Posts Tagged children’s bookstores

Indie Spotlight: Bards Alley

Our Indie Spotlight shines today on Bards Alley, in Vienna, Virginia. The combination bookstore/café offers a homey, intimate space to browse for your favorite book and sample some local fare including coffee, hummus, bakery items, and even wine.

Owner Jen Morrow opened Bards just ten months ago and says the idea came as she watched her young son learn how to read. During that time, Jen rediscovered the nostalgia of going to a bookstore, and thus Bards Alley was born.

Here’s more from Jen:

MUF: What’s the biggest challenge in keeping an independent bookstore alive when the competition from big bookstores is so fierce?

Jen: It is simply finding ways to leverage being “small but mighty.” We don’t have access to the same resources, but what we are able to do locally is a differentiator. We employ people in the community, pay local taxes, donate to schools and non-profits, and bring customers to the town center who will hopefully shop at other local businesses. By offering in-store events, many of which provide access to authors, a curated selection of books tailored for our community, and programs for local aspiring writers, we are promoting culture and diversity. A place where people can unplug for awhile. I love it when a customer steps into the store, takes a deep breath, and says, “Ah, I love the smell of books!”

MUF: We love the smell of books too! What do you love most about Bards Alley?

Jen: I love seeing the joy on people’s faces when they walk in for the first time. I can’t tell you how many “thank-you’s” I have received over the past ten months. It is clear that our community was looking for a place to browse and talk about books, across many generations and genres of readers.


MUF: You clearly focus on making everything look welcoming—including folding the café experience right into that ambiance.

Jen: We take pride in how we curate local offerings as closely as we curate our book selections. Our outdoor patio is very popular this time of year! With our café, we are able to provide book clubs and customers who attend our author events a convenience that other bookstores can’t provide.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re always interested in what readers want. What titles (fiction and non-fiction) do you find yourself most recommending to readers ages 8-12—and their parents? Which titles are the ones most frequently asked for?

Jen: This is such a good question! Series are wildly popular at our store, and I find myself recommending The Unwanteds, which my son (who is almost 11) read through in a few short weeks. I’ll also recommend anything by Stuart Gibbs and Louis Sachar. Debut novels are also a favorite of mine to recommend and recently I have talked a lot about The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, as well as Orphan Island. Our young customers are also seeking graphic novels such as Smile and Drama and El Deafo. But we have also been recommending a lot of new and old classics, such as A Wrinkle in Time, Hatchet, Tuck Everlasting, and Anne of Green Gables. We are also seeing popularity with a lot of fiction based on real-life events, such as Refugee and The War that Saved My Life. Of course, most people have found Harry Potter on their own, but I can’t help but recommend it to those who haven’t yet given it a try!

One last note: this summer Bards will be offering a Summer Reading Challenge for school-aged children: read a book in each of these categories:

  1. Biography or Non-fiction
  2. Comic book or graphic novel
  3. A book written by an author of color
  4. Poetry

MUF: Thank you so much, Jen!

Bards Alley is located at 110 Church Street, in Vienna, VA.

(571) 459-2653

Indie Spotlight: Book & Puppet Company, Easton, PA

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: Another new independent bookstore catering to kids!  Today we’re talking with Andy Laties and Rebecca Midgal, Co-founders of Book & Puppet Company in downtown Easton  Pennsylvania (
MUF: Most independent book shops are founded on their owners’ passions, which is what makes each one unique. How did your passions for books and puppets combine to give Easton its first bookstore?
Rebecca: Andy and I first began doing improvisational puppetry together at Bank Street Bookstore in New York City. It has been such a fruitful collaboration, we wanted to take it to the next level by putting a puppet theater in our own bookstore.
MUF: Book & Puppet has another, out-of-this-world founder, Boingustopheles. Tell us a bit about him.
Rebecca: Boingustopheles is our beloved founder, a philanthropic robot from the Intergalactic megalopolis of Mikmukdukporp who believes in the healing power of comedy and humor. We are very grateful that Boingustopheles has chosen to locate a store on this planet. Boingustopheles thinks that everything we humans do is hilarious. We haven’t had the heart to break it to him that most of the “jokes” are actually serious. Perhaps he would find that even funnier, however.
MUF: What atmosphere do you aim to create at Book & Puppet Co.? If a middle-grade reader comes into your shop looking for her or his next good book (or puppet) what happens?
Andy: This store is a fun and funny place to hang out—the large selection of fiction for middle-readers kind of sneaks up on kids. It’s not the first thing they notice. We are very low-key with middle-graders. They need to feel respected, and free to examine the books. After a little while, I check in very casually to see if I can provide any advice. I’ve been a children’s bookseller for decades, so I’m able to identify what most kids would be interested in, once they’re comfortable opening up to me about their current reading.

