children’s bookstores

Indie Spotlight: Bards Alley

Our Indie Spotlight shines today on Bards Alley, in Vienna, Virginia. The combination bookstore/café offers a homey, intimate space to browse for your favorite book and sample some local fare including coffee, hummus, bakery items, and even wine.

Owner Jen Morrow opened Bards just ten months ago and says the idea came as she watched her young son learn how to read. During that time, Jen rediscovered the nostalgia of going to a bookstore, and thus Bards Alley was born.

Here’s more from Jen:

MUF: What’s the biggest challenge in keeping an independent bookstore alive when the competition from big bookstores is so fierce?

Jen: It is simply finding ways to leverage being “small but mighty.” We don’t have access to the same resources, but what we are able to do locally is a differentiator. We employ people in the community, pay local taxes, donate to schools and non-profits, and bring customers to the town center who will hopefully shop at other local businesses. By offering in-store events, many of which provide access to authors, a curated selection of books tailored for our community, and programs for local aspiring writers, we are promoting culture and diversity. A place where people can unplug for awhile. I love it when a customer steps into the store, takes a deep breath, and says, “Ah, I love the smell of books!”

MUF: We love the smell of books too! What do you love most about Bards Alley?

Jen: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces when they walk in for the first time. I can’t tell you how many “thank-you’s” I have received over the past ten months. It is clear that our community was looking for a place to browse and talk about books, across many generations and genres of readers.

 

MUF: You clearly focus on making everything look welcoming—including folding the café experience right into that ambiance.

Jen: We take pride in how we curate local offerings as closely as we curate our book selections. Our outdoor patio is very popular this time of year! With our café, we are able to provide book clubs and customers who attend our author events a convenience that other bookstores can’t provide.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re always interested in what readers want. What titles (fiction and non-fiction) do you find yourself most recommending to readers ages 8-12—and their parents? Which titles are the ones most frequently asked for?

Jen: This is such a good question! Series are wildly popular at our store, and I find myself recommending The Unwanteds, which my son (who is almost 11) read through in a few short weeks. I’ll also recommend anything by Stuart Gibbs and Louis Sachar. Debut novels are also a favorite of mine to recommend and recently I have talked a lot about The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, as well as Orphan Island. Our young customers are also seeking graphic novels such as Smile and Drama and El Deafo. But we have also been recommending a lot of new and old classics, such as A Wrinkle in Time, Hatchet, Tuck Everlasting, and Anne of Green Gables. We are also seeing popularity with a lot of fiction based on real-life events, such as Refugee and The War that Saved My Life. Of course, most people have found Harry Potter on their own, but I can’t help but recommend it to those who haven’t yet given it a try!

One last note: this summer Bards will be offering a Summer Reading Challenge for school-aged children: read a book in each of these categories:

  1. Biography or Non-fiction
  2. Comic book or graphic novel
  3. A book written by an author of color
  4. Poetry

MUF: Thank you so much, Jen!

Bards Alley is located at 110 Church Street, in Vienna, VA.

(571) 459-2653

Indie Spotlight: Book & Puppet Company, Easton, PA

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: Another new independent bookstore catering to kids!  Today we’re talking with Andy Laties and Rebecca Midgal, Co-founders of Book & Puppet Company in downtown Easton  Pennsylvania (www.bookandpuppet.com).
MUF: Most independent book shops are founded on their owners’ passions, which is what makes each one unique. How did your passions for books and puppets combine to give Easton its first bookstore?
Rebecca: Andy and I first began doing improvisational puppetry together at Bank Street Bookstore in New York City. It has been such a fruitful collaboration, we wanted to take it to the next level by putting a puppet theater in our own bookstore.
MUF: Book & Puppet has another, out-of-this-world founder, Boingustopheles. Tell us a bit about him.
Rebecca: Boingustopheles is our beloved founder, a philanthropic robot from the Intergalactic megalopolis of Mikmukdukporp who believes in the healing power of comedy and humor. We are very grateful that Boingustopheles has chosen to locate a store on this planet. Boingustopheles thinks that everything we humans do is hilarious. We haven’t had the heart to break it to him that most of the “jokes” are actually serious. Perhaps he would find that even funnier, however.
MUF: What atmosphere do you aim to create at Book & Puppet Co.? If a middle-grade reader comes into your shop looking for her or his next good book (or puppet) what happens?
Andy: This store is a fun and funny place to hang out—the large selection of fiction for middle-readers kind of sneaks up on kids. It’s not the first thing they notice. We are very low-key with middle-graders. They need to feel respected, and free to examine the books. After a little while, I check in very casually to see if I can provide any advice. I’ve been a children’s bookseller for decades, so I’m able to identify what most kids would be interested in, once they’re comfortable opening up to me about their current reading.

