Posts Tagged independent booksellers

Indie Spotlight: The Charming Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay, NY

Theodore's Books


Theodore's Books




Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay, NY

Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay, NY, my home away from home, is nestled in the historic, waterfront hamlet on the North Shore of Long Island. It’s the pride and joy of owner Steve Israel, book lover and former congressman who envisioned a space that inspired learning and the exchange of ideas. Theodore’s is a world away from the heated environment that politics can brew.


I never wondered why the name Theodore’s Books? Sure, Oyster Bay, NY, is where beloved former president Theodore Roosevelt once lived, and there are sculptures and imagery dedicated to the popular figure all over the Gold Coast town, but that’s not the only connection I made between the Indie establishment and one of my favorite presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was a well-known fanatic of adventure. Some would say he had an almost child-like drive for exploration. He loved the outdoors, physical activities, and thrived in dare-devil environments that most would shy away from. What better place to start an expedition into exciting worlds unknown than between the covers of a book? 

Theodore Roosevelt’s youthful sense of curiosity percolates on the shelves of this cozy bookstore. Afterleaving the polarized environment of politics behind, Steve Israel opened the doors to Theodore’s, and he wanted one message to be very clear: at Theodore’s you’ll find a refuge.

Children, like adults, deserve to escape what feels like an omni-present political battle going on in the world. At 1,528 square feet and nearly 10,000 titles, Theodore’s stocks their shelves with, “books from the left, the right, the middle or nowhere in particular. Some political books and (mostly) non-political books.” And they proudly display a sign that reads: No jerks allowed

Steve Israel


I visited with the store’s incredibly kind staff, Dan, Chloe, and Steve Israel himself, to get their take on what their youngest clientele has been leaning into to find adventures and feed their inner explorers.

Here’s what they had to say:


Is reading an abandoned pastime?

Ines: People are always claiming that books and reading in general are things of the past. That children especially aren’t interested in reading anymore. Steve, what’s your response to that?


Steve: I’ve noticed the decline in a desire for reading and it saddens me. Social media has a grip on society, and with children especially. The algorithms are incredibly savvy and know just how to keep our children’s attention glued to the screen. But there’s nothing quite like sitting with a book and immersing yourself in a world that fills your mind. I want children to experience the joy that comes with reading, which is why I dedicated a table to them in the children’s books section of the store. I want them to be able to grab a book, take a seat, and pause from everything else for a moment so that they can experience the solace that is reading.

What is it about Theodore’s?

Ines: It’s easy for me to list off the things that draw me to Theodore’s—which thankfully is only a twenty-minute drive from my house—the idyllic location, frequent street festivals, family friendly area, etc. But what would you say is a key feature that would be especially inviting for the middle-grade age crowd?


Dan: I think our best feature for middle grade readers is our children’s area. The children’s section that includes fiction and non-fiction books, games, puzzles, and stuffed animals, covers an entire wall and two bookcases. I think we carry more kids’ books than presidential biographies—despite the store’s namesake being a popular U.S. President. I’m particularly proud of the amount of non-fiction titles we carry for kids. There are plenty of non-fiction stories that are as adventurous and interesting as fiction.

Best-sellers of the MG Kind

Ines: What books seem to be consistent fan favorites among the middle grade shoppers of Theodore’s? 


Dan: I’ve sold a lot of A to Z Mysteries, I Survived, and Big Nate. We also keep being reminded of our love for Frog and Toad even as adults. In fact, we spend a lot of time reminiscing over childhood favorites; I hand sell the titles The Westing Game and Holes often!  

Chloe is our children’s books specialist, keeping that section of our store stocked with the best. 


Chloe: I’m proud of our children’s corner of the store. It’s our largest collection, carrying everything from board books to young adult. I keep my eye out for both new releases and classics for younger readers. We maintain our New Releases: Kids, Middle Grade, and YA list up to date with titles we’re all excited about.

The Happenings at Theodore’s for the MG Crowd

Ines: In March of this year, a group of Girl Scouts was selling cookies in the store, which is such a great way to give those hard working little troops a warm, indoor, and cozy place to sell their goods. Does Theodore’s offer other events or opportunities for their middle grade patrons? 


Dan: Yes! We recently held a personalized shopping experience for graphic novels and comics. Several young readers came in and shared what their favorites were, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had read through most of the exhaustive list I curated for that event. Including one child that had already read Jeff Smith’s Bone, a personal childhood favorite. 

Theodore’s has held bookmark design contests and other activities to connect with kids. We also love it when groups of children come in after school and exchange book recommendations! Sometimes spending half an hour lounging in the chairs up front, discussing what books they’ll trade when finished.  

