Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Anyone who thinks children’s bookstores are becoming a thing of the past probably needs to get out in the country more!  True, some wonderful old favorites are no longer with us, but others are doing just fine and wonderful new ones keep springing up, even in these recent hard times.  Today we’re talking to owner Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do in Clarence,  New York, whose small-town shop is just over three years old  and  has already become an asset  to the community and  earned the 2012 Pannel Prize for Children’s Specialty Bookstore from The Women’s National Book Association.
Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s always a pleasure to discover a new—and thriving—children’s bookstore. What led you to start one up in Clarence, New York?
Kim: Our three children inspired me to open a children’s business.  I had the wonderful opportunity to stay at home with them for the first five years and then wanted to share with them a passion I had to give back to our community, teach them the importance of following a dream and work to inspire other families with a love of reading and lifetime learning.
MUF:Describe the atmosphere in Monkey See, Monkey Do.
Kim: It’s a very warm, charming and creative space.  Both children and adults alike love to look at the books and enjoy the building.  Our bookstore is housed in a historic 1840’s building with timber beams in the young adult/adult book room.  There are six cozy rooms in which books are shelved, tables are set up and classes are held.  People are very curious about the history of the building, it is said to have ties to the Underground Railroad.
MUF: How do you select the books to carry at Monkey See, Monkey Do? What are some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction, that you recommend to middle-graders?
Kim: I spend a lot of time reviewing advanced titles provided by independent authors and publishers.  I follow our regional book groups and the American Booksellers Association for reviews.  I love finding unique, indie titles that I can bring into the store and tie a program around.  One of my favorite titles is Wonder by RJ Palacio, I absolutely love this book and highly recommend children in grades 5 and up along with parents/adults to read it!  It’s an inspiring story about a 5th grade boy who has a facial deformity  and is homeschooled up until the 5th grade.  The story switches narrative throughout the book as we journey along with Auggie, the main character through his first year of transition in public school.  Some newly released picture books that I am a huge fan of are:  Big by Coleen Paratore, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, What Does it Mean to be Present by Rana DiOrio  and Say Helloby Jack & Michael Foreman. Our Gorilla Girls Book Club (Gr. 5 and up) has been reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, and the Bright Monkeys Literacy Club (Grades 3-6) is reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  

Gorilla Girls Book Club

MUF: The Pannel Prize folks cited your “innovative approaches to getting kids engaged with reading.” That seems like an understatement. Monkey See, Monkey Do has a strong commitment to promoting literacy and acts on it by holding a number of literacy classes and activities, even individual tutoring sessions. Tell us about some of those efforts and the community response.
Kim:We truly believe we “bring our books to life” through the variety of creative, literacy-based classes we offer each month.  This past summer we held over 40+ to inspire children to creatively engage in literature.  This Fall we began a new venture in partnering with schools in our After-School Literacy Clubs in which we offer a 6-week literacy club led by a

Reading to each other on National Star Wars Reads Day

NYS certified teacher where children practice reading aloud, work on cadence, pace, vocabulary-building and comprehension.  Children discuss the reading each week, practice journal writing and reflective questions.  In this current session we are running in the schools, the last class will end with a very special author Skype in which children can engage directly with the author to learn about what inspired them to write their book and question the author directly.

MUF:Your book camps sound fun and popular, and you hold them not only in the summer but also during school breaks throughout the year. What have been a couple of your most memorable ones?
Kim: That is a tough question, I have so many fantastic memories from many of our camps but here’s a few that really stick out:
  • Art Safari – children spend a full week reading about a new artist each day and then working on an art project inspired by that particular artisan’s work.