MUF:How do you choose what books to carry in your shop?
Andy: When I’m considering whether to buy a book, I imagine which customer would choose it. When it comes to children’s literature, I serve children, parents, teachers, grandparents—I need books for all of them. This bookstore also caters to adult readers: I do the same thing there—I visualize my customers and try to select books they would like.
MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction you find yourselves recommending to this age group these days?
Andy: I love to turn young people on to Joan Aiken, whose Wolves of Willoughby Chase books were a precursor to Steampunk. I recommend Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce whenever possible. I recommend series that compare to Harry Potter—I often pitch Maile Meloy’s Apothecary series and John Stephens’ The Books of Beginning series. I recommend the Family Fletcher series by Dana Alison Levy to kids who like contemporary family stories. For nonfiction I gravitate to Steve Sheinkin—I love his Jim Thorpe biography Undefeated in particular. And I enjoy showing kids and parents Jazz Day—The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill.

MUF: Tell us about some of the regular activities at Books & Puppets, including puppet shows for all ages. Both of you are also graphic novelists and share your skills in workshops at the store. Do you have workshops and events coming up that would appeal to ages 8-12?
Rebecca: Our puppet shows are great for kids of all ages, and children ages 8-12, if they can be induced to come, seem to enjoy them a good deal. We also have arts and crafts project for older kids.
MUF: You also put on some events aimed and political and social action. Any coming up?
Rebecca: We just had an info-shop event about the feminist revolution in Rojava, Syria, and we plan to do more programs like that in the future. On an ongoing basis, Mangled Myths, our weekly improvisational puppet shows for grownups, often include political satire.
MUF:If a family from out of town came to visit your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after browsing? And if they could stay a little longer, are there nearby sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Rebecca: This is a fantastic place for families to visit. We are right in downtown Easton, PA, close to the Easton Public Market, an indoor, indie-style food court that is a destination in the region. The Public Market was established in 2016 as a year-round home for the vendors who congregate every Saturday, April through December, at our eagerly anticipated Farmers Market, which is the oldest one in the country. There are many dining options in the neighborhood, notably the State Café right around the corner from us, and nearby Terra Café, both of them frequented by families.
We are only two blocks from the Crayola Experience, which is a popular family destination that draws visitors from throughout the nearby states, and the State Theater is across the street from us, offering national acts including many family-friendly shows. Also close by are the Sigal Museum, the Canal Museum and other historic attractions. Easton has frequent weekend outdoor festivals in the Summer and Fall, such as the Bacon Fest and the Riverside Arts Festival.
We stand at the gateway to the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos, offering a wealth of arts festivals, outdoor adventures and other amusements. All this makes Easton a great family vacation destination.
MUF: You have said that, contrary to the conventional assumptions, now is a good time to open an independent bookstore. Why do you think so? You’re just getting started. What are your hopes and plans for Book & Puppet Company in the future?
Rebecca:  It’s true that this appears to be the time of the “retail apocalypse” with big stores and shopping malls closing, due to the growth of online retail. But everyone still wants to go out and enjoy our communities. Children especially need to be surrounded by books in order to get excited about reading—they can’t simply shop online. Independent bookstores can be successful if we serve as gathering places for neighbors. Many of the new crop of bookstores have raised start-up money using crowdfunding websites, which enable local supporters to participate and show their enthusiasm.
Our hope is that Book & Puppet Company becomes an anchor for community life in Easton, playing a part in the city’s economic and cultural revival. We hope to run bookfair fundraisers in local schools, host authors and performers, and support the reading practice of our neighbors for many years to come.

