Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose

Today we’re talking with Valerie Lewis, founder/owner of the award-winning Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose, California (www.hicklebees.com). Think of your  ten favorite contemporary children’s authors.  Chances are at least nine of them have appeared at  Hicklebee’s Books and sing its praises!  It’s not only a wonderful bookstore and gathering place for performances and author appearances, it’s also a unique and growing museum of art and artifacts from children’s books and their authors.

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Mixed-up Files:  Hicklebee’s has become widely known and loved among authors and booklovers.  How and when did your shop get started?
Valerie: We–four friends– opened our store in 1979 in a small space across the street from our current location.  We were not experienced in retail but had young children and buckets of enthusiasm.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere children and their adults walk into when they open the door at Hicklebee’s.
Valerie: One might call it chaos.  The physical structure is made up of shelving from bookstores that have either gone out of business or upgraded their stores. While it began because we could not afford new book cases, we find it’s a valuable asset that adds character.

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in!  Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hickabee's feature

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in! Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hicklebee’s feature.

MUF:What do you want their experience to be?
Valerie: I want them to feel warmth with a large dose of magic.

MUF:What about the expansion of your Wall of Fame, which has turned your walls into a museum?
Valerie: We’re running out of walls and doors but it’s a priority so we’ll figure out how to keep it going.

MUF: What are some of your favorite items?
Valerie:  I can’t even begin to list my favorites.  Probably the most sought after is J.K. Rowling’s drawing on the door.  Jules Feiffer’s is the one I touch and continue to admire each time I pass it.  David Small’s depiction of G. Bush makes me laugh the most.  And Rosemary Wells continues to send us a variety of items from paintings to artifacts.

MUF:Did Brian Selznik really donate his backpack and dolls? screenshot_540
Valerie:  The backpack is only one of the items he’s donated.  He is clearly one of our favorite authors, full of magic and surprises.

MUF: It’s apparent from your website that you truly select the books you recommend, because they’re not always the ones on everybody’s else’s lists.  Are there a couple of titles , either fiction or nonfiction,  that you’re  especially recommending  to middle-graders at the moment?
Valerie:  The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen; Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker and Wonder by R. J. Palacio.screenshot_554

MUF: You must be true book and story lovers, because you also recommend older books you think deserve to be reprinted and become classics, even if readers have to read them at the library!  Tell our readers about your unique “Worth the Candle” program, both in the store and online.
Valerie: Our Carol Doup Muller created our “Worth the Candle” program years ago.  She reminds us that before electricity people depended on candles for light.  But candles were expensive.  If you used one it had better be worth it.  Ours is invaluable as a resource for the best books published in the past.

MUF: Tell us about your ongoing programs at the store.  Looks like you do a lot of literacy outreach.screenshot_551
Valerie: All of us here at Hicklebee’s are deeply involved in promoting literacy and are key leaders in regional and national booksellers associations, including the Northern California Booksellers’ Association which we helped to found.   We’ve set up a Resource Room at our store as a meeting place for teachers. We partner with schools and libraries, setting up book fairs and author visits for school assemblies, and inviting schools to create window displays.  We’ve adopted Graystone School in Santa Clara county  and a school in Kiev, setting up a pen pal program and holding a book drive for them. We’ve worked with doctors to establish a Read to Your Bunny program.  We also sponsor family reading nights, hold summer reading programs and have a number of books clubs—including one for adults who read children’s novels— and we’ve organized press conferences for Young Adults to meet YA authors.   

MUF: You and your staff actively promote specific titles of books you consider outstanding.
Valerie:  Yes, we have our book of the month club and our annual Book of the Year award. This year it’s Black Dog, by Levi Pinfold.screenshot_555    We’ve reviewed books for newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle and the CBS early show, and we’ve created Lewis Previews, a video series of the season’s best titles for K-6 that plays in libraries and bookstores around the country.

MUF: If a family made a day trip from out of town to Hicklebee’s, would there be family friendly places in the neighborhood to get a bite to eat after browsing?
Valerie: The neighborhood is filled with family friendly restaurants.  A stroll on the Avenue usually involves strollers and often pups.

