Posts Tagged children’s bookstores

Indie Spotlight: A Brand New Mr. Mopp’s in Berkeley CA!

Mopp's logo

It’s always so exciting and heartening to learn that someone is opening a new children’s bookstore , and in the next few weeks, Davin MCDonald and Jenny Stevenson, owners of Mr. Mopps’ Toys and Books will be doing just that (

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Congratulations on your new bookshop venture, Devin! We should also say thank you, because  nothing keeps the magic of books and reading alive for kids like a dedicated children’s bookshop. You’ve carried books in the toy shop before and tried to do readings there, so is this a kind of expansion of a dream?

Devin:  It is.  Mr. Mopps’ actually opened in 1962 as just a book shop and expanded shortly after to include toys. Over the years, it became quite famous for both. Ultimately, it became a large toy shop with a separate room for books. We took over the shop in October of 2010. The former owners were retiring. They liquidated the inventory and terminated the lease on the book room. It saddened us that we no longer had the book room, but at the time it was a bit of a happy accident. There was no way we could have afforded the lease on both of them.

Under construction!

Under construction!

In carrying on the grand tradition of Mr. Mopps’, we have carried books, and up until now have had a decent selection. While the shop is actually quite large (~3700 sq. feet/344 sq. meters), we have found that we just didn’t have the space we wanted to offer the selection we desired to carry. When a space several doors down from the shop became available, one of our staff, Eric, mentioned he thought it would be awesome if we could open a book shop there. We kind of laughed it off at the time, but over dinner that night, we decided to  crunch some numbers and it became apparent it was actually

something we could possibly do. So, yes. It is an expansion of a dream. A recent and sudden dream, but one we are extremely excited about. We are opening the shop on October 19th, and we just can’t wait.We have actually started dreaming of the shop in our sleep. This is a massive deal to us.

MUF: It seems that every children’s book shop has a unique atmosphere, simply because the owners are free to realize their  particular vision of what a book shop could be.   What is yours for Mr. Mopp’s Books?

screenshot_854Devin: Well, we are firm believers that just because this is a space for children’s books, that doesn’t mean that it has to be decorated with rainbows and primary colors and the like. In fact, the palette we have chosen as far as paint and flooring and light fixtures is a bit mature. As for decor, we are putting plants on top of the shelves and the space you can see in the back there, and will have some neat things on top of them as well, such as a globe and a telescope, lamps, and things like that. I guess what we envision is sort of a cozy study- but for children. The space in the back there will be a reading corner with a big chair and a children’s table. We will have step stools around, and perhaps something along the lines of bean bag chairs or ottomans to sit on and read. We’ll  have some toys on hand to play with as well.

The music we listen to at Mr. Mopps’ is a wildly eclectic mix culled from  Jenny’s and my collection at home that is family friendly. We get compliments on it all the time. Jazz, blues, soul, funk, rock,  R and B, obscure vintage music, Bollywood tunes, Thai disco, Cambodian folk music, cumbia, ranchero, salsa, 70’s Irani music, mellow electronica, Balkan brass… It really is all over the place. We find that it adds to the richness and texture of the shop and leads to interesting conversation. People from all over the world who have dropped in to the shop have run over to the counter to ask how we could possibly know about the song we are  listening to. We don’t do kid’s music or holiday music, and our customers tend to really appreciate that.

Another exciting thing is that we have a friend of the shop who who will be curating artwork to hang in the book store. She throws what is arguably the coolest art event in San Francisco annually- it’s called ArtpadSF. If you are ever in the Bay Area when it is happening, you should jump on the opportunity to go. She knows loads of artists and will be helping us find work that is not “kids” art, but is still kid-friendly in terms of appropriateness.card from Chronicle

MUF: Are you planning to have author visits or on-going programs like story-hours, classes, or book clubs ?  What middle-grade author (s) would you most like to have appear at your shop?

Devin:We are! The shop is quite small (360 sq. feet/33.5 sq. meters), so readings will most likely have to be an RSVP type of deal. But signings and such will be open to the public. We are toying with the idea of book clubs, but this is all happening so quickly we haven’t had time to really think about the actual “nuts and bolts” of how something like that would work.

Truthfully, I’ve been ordering so many titles over the past few weeks that it is all a blur as far as being able to choose any particular authors that we would like to have visit the shop. Of course there are the superstars- like Rowling and Riordan, Gaiman and Palacio, but there are so many lesser-known authors I am coming across in the buying process whose work looks great.