Thanks Andy and Rebecca for introducing us to your lively shop!  Readers, if you’ve visited Book & Puppet or would like to, please add your comments.

Ready, Set, Go! Children’s Books Compete Overseas

Morning Calm medal featuring the Seoul Tower in the background and traditional Korean buildings in the forefront.

Librarians are readers. They love books and read plenty of them. They delve into fictional worlds, constantly update their knowledge with the latest nonfiction, hone their research skills with a constantly evolving cyber world, keep abreast of the latest apps and an ever-increasing catalog of digital books.

 

So, what happens when a group of librarians from Korean International Schools (International schools teach in English) and an American School get together to compare favorite titles? They develop the Morning Calm Program, aptly named for a program featured in South Korea. Korea is described as “The Land of the Morning Calm” in a poem written by the Indian poet, Sir Tagore during the Joseon Dynasty.

Each librarian selects their own books to recommend to the committee. Each book must have been published in the last two years, have school-wide student appeal, and is worthy of literary merit. Where they find books to consider is wide-open. Books can be chosen from far and wide, and not through regular channels. If a librarian falls in love with a book, and it meets the criteria, he or she is free to bring it forward.

The books are presented to the whole committee of librarians. The committee, a multi-cultural mix of people representing many different perspectives, reviews and discusses each book before placing it on the next school-wide reading list.

The list contains: 5 picture books, 5 intermediate elementary, 5 middle school, and 5 books for high school.

The following are the books that made this year’s 2017-2018 Morning Calm Reading list:

Elementary Picture Books

 

 

 

 

Elementary Chapter Books

    

Middle School

 

 

 

 

High School

At the beginning of the year, our elementary school librarian sets up a showcase featuring all of the picture books and intermediate titles. The top shelf showcases a photocopy of the book standing up. The books are in such demand, a representative has to take its place. The bottom shelf houses the copies. Students are allowed to open the case and take one from the pile to check-out.  At any given time, a quick glance tells you the books are popular.

The program doesn’t stop there. The librarian begins the school year by introducing the books to each class in an exciting way. For the little kids, it might be a video introduction. For the older kids, it might be a letter from the author. PYP/IB schools call this a “provocative introduction” because it peaks your interest and makes you want to know more.

Many teachers purchase class sets for their students. Some classes do projects centered around the story. Many teachers make the books required reading. Older students do reviews and post them to the school’s Schoology website. The books might be part of a literature circle. They may become part of an after school book club. They may become part of a reading competition between classes. They may be chosen for a teacher’s read aloud time.

Our librarian, and every librarian out there, offers student incentives for reading. The incentives may come in the form of reading contests, where the winning class is rewarded with an ice cream party. Or there might be banners hung in the library listing the names of students and the titles they’ve read.

Teachers get in on the act, too. They may have bulletin boards featuring book elements and plots. Classes may have book talks with other grades. Parents may be invited for a read-in with their child. Students from 5th grade may read picture books to 1st grade partners. There are also volunteer community members who might read to a student one-on-one or a student may read to the volunteer. And we can’t forget the PTO. Members running the book fairs may offer the Morning Calm titles for sale.

Anyway you look at it, these books are the talk of the school for an entire school year.

The librarian at our elementary school estimates 50% of the student body reads the featured titles. Keep in mind that the little ones generally aren’t part of those statistics, meaning the upper elementary grades make up the bulk of the reading.

At the end of the year, students vote on their favorite titles. Each student must have read 4 of the 5 titles to be eligible to vote. Numbers are crunched from the participating schools and a winner in each category is announced. Winning books receive the Morning Calm Medal and shouting rights for placing first.

The most important thing? The exposure our students receive for a year of great reading. Check back in May when all the votes are in!