Today we’re talking with Ellen Klein, founder-owner of
in that town of avid readers, Alexandria, Virginia (www.hooray4books.com).
Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: I gather Hooray for Books began where another shop left off and was founded by some of its booksellers, so it’s a long tradition, right?
Ellen:Yes. A Likely Story closed its doors in November 2007, after serving the Alexandria community for more than 20 years. As a full-time bookseller at that store, I knew there were many loyal customers who would sorely miss having an independent, locally owned children’s bookstore in Old Town. That was the impetus for opening Hooray for Books! in June 2008. What really keeps me going, though, is seeing how excited the children are about everything we do in the store, at their schools, and in our community.
MUF:I’m so glad you tell us something about each of your individual booksellers on your website. Just glancing over the rich variety of their interests and experiences and the titles they list of favorite books, I can just picture a middle-grader coming into your store to browse, asking for a recommendation, and coming out with a book to love for life!
Ellen:Yes, we’re all readers here at the bookstore, so we’re always happy to talk about new books with the children. Many of the children are regular customers, so we’ve learned what kinds of books they most enjoy reading and, often, we’ll order books with the thought, “Oh, so-and-so will want to see this book!” I should add that this is true for our adult readers, too!
Being an independent bookstore means that we’re responsible only to our customers – to anticipate their needs and respond quickly to their requests. What we stock on the shelves is, of course, limited by the size of the store, but we work with more than 400 vendors to try to have on hand the books and other merchandise that we believe our customers would like. If, however, we don’t have exactly what they want, we’re usually able to get it for them within a week or two.
MUF: How do you choose the books to carry in your shop? Are there some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction, new or old, that you are recommending to middle-graders this summer?
Ellen:We choose titles based on several factors: gut instinct; reading an advance review copy; advice from our publisher reps; reviews from other independent bookstores; and customer recommendations. As for summer reading recommendations for middle graders, there are many great books, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention books by authors who will be coming in the fall: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier; the Accidental Adventure series by Alexander London; and the Dragon Chronicles series by Ellen Oh.
MUF:Apparently Alexandria is a reading community. Is that part of the secret of your shop’s success? What kinds of outreach do you have to your community?
Ellen:Alexandria is said to be the nation’s leader when it comes to readers of children’s books, which is great! We work very closely with a local literacy organization, Wright to Read, to ensure that new books are donated to economically disadvantaged children throughout the city. With Wright to Read, we also cohost the annual Alexandria Story Festival, which is a free event that gives children a unique opportunity to meet award-winning authors. We work with many other organizations, too, as well as public schools in Alexandria and the surrounding counties, to bring books and authors to a wide variety of events.
MUF:What have been some of your favorite events at the store? What’s coming up in the next month or so?
Ellen:For our middle grade readers, we offer two book clubs that meet once a month, year-round. The clubs are very popular because the members read and review copies of books not yet published—and we post the young readers’ reviews when the books are published. We also host events at the schools, public libraries, and the store. Just a few of our upcoming events include Aug. 26th at the store with Ty Burson (Let Sleeping Dragons Lie); Aug. 27th at the Bethesda Public Library with five middle grade authors; Sept. 8th at the store with four middle grade authors; Sept. 19th school and store events with Caroline Carlson (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates); and Sept. 28th–the Alexandria Story Festival.
MUF: If families from out of town Hooray for Books, would there be a family-friendly place nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing? And if they could stay awhile, are there some places or activities in the neighborhood or the city they shouldn’t miss?
Ellen:We’re fortunate that right at the corner is a coffee shop, The Uptowner, which makes great sandwiches and wraps and is very popular with our customers. As for sightseeing, I’d recommend visiting the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, which is about three blocks west of the bookstore on a hill that Thomas Jefferson argued should be Capitol Hill. I’d also highly recommend the Torpedo Factory Art Center on Union St (at the city marina), where visitors can see more than 100 artists at work.
MUF: Thanks,Ellen for taking time out to talk with us. One thing you said in passing really sticks in my and reminds me why we continue to spotlight children’s bookstores here on The Mixed-Up Files: “Being an independent bookstore means that we’re responsible only to our customers.” That seems to be the underlying difference between children’s bookstores (all of which are independent) and chains or on-line booksellers and goes far to explain visiting an Indy is so much more fun and rewarding.
Readers, let us know if you’ve visited Hooray for Books! or would like to go. And if you’re just too far away, tell us about a favorite children’s bookstore nearer to you.
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy story You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011, Usborne UK, 2012)