Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: EyeSeeMe bookstore, University City MO

Two years ago, we interviewed the owners of EyeSeeMe in St. Louis(www.eyeseeme.com) which was and still is the country’s only African-American children’s bookstore. We’re returning today to celebrate the store’s unique mission and congratulate the owners on its success in its four short years.

Like many founders of independent bookstores, Pamela and Jeffrey Blair had little experience in the business when they started in 2015, just a passionate vision of what a bookstore could be. As the store’s name suggests, they wanted to provide a place where children could find stories about and by people who looked like them, stories they would feel part of and be eager to read.
But their vision was even larger. When Pamela was a girl, she treasured the wonderful stories her father told her about glorious cultural heroes of Africa. Yet her children were coming home from school saying that all they heard about in history was slavery and segregation and civil rights, with blacks mostly the passive victims. Pamela and Jeffrey wanted their children, and all children, to know the positive cultural heritage of African Americans. They knew it would not only make them eager to read, but inspire them growing up.

EyeSeeMe has a solid collection of books about slavery and civil rights of course, including those about the African-American heroes in that history. But here is a small sampling of the books you won’t find just everywhere.

How about Africa is Not a Country, by Margie Burns Knight which shows how contemporary kids live in various countries across the African continent? Or The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Ann Cameron? African Folk Tales, by Hugh Vernon-Jackson is a good introduction to traditional stories.

For general African American History, try 100 African Americans Who Shaped American History, by Christine Beckner or A Kid’s Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders.

EyeSeeMe carries countless compelling biographies, including Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the Zora and Me books by T.R. Simon (based on the early life off Nore Zeale Hurston, and The Undefeated,
by Kwame Alexander.

Poetry books include One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes and My Black Me: A Beginning Book of Black Poetry, edited by Arnold Adoff.

 

What Color is My World?: The Lost History of American Inventors, by Kareem Abdul Jabbar,  and Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margot Lee Sheerly explore the little-recognized contributions to science  African Americans have made.

Of course for middle-graders there have to be series! One in great demand at the shop is Miles Morales, The Ultimate Spiderman, by Brian Michal Bendis.  The Robyn Hoodlum Adventure Series by Kekla Magoon cleverly reworks the Robin Hood Legend. Spy on History, by Enigma Albert is a lively historical chapter book series.  .

The store  has extended its outreach with book fairs in area schools.  Don’t live in the St. Louis area?  They also arrange on-line book fairs for groups and schools

EyeSeeMe has definitely inspired its readers.  When Sydney Keys III’s mom took him to the store, he started picking up books he couldn’t put down, and he got an idea. Why not start a boys’ book club?  So at age 11 he founded “Books and Bros,” meeting at the shop. The club started with seven members and grew into a large group of boys from the area. They now wear “Books and Bros” T-shirts and agree that reading rocks. In the process of leading “Books and Bros,” Sydney has overcome his tendency to stutter. He has also appeared on Steve Harvey’s Show, and earned on-air praise from Oprah Winfrey.

One of the things that has surprised and gratified the Blairs is the number of people who are not African American who come to  the store.  This includes parents who bring their preschoolers to story hours, wanting them to know these stories, too.

EyeSeeMe’s popularity has made it possible to move  to a newer, larger space recently.  Now they can hold more author events and classes.  They are also expanding their collections to include more bilingual books and stories about Latino, Asian, and Muslim people.

So give your hope a boost. Visit EyeSeeMe at the shop or online in the very near future!  It is a treasure for all who imagine an inclusive America where everyone can grow up proud of their own heritage and aware and respectful of the heritage of others.

 

 

Indie Spotlight: Stories Bookshop, Brooklyn

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files:  I love the full name of this unique children’s bookstore in Brooklyn—Stories Bookshop & Storytelling Lab (www.storiesbk.com) It’s a place that encourages kids not only to read good stories, but to make them!.   We’re talking today with Maggie Pouncey, co-owner:

MUF: Some people are inspired to open a bookstore because their town needs to have one. Brooklyn has several, yet there was nothing like the store you imagined, a bookshop with a storytelling “lab.”   Please tell us a little about your vision and how you are carrying it out.
Maggie:We believe sharing stories with your children is the surest lifelong gift you can give them, particularly in this digitally saturated age we live in. Brooklyn is a city filled with young families with tons of activities for kids, but it had no children’s only bookshop.

