Shop. Readers, if you’ve been to this “best independent bookstore for children and their adults in the observable universe” or think you would like to visit , please like, share, or leave a comment here.
Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books, 2011 and Usborne UK, 2012) which the London INDEPENDENT recently included on its list of 50 Best Summer Reads.