MUF:  And if they stayed in San Jose for more than a day, are there some other unique things to see and do they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: The Children’s Museum is a fabulous hands-on experience as well as The Tech Museum.  The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has been in San Jose since the 1920s.  Happy Hallow Park and Baby Zoo is another attraction as well as numerous parks.

MUF: Any special events coming up at Hicklebee’s ?
Valerie: Most of our Spring events begin in March.  We are in the planning stages now.

MUF:  Thank you Valerie for taking time from your action-packed schedule to share some details about your store! And thank you for demonstrating what makes a children’s book store great: love of good books and their readers, a sense of curiosity and fun, passionate dedication to reading and reading communities, and imagination about ever-new ways to foster all that.

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Children’s book fans, do you know the way to San Jose?  If so— and even if not—I’m  sure, like me, you’re eager to treat yourself  to a book store adventure at Hicklebee’s as soon as you can.   You’ll find Hicklebee’s at 1378 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose CA 95125.  If you have been there, please share your experience in a comment, or if reading about the place makes you want to visit, please let Valerie and us know here.

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

 

 

Indie Spotlight: The Reading Reptile, Books and Tapes for Young Mammals

It’s our delightful task in these Indie Spotlights to feature an Independent children’s bookstore each month and to share the well-kept secret that children’s bookstores aren’t going away.  In fact they are thriving all over the country because we love them and support them and because no on-line or chain store can match the things children’s bookstores do best.

screenshot_508This month we’re talking with Debbie Pettid, founder/owner of The Reading Reptile—Books and Tapes for Young Mammals in Kansas City MO (www.readingreptile.com)

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: There’s nothing like a great bookstore name/logo to make us want to visit, and Reading Reptile doesn’t disappoint.  How did the name, and the store, come about?screenshot_501

Debbie Pettid: The name came about brainstorming with friends long ago. The idea for a store began after working at Eeyore’s in NYC. The staff was hardworking and knowledgeable and my time there inspired me to open my own store. I was young, naive and determined so went for it.

MUF: Take us inside your shop and describe the climate you’ve created “for young mammals.”screenshot_499
Debbie: The store itself is very organic and always changing. I never purposely set about trying to create a look or feeling, but had a general idea of wanting it to be the “best bookstore ever.” When I look at and read books they inspire me to create, so I do.  When you walk in the store, if you look back you realize you have walked through a large mouth (Zabajaba Jungle) The front left of the store is a George and Martha playroom and to the right is our in store bakery Le Petit Rouge which is designed to look like a fairy tale forest. Then depending which way you look you may see… up… a mural on the ceiling from Babar the king and all the vices, posters covering most of the ceiling, a U.S. map just like Scrambled States of America and lots of pieces hanging – Fortune from Fortune Cookies, the gorilla from Goodnight Gorilla, Max from Where the Wild Things Are, the Bear from Milos Hat Trick, Arnie the Doughnut, the boy from Meanwhile plus an assortment of origami, homemade paper, and miscellany. screenshot_500Each wall alcove has a scene from a book such as Go Dog Go, Dr. Desoto, My Father’s Dragon, Snowy Day and on top of shelves or tacked in different places you could find JLo from True Meaning of Smekday, Frances, Doll People, Fire Cat, Tin Tin, Moomins, Caps for Sale, Camille, Frog and Toad, Bill and Pete, Lily and Chester, David, plus others.   There are all sorts of stuff nailed, glued, and hung everywhere, crafts kids have made, some dioramas, (Wump World, etc.) some miniature scenes. Most everything is made large and in papermache. Our goal is to cover every surface!

I guess you could say I am obsessed, but I think it is great for kids and adults to recognize characters from their favorite books or want to read the book of the character they see.  Books are exciting, art is exciting and there are a million ways to enjoy both.  I’m in the store every day, as is my husband and five kids and I want them to be interested in the world around them and be open to possibilities and interpretations and so I have tried to create an interesting world. Mostly I like to make stuff.screenshot_504

MUF: You hold an annual writing contest for young writers ages 5-12, and the deadline is coming up on Monday, January 21st.   What role does this contestplay in your shop’s philosophy?
Debbie: With that event we have local illustrators who are nationally published judge the stories. They pick their favorite and illustrate a scene from the story which the child receives. The only rule is don’t plagiarize. The focus is creativity and uniqueness. We have upwards of 500 kids entered each year, and many amazing stories. It is one of our favorite events.