We loved the idea of these two symbiotic spaces—the small curated shop where you could find new books you’d never seen before, and the Storytelling Lab, which would be a community gathering place where stories were made, shared, and told. My husband, Matt Miller, and I spent a couple months writing our business plan —we needed one to apply for a small business loan—and we spent much of that time clarifying our mission for Stories, how we wanted the place to feel, and how we wanted it to serve in young readers lives and the lives of their families.

MUF: How do you choose what books to carry in your shop? Do you have some favorite themes?
Maggie: Because our shop is so small —smaller than the children’s section in many general interest bookstores!—we have to say no to a lot of things. Our largest sections are for picture books and board books, and/but we have thriving graphic novel and middle grade sections as well.

We also have a robust section of feminist books and books about change-makers; with so many good titles coming out inspiring kids to be activists, we even have an Activist Book Club people can subscribe to. We just love good stories! And books that have the kind of timelessness all great literature doe

MUF: As middle- grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new and old, fiction and nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to this age-group?
Maggie: We sell a lot of books by Brooklyn authors! Our bestselling middle grade books have been The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown—such wonderful stories and can work as read-alouds to kids as young as 5 or 6.  We sell a lot of the fabulous mystery/ghost story, Greenglass House,

by Kate Milford. And the great memoir-in-poetry Brown Girl Dreamingby Jaqueline Woodson. (All three from Brooklyn!) We also sell a lot of beloved series —Harry Potter of course, and we’ve been very enamored of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow; Wings of Fire(and anything dragons!); Wildwood;The Penderwicks; in graphic novels Amulet, Lumberjanes, all the Raina Telgemeier books.

MUF: What’s happening at the upcoming meeting of your Middle Grade Book Club?  Do middle-grade authors make appearances at your shop?
Maggie:Our Middle Grade Book Club for kids 8-12 meets once a month, and we read and discuss classics, graphic novels and new favorites. When it’s a local author we invite them to come! Peter Brown and Kate Milford have come. Karina Yan Glaser came to talk with us about the first book in her wonderful series set in Harlem, NYC, The Vanderbeekers. Last month we discussed Jacqueline Woodson’s powerful new novel, Harbor Me, and she came to talk with the group which was thrilling for the kids! This month we’re reading Dave Eggers’s new middle grade fantasy adventure, The Lifters, and after that we’ll do an awesome new graphic novel, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner.

MUF: Tell us something about your writing workshops for this age group, past and future. Have you spawned some writers?
Maggie: It may be a bit too soon to know if we’ve helped usher in a new generation of Brooklyn writers—but we certainly hope we do 🙂 We teach an art class called Mini-Makers for babies and it’s such fun to watch  them explore new materials and make a very good mess making gorgeous art!

The graphic novelist Justin LaRocca Hansen teaches an amazing Graphic Novel Class for kids 7-12, and they really explore every part of the process, from idea, to penciling, to inking, to presenting their work to a live audience of their families!

We host a Storytime 6-days a week —on week-days led by our staff and on Sundays featuring an author or illustrator who shares a book and often does a drawing demonstration for us. I’m off right now to introduce Jessie Sima and her new picture book, Love, Z! These are such a lively and warm mornings, and I do hope they are showing the kids who come week after week the joy of making things.

MUF: If a family from out of town makes a day-trip to visit Stories Bookshop, are there family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or a meal afterwards?   And if they can stay longer, are there some nearby sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Maggie: Absolutely! Brooklyn is filled with family-friendly diversions and eateries! Just around the corner from us is Bklyn Larder—a delicious stop for lunch.  The bakery Ovenly offers tons of sweets treats. We’re also in walking distance from both Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, lovely places to spend an afternoon walking or kicking a ball.

Brooklyn is a great walking city, and it’s the best way to see all the different neighborhoods. Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the Brooklyn Museum are not to be missed.

MUF:   Thanks, Maggie, for making time for this interview, and for inspiring us with your vision of kids of all ages reading and creating stories.

 

Indie Spotlight: da Shop, Honolulu, Hawai‘i

At long last Honolulu has an independent bookstore, da Shop,  featuring children’s books!  Hooray! Bess Press, a highly-regarded regional publisher in the Kaimuki district, opened da Shop (https//dashophnl.com) this spring and is carrying three main kinds of books: best sellers, Hawaiiana, and children’s and young adult. We’re talking today with David DeLuca, store manager.

