Indie Spotlight: Children’s Bookstores in 1917

Inside An Unlikely Story

Independent bookstores are springing up everywhere–in cities and suburbs and small towns across the country. And why are they thriving?  Because  despite predictions about the inevitable end of bookstores and physical books, it turns out that a whole lot of people like to go to a real place, browse, buy, and read real books, and meet and talk with others who have read them.   Book chains try to give customers a uniform and predictable  experience in all their stores.  But every indy is unique, reflecting the owners’ ideal of what a bookstore could be. The bookstores we’ve highlighted this year certainly show  this variety of visions.
And we’ve noticed  trends continuing this year:  authors founding bookstores, new bookstores in small towns helping to revitalize the town center, store book clubs, strong links to communities.  And , always, great book recommendations from staff readers. Heres a brief look back, with Indie Spotlight dates for each ship in case you missed the full interview.   Be prepared to add to your tottering must-read pile!

Parnassus Books , Nashville TN, Jan 30.
Parnassus was founded by author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes. Manager Mary Laura Philpott describes it as a store full of nooks and corners. When you visit, one of their many shop dogs—Sparkman “Sparky” VanDevender, Opie Brennan, Belle Bock, Bear Gardner, Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman or Eleanor Roosevelt Philpott—may great you and accompany you to the shelves. They recommend Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin and Awkward by Svetlana Chinakova for fiction, and for nonfiction Courage to Soar by Simone Biles and Maps by Aleksandra Mizelinski.   Visit them at

Treehouse Books, Ashland OR Feb. 27,
In business 39 years. Jane Almqist and Cynthia Salbato say of their shop, “we are a bridge between the world of imagination and ordinary reality.” Isn’t that exactly what readers are looking for in a book? The owners grew up in the back yard of Disneyland, and this is reflected in the store’s Wizard Apothecary and Secret World Vault. “We love to encourage our guests to be their most magical selves while they are in Ashland and to take some of that enchantment with them into their daily lives. “ They dress as Lady Jane Owl and Cynthia Ravenwitch while in the store. The store holds story-themed art activities and takes book clubs to a new level in their Wizard Academy, with its monthly themed story games. They also love to feature both some undiscovered books. Among their recommendations: Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jody Lynn Anderson, and When the Sea Turns to Silver by Grace Lin

Voracious Reader, an Independent Bookstore for Young Readers with an Appetite for Books. Larchmont NY (March 31)
Voracious Reader opened 10 years ago during the time when bookstores were thought to be bad prospects. But time was right for them. Francine Lucidon describes the shop’s atmosphere as “super friendly,” especially on Fridays when Franklin, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel store dog greets customers. Francine especially likes to bring in books by exciting debut authors she meets at regional conferences. Her book club for 8-11 year olds, Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers, reads Advance Reader’s Copies of to-be published books and discusses them over pizza one Friday each month. Members can graduate to a similar club called YA Alliance when they turn 12. She recommends The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt, and the Pixie Piper books by Annabelle Fisher.   Visit them

Linden Tree Books, Los Altos (April 28)
Their motto? “Where imaginations grow.” Co-owner Diane Edwards describes the Linden Tree staff as “literary matchmakers” who are trained in simple interview techniques to help young readers find their next favorite book. The shop has a Linden Tree Page Turners club for young people to get together once a month to discuss what books they’ve been enjoying. They recommend Spy School by Stuart Giles, Connect the Stars by Marissa de los Santos, and Frogkisser! By Garth Nix.  Visit them at

Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX (May 31 )
This book shop opened in 1996 and was named for the Blue Willow style of china. The owners ignored the economic downturn and have succeeded. Blue Willow offers “opinionated advice” and has a book club for middle-grade girls called “Another Shade Blue.” They also take part in an annual Tweens Read festival in October. They recommend, among others, The Green Glass House by Kate Milford and Beyond the Bright Sea by LaurenWolk.  Visit them at

Read With Me, A Children’s Book and Art Shop, Raleigh NC (June 30).
This new shop has an unusual arrangement, with adult books on one half of the store, and children’s books on the other. Books are chosen with good visual art in mind, and there are numerous book-related art activities planned including a cartooning workshop for ages 11-14. The shop offers local art for sale. Some favorite books at the store for this age are Kwame Alexander’s Out of Wonder, and Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack. Visit them at

Eyeseeme African American Children’s Bookstore, University City Mo. (August 30)
Jeff Blair and his wife Pamela founded this bookstore because they wanted their own and other kids to know they were part of a great heritage and history that precedes and goes beyond slavery, reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement. Jeff says this is the only bookstore “devoted exclusively to promoting positive African American images and African American history while advocating for academic excellence.” Some of the books they recommend for middle-graders include the Eddie Red Undercover series by Marcia Wells and The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Okuida Equiano by Ann Cameron. What they would like most to see published would be adventure series set in pre-colonial Africa. Visit them at

An unusual feature of Kid’s Ink, Indianapolis (Oct. 30) is that everything is painted white to make the books stand out. It is sometimes called “The Train Store” because they have always had a train track and they sell trains. They like the nonfiction books they stock to have indexes, tables of contents, and recommended reading. Among the fiction they like for middle-graders are Pam Munoz Ryan’s Eco and Jason Reynold’s Ghost. Visit them at

Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe, Plainville MA. (Nov. 29) Best-selling children’s author Jeff Kinney and his wife opened this shop in their home town in 2015 in protest against Amazon and defense of the physical book . It has renewed Plainville’s downtown center. Their hope, well founded, was that despite the small size of the town, Jeff’s fame could bring people in and other authors in addition to Jeff to make appearances. 
They recommend the Thirteen Story Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths, called “the Jeff Kinney of Australia”; The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd; and The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wang-Long. The shop has a whimsical atmosphere with flying books and a quiditch game with a snitch. Lots of author events including of course Jeff Kinney. They recommend the Thirteen Story Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths, the Jeff Kinney of Australia,, The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, and The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wang-Long Shang. Visit their website at

Readers, how’s this for a happy New Year adventure resolution?  When you want a new book in 2018 , browse and buy it (and maybe a couple of new titles you wouldn’t have thought of) at an Indy shop.  There’s probably one near you and if not, there should be one at a day-trip distance.  What a pleasure.

Sue Cowing
Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu. She is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel YOU WILL CALL ME DROG (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).
1 Comment
  1. Great piece.