MUF: Tell us about your D.N.A. fest.  Curious title.  Looks like you’ve established a major annual literary event in Kansas City that engages the community, both kids and adults.screenshot_498
Debbie: The festival is hard work, expensive and definitely worth it. We do our best to make sure everyone involved, (presenters, kids, adults, volunteers, etc.) has a really great time, and are able to leave with lots to think about. We think it’s important to have an event where everyone involved with books from readers to creators can have a chance to exchange ideas and build off that excitement. We also enjoy bringing some of the best authors and illustrators and introduce them to new readers.

MUF:  One fan describes your books as “lovingly curated.” You seem to make it a point of pride to introduce readers to great books and authors that aren’t current best sellers but shouldn’t be forgotten. How do you do that?screenshot_497
Debbie: Our books are chosen after having experienced them. Reading them ourselves, reading them out loud, having others read them. We look at the artfulness of the book, the content, the language, the craft. I don’t feed my kids McDonalds so why would I want to hand them the equivalent in a book? Content does matter when you read. “At least my kid is reading” doesn’t cut it. Anyway, if it is something I like a lot, I get it for the store.

MUF: What makes your day as children’s booksellers?
Debbie: Having an inspiring conversation with a customer, making something cool, reading something interesting, eating a cupcake, not wiping up any bodily fluids.screenshot_495

MUF: If readers and their adults from out of town come to visit your shop, are there some favorite family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after browsing?
Debbie: Bella Napoli for lunch or Blue Grotto for dinner. Le Petit Rouge for a treat.  A little farther away, Aixois for lunch or Chai Shai for dinner.

MUF: And if they could stay in town for the weekend, can you recommend some unique sights and activities they shouldn’t miss while they’re there?
Debbie: Kemper Museum of Art, Little Freshie, Broadway Cafe Donna’s Dress Shop, Shop Girls, Local Pig, Artist and Craftsman, Loose Park Rose Garden, Kauffman Gardens, Berkeley Park for a bike ride.

 Readers please note:  A very special event coming right up on Reading Reptile’s calendar is an appearance by Minneapolis-based duo The Okee Dokee Brothers, playing songs from their Parents Choice Award-winning CD, Take it Outside,on Saturday, January 7 at 11 AM.  USA Today calls the Okee Dokee brother’s music “authentic bluegrass for your little brother.”screenshot_489

If you have been to Reading Reptile, or if reading about it here makes you think you’d like to go, please leave a comment here for Debbie.  And if you’ve never visited a real children’s bookstore, why not make it a 2013 resolution to give yourself and a child that unique experience?

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011 and Usborne UK 2013).

 

 

 

Indie Post: Creating Children’s Bookstore Memories

This month, with the holidays and the New Year coming on, Mixed-Up Files is saluting all children’s bookstores everywhere, and remembering a few individual gems we’ve featured in 2012.

www.takeyourchildtoabookstore.org

Kids can get overwhelmed with gifts of things, especially at this time of year. Yet we know that the most lasting childhood memories are not of things but of experiences, especially shared experiences.   A good book is both a thing and an experience, shared in a sense with the author and with everyone else who reads it. So isn’t a book the ideal gift?

And it’s so easy! Go online any time of day or night and in less than five minutes you can order your child a book tax-free at a big discount, and it will magically appear a few days later, even gift-wrapped, if you so choose.  Or, if you need the book sooner, you can wait until open hours at the nearest chain store where you’re bound to find something appropriate from their large selection.

Whoa.  What if, instead, you invite the child to come with you to real children’s bookstore to choose his or her own books,  even make a day trip to another town if there’s no such store where you live?  What will reward your extra effort?

A unique atmosphere

All online and chain bookstores are alike in predictable ways, on purpose. Chains are concerned with “brand” and want all their stores everywhere in the country to have a familiar look and feel.  And there are not many places to sit down (unless you buy something at the café), because they don’t want you to browse and read.  They want you to get to the checkout counter.

