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.
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.