Good news! A new and thriving small bookstore, founded by children’s author Jeff Kinney, whose store’s mission statement is “To enrich our community with great books, healthy food and inspiring conversations.” We’re speaking today with General Manager Deb Sundin.
MUF: It’s interesting and “unlikely” that a very busy and successful children’s author would take on the task of founding a bookstore. Can you tell us the whys and hows of that story?
Deb: Long before he became a famous children’s author, Jeff Kinney and his wife Julie decided to settle in the small town of Plainville, Massachusetts(population 8000 plus) after they graduated from college, and Jeff wrote his first Wimpy the Kid book there. In the middle of the town stood the grand old Falks Market, established in 1856 and once the town center, but it had been sold by the owner, Meryl Falk, almost 20 years before. Like many of the townspeople, Jeff and Julie would pass by that abandoned building and wish someone would buy it and do something with it. Finally Jeff and Julie did buy it, still not knowing what they would do with it. At last Jeff decided Plainville’s town center should have a bookstore and a café to help bring it back to life, so he combined the two and opened An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café in 2015. Unlikely Story has three levels with an event space occupying the second floor, and the top floor being developed into Jeff’s Wimpy Kid Studio.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere you try to create in your shop. What would you want a 9 to 12 year old to experience when they visit?
Deb: We aim for an atmosphere that is very warm and friendly and whimsical There are flying books hanging from the ceiling plus a Quidditch game with snitch. Our staff is very friendly, We want people to feel like they are visiting an old friend and I believe they do.
MUF: How do you decide what books to carry in your shop?
Deb: We have a book buyer who works with 5 or 6 major book representatives plus independent small publishers’ reps.. She also consults us, reads reviews and galley proofs of upcoming books, and considers customer feedback. Naturally we carry a lot of Wimpy Kid books, and these attract visitors to the store from all over New England and the country, and beyond.
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles you find yourself recommending most often to or for this age group?
Deb: We like Australian author Andy Griffiths (sometimes called the Jeff Kinney of Australia )
and his series The Thirteen Story Treehouse, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Llyod, Swim That Rock by John Roccos, and The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wang-Long Shang.
MUF: Any activities or author visits of interest to middle-graders coming up?
Deb: Yes, today at 5 Jeff Kinney will introduce the newest book in his Wimpy Kid series, The Getaway. Tomorrow best-selling author and journalist Peter Zeutlin will be here to sign his new book, Rescued: What Second –chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things. On Dec. 9 the Writers’ Loft, a group of local writers, will hold their annual Holiday bBook Bazaar in our event space. Then on December 12, Jeff Kinney will appear again to sign books. In the week between Christmas and New Years we’ll have craft activities for both younger and older kids.
MUF: If a family visits An Unlikely Story, is your café a good place for a family snack or meal after browsing? Other places in the neighborhood? And if they can stay a little longer, are there other sights and activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Deb: Yes our café would be fine for this. There is also a small diner in the neighborhood and a gluten-free restaurant. I’d recommend the Fuller Craft Museum in Boston. Providence is closer to us than Boston and a nice size city to get around in. It has a wonderful children’s museum.
MUF: Thank you, Deb, for taking time in this busy bookstore season to talk to us about An Unlikely Story. Readers, have you visited yet?