This Memorial Day, Mixed-Up Files honors the unforgettable Maurice Sendak, who died this month, by interviewing Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, a shop full of surprises.
MUF: Collette, how and when did the Wild Rumpus start?
Colette: In 1992, I was working at a general independent bookstore called Odegard’s in Minneapolis. Barnes & Noble specifically targeted that bookstore when they started rolling out the first ‘superstores’. As a result, Odegard’s closed and I had the choice of either opening my own bookstore, or working for a chain. Luckily, I took the plunge and bought the inventory. Next, my then-husband had a great space available in a small urban neighborhood. We worked with a terrific architect who had never designed a retail space but had a great tree-house in his backyard, so we knew that he spoke our language! We started working on the space in July and opened the store in September. This year we’ll be celebrating 20 years in business!
MUF: And you have one of the most successful independent children’s bookstores in the country, so you must be giving your customers something they can’t get anywhere else!
Collette: Absolutely. This store is a destination and it’s not unusual for families to spend hours hanging out. We offer an eclectic selection from babies to adults, a hands-on environment and extensive book expertise.
MUF: Since your store’s name is taken from that line in Where The Wild Things Are, are you doing anything special to commemorate its amazing author/illustrator Maurice Sendak?
Collette:We celebrate his life every day—in his books and our name—(although it was equally inspired by the Coen brothers’ movie: Miller’s Crossing). We have a Latin inscription painted on the floor (Let the Wild Rumpus Start), and we uphold his tradition of not condescending to children—his quote: “I refuse to cater to the bullsh*t of innocence” is a guiding light.
MUF: Most children’s bookstores carry a few animal puppets or plush toys along with their books, but you have a variety of live animals roaming (prowling? patrolling?) the store to add to the rumpus, including chickens and mice and Manx cats and. . .please tell me that tarantula Carlos is tamer than he looks! How do the customers and the animals get along?
Collette: Famously. There are some folks who are taken aback at the free-range chickens but they tend to lead kids around like the Pied Piper. Wilbur, the hairless rat is a great conversation starter and the ferrets and chinchillas never fail to entertain. Once, one of the ferrets ran into the back hallway and rode up and down in an elevator for an hour before we caught on. Hence, the sign on the back door: Please Don’t Let the Ferret Ride the Elevator.
MUF: What, besides being greeted by a menagerie , can someone expect when they enter Wild Rumpus?
Collette: Lively music, inspired events, unexpected titles, architectural surprises, curiosities (um, why do you have a bottle of Cod Liver Oil up there?)…
MUF: You have some unusual book clubs at Wild Rumpus. We here at Mixed-Up Files are especially glad to hear that “Ink Drinkers,” your new club for 8-10 year olds, is oversubscribed, and that you have a club for 11-13 year olds reading Advanced Reader’s Copies. What are some titles you have been/will be reading in these clubs?
Collette: Some of the recent Ink Drinker titles: The Big Swim, The Unforgotten Coat, Lemonade Wars, Skellig, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. The BLLOG (born later literary opinions group: middle school advanced copy reviewers): Chomp, The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom. That’s all that I can remember at this minute, but they have reviews on our website.The advanced reader group recently reviewed ARCs of Never Fall Down, Blue Fish and Fall from Grace.We also have the Remedial Book Club for Immature Adults. Our next selection is: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
MUF: Do you have a story you like to tell about an especially fine or amusing day in Wild Rumpus? Any memorable incidents?
Collette: Every day is fine and amusing. Never a dull moment! I remember once keeping a baby Wild Boar overnight. When I went to clean his pen, he escaped and led me on a merry chase around the bookshelves skittering around the corners on the wooden floor and causing me to laugh hysterically. Another time, we had a wonderful 3-legged rabbit named ‘Mr. Red’ who spent his days lounging on a divan and being adored. One evening he was inadvertently left out of his sleeping hutch and he managed to take a bite out of every single book spine in the Pirates section. The next day, we had to have “Mr. Red’s Big Pirate Sale.”
MUF: If a family who didn’t have a children’s bookstore in their town came to visit yours, would there be a family-friendly place in the neighborhood where they could get something to eat after book-browsing?
Collette: Absolutely, we are rife with independent, locally-sourced restaurants and just around the corner from a gourmet, house-made ice cream store. If you walk down to the lake, there’s a great concession called ‘Bread and Pickle’ where you can pick up a picnic lunch. For the grown ups, we have several independent coffee shops including one that specializes in rare coffees and teas. Dare parents to try the Kopi Luwak coffee ($420./lb or $10. per cup). It’s coffee beans errr.. ‘reclaimed’ from the excrement of civet cats. Who knew? Mmmm. Soooo smooooth.
MUF: And if they could stay the weekend, what other family activities in Minneapolis would you most recommend?
Collette: Well, we’re within walking or biking distance of Lake Harriet—from which you can ride/walk miles and miles around the ‘chain of lakes’. On the next lake over, you can rent paddleboats, kayaks—even learn how to do a little log-rolling. We have the world- class Children’s Theatre Company, Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater (where Brian Selznick worked with puppets) and the beautiful Minnesota Zoo. Science museums, art museums, wonderful music venues…
MUF: Have you had many middle grade authors appear at Wild Rumpus?
Collette: Tons. Brian Selznick, Brandon Mull, Tom Angleburger, Jeff Kinney, Kate DiCamillo, Anne Ursu, Shelia O’Connor, Katherine Hannigan, Jon Scieszka….
MUF:Are there events coming up at your store in June or this summer that you’re especially looking forward to?
Collette: This summer we’re planning an archery demo, a donkey day, language of flowers event, new book clubs including a knitting book club for middle-schoolers, more things than you can even imagine. In fact we haven’t imagined half of them yet.
MUF: Thank you so much, Collette, for giving us a glimpse of your unique and (literally) lively book shop. Readers, if you’ve visited Wild Rumpus or if reading about it makes you think you’d like to hang out there, please leave a comment here.
Sue Cowing is the author of You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012). She has not yet been to Minneapolis, but Drog, her puppet character, had his photo taken in front of Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre (guess he was afraid to go in).