Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight

Our Indie Spotlight shines today on Barstons Child’s Play, in McLean, Virginia.

The combination toy/bookstore actually has four locations in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and has been around for about 30 years.  MUF spoke to the whole team responsible for curating their wonderful book collection: Molly Olivo (Book Buyer for all 4 stores), Sara Hemming (McLean Book Manager), Bregette Poore (McLean Store Manager), and Steven and Simmie Aarons (Owners/Founders).

MUF: What does your bookstore (within a toy store) offer that makes you a special place to for readers to go buy books?

As a company, we are big believers in the importance of finding the joy in childhood reading (and play).  We pride ourselves on finding the right book for every child and building relationships with our customers. We focus our attention on the kid reader- what they find interesting and what they want out of their reading experience.  If we can spark a love of reading in a child with a book picked especially for them, we have completed the most important step in creating a lifelong reader.  We have worked hard to create a book store that is solely for the kids.

– Molly Olivo

We are able to capture a unique audience of kids that includes avid readers and kids who might never step into a more traditional book store. It is a real joy to see both sides of the store evolve and grow with our customers.

– Simmie Aarons

MUF: What’s your favorite part about this job?

The kids! Being able to discuss Ron Weasley with a 10 year old who just finished Harry Potter or discovering a giggling 6 year old with their head stuck in the Day the Crayons Quit is incredibly rewarding.

– Molly Olivo

Talking to the kids every day makes the job not feel like work. The real reward for me, however, is having a child that we almost lost as a reader come in for their second or third book that week. It sometimes takes setting aside all projects for the day and sitting with a child, reading the first page of stacks of books to find the one that ignites the spark. Not every child will love reading every book, but our goal is to get every child to love reading.

-Bregette Poore

MUF: What are your strategies for competing with big bookstores and online retailers?

Big bookstores and online retailers can never give you the indie experience.  We are providing customers with high quality service, staff that care about their kids, and individualized recommendations that have nothing to do with publisher marketing budgets or algorithms.  At the end of the day, our passion for books and kids has helped to set us apart, and we hope that our customers continue to value that and keep coming back.

– Molly Olivo

MUF: One of the many things to love about your store is the obvious care you take with making books look interesting. Browsing is so much fun here!

One of our favorite features is that we’re always changing the department and displays. One of the considerations in our displays is representation and diversity. We had a kindergarten teacher come in whose student was not engaged in reading because none of the stories were about anyone like her. She was shocked at how many options we had to build up her classroom library. We sometimes forget the importance of representation until you hear a kid exclaim, “Finally! Someone who looks like me!” when picking up a book. Every year I’m surprised by the emotional response to our Black History and Women’s History month displays when we think that is the bare minimum for a bookstore to cover.  We were also proud to promote the Children’s Book Council’s Reading Without Walls Challenge last year that awarded children for reading outside their comfort zone.

– Sara Hemming

MUF: Another fabulous new feature is the “blind date with a book”— books already wrapped up with just a few clues about what’s inside. What fun, to guess what’s inside the packaging and then get to read it!!

MUF: As middle grade authors, we’re always curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending the most to readers ages 8-12? Which books seem to be flying off the shelves right now – on that same age range?

Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid has been one of our favorites recently.  Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis work so incredibly well together, and it is such a fun adventure with something for everyone.  

Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic from Armand Baltazar is really fun and unique. 

Graphic novels have also been super hot recently.  Amulet and Nimona are always favorites at Child’s Play.

One of our favorite underappreciated backlist titles is The Seventh Most Important Thing, by Shelly Pearsall.  It is empathetic, surprising, and incredibly interesting. It also has the added bonus of being set in DC and based on a piece of art that is at the Smithsonian.

 

MUF: We’re so glad to get to know you all. Congratulations on your continued success and huge thanks for being such a strong supporter of books and kids.  

 

Indie Spotlight: Kids Ink Children’s Books, Indianapolis

Always a delight to learn about a thriving independent children’s bookstore! We’re speaking today with Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink Children’s Books in Indianapolis, Indiana
MUF: Kids Ink has been open for over three decades, riding out even the bookstore blues of ten years ago. What’s your survival secret? Have you made adaptions over the year that helped?
Shirley:
We have made constant adaptations to changes in the book industry, the economy, and our customers. We’ve been constant in basic principles ie Kind, Fair, and Honest. We also have always emphasized customer service focusing as much as possible on the children and young adults asking them if they have read a book that they really like. Or, asking what interests them.