MUF: Who will be working in the shop and recommending books to children and their adults?

Devin: We are interviewing 20 candidates now, and, really, they all seem great. The majority of them have bookselling experience and in some cases, have even been buyers. This is going to be a tough decision. We are hiring a staff of 3, two of which will be working on any given day. Jenny and I will also work in the shop at times, of course.

We are also going to publish a newsletter with reviews by kids who frequent the shop. Several are already on board!

A young intern at Mr. Mopps'

A young intern at Mr. Mopps’

MUF: How will you select books for your shop?  Do you have some favorite titles that you will carry and recommend to middle-grade readers?
Right now, I am the buyer for the shop. My technique so far has been to order books I am familiar with, are by authors I love, and we have recieved scores of emails (and even hand-written) lists of suggestions from children who come to Mr. Mopps’. Some of the publisher’s reps have been very helpful in pointing out work that they like. We are very particular in expressing our tastes to them, and they have gotten to know what types of books we like carrying. We are going to the NCIBA show in early October and the ABA show in January. I’m sure we’ll be finding some great stuff there.

MUF:  If a family visits your store from out of town, would there be a place nearby for them  to get a meal or snack after browsing your shop? And are there family-friendly activities to enjoy nearby.
Devin:  Yes! There are a handful of wonderful restaurants near the shop, ranging from delicious pizza to sushi and even organic vegan fare.  We are just two blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School, where the famous Edible Schoolyard is located (there is also a playground and track there) and very close to Live Oak Park, which has a nice playground and a creek, Codornices Park (where there is a really fun and super long cement slide), and the Berkeley Rose Garden. screenshot_860My favorite of them all, Adventure Playground, is about a 10 minute drive from here (and that’s really just because of cross-town traffic. It’s only maybe 3 miles away). There, children can check out hammers and such, build and paint forts out of scrap and plywood, and ride on a super fun zip line.

MUF:  Sounds great! Thanks, Devin, for taking time from your hectic preparations to talk with us. All best wishes and hoorahs for your opening and for the the success of Mr. Mopps’ Books!

MUF:More good news.  Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville NC, interviewed here in April, is also realizing it’s expansion dream soon.  They’re moving from downtown Asheville  to Reynolds Village in North Asheville, where they’ll have plenty of free parking for customers.  They’re painting now and shooting for early October.  Check their Facebook page or website ( for announcement of the  open-house date.

Readers, please use this comment space to wish Devin and Jenny well in their new Berkeley shop and, if you can, visit them after the 19th !

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2012, Usborne UK 2012).



Indie Spotlight: Hooray for Books! Alexandria VA

screenshot_812Today we’re talking with Ellen Klein, founder-owner  of




in that town of avid readers, Alexandria, Virginia (

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!

Erin Hunter and Survivors Fans

Erin Hunter and Survivors Fans

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.


Judy Bloom signs copies at HFB 

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.

Waldo went that-a-way!

Waldo went that-a-way!

 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)


Indie Spotlight: Mockingbird Books, Seattle

screenshot_800Summer is here,  a great time to visit a children’s bookstore and come home with treasures to read on the porch or in the park.  Today we’re talking with Wendy Ostenson of Mockingbird Books in Seattle (, who
invites you to her store.
Sue Cowing for Mixed Up Files: That’s a wonderful old building that houses your shop. Can you tell us a little bit about it and about how Mockingbird Books came to be?
Wendy: We are in this wonderful old brick building that was originally a church. Owner Alyson Stage had wanted to own a children’s bookstore ever since her kids were little. When a great space came up for sale in her own Green Lake neighborhood, she partnered with friends and family and bought the building. screenshot_808It’s now not only a bookstore, but houses offices and an event space on its second floor. Alyson’s now-grown kids, Taylor and Emily, work at the store and help coordinate events.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created inside.
Wendy: We like to think of it as a neighborhood space where kids, parents and caregivers are welcome to spend some time. The store is cozy, warm and inviting. Our front window area is dedicated to entertaining kids with trains, puzzles, and chalk art. Our Reading Room in the back has comfortable couches to relax and really, truly get into a book. We also have a small cafe that serves espresso and kid-friendly snacks.
Our staff is pretty much a group of children’s book nerds, comprised of semi-retired librarians and education junkies. Sue Nevins from the store means it when she says, “We love to talk about books!”
MUF: How do you decide what children’s books to carry in your store?

