Summer is here, a great time to visit a children’s bookstore and come home with treasures to read on the porch or in the park. Today we’re talking with Wendy Ostenson of Mockingbird Books in Seattle (www.mockingbirdbooksgl.com), who
invites you to her store.
Sue Cowing for Mixed Up Files: That’s a wonderful old building that houses your shop. Can you tell us a little bit about it and about how Mockingbird Books came to be?
Wendy: We are in this wonderful old brick building that was originally a church. Owner Alyson Stage had wanted to own a children’s bookstore ever since her kids were little. When a great space came up for sale in her own Green Lake neighborhood, she partnered with friends and family and bought the building. It’s now not only a bookstore, but houses offices and an event space on its second floor. Alyson’s now-grown kids, Taylor and Emily, work at the store and help coordinate events.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created inside.
Wendy: We like to think of it as a neighborhood space where kids, parents and caregivers are welcome to spend some time. The store is cozy, warm and inviting. Our front window area is dedicated to entertaining kids with trains, puzzles, and chalk art. Our Reading Room in the back has comfortable couches to relax and really, truly get into a book. We also have a small cafe that serves espresso and kid-friendly snacks.
Our staff is pretty much a group of children’s book nerds, comprised of semi-retired librarians and education junkies. Sue Nevins from the store means it when she says, “We love to talk about books!”
MUF: How do you decide what children’s books to carry in your store?
A fan of Suzanne Williams’ GODDESS GIRLS series finds the latest at Mockingbird Books
Wendy: Sue and Linda Spoor do most of the buying. With their 40+ years of experience in children’s books, they do an amazing job of keeping the store balanced with tried-and-true classics and worthy new titles. Mary Bayne and I do several story times a week, so we can definitely tell if a book resonates with kids and is worthy of multiple reads. We all have our favorite authors and book blogs, and we love to talk with friends in the business and meet with publishing reps. Also, our customers often recommend great books that should be on our shelves. So I guess you could say it’s fairly collaborative.
MUF: Do you have some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction you are recommending to middle grade readers right now?
Wendy: Here’s a few great summer reads for middle graders that also will kick-start some great conversations:
Fellowship for Alien Detection by Seattle Author Kevin Emerson
The Search for Sasquatch by Spokane Author Kelly Milner Halls
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
MUF: How does Mockingbird Books keep a following in spite of chains and Internet sales?
Wendy: We like to think folks will have a personal experience when they come into the store.
Dressing up for cowboy/cowgirl photos during a visit by Jan Sonnemein, author of COWBOY UP
Whether it’s engaging our youngest readers through story times, unearthing a lost treasured book, or matching a book to a reluctant reader, we strive to provide friendly service. If we don’t have a book in the store, we are happy to research and track it down. We thinks it’s a privilege to get to know our patrons well and see many of them grow up into strong readers.
MUF: Do you have book clubs or events especially designed for middle graders?
Wendy: Sue Nevins does monthly book groups that will start back up in August. There is a Boys Book Group, a Girls Book Group, and a Graphic Novel Group where kids decide the book for that month and they chat about it over pizza.
We also have author events to coincide with new releases. In the last year, we’ve enjoyed visits from national authors such as Michael Buckley, Rose Mary Woods, and Margi Preus.
Trying out invisible ink with Newbery winning author Margie Preus
Many local middle grade authors like Stephanie Barden, Kirby Larson, Kevin Emerson, Patrick Jennings and Martha Brockenbrough are good friends and often do events.
MUF: If a family made a day trip to visit your shop and need a place to grab a bite, what would you recommend?
Wendy: There are so many places right near us. We are on the same block as Rosita’s which is a neighborhood landmark, and Jodee’s which specializes in organic baking. There are also great Greek, Thai, pizza, pub food and sandwich shops within walking distance. And, being it’s Seattle, there are multiple coffee shops on every block.
MUF: And if they decided to stay in Seattle a little longer, what family-friendly sights and activities would you recommend the most?
Wendy: Green Lake, the most-used park in the city, is literally a block from our store. In the summer its focus is water sports galore. You can rent standup paddle boards or paddle boats and swim at the two beach areas. The path around the lake is 2.8 miles and it’s great for walking and bike riding. We are also about a mile away from the renowned Woodland Park Zoo. I can’t wait to see their newly-born jaguar triplets with my kids this summer! I’d also recommend the Chihuly Garden and Glass that has just opened at the bottom of the Space Needle. It’s an accessible while mind-blowing tribute to extreme glass, art and color. My sixth grader loved it.
MUF: Tell us something about Mockinbird Books that most people don’t know. Wendy: Our giant Giraffe/store mascot, Geraldine, is a bit of a fashionista. We aren’t sure where she finds them, but she finds hats and accessories and slips them on when nobody’s looking. We’ve been surprised to find her dresses up as a leprechaun, a firefighter, and The Cat in the Hat. Right now she’s wearing a hula skirt.
MUF: A giraffe after my own heart! Thank you Wendy for giving us a glimpse into your charming shop! Readers, we know you treasure children’s bookstores. If you have been to Mockingbird Books or think from this taste you would like to visit, please let Wendy know here.
Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu, two thousand miles away from the nearest children’s bookstore. She 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.