Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Blue Bunny Books & Toys, Dedham MA

Today we’re talking with Janet Reynolds who was General Manager of The Blue Bunny (www.bluebunnybooks.com) from its opening in 2003 until 2015 and is currently the Events and Publicity Coordinator for the store.

Blue Bunny logo #2MUF: A number of successful children’s authors seem to be opening bookstores, often in their hometowns.  Please tell us the story of why and how Peter H. Reynolds started Blue Bunny Books and Toys (including where the name comes from).
Janet: Our hometown of Dedham, MA was without a bookstore when Peter and his twin brother (my husband, Paul) noticed an empty storefront in the center of town, back in 2003. This was just at the time of publication of his book The Dot, which has gone on to be a bestseller with a huge following among both kids and adults.  With a big vision for that little space, but no retail experience, they signed a lease and we proceeded to stumble our way through figuring out how to open a business, renovate the space, stock it with inventory and fill the bookstore void in our town.  screenshot_6Blue unny frontThe name is a nod to the historic Dedham pottery which was made in our town in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is well-known for the cobalt blue rabbit pattern on a signature crackle-glazed base.

MUF:What kind of atmosphere do you try to create in your shop?  What do you want visitors to experience? 
Janet: We say we’re the little shop with a big mission — to inspire creativity in kids and grown-up kids.  We want our customers to feel a friendly, positive vibe when they come in.  Our current location (we moved one block in 2007) is an old-fashioned space with original tin ceilings, hardwood floors and bead board walls.  We want kids and grown-up kids to be inspired to read, write and create.  We also host a free storytime for preschoolers every Monday and Tuesday morning at 10:30 (except for December), and we want families to feel comfortable Blue Bunny familyand welcomed  in our store.

MUF: Peter H. Reynolds emphasizes the creative process and likes to help others be creative.  How is that reflected in your shop?  Please tell us a bit about your children’s magazine, Hutch.
Janet; Besides the books in our shop, we always make sure to have art supplies and other creative materials on hand.  One of our best selling items (and what Peter always tells kids is his “favorite book,” is the “blank book” — a hardbound blank journal with white covers.  We started HUTCH magazine at the store (now with the additional help of the family nonprofit — The Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity), soon after we moved into our new space in 2007.  The idea came to us from one of our customers, Nancy Marsh, who still serves as our editor. screenshot_6Blue Bunny HutchWe publish twice a year and accept submissions from elementary and middle-school aged kids: art, Blue Bunny Hutch #2stories, poetry, interviews, book reviews, comics, photography and other creative pieces.  Our publication parties are some of our favorite nights of the year, when we get to boost the confidence of our young contributors, celebrate their creativity, and encourage them to keep making their mark!
MUF: Naturally all of Peter’s books are available at the Blue Bunny.  How do select the other books to carry in your shop? 
Janet: One of the benefits of having a small shop is that we get to be selective in what we carry.

Peter signs Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold for fans

Peter signs Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold for fans

Yes, we proudly sell all of Peter’s books, and they are certainly our bestsellers, along with his prints and posters.  But we also keep a broad range of books in stock.  Each bookseller at the store is deeply entrenched in the children’s book world, and is encouraged to suggest titles for purchase.  We try to keep a mix of classic titles, current bestsellers and personal favorites in all age categories: board books, early readers, middle-grade and YA.  Fiction and non-fiction — we have a little bit of everything.  Although we carry primarily children’s books, we do also have a growing selection of books for adults, especially since we merged with our local coffee shop, Mocha Java, last fall, and now have more adult customers coming in each day.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending to readers eight to twelve these days?
Janet: We spend a lot of time trying to match kids with the right books for them, so there’s no specific mix of titles that we recommend.  We find some kids are loving non-fiction (the “Who Was?” series is very popular) and others are huge fans of many of the other popular contemporary fiction or fantasy series right now.  Blue Bunny Grace LinBlue Bunny Holly Goldberg SloanI personally love middle-grade books — so it’s very hard to narrow down my favorites. I do always Bleu Bunny Gary Schmidtrecommend the works of Roald Dahl, Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, and Grace Lin. Some recent books I’ve loved have been by Sheila Turnage, Rebecca Stead, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Gregory Maguire, and Gary Schmidt.

Blue Bunny poptropicaMUF: Do your have any author visits or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Janet: Our event schedule at The Blue Bunny keeps getting busier and busier, and we have several that will appeal to middle graders. We have a lot going on!!Friday, March 11th: 4:30 p.m. Meet Kory Merritt, illustrator of the new graphic novel Poptropica series by Jack ChabertSaturday May 7th, at 2 p.m.