MUF:How do you choose what books to carry in your shop?
Andy: When I’m considering whether to buy a book, I imagine which customer would choose it. When it comes to children’s literature, I serve children, parents, teachers, grandparents—I need books for all of them. This bookstore also caters to adult readers: I do the same thing there—I visualize my customers and try to select books they would like.
MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction you find yourselves recommending to this age group these days?
Andy: I love to turn young people on to Joan Aiken, whose Wolves of Willoughby Chase books were a precursor to Steampunk. I recommend Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce whenever possible. I recommend series that compare to Harry Potter—I often pitch Maile Meloy’s Apothecary series and John Stephens’ The Books of Beginning series. I recommend the Family Fletcher series by Dana Alison Levy to kids who like contemporary family stories. For nonfiction I gravitate to Steve Sheinkin—I love his Jim Thorpe biography Undefeated in particular. And I enjoy showing kids and parents Jazz Day—The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill.

MUF: Tell us about some of the regular activities at Books & Puppets, including puppet shows for all ages. Both of you are also graphic novelists and share your skills in workshops at the store. Do you have workshops and events coming up that would appeal to ages 8-12?
Rebecca: Our puppet shows are great for kids of all ages, and children ages 8-12, if they can be induced to come, seem to enjoy them a good deal. We also have arts and crafts project for older kids.
MUF: You also put on some events aimed and political and social action. Any coming up?
Rebecca: We just had an info-shop event about the feminist revolution in Rojava, Syria, and we plan to do more programs like that in the future. On an ongoing basis, Mangled Myths, our weekly improvisational puppet shows for grownups, often include political satire.
MUF:If a family from out of town came to visit your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after browsing? And if they could stay a little longer, are there nearby sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Rebecca: This is a fantastic place for families to visit. We are right in downtown Easton, PA, close to the Easton Public Market, an indoor, indie-style food court that is a destination in the region. The Public Market was established in 2016 as a year-round home for the vendors who congregate every Saturday, April through December, at our eagerly anticipated Farmers Market, which is the oldest one in the country. There are many dining options in the neighborhood, notably the State Café right around the corner from us, and nearby Terra Café, both of them frequented by families.
We are only two blocks from the Crayola Experience, which is a popular family destination that draws visitors from throughout the nearby states, and the State Theater is across the street from us, offering national acts including many family-friendly shows. Also close by are the Sigal Museum, the Canal Museum and other historic attractions. Easton has frequent weekend outdoor festivals in the Summer and Fall, such as the Bacon Fest and the Riverside Arts Festival.
We stand at the gateway to the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos, offering a wealth of arts festivals, outdoor adventures and other amusements. All this makes Easton a great family vacation destination.
MUF: You have said that, contrary to the conventional assumptions, now is a good time to open an independent bookstore. Why do you think so? You’re just getting started. What are your hopes and plans for Book & Puppet Company in the future?
Rebecca:  It’s true that this appears to be the time of the “retail apocalypse” with big stores and shopping malls closing, due to the growth of online retail. But everyone still wants to go out and enjoy our communities. Children especially need to be surrounded by books in order to get excited about reading—they can’t simply shop online. Independent bookstores can be successful if we serve as gathering places for neighbors. Many of the new crop of bookstores have raised start-up money using crowdfunding websites, which enable local supporters to participate and show their enthusiasm.
Our hope is that Book & Puppet Company becomes an anchor for community life in Easton, playing a part in the city’s economic and cultural revival. We hope to run bookfair fundraisers in local schools, host authors and performers, and support the reading practice of our neighbors for many years to come.