Beyond that, however, we have adapted our business to stay viable. We are constantly look for new markets. Several years ago we started supplying books for several title programs which has been successful. We offer not only the books but our expertise in choosing titles. This often involves taking books to the district for a “show and tell, ” helping them decide what works for the curriculum. We are currently beginning to experiment with pop-up stores in some of our larger retirement communities offering holiday shopping and gift wrapping at the facility.
Maintaining our presence at major educational events has also been important either selling books tailored to the event or providing information about the store.Finally, we have expanded our assistance to schools helping them find and book authors…often linking schools together.   We then supply the books for the school to sell.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you try to create in your shop. What are some special features of Kids Ink?
Shirley:
We have always had a train table and have sold trains.   The past few years we have sold Brio. The train gives children a focus point and something engaging while their adults shop. It is not unusual for us to be called the Train Store.
We do our best to maintain the store as a bright cheerful place. All the fixtures are white so the books and toys stand out. Because we are about 20 percent books, our displays are interesting with perhaps a raccoon puppet and a book with a raccoon title or a Playmobil Knight package with a book about knights.Our front window is large and attracts attention most recently with banned books and now featuring the up-coming John Green book.
But the most important component of atmosphere is the staff. We try to make sure that we are able to greet everyone courteously and respond to their questions. We greet everyone who walks through the door and try to be aware of when they need suggestions.

MUF: Kids Ink is a small shop, so your books must be curated. How do you decide what books and related items to carry?
Shirley:
Terri orders all the sidelines/toys. She has a good eye for what our customers want. We only sell real quality toys with emphasis on “playability,” safety, and good construction. (I am quite able to order toys that never sell!) I personally order all the front list. I read all of the picture books before ordering and many of the novels and non-fiction. For all of them, I think about who might want this book and/or who should need this book. Sometimes there is a book that is about a subject or event that hasn’t been requested but the book is important and needs to be read.
For non-fiction, I look at who wrote the book. Are they qualified to write about this topic? I favor non-fiction that has good elements like Table of Contents, Index, Bibliography and Suggested Reading.
Most important, I watch for books that are inclusive of gender, race, and sexuality. Diversity is very important to me and all of the staff.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to readers ages 8-12?
Shirley:
Books by Jeanne Birdsall, the Penderwicks, Kimberly Brubacker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life, Rita Garcia Williams titles, Pam Munoz Ryan titles, Jason Reynolds, Ghost and Patina.Non-Fiction varies a lot depending on what the child finds interesting. We have a lot of requests for biographies, books about animals, and weather.

MUF: Do you have any activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Shirley:
Sarah Cannon, a debut novelist will be signing on 12/2/17 from eleven to one for Oddity. Her book will be of interest for this level.

MUF: If a family is visiting Indianapolis from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near your shop where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay longer, are there some unique family activities or sights they shouldn’t miss?
Shirley: We are next door to The Flying Cupcake, a marvelous place incredibly popular with all our customers. Then next door to that is Father Bryne’s Pizza with unusual grilled thin crust pizza. Across the street is a long established Illinois Street Food Emporium which is known for chicken salad croissants baked daily in house as well as a Grater’s Ice Cream store. In addition, our corner contains shopping for everyone…a jewelry store, a boutique with unusual home items, an art store, clothing store, and a Starbucks.
Even better, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is twenty blocks from the store. It is the largest children’s museum in the world.

MUF: Thanks, Shirley, for sharing news  about your fine shop.  Readers, have you visited Kids Ink yet?

Indie Spotlight: Iseeme African American Children’s Bookstore, University City, MO

We’re talking today with Jeff Blair , so-owner with his wife Pamela of a unique children’s bookstore emphasizing African American heritage and culture.  Learn here how they’ve made their vision a reality.