    Art Safari

  • Cupcake Diaries – a full week camp in which children formed reading circles each day to complete reading, creating cupcake journals and writing entries that tied in with their reading and discussions and ended each day with a cupcake decorations lesson by a pastry artist.  The children learned a new cupcake recipe each day, worked on frosting/decorating skills and then enjoyed their work!
  • Let’s Go To Spain – a full day camp reading about Spanish culture, learning new vocabulary, enjoying Spanish treat and engaging in a role-playing skit.
MUF: All this community involvement and teaching and operating a bookstore, too! You must have some good help and/or very little sleep!
Kim: Yes, that is true!  We have an absolutely amazing staff of devoted teachers, employees, artisans and interns from local colleges that offer their time, talent and energy!  And yes….little sleep these days in juggling our family and the business.
MUF: Many towns have no bookstore at all, much less a children’s bookstore. If an out-of-town family decided to make an excursion to Monkey See, Monkey Do, would there be any places for them to have a snack or a bite to eat after browsing?
Kim: Yes, right in the back of our bookstore is a charming restaurant called The Carriage House.  It’s steps away from our bookstore and offers a wonderful lunch menu.
MUF: Are any special events planned at Monkey See, Monkey Do (or in Clarence) for Halloween or November?
Kim: Yes!  Next week we are hosting our 4th Annual Storybook Halloween Party in which we encourage families and children to dress up as their favorite storybook character and come to our free event that features free crafts, sweet treats and two local authors that will be reading their book and signing copies!
In November,  we will be hosting our 4th annual Black Friday camps (Friday, November 23rd) for children to enjoy and parents to have a place to drop off their children for creative programing while they shop.  On Saturday, November 24th we will have our SHOP LOCAL Holiday Event where we invite several authors, artisans and small business owners to come into our bookstore and sell their wares and promote a local shopping spirit.
MUF: Thanks, Kim, for talking with us and for creating not just a children’s book store but a center for learning to love to read  Here’s wishing you success and many anniversaries and honors in the future!
Readers, if you would like to know more about this place, go to http://www.monkeysread.com.  If reading about Monkey See, Monkey Do makes you want to visit the shop, and/or if you think Kim’s approach to running a bookstore is intriguing, please leave her a comment here.
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog, (Carolrhoda, 2011; Usborne UK, 2012)

Indie Spotlight: Velveteen Rabbit Book Shop & Guesthouse

Imagine a children’s book store where you could stay overnight, curl up, and read.  There is such a place!  With us today is Marie Nelson, owner of The Velveteen Rabbit Book Shop and Guest House  in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, to talk about her shop and tell stories of her amazingly loyal and determined customers.

SC for  Mixed-Up Files: What a dream, to have a bookshop with a guesthouse!  How did this combination come about?

Marie: My husband, Jim, and I opened the bookshop in 1994. He is the accountant for the bookshop and all around repair person. He also has a daytime career as a CFO. I was a teacher and have always had books as a huge part of my life. We opened with the help of family and friends.
For the first 10 years or so we lived above the bookshop. The shop is in a terra-cotta Victorian home just off the Main Street in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. The town is about 12,000 residents with a university town nearby and several other small communities. We decided that we might like a little extra room. Clare was born in 1996 and Ben in 2000. The upstairs is now a quaint flat with charm and comfort. Guests are able to enjoy privacy and the amenities of being close to our downtown.
It is fun to meet people from near and far. We have had visitors from Tennessee, Illinois, New York, California, Australia, Iceland and from many parts of Wisconsin. We feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to meet and visit with people from near and far.

MUF: Many towns, even big towns, don’t have a bookstore, period, much less a children’s bookstore.  But yours is thriving.  How have you made it a success?
Marie: We are a general bookshop with an emphasis in children’s literature. I have a passion for books and have many favorites from my childhood that are fun to stock and be able to share with current generations…. picture books, middle readers and young adult novels. I also have staff who are readers. They have many recommendations in the store and in our newsletter that keep recent releases also in front of our customers. Finding the right book for the customer is what it is all about.

We like to listen to our customers. We are very fortunate to have customers who have stayed with us through the years. Just yesterday I had a customer who would come in with her children and is now purchasing for her grandchildren. Her daughter was also in and purchasing for a young family member. This same customer was also the first to book our guest house when it opened in 2007 for a wedding couple. We have so many delightful stories of customers who are just fabulous. I will always remember when the road in front of the store was under construction for months. At one point you could not get to us unless you really made an effort. We had one longtime customer who actually crawled over a fence one day to get to us because it was just blocked every other way that day. She was in her eighties at the time. It just brought a huge smile to my face.