A fan of Suzanne Williams' GODDESS GIRLS series finds the latest at Mockingbird Books

A fan of Suzanne Williams’ GODDESS GIRLS series finds the latest at Mockingbird Books

Wendy: Sue and Linda Spoor do most of the buying. With their 40+ years of experience in children’s books, they do an amazing job of keeping the store balanced with tried-and-true classics and worthy new titles. Mary Bayne and I do several story times a week, so we can definitely tell if a book resonates with kids and is worthy of multiple reads. We all have our favorite authors and book blogs, and we love to talk with friends in the business and meet with publishing reps. Also, our customers often recommend great books that should be on our shelves. So I guess you could say it’s fairly collaborative.
MUF: Do you have some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction you are recommending to middle grade readers right now?
Wendy: Here’s a few great summer reads for middle graders that also will kick-start some great conversations:
Fellowship for Alien Detection by Seattle Author Kevin Emerson
The Search for Sasquatch by Spokane Author Kelly Milner Halls
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
MUF: How does Mockingbird Books keep a following in spite of chains and Internet sales?
Wendy: We like to think folks will have a personal experience when they come into the store.

Dressing up for Cowboy/cowgirl photos during  a visit byJan Sonnemein, author of COWBOY UP

Dressing up for cowboy/cowgirl photos during a visit by Jan Sonnemein, author of COWBOY UP

Whether it’s engaging our youngest readers through story times, unearthing a lost treasured book, or matching a book to a reluctant reader, we strive to provide friendly service. If we don’t have a book in the store, we are happy to research and track it down. We thinks it’s a privilege to get to know our patrons well and see many of them grow up into strong readers.

MUF: Do you have book clubs or events especially designed for middle graders?
Wendy: Sue Nevins does monthly book groups that will start back up in August. There is a Boys Book Group, a Girls Book Group, and a Graphic Novel Group where kids decide the book for that month and they chat about it over pizza.
We also have author events to coincide with new releases. In the last year, we’ve enjoyed visits from national authors such as Michael Buckley, Rose Mary Woods, and Margi Preus.

Trying out invisible ink with Newbery winning author Margie Preus

Trying out invisible ink with Newbery winning author Margie Preus

Many local middle grade authors like Stephanie Barden, Kirby Larson, Kevin Emerson, Patrick Jennings and Martha Brockenbrough are good friends and often do events.

MUF: If a family made a day trip to visit your shop and need a place to grab a bite, what would you recommend?
Wendy: There are so many places right near us. We are on the same block as Rosita’s which is a neighborhood landmark, and Jodee’s which specializes in organic baking. There are also great Greek, Thai, pizza, pub food and sandwich shops within walking distance. And, being it’s Seattle, there are multiple coffee shops on every block.screenshot_806
MUF: And if they decided to stay in Seattle a little longer, what family-friendly sights and activities would you recommend the most?
Wendy: Green Lake, the most-used park in the city, is literally a block from our store. In the summer its focus is water sports galore. You can rent standup paddle boards or paddle boats and swim at the two beach areas. The path around the lake is 2.8 miles and it’s great for walking and bike riding. We are also about a mile away from the renowned Woodland Park Zoo. I can’t wait to see their newly-born jaguar triplets with my kids this summer! I’d also recommend the Chihuly Garden and Glass that has just opened at the bottom of the Space Needle. It’s an accessible while mind-blowing tribute to extreme glass, art and color. My sixth grader loved it.
MUF: Tell us something about Mockinbird Books that most people don’t know.
screenshot_807Wendy: Our giant Giraffe/store mascot, Geraldine, is a bit of a fashionista.  We aren’t sure where she finds them, but she finds hats and accessories and slips them on when nobody’s looking.  We’ve been surprised to find her dresses up as a leprechaun, a firefighter, and The Cat in the Hat.  Right now she’s wearing a hula skirt.  
MUF: A giraffe after my own heart!  Thank you Wendy for giving us a glimpse into your charming shop!  Readers, we know  you treasure children’s bookstores. If you have been to Mockingbird Books or think from this taste you would like to visit, please let Wendy know here.  
Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu, two thousand miles away from the nearest children’s bookstore. She is the author of the middle grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).