Lisa Yee celebrates Wonder Woman at Super Hero High

Blue Bunny Nick & Tesla

Nick & Tesla; Special Effects Spectacular

Lisa Yee will be visiting to celebrate the debut of Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, the first book in her new series with DC Comics.
Saturday, May 21st, 2:30 p.m. Bob Pflugfelder will be with us to share the newest book in his popular Nick and Tesla science series for kids, and he will be doing a science demonstration as part of the program.
Saturday, June 4th, we have a great middle-grade author panel scheduled with MarcyKate Connolly, Jen Malone, Claire Legrand and Dana Allison Levy.

And we’re still finalizing dates for events with Anna Staniszewski, Ammi-Joan Paquette and some others. We’re already planning for the midnight party we are going to have on July 30th this summer for the release of the new Harry Potter book too!

MUF: Please describe the neighborhood of your shop and nearby places of interest for out of town visitors.  Are there family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? 
Janet: We love our little town of Dedham! The Blue Bunny is located in Dedham Square, the central commercial district in town. Blue Bunny car It’s a typical New England town with lots of historic interest. Right across the street from our store is the Dedham Community Theatre, one of the last independent cinemas around. We have lots of good places to eat within walking distance, including Ron’s Ice Cream (from March through October) — chosen third-best ice cream parlor in the world in National Geographic’s “Ten Best of Everything” back in 2007.  We’ve got the Dedham Square Artists Guild for art lovers, a farmer’s market every Wednesday from June through October, and The Dedham Historical Society Museum is just up the street.  And we’ve now got a coffee shop right inside The Blue Bunny!

Readers, have you been to Blue Bunny Books? Dedham Square is only a short hop from Boston, so treat yourself to a visit to this unique store next time you’re in town!

Sue Cowing is the author of puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harper UK 2014)

Indie Spotlight: Hooray! Indie Bookshops are Thriving

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For the new year, here’s a retrospective of bookstores we spotlighted in 2015, recalling a special feature or two of each and a couple of their favorite books for middle-graders.
The shops we featured are all over the country (well, okay, two are in Oregon). Some are new and already doing well, and one claims to be the country’s oldest continuously operating shop. Most are in small or mid-size towns or neighborhoods, and many were founded by first-time booksellers simply determined that their community would have a bookstore.   They thrive by knowing their readers, that stubborn and growing tribe who like to hold physical books in their hands and talk about them with real people who know and love books.
The great thing about independent bookstores is that they’re free to create whatever atmosphere they imagine and to choose what books to buy and promote. If you have discovered a shop you love, support them by going there often to hang out, buy and enjoy. Since each bookshop is a unique experience though, you also might want to “collect” those experiences, seeking out shops in your region and wherever you travel, and taking a middle-grader or two along.
How about one of these?

screenshot_51–Bookends, Kailua, Hawaii (through the tunnel from Honolulu)
Interview  with owner /manager Pat Banning in January 2015, who says the secret lies in being “just big enough.”Heap Magyk
Features: general collection of new and used, but strong in children’s. Lots of fantasy and screenshot_49hard to find older books like Raggedy Ann and some early Nancy Drew .
Pat recommends: Magyk by Angie Sage and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley

writers block logo sign #5–Writer’s Block, Las Vegas (www.writersblock.org)
Interview with  Drew Cohen in February 2015, who says of the store’s writer’s workshops: “middle-graders are often the most fun to work with.”screenshot_52WB Battle Bunny
Features: a new store, with a woodshop and fascinating artificial bird sanctuary and adoption program.
Drew recommends: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieska and Mac Barnett, and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine.

Octavia logoOctavia Books, New Orleans (www.octaviabooks.com)
Interview with co-owner Judith Lafitte in March, 2015bookstore waterfall
Features: It’s not every bookstore that has an atrium with a waterfall or served as a “port in the storm” after Hurricane Katrina.Octavia Ms. RapscottOctavia Imaginary
Judith recommends: Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elsie Primavera and The Imaginary by A.F. Harold.