MUF: I can imagine!  As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: say a ten- or eleven-year old comes in to your shop and asks for a good book to read.  What favorites, fiction and nonfiction, might you be likely recommend to him or her?
Marie: We really enjoy getting the right book for the right person. I often use the staff recommendations in the store, our Indie Next flyers, the ABC catalog and the staff to assist with finding the right book. We do quite a bit of ordering, also. As an example of an eleven-year-old, I can use my son’s recent reading. He likes fiction and non-fiction. He just finished Holes, read The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles #1) and The Invaders (Brotherband Chronicles #2). A book he recommended for the store is Rock of Ivanore. As a nonfiction selection, he has read titles from the Eyewitnessseries.

Author signing and tea party with Laura Schaefer

MUF: What makes your day as a children’s bookseller?
Marie:  I like the daily interactions with kids of all ages and grown-ups. I have a local dentist who gives out gift certificates to kids for good check-ups. She just ordered some more gift certificates. I have the opportunity to chat with people of all interests and learn a great deal. People pick up books or browse and we both enjoy learning something. It is also very rewarding when people say how comfortable they are in the bookshop and how they like to bring in family or friends who are visiting. I remember once my 85-year-old grandmother saying when she was visiting the bookshop that I was a good host. This was quite a compliment  and I have taken her words to heart. I want people to enjoy visiting and look forward to each visit.

MUF:  If readers and their adults from out of town came to visit your shop, are there some favorite family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a bite to eat after browsing?
Marie: We are right next to a wonderful Irish Pub called Paddy Coughlin’s. We often enjoy dinner at the pub. I actually have many visitors to the bookshop who enjoy lunch and browsing. The customer who just left was planning to dine at the pub. We also have a shopping and dining guide for Fort that the chamber publishes. I often give this out with recommendations. The Carpe is another great place as is Beauty and the Bean. You can walk to many good establishments in the area.

You could be here in the guest flat with your favorite book.

MUF: And if they are lucky enough to stay in the guest house overnight or for the weekend,  can you recommend some unique sights and activities they shouldn’t miss while they’re in Fort Atkinson?
Marie: In the bookshop and the guest house I have a Discover Guide which highlights many places to visit as well as a calendar of events. I also have the Jefferson County Guide for people to have. Both guides offer great activities in the area. I would certainly recommend visiting The Fireside Dinner Theatre. They have delicious Friday Fish and offer a fabulous dinner and theater experience on other afternoons and evenings. The shows are excellent and fun for the whole family. Café Carpe often has a musical offering. You can enjoy dinner and a performance. Fort also offers an outstanding museum. The Hoard Historical Museum and National Dairy Shrine Museum offers educational and fun entertainment.

Surprise carolers at the annual holiday celebration

MUF: Any special events coming up in October? How does the The Velveteen Rabbit celebrate Halloween?
Marie:  The second Saturday of every month at 10:30 we share stories. The theme for October is Goblins, Ghosts and Ghouls Oh My! Usually Mrs. Smith reads stories and simply shares good books and engages kids in an activity. A special we have is “with the purchase of a Halloween children’s book get 18% off a Holiday children’s book this December.” This is in honor of our 18th year.

The big Holiday Anniversary Celebration is set for Saturday, December 1. We celebrate with author signings and many in-store festivities.

MUF: Thanks, Marie, for sharing your delightful shop with us. Readers, if you’ve visited The Velveteen Rabbit, or if reading about it makes you think you’d like to, comment to let us and Marie know.  Browse the shop’s website at: www.velveteenrabbitbookshop.com.

Sue Cowing is the author of You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012)

Indie Spotlight: bbgb (Bring Back Great Books) in Richmond, VA

Have you had the pleasure of visiting a real children’s bookstore lately (not just the children’s section of a chain store, with its standard and predictable book selection)? Independent children’s bookstores can be found all over the country, thank goodness–new and old ones, big and small, each unique and waiting to be discovered by lovers of children’s books.  This month we’re talking with Jenesse Everston, Co-owner with Jill Stefanovich of bbgb (bring back great books) in Richmond, Virginia (http://bbgbbooks.com).