Thanks Andy and Rebecca for introducing us to your lively shop!  Readers, if you’ve visited Book & Puppet or would like to, please add your comments.

Indie Spotlight: A Children’s Place in Portland Oregon

Portland is a book lovers town and everyone has their favorites, of course, but the jewel in the crown of children’s bookstores is unquestionably A Children’s Place which was founded only 3 years after the legendary Powells. They are known for their excellent preschool story times, their events large & small celebrating some of the greatest luminaries in the children’s book world, and also many of our local rising stars. But more than anything they are known for the quality and devotion of their staff.

  1. You have been open since 1974. What is your secret to survival? 

Yes, we have been open 44 years. The first owners, Lynn and Jan, owned the shop for 21 years. Since that time, it has been through three other owners and two other locations. We may have many things that contribute to our survival, but it is no secret that our loyal customers are the main reason we stay afloat, year after year.


As one of your loyal and happy customers who has been coming to your shop since I was in the 5th grade, I’d just like to say thank you for being there for the reader I was and the reader I have become!

  1. Describe the atmosphere you try to create in your shop. What are some special features of  A Children’s Place?

We try to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to hang out for as long as they’d like, and to ask any questions they may have. We have generations who have grown up in our shop, and we know that many of the kids feel that our bookstore is like a second living room! We love hearing the clatter of wooden toys on our stage in the back corner, or to see a  bigger kid snuggled up in the big stuffed panda’s lap, completely absorbed in a book. The preschools in the area join us for story time every Thursday morning, and we also try to get middle grade readers in for special events whenever possible.


You have the most awesome book corner/ event space. I adore this mural it is absolutely the best thing about your new store.

  1. A Children’s Place has recently moved into a smaller space, so your books must be carefully curated. How do you decide what books and related items to carry?

It is always tricky to order books, but you are correct that it is even more difficult now that we are in a smaller space! We have always wished that we could have a crystal ball, the same as all of the other book buyers out there. Now that we are smaller, even if we don’t get our orders exactly right, we just have to be extra efficient about returning our stock that isn’t selling. When it comes to restocking orders, we try to send smaller orders more often now, instead of larger orders less often. This seems to help. And when it comes to new books, we still rely on the expert advice from our publisher sales reps to direct us to the books that will be the best fit for us.


  1. As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to readers ages 8-12?      

It’s tough to say which books we recommend the most, as that number is not small. I would say that all of us love to direct people to the Oregon Battle of the Books shelf, since the books on those lists are fantastic, and always our bestsellers every year. The Oregon Readers Choice Award list is also a wonderful selection.

Thank goodness for the hard working school librarians who sponsor the Oregon Readers Choice Awards which has my favorite acronym ever–the ORCAs! And don’t even get me started on the fabulousness of the Oregon Battle of the Books.

Some of our current staff new and old favorites include: Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk, Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo, Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, and Titanic: Voices From the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson. Of course, we could go on and on with titles, but if people need more recommendations, they can come into the bookstore, and we’ll pull out tall stacks of our favorites for them to peruse.  Each staff member even has her own “picks” shelf.

5.Do you have any activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?

Unfortunately, we don’t have any middle grade authors on the calendar at the moment. I’m sure that will be rectified soon. Sometimes we set up middle grade authors to go to schools, since that gives them an automatic large audience. We do have a couple of graphic novel authors going to schools soon. Middle grade and young adult readers are not as easy to lure to the bookstore for events, but we have found that sometimes it works really well to have multi-author events, so we will be looking to do another of those as soon as we can arrange it!

6. If a family is visiting A Children’s Place from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near your shop where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay longer, are there some unique family activities or sights they shouldn’t miss?

We are across the street from a sweet little cafe called Caffe Destino. There are a number of other cute family-friendly restaurants on that same street. Irving Park is just down the street from the store as well. Right up the hill, still on Fremont, there are many fun things to do near our old location. Pip’s has become a destination. Who doesn’t love doughnuts?

Thank you Pam and Kira of A Children’s Place. If you are ever in Portland give them a visit! You can find them at
1423 NE Fremont St.
Portland, OR 97212, USA
And if you want to order a book you can reach them at (503) 284-8294