Note: In response to the virus crisis, The Bookworm will be open for its usual hours, but with the following changes to help everyone shop safely. They are postponing all in-store book clubs, to be resumed in the future. Staff is increasing cleaning of surfaces, credit card machines, door handles, bathrooms, etc. For those keeping their distance, The Bookworm will ship books anywhere in the country at $2 less than the going shipping rate, and will ship orders of $100 or more for free. They will make free contact-less courier deliveries three days a week within nearby zip codes. Customers may also arrange to pay by phone and get curbside pick-up. For further information, please go to bookwormomaha.com.
[This interview took place before the Coronavirus became pandemic, so some of the discussion below of book clubs and nearby sites to visit should be kept in mind for the future.]
What better place for a bookworm to visit than a store called The Bookworm? We’re talking today with their Children’s and Young Adult’s Manager, Hannah Amrollahi.
MUF: It’s always a delight to see an independent bookstore that’s been going for a while (since 1986). You’re not only surviving, but thriving. What keeps you going?
Hannah: Community support allows the Bookworm to thrive. We can host programming of all kinds and stock magnificent books, but without community support and engagement we wouldn’t be here. Omahans continue to show they want vibrant, physical spaces, and we are so appreciative. People drive everything we do.
MUF: What do you want readers to experience when they visit The Bookworm? You and your staff seem to have especially strong backgrounds in books and education. How do you help readers find their next favorite book?
Hannah: We strive to greet every person as they enter the store and offer assistance before they leave, because that is a basis of hospitality. Conversations between people, readers and booksellers, are personable in a way algorithms cannot be. Our favorite question to ask customers is “what was the last book you read and loved?” and let the conversation flow from there. We offer the opportunity to find something similar, but equally important, something new, niche, or related. When readers visit, I hope they leave with a sense of wonder, energy to carry into their reading, and a book they will love.
A strong background in education helps booksellers find the right books for a burgeoning reader, where their reading level and interest has taken root. The majority of sales in children’s are gifts, they are not for the customer themselves, and so we want to bring that expertise to assist. The Bookworm has a strong staff connection to Montessori, and independent learning, teaching, and reading are also strongly connected.
MUF: What’s a good day at Bookworm for you?
Hannah: The best moment I have is when I hand a book to a child and their eyes light up in excitement. A very close second is handing a book to an adult and hearing them say, “oh, this is perfect!” for the child in their life. This interaction looks a lot of different ways now that I manage as well as hand-sell. Sometimes it’s an email to a local school letting them know the books for their author event have arrived. It can be the jitters in a volunteer’s hand picking up advanced readers donations for a local charity. If we’re having an event it can be the hectic pace in a line. Regardless, it is always the best part of my day.
MUF: Bookworm seems to be book club central! You have over a hundred external book clubs getting discounts and seventeen in-store adult clubs for many different interests. That suggests strong community connections. Last, but definitely not least, is your monthly Very Newbery book club for middle graders. What‘s the next selection Very Newbery is reading?Hannah: We love book clubs! All of our store ones are open to new members, so we are constantly meeting new people and enjoying the chatter about a book.
The Very Newbery club was started last summer and we’ll resume it in 2020! I would love to read the 2019 Newbery, New Kid by Jerry Craft, since it’s the first graphic novel in the category. It would be a joy to hear what kids think about this milestone.
Currently, we work with a local parochial school for the Chat N’ Chew bookclub and the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a Young Adult Literature class. Both have several titles, as they span across grades, but for February I love Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and Front Desk by Kelly Yang. The first is a zany and lesser-known title by a big-hit author (remember Because of Winn-Dixie?). The second is an own-voices title that paints a realistic and poignant picture of immigration in the United States in its highs and lows.
MUF: One of the great things about independent bookstores is that the books you carry are curated by people who know books and not just business. Please tell us some titles, new or old, fiction, poetry, or nonfiction you find yourselves recommending these days to readers ages 9-12?
Hannah: Nine to twelve is such a great age. Here are a few of my favorites.
New: Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwotiz is the type of book we have on hand because I fell in love with its quirky fun. A light read featuring an “evil” daughter dealing with a host of villagers, a sickly father, and a whittle-witch, it will enchant readers with variations on tried and true tropes while incorporating surprisingly real-world themes of privilege, family expectations, and reparation.
Old: A musty church. A mysterious visitor. The Letter for the King. I discovered this 1962 classic from Tonke Dragt, whose own life is a fascinating study of her time, after the Netflix movie announcement revived interest. It has so much to offer, amazing out-loud, fantastic syntax reflective of its translation from Dutch, short chapters that make it fit easily into any schedule, and truly endearing characters struggling with the most basic, and most important, moral decisions. When can you share a secret? To what do you owe a promise? An all-ages book I only wish I had read earlier so I could be re-reading it sooner!
Nonfiction: I have some newer titles I love, but All of Us: a Young People’s History of the World from Yvan Pommaux and Christophe Ylla-Somers is still my favorite world history for this age group. The over-sized, beautifully illustrated hardcover has the literal weight of history. The authors tell a linear story of humanity that focuses more narrowly on America and Europe only in the near present. Time becomes a third character that moves the book around the globe, placing the Bering Strait migration, the development of Chinese writing, the Indus Valley, and early Crete together on glorious spread. History is messy, but this book achieves a robust introduction and a questioning tone that will provoke curiosity.
MUF: If families visit your store from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near by for a snack or a meal after shopping? And if they can stay a little longer, what are some unique sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Hannah: Omaha makes an extremely family-friendly vacation. Down the sidewalk from The Bookworm is the Market Basket restaurant, a local establishment, and within a few minutes’ drive is a local bakery and restaurant, Le Quartier. For a longer day, there is the Joslyn Art Museum, a free-entrance museum with outdoor sculpture garden and children’s room, the Omaha Children’s Museum, and award-winning children’s theater company, The Rose. Area parks are spread out across neighborhoods, whose old “small town” main streets have kept their individual flavor as the metropolitan area grew. Dundee, Florence Mill, and the award-winning 24th Street Mural Corridor celebrate Omaha’s diverse communities.
Finally, The Old Market downtown features red cobblestones and vibrant businesses tucked into historic buildings. The Durham Museum downtown features full-scale historic train cars and interactive exhibits. Ending the downtown tour at Ted & Wally’s homemade ice cream and Hollywood Candy bookend the day. Check out Visit Omaha, Omaha Magazine, and Nebraskaland for features and ideas!
MUF: Now that we’re all trying to stay home, what a great time to read, and we hope you discovered some titles in this discussion. It’s also a critical time to support independent bookstores like The Bookworm, yes? Read and support, a win-win!