Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: What an interesting idea: a bookstore devoted half to kid’s books and half to adult! We are talking today with Valerie Koehler, Owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.
MUF: I assume your shop gets its name from Blue Willow, the award-winning novel by Doris Gates? Sounds like you’ve had children’s books in mind from the beginning.
Valerie: I was not aware of the lovely book by Doris Gates when I named the shop. But just like in her novel, the shop is named after Blue Willow china. When I bought the shop, I wanted to offer books for the entire family. so now it’s half and half. Our top two selling categories are adult fiction and children’s picture books.
MUF:You’ve been open twenty years now and you survived the downturn several years ago when many bookstores closed. What has contributed to your success? What kind of atmosphere do you try to create for customers at Blue Willow Books?
Valerie: We never saw the downturn as we plowed ahead with new ideas, new partnerships, and lots of events. I feel our success is due to our open minds to new opportunities. We want everyone to feel welcome and we want to continue to spread our love of books through the city. We venture far beyond our walls with school visits and our three yearly festivals.
MUF:Tell us more about your monthly book club, “Another Shade of Blue” for middle-grade girls. What have been some of their favorite books, and what will they be reading in June?
Valerie:It’s been a slow start to this club and we are retooling it as I write this. It’s so hard to get critical mass when the kids are overbooked. They loved The Green Glass House By Kate Milford. In June, they are reading Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk.
MUF: How do you choose which books to carry in your shop?
Valerie: I read advance copies, I look at reviews, I look at trends and past sales. It’s an art and a science (and a crap shoot!).
MUF: How do you help kids find their next best book? As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers between eight and twelve?
Valerie We tend to recommend stand-alone novels as the kids already know the series. All of us like different books! This past year, we all loved PAX by Sara Pennypacker. But each kid deserves to be different so we help them one at a time.
MUF: Do you have any events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Valerie: We are retooling the bookclub so stay tuned. Also, put October 21st on the calendar for our 8th annual Tweens Read Festival. The authors will be announced very soon. Last year we hosted over 3000 kids.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay longer, are there some unique sites and activities in the area they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: We have a great patisserie in our center which is kid friendly. Just down the street is Hungry’s which has food for the whole family. For longer visits I like to recommend visiting www.houstonfamilymagazine.com for great Houston ideas.
Thanks, Valerie, for talking with us about Blue Willow Books, and congratulations on your continuing success! Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting this shop? Putting it on your list?