MUF: After years of nimble marketing as successful regional publishers in Honolulu, what inspired you to go retail and turn your showroom space into a general bookstore ?
DD: – The impetus for creating an independent bookshop came from conversations from customers and community members. We often seek dialogue with the folks we aim to create books for and often times the conversation would turn to the desire for a local, community bookstore. That was something we felt too was lacking, predominately because of what this kind of retail represents; a place for gathering, conversation, a sharing space of knowledge and ideas for all ages. So we took the time to do some research and look at various book retailing models, traditional and contemporary, and came up with the concept for da Shop. And now three years later here we are with a 1,000sq ft bookshop that is focusing on celebrating literature, regionally, nationally and nationally.

MUF: Besides your own Bess Press books, what kinds of things are you featuring at Da Shop? How do you choose what to carry?
DD: As a 39-year old publisher, of education and popular interest content, it was important for us to highlight a book selection that was celebratory of the work done within our industry. All the titles we carry have received some special merit or recognition for the quality of editorial, design/illustration, or something else. Our goal was to truly have a selection divided into thirds that pulled, what we feel, a diverse selection of noteworthy titles. All our titles in our children and juvenile section for example, cover contemporary issues and dynamics and have received high praise from credible sources such as School Library Journal, American Library Association, or other reliable reviewers that most directly work with the age groups of readers those titles are targeted towards.
The other emphasis for us as a brick-and-mortar was to create a space that was hospitable, inviting, and intimate. To do this, we placed a high value on design so that we could maintain that “showroom” style, but also offer areas for kids, adults too, to sit down and explore a book. Reading and literature is meant to be experienced, so we wanted to make that come full circle from our curated title selection to the environment that offered those titles.

MUF: Earlier in the summer, you set up the on-site bookstore for the Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii’s Children at Chaminade, where you displayed and sold a great variety of favorite children’s fiction, nonfiction, and picture books. Will you being doing the same in the children’s section of your shop?
DD:
Our collective goal, as book buyers and staff is to routinely read through the reviews and nationally recognized works that come out each year. Emphasis for us is to provide a combination of classics and new titles that can be categorized together and also promote each other. We cannot make every title available, but by making ourselves knowledgeable of the variety of literature out there, we can better help inform our customers. We regularly rotate our title selection so that it can be seasonally appropriate, but also so that we can have titles available in the event we are able to participate in a conference or another event.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know: what are some of the titles, new and classic, fiction and nonfiction you are currently selling or recommending to readers aged 8 to 12?
DD:
Well, being an independent bookstore in Hawaii we perhaps exemplify regional better than anywhere else. This idea simply due to our remoteness. So our emphasis is always to find interesting content that local readers can relate to or are interested in. After doing that, we then try to pair titles with similar or like themes that are on a national or international thread.
We are trying to capture a good variety of fiction and non-fiction as it relates to middle-grade readers, as well as capture the wide range of readability amongst this group. At the moment a handful of titles we are carrying that covers this range are:
A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Inside Out & Back Again by Thannha Lai
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Ghosts  and Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Pax by Sara Pennypacker

 Titles on the higher independent reader side include:
Vincent and Theo, The Van Gogh
Brothers
by Deborah Heiligman and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

MUF: Owner/founders of independent bookstores always have a bookstore ideal they try to make real. What’s your dream for your bookstore? What atmosphere do you want to create?
DD:
I think all business owners need to have a dream built into their philosophy and one that that they can routinely aspire towards. For me, and my co-owners, our dream was to create an environment that celebrates the entire book, from editorial conception through artistic design and print-production. We wanted to create a space that folks could gather in and have a conversation, or simply sit quietly and browse through a book.
By building da Shop so that it opens up into our book warehouse and packaging fulfillment, folks can see that “behind-the-scenes” reality of distributing books. This also allows for us to lend our space towards events that cater to the community and the bookshop as a community resource. Developing weekly events, that can make the themes presented inside the books we carry, we are striving toward regularly offering immersive experiences that provoke thought and discussion. To us, this celebratory concept combined with offering events helps us take one step toward our dream of opening an environment that encourages children, young adults and adults to engage and be readers who think.

MUF: Please tell us about events and activities coming up at Da Shop, particularly those that might be of interest to middle-graders.
DD: Well, our event calendar is constantly changing with new and interesting happenings, so it is important to check out our website’s events page to see what is happening currently. This next month a few things we are doing are with the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators workshop (August 18, details at hawaii.scbwi.org), a Yoga story time, and our middle-graders book club is beginning in September. There is more to come as we continue to develop partnerships with other business and organizations that offer services with subjects of interest to young readers.

MUF:  Thank you David.  One of the joys of doing these Indie spotlights is discovering even more books I need to read.  Think I’ll stop by tomorrow for a copy of Bao Phi’s A Different Pond.
Readers, when you visit Honolulu, be sure to check out da Shop!