Each child’s bookstore is different in its own way, a unique world, created by owners who delight in children and children’s books.  It’s their dream come true of what a children’s bookstore should be. Can you stay all night and read at Barnes and Noble?  You can at Velveteen Rabbit Book Shop and Guest House in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Can you get a moustache out of a vending machine there?  You can at Green Bean Books in Portland, Oregon.  Are the walls bursting with colorful art and the signatures of visiting authors?Are there live animals roaming the store—cats and chickens and chinchillas?   Encounter  them at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis.

Browsing at Wild Rumpus

There’s a welcoming magic in children’s bookstores that children young and old (and the child in us) respond to immediately.

Real people

All physical bookstores have people in them.  But in a children’s bookstore, you can be sure these will be people who know children and books. Their main job is to help find just the right ones for a child, and they aren’t required to spend part of their time at a table up front, demonstrating and promoting their company’s latest e-reading device.    (Note to children’s authors:  these independent booksellers are also the ones who actually read, know, and hand-sell your books).

Real choice

At first it might seem that a big chain store could offer you a better choice of books than a small independent. But it matters who chooses the books and why.  Independent booksellers can and do choose to carry—or not carry— any books they like, and they can display and promote them however they want to.  Of course, you say.   But most of the titles in a chain store have been selected, not by the people who work there, but by remote company experts who have made a guess about what you will be likely to buy and who need you to fulfill their predictions. Independent booksellers are on-the-spot curators who can sort out quality from hype, and can lead you to their favorites and yours, often less-publicized great finds you might not otherwise have discovered.

Higher prices

Though independent bookstores may offer some modest sales and membership discounts, most have to charge the cover price for a book.  You may feel foolish, even guilty, paying full price plus tax for something you know is available at a deep discount and tax-free elsewhere, but in this case you  get what you  pay for.

A great time with the child

When you make a trip with a child to a children’s bookstore, inviting him or her to enter the atmosphere and browse and choose to his or her heart’s content, you create an experience neither of you will soon forget.  Priceless.

The chance to support a community

That cover price and tax you pay at an independent bookstore– where does it go? Some to the publisher, of course, but, unlike the money we spend online or at a chain, the rest goes to the local community.  Children’s bookstores stay alive by responding to the needs of their neighbors—listening to their preferences, developing personal relationships with customers young and old,  creating unique events and programs for them, and championing local authors as well as nationally known ones.  Aren’t such stores, and the communities that have the wisdom to sustain them, worthy of our support?

Hunger Games training camp, Little Shop of Storiesand championing local authors as well as nationally known ones.  Aren’t such a store, and a community that has the wisdom to sustain it, worthy of our support?

A chance to vote

Every time we spend money one way rather than another, we are casting a vote for what we value and want to see thrive.  So what’ll it be? Amazon and Barnes & Noble* or places like Blue Manatee, Eight Cousins, and The Little Shop of Stories?

 

 

 

 

Ask a child who’s been there!

 

*If online is really the only way you can buy children’s books this season, you can still order them through independent stores.  Many children’s bookstores fill online orders, including a number of the following that we have featured so far this year:

The Green Bean, Portland OR: www.greenbeanbookspdx.com
Blue Manatee, Cincinnati OH: www.bluemanateebooks.com

The Eight Cousins, Falmouth MA:  www.eightcousins.com

The Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis MN: www.wildrumpusbooks.com

The Little Shop of Stories, Decatur GA: www.littleshopofstories.com

Bbgb (Bring Back Great Books), Richmond VA: www.bbgbbooks.com

The Velveteen Rabbit, Book Shop and Guest House, Fort Atkinson WI: www.velveteenrabbitcookshop

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Clarence NY: www.monkeysread.com

Or you can go to the largest independent bookstore in the country at www.powells.com or to www.indybound.org and order from them.

If you and the children you love have fine memories of visiting a children’s bookstore, please tell us the story in a comment below.  Do you have a favorite shop you think we should feature in 2013?   Next month we’ll be talking to the folks at Reading Reptile in Kansas City.

Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu HI, 2,000 miles from the nearest children’s bookstore.  She is the author of a middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011, Usborne UK 2013)