Anyone who thinks children’s bookstores are becoming a thing of the past probably needs to get out in the country more! True, some wonderful old favorites are no longer with us, but others are doing just fine and wonderful new ones keep springing up, even in these recent hard times. Today we’re talking to owner Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do in Clarence, New York, whose small-town shop is just over three years old and has already become an asset to the community and earned the 2012 Pannel Prize for Children’s Specialty Bookstore from The Women’s National Book Association.
Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s always a pleasure to discover a new—and thriving—children’s bookstore. What led you to start one up in Clarence, New York?
Kim: Our three children inspired me to open a children’s business. I had the wonderful opportunity to stay at home with them for the first five years and then wanted to share with them a passion I had to give back to our community, teach them the importance of following a dream and work to inspire other families with a love of reading and lifetime learning.
MUF:Describe the atmosphere in Monkey See, Monkey Do.
Kim: It’s a very warm, charming and creative space. Both children and adults alike love to look at the books and enjoy the building. Our bookstore is housed in a historic 1840’s building with timber beams in the young adult/adult book room. There are six cozy rooms in which books are shelved, tables are set up and classes are held. People are very curious about the history of the building, it is said to have ties to the Underground Railroad.
MUF: How do you select the books to carry at Monkey See, Monkey Do? What are some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction, that you recommend to middle-graders?
Kim: I spend a lot of time reviewing advanced titles provided by independent authors and publishers. I follow our regional book groups and the American Booksellers Association for reviews. I love finding unique, indie titles that I can bring into the store and tie a program around. One of my favorite titles is Wonder by RJ Palacio, I absolutely love this book and highly recommend children in grades 5 and up along with parents/adults to read it! It’s an inspiring story about a 5th grade boy who has a facial deformity and is homeschooled up until the 5th grade. The story switches narrative throughout the book as we journey along with Auggie, the main character through his first year of transition in public school. Some newly released picture books that I am a huge fan of are: Big by Coleen Paratore, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, What Does it Mean to be Present by Rana DiOrio and Say Helloby Jack & Michael Foreman. Our Gorilla Girls Book Club (Gr. 5 and up) has been reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, and the Bright Monkeys Literacy Club (Grades 3-6) is reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Gorilla Girls Book Club
MUF: The Pannel Prize folks cited your “innovative approaches to getting kids engaged with reading.” That seems like an understatement. Monkey See, Monkey Do has a strong commitment to promoting literacy and acts on it by holding a number of literacy classes and activities, even individual tutoring sessions. Tell us about some of those efforts and the community response.
Kim:We truly believe we “bring our books to life” through the variety of creative, literacy-based classes we offer each month. This past summer we held over 40+ to inspire children to creatively engage in literature. This Fall we began a new venture in partnering with schools in our After-School Literacy Clubs in which we offer a 6-week literacy club led by a
Reading to each other on National Star Wars Reads Day
NYS certified teacher where children practice reading aloud, work on cadence, pace, vocabulary-building and comprehension. Children discuss the reading each week, practice journal writing and reflective questions. In this current session we are running in the schools, the last class will end with a very special author Skype in which children can engage directly with the author to learn about what inspired them to write their book and question the author directly.
MUF:Your book camps sound fun and popular, and you hold them not only in the summer but also during school breaks throughout the year. What have been a couple of your most memorable ones?
Kim: That is a tough question, I have so many fantastic memories from many of our camps but here’s a few that really stick out:
Art Safari – children spend a full week reading about a new artist each day and then working on an art project inspired by that particular artisan’s work.
Cupcake Diaries – a full week camp in which children formed reading circles each day to complete reading, creating cupcake journals and writing entries that tied in with their reading and discussions and ended each day with a cupcake decorations lesson by a pastry artist. The children learned a new cupcake recipe each day, worked on frosting/decorating skills and then enjoyed their work!
Let’s Go To Spain – a full day camp reading about Spanish culture, learning new vocabulary, enjoying Spanish treat and engaging in a role-playing skit.
MUF: All this community involvement and teaching and operating a bookstore, too! You must have some good help and/or very little sleep!
Kim: Yes, that is true! We have an absolutely amazing staff of devoted teachers, employees, artisans and interns from local colleges that offer their time, talent and energy! And yes….little sleep these days in juggling our family and the business.
MUF: Many towns have no bookstore at all, much less a children’s bookstore. If an out-of-town family decided to make an excursion to Monkey See, Monkey Do, would there be any places for them to have a snack or a bite to eat after browsing?
Kim: Yes, right in the back of our bookstore is a charming restaurant called The Carriage House. It’s steps away from our bookstore and offers a wonderful lunch menu.
MUF: Are any special events planned at Monkey See, Monkey Do (or in Clarence) for Halloween or November?
Kim: Yes! Next week we are hosting our 4th Annual Storybook Halloween Party in which we encourage families and children to dress up as their favorite storybook character and come to our free event that features free crafts, sweet treats and two local authors that will be reading their book and signing copies!
In November, we will be hosting our 4th annual Black Friday camps (Friday, November 23rd) for children to enjoy and parents to have a place to drop off their children for creative programing while they shop. On Saturday, November 24th we will have our SHOP LOCAL Holiday Event where we invite several authors, artisans and small business owners to come into our bookstore and sell their wares and promote a local shopping spirit.
MUF: Thanks, Kim, for talking with us and for creating not just a children’s book store but a center for learning to love to read Here’s wishing you success and many anniversaries and honors in the future!
Readers, if you would like to know more about this place, go to http://www.monkeysread.com. If reading about Monkey See, Monkey Do makes you want to visit the shop, and/or if you think Kim’s approach to running a bookstore is intriguing, please leave her a comment here.
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog, (Carolrhoda, 2011; Usborne UK, 2012)
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.