square books logoSquare Books, Junior, Oxford MS (www.squarebooks.com/junior)
Interview with Paul Fyke in April 2015
Features: Called ‘an independent among independents,” it strives to be welcoming with couches and play spaces rather than having a commercial look.Square Books How they croakedSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret
Paul recommends: The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch and How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Annie B's gift cardAnnie Bloom’s, Portland Oregon (www.anniebloomsbooks.com)
Interview with  children’s author and bookseller Rosanne Parry in May, 2015
Features: Part of the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood. Has a spinning rack of unabridged classics. The store cat’s name is. . .Annie Bloom.Annie Bloom's poisoned applesAnnie Bloom's Brchbark House
Rosanne recommends: Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich and Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman
Stone Alley logoStone Alley Books & Collectables, Galesburg IL
Interview with  Ben Stomberg, founder/owner/manager in June 2015 .
Features: Ben went into the bookstore business when the town’s only bookstore closed. Strong in fiction, YA, and children’s books Stone Alley. Silversteinand has a growing stone alley blumeselection of comics. Recently merged with the local gaming store to their mutual benefit.
Ben recommends: ” you can’t go wrong with classics” like Where the Sidewalk Ends or anything by Judy Blume.

Crious Iguana logoCurious Iguana, Frederick Maryland (www.curiousiguana.com)
Interview with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner in July 2015
Features: Just two-and-a-half years old and thriving. Diverse and globally focused books. Curious Iguana WarA screenshot_53percentage of monthly sales goes to global nonprofits.
Marlene recommends: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker and The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

imagesBeach Books, Seaside Oregon
Rosanne Parry’s interview with owner screenshot_55Karen Emerling in November, 2015
Features: Monthly Lunch in the Loft series with regional authors. Carries many local authors and books related to the coast.

screenshot_05Once Upon a Time, Montrose CA
Interview with Maureen Palacios in December 2015
Features: The oldest continuous children’s bookshop in the country and never had a better year, Noted for their lively window displays. screenshot_28Décor and screenshot_30music have the more sophisticated child in mind.
Maureen recommends: Crenshaw by Catherine Applegate and Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff.

Readers, have you visited any of these shops?  Do you have another favorite you think MUF should spotlight?

Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu and is the author of puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

Indie Spotlight: Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck + Millerton, NY

Here at MUF, we love celebrating great independent bookstores (read our spotlights on Once Upon a Time, Fountainhead Bookstore and more). Continuing the tradition, we turn today to Oblong Books & Music in Upstate New York. Suzanna Hermans, Oblong’s co-owner and manager of the Rhinebeck store, talks to Andrea Pyros about the state of the publishing industry, her favorite new middle grade books and how she sees Oblong’s role in the community.

Mixed-Up Files: Can you tell us the history of Oblong and what led you to launch a second store?
Suzanna Hermans: Our store first opened in Millerton, NY in 1975 in a very tiny storefront. Over the years we expanded into the space we now occupy, in two buildings with three floors of books. In 2001 we were approached by a landlord doing some property development in Rhinebeck, and we were able to design our store from scratch; everything from the carpet to the windows. We opened that second store in September 2001, and expanded it in 2011.

Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY

Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY

MUF: Can you talk about Oblong’s goals? Introduce people to new books and music? Make a gathering space for book lovers in the community? Support authors?
SH: All of the above! We think of our store as a place where people can discover new ideas and gather to discuss them and meet like-minded folks. All are welcome.

MUF: Do your two stores have different personalities? Do you order different titles for them, or generally you’re carrying the same books and music at both locations?
SH: Though the stores’ stock is almost identical, they have very different personalities. Millerton is sprawling over three floors, with lots of nooks and crannies and crooked wood floors and built-in bookcases. Rhinebeck is all on one level, carpeted, and with matching fixtures. We like to think we have the best of both worlds: a quirky old bookstore and a shiny new one.

Oblong author event with Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Kate Wetherhead of Jack & Louisa

Oblong author event with Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Kate Wetherhead of Jack & Louisa

MUF: You do author events often at Oblong. How do you decide what events to have? Are they an important part of what makes Oblong Oblong?
SH: In 2015 we had over 120 author events, so they are a big part of what we do. We have such a wonderful rich wealth of local authors, and also bring in nationally touring authors, as well as many authors from New York City since we are a reasonably short train ride away. When choosing which events to book, we look mostly at the author’s connections to our local area, as well as the subject matter. Is it something our customers are interested in and a genre that sells well for us?

MUF: How do you feel about the state of the publishing industry and the state of independent booksellers? Or do you feel hopeful about where we’re at and where we’re headed?
SH: This is a very exciting time to be an independent bookseller. We survived Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and ebooks and in recent years sales have been extremely strong. I think there will be a renaissance of more small stores opening as the economy rebounds and more people realize what a bookstore can bring to a community.

George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino

MUF: Since we’re a middle grade blog, we’d love to hear what you loved recently for middle grade readers.
SH: Middle-grade was one of our strongest growth categories in 2015! We adore middle grade books. I recently loved The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Alex Gino’s George.
The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.