S. C. for Mixed-Up Flies: It’s our pleasure this month to talk with hand selling award winner Ellen Mager, owner of Booktenders’ Secret Garden Children’s Bookstore and Gallery (www.booktendersdoylestown.com). Recently Nicole Plyer Fisk published a book, The Booktenders’ Secret Garden,
through Lulu, to honor Ellen and raise funds for “extras” for the shop.
MUF: Ellen, children’s bookstores went through quite a rough patch a few years ago, but Booktenders’ has kept going over thirty years. What’s your secret?
Ellen: I love what I do, hand selling by book talking to kids “of all ages”. I’m still here because I enjoy it. My customers know, and expect, me to find that perfect book and when I do, that’s the pleasure.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have tried to create at Booktenders’. What do you want people to experience when they visit?
Ellen: I want people to have their expectations met, that I will find just what they need and go away with the present and a story about it. I’ve only had Infant to 7th grade since I had to move to a smaller store front. With some exceptions I do not do Young Adult. This limits the arguments of 4th graders who want a YA they have heard about, and I can share with them some of the fabulous Middle Grade authors and their books. A 10-year-old was asked why he loved Hunger Games so much to have read each one 3 times. His answer was “Where else do you get to see kids killing kids?” When I heard it, it made me ill. A 7th or 8th grader, where that book should be, would not have answered that way. My customers like that I am conservative and believe that some books can wait.
MUF: You carry original art and greeting cards by book illustrators in your store, and you have a gallery to display work by illustrators. Who are some of them? Who are some authors and illustrators who have signed your “Wall of Fame”
Ellen: I have over 200 signatures, messages and/or drawings Robert Sabuda, Marc Brown, Eric Carle, Uri Shulevitz, Don and Audrey Wood, Tomie DePaola, David Shannon, David Small, Paul O. Zelinsky, and so many more and special tiles by Brian Selznick, Jane Dyer, Patricia Polacco to name a few. I have original art work and prints from Ted & Betsy Lewin, Will Hillenbrand, Floyd Cooper, Valerie Gorbachev, Robert and Lisa Papp, John O’Brien, Barbara McClintock, Deborah Kogran Ray, S.D. Schindler, Gene Barretta, Chris Conover, Lee Harper.
MUF: A small shop needs to be very selective about books. How do you decide what titles to carry in your shop?
Ellen: After 33 years, I know many of my customers and their families, I know what I am good at selling, and more than anything, I know what I like, what makes me feel great to share. As I said I believe in giving kids a wide range of authors. As Richard Peck said when a 5th grader asked him what you need to be a good writer, “BE A GOOD READER.”
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know a few books, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to ages 8 to 12 these days.
Ellen: Science. I absolutely worship Steve Jenkins. The wonderful information, the fantastic illustrations, glosseries. I LOVE what I have named “picture novellas” and I can handsell Robert Byrd, Brian Flocca, Peter Sis, and so many more that teach social science and science. The kids love the Who Was series the Survival Series , by Tracey Ward, and more authors: Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm and Nerds. Tony Abbott’s Copernicus Legacy (I can’t wait to read #4!)Adult writers writing for kids catch the adults eye & the kids really like them): Carl Hiassen, John Grisham, Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel ,
Richard Peck, Patricia Reilly Giff.
MUF: What regular activities or upcoming events at Booktenders’ would be of special interest to middle-graders? Ellen: I will be having Michael Buckley in five schools as well as a session here the last wee
k in November (He’s like the Pied Piper to readers!)
MUF: If a family visited your store from out of town, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a meal or a snack, and are there other unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Ellen: The Mercer Museum, Henry Mercer’s Homestead –Fonthill, and my favorite, the Moravian Tile Works –amazing. Bucks County is full of Historic Landmarks such as Pearl Buck’s Homestead, Washington Crossing. Family, younger fun? Kids’ Castle. There are many restaurants right in downtown of many different food choices and prices.
MUF: Thanks, Ellen, for telling sharing your thoughts about your shop and for adding some must-read titles to our lists. Readers, have you visited Secret Garden? Next time you’re in the Philadelphia, be sure to drop in and pick up a new favorite book!
Sue Cowing is author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carllrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).