MUF:There’s a lot of attention being paid lately to the need for children to see themselves in the books they read. You reflect that in the very title of your shop, which is dedicated to bringing positive books about African American people and culture to young readers. Tell us a bit about how you got started in this business.
Jeff: : We are parents of four lovely children; Jeff Jr., Naomi, Sarah, & Ezra. Together, we have created EyeSeeMe based on our years of experience raising four high achieving children. Our children have been tested in gifted programs; participated in leadership conferences; selected for public speaking engagements. Jeff Jr. started college at 15 years old, has a Masters Degree from Rutgers University, and is currently applying to medical School. My 3 youngest all just attend Washington University in Saint Louis. Many ask, how did we do it?
Our children were always inquisitive. After history class they would often run home and recite the many stories they learned about the great men and women of the past. But, they often seemed to have a presumption that their own heritage began at slavery. Yet, we could tell that they yearned for historical stories that included themselves as heroes, victors, founders, creators, and contributors to society. There yearning forced us to do our own research and make an effort to find books and stories about Black contributions to society.
We knew that if we could instill within our children a pride in their heritage and awareness of the great accomplishments of their forefathers that this would be the foundation that would allow them to grow into their full potential. (This has been confirmed by some recent research: Read Here)
As we began to explore our vast heritage together as a family, we could see the excitement in our children’s souls as they embraced their nearly lost legacy. This excitement for learning transferred into their studies.
As our children grew we saw them approach school with purpose and a clear understanding that they are truly “standing on the shoulders of giants” and have a responsibility to do their best in everything that they do. Others noticed their achievements and upon inquiry we shared our games and products with them as well. Over the years we have had numerous responses from parents and teachers alike, that our products have been instrumental in helping children realize their full potential by seeing themselves in history.
Two years ago my wife and I created EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore in order to help bridge the cultural divide, so that African American children can benefit from exposure to literature that respectfully mirrors themselves, their culture and their families. EyeSeeMe, is the only children’s bookstore devoted exclusively to promoting positive African American Images and African American History while advocating for Academic Excellence. We too believe that all children can learn, regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, or gender. We believe that the African American achievement gap can be eliminated. More importantly we believe that competent, caring, and properly supported teachers and parents are essential to student learning. EyeseeMe is here to help provide that support.
MUF: There may not be enough books published by or about about African Americans, but there certainly are a lot of really good ones, and you seem to carry them all! What are some favorite titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, that you find yourself recommending to middle-graders these days?
Jeff: Wow, this is a tough question because we have many favorites. But a few that come to mind: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Eddie Red Undercover Series by Marcia Wells, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Ann Cameron, and The Clone Codes Series by the McKissacks.
MUF:What kinds of books would you like to see more of?
Jeff: We would like to see more books written of adventure stories of PreColonial Africa, such as the stories of Mansa Musa, the Moors, and the Israelites in Africa.
MUF: Are you hoping children (and their adults) from other groups will be drawn to your shop as a place to learn about African American life and history, too?
Jeff: Absolutely! When we first started Eyeseeme we were focused solely on ensuring that African Americans saw themselves in the books that they read. But, we soon realized that ALL Children (and their parents and teachers) need an accurate and positive portrayal of African Americans and their contributions to society and the world. Otherwise people can draw false conclusions about Black people and can fall prey to stereotyping and prejudice.

MUF: Please tell us about some of the educational materials and activities you have developed for your store. I notice on your website that your flashcards on African American heroes are sold out!
Jeff: Yes, in addition to books we also carry games, flash cards, dolls and toys that all support our mission of promoting literacy and academic excellence, positive African American Images, and African American History.
MUF: Please tell us about BooksandBros. Any more activities planned for the future that would be of special interest to ages 8-12? Something for girls?
Writing workshops to get some more African American writers started?
Jeff: Check out a video about Books N Bros from HEC-TV, Higher Education Channel: https://youtu.be/9sKuaeI4SbI Moreover, we host a Boys STEM Club called Circle of Excellence. We are in the process of launching additional afterschool/weekend reading and history classes for Middle School students.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your store, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay awhile, are there some unique sites or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Jeff: Certainly, we are located in University City, which is the central crossroads in the Saint Louis region. We specifically chose University City as the home for Eyeseeme for this reason. It is home to the Delmar Loop, an entertainment, cultural and restaurant district. Upon visiting Saint Louis I would suggest checking out the Missouri History Museum located in Forest Park; the Old Historic Court House, home of the famous Dred Scott case, and the Griot Museum of Black History.

Thanks, Jeff and Pamela, for creating this store and sharing its story with us.  Readers, have any of you visited this shop?  Not yet?