Sue Cowing for MUF:  I was happy to hear about your new store (from middle-grade author Wendy Shang). What’s the creation story?
Jenesse:  Jill and I first met on the playground while our children were toddlers.  We chatted about books and art and travel and recognized straightaway that we viewed life from very similar perspectives and shared a similar aesthetic. Then and there we agreed that one day we should open a shop together!
As it happened, I moved to Europe for five years.  While there, the children’s bookshop in our town came up for sale.  Jill and I had been loyal customers for several of its 26 years in existence, and we couldn’t imagine life without it.  One skype conversation and one week later…we became the new owners, and we would manage the shop together long distance for the next 15 months until I moved back.

bbgb, a name you can play with. . .

MUF: I understand you remodeled the store to bring all the shelves down within kids’ reach and then turned the space above into a gallery.  What else have you done to make the store unique and inviting?
Jenesse: Our customers are so patient with us, we have to say.  We have moved fixtures so many times as our shop collection and mission has evolved!  We worked hard to mix open space with little hidey-hole spaces to accommodate the spatial preferences of our readers.  We have child-sized fatboys, a small bench and table, and a large bench and table.  We want to create an environment that supports a variety of interactions around books.

MUF: You strongly emphasize matching books to kids. How does that work? Suppose a ten-or eleven-year old walks into your store today, looking for something good to read. . .
Jenesse: We engage them in conversation!  We can see those eyes roving the shelves and know how daunting it can sometimes be when faced with so much choice.  We find out the types of books they’ve read, they like to read and move from there.  So many of our customers are regulars; we stay attuned to their preferences while we nudge them into new areas.

MUF: One of the best things about operating an independent bookstore must be that you absolutely get to choose which books to carry (or not) and how to feature and display them in the store.  So what do you base your choices on?  Do you carry some titles that most bookstores don’t?
Jenesse: We true back to those notions that have engaged us as readers: the sense of wonder, the perspective-changing, the smile or sigh engendered by our experience with books.
Our collection is very tight.  We tend to rotate titles so that our customers are always finding a treasure.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask, do you have certain favorite tiles, fiction and nonfiction, that you like to recommend to boys and girls in this age group?
Jenesse: Oh goodness!  It absolutely shifts depending upon the child, our current interests and what we find is relevant in the context of the world at that moment.  
Our list of favorites is long and constantly changing, to be honest.

MUF: Have middle-grade authors appeared at your store?

Jenesse: Yes. We are currently preparing for Tom Angleberger’s launch-week visit for his third installment in the Origami Yoda series:  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.

MUF: Your summer reading program sounds. . .rewarding.  Is there still time to join up?
Jenesse: Well, we are well into the summer, but we just enrolled 3 more!

MUF: I can imagine what fun it was to watch Arietty in a children’s book store!  Is movie night a regular thing at bbgb?  What other events do you have coming up?
Jenesse:On Tuesday, local artist Mim Scalen, conducted a postcard art workshop with a group of participants aged 7 and up.  We’ve had mother-child yoga, games nights, movie nights, local artists and artisans, knitting workshops…We want to support other small businesses in our community and love to collaborate.  In addition, we like to keep our own kids engaged with the shop!

creating postcards

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit your store, would there be kid-friendly places nearby where they could get a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jenesse: Our location really ties us into our community.  We are just blocks from the Fine Arts Museum, coffee shops, and one of the largest retail streets in town, which full of restaurants gift shops, toy stores…

MUF: And if they could stay the whole day or even the weekend, are there some unique family activities indoors or out that they shouldn’t miss?

Jenesse: We are in a unique situation where the city is grounded by an urban university which is strong in the arts.  In addition, we sit on the James River, which is home to herons, bald eagles, and where you can raft as a family.  Plus, Richmond is a real restaurant town.  Fantastic choices and family-friendly at all levels, from coffee shops to fine dining.  We do love our town.

MUF:  Thank you, Jenesse , for giving us this glimpse of your lively new store and your community!

Wrapping things up. . .

Readers, Can you think of your own  clever phrases bbgb could stand for? Have you’ve been to bbgb or does it sound like a place you’d like to visit? If so, leave a comment here for Jenesse and Jill.   And if you have a favorite children’s bookstore you think should be featured in these posts, please let me know. 

Sue Cowing is the author of YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a middle-grade novel (Carolrhoda Books, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012).  She lives in Honolulu, 2,000 miles from the nearest children’s bookstore, but she’s planning a trip. . .