I think we’ll eventually have live music in the store, and we’ll continue to offer more specialized shopping hours. Those types of events are always free, and all are welcome to browse and ask booksellers questions. I’d love it if Theodore’s became a hangout for kids to read and chat.

bookstore bookseller posing

((If you enjoyed this read, you should check out this article Children’s Bookstores Survive!))


I love to visit indie bookstores during my travels. If you do too and ever find yourself on Long Island, make sure that Oyster Bay is one of your stops. I go there every chance I get. You can grab a cup of Joe at Southdown Coffee, pop into Theodore’s Books for a warm bookish welcome, and later stroll the waterfront streets. Don’t forget to pay Sagamore Hill a visit too! 

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Diversity in MG Lit #22 A Progress Report

We’ve hit the award season for books. In the next weeks there will be plenty of best-of-the-year lists going around. I wanted to focus on something slightly different. In years past  the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) has analyzed the years books and put together a graphic representation of diversity in children’s books. In a nutshell, in 2018, 23% of children’s books depicted POC characters. 27% depicted non-human characters. 50% depicted white characters. This is an improvement over statistics gathered in 2015 but clearly there is plenty of work to do.
I have been keeping track of which books are getting the big promotional push in both public media and in professional conferences. I’m going to highlight three events of the last six months. And I’m going to do so with a big caveat. I am not a social scientist. I have made my conclusions on the race or ethnicity of the author based on readily available information from the publisher. Not every author states their race explicitly. It would be unethical for publishers and booksellers to ask an author to identify themselves by race. I know that people do not always belong to the race or ethnicity they most resemble. So please take my observations as just that—the candid observations of one person working as an author and bookseller.
First up—The Childrens Institute—a conference hosted by the American Booksellers Association where many publishers send their authors to promote forthcoming books to independent bookstores. This year it was online. I went to the pitch sessions where publishers had about 20 minutes each to introduce us to about a dozen titles each. The diversity of offerings varied a lot from one publisher to another. A few had as many as 90 or even 100% books by diverse authors featuring diverse characters. A few publishers had no diverse books at all. But overall when I totaled up the more than 200 book pitches I heard,  it was very close to 50-50 authors or illustrators and diverse authors or illustrators. (In my calculations I included white characters as diverse if they were disabled or LGBTQ though those were both small categories.) When challenged about lack of diversity the publishers with none or very few diverse books all pointed to past lists that had more diverse books or future ones. Many books got delayed this year or were moved to a later season. Notably every single  publisher who was asked was aware of the need for diverse books and trying to fill the need, though with varying degrees of success.
The New York Times just came out with their holiday guide to children’s books. It interested me because their content (unlike the Children’s Institute) is beyond the control of the publishers, yet it can have a powerful impact on sales. Again I took a look at not the characters of the stories but the authors and illustrators and reviewers.
16 reviewers contributed: 8 POC reviewers (3 men and 5 women) and 8 white reviewers (5 men and 3 women). So far a 50-50 split.
These reviewers presented books by 73 authors and illustrators. 26 of the creators were POC (10 men and 16 women). 47 of the creators were white (21 men and 26 women.) So 36% POC creators and 64% white creators.
Two things caught my eye. First, the gender divide was slightly more favorable to POC women.  I was also surprised to see that of the white authors & illustrators 17 or 23% of the total were not Americans but only one of those foreign book creators was a POC. So you could also represent the book creators as 1% foreign POC, 23% foreign white, 36% POC and 41% white.  Still room for improvement but clearly an effort at inclusion is being made.
Finally, it was my great pleasure to go to the virtual SCBWI Non-fiction conference. It was hosted by the Smithsonian in partnership with the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. There were 32 men and women on the faculty, 47% POC and 53% white. That is very close to parity even though the organization as a whole has a predominantly white membership. The faculty was 25% men and 75% women—not equal but reflective of the gender composition of the SCBWI as a whole.
Overall, I am encouraged. There are areas in need of improvement, but I have been glad to see acknowledgement of the problem across the board. Everyone I’ve talked to agree that the needed changes are coming slower than they’d like. Unfortunately publishing is not a speedy industry. I think the unsung heroes in all this are independent bookstore owners—most of whom are white women—who have pressured publishers for years to provide books that better represent the neighborhoods they serve.

Indiebound and

Indiebound and

We here at MUF are proud supporters of independent bookstores, and we encourage our readers to be as well. To that end, we often direct those who prefer to buy their books online to use the Indibound website as a way to connect to independent booksellers. Recently, Indiebound has split off their direct sales business onto a new platform: CEO Andy Hunter says his goal is to influence “socially-conscious Amazon customers,” not those who already shop at indpendtly-owned stores.

Indiebound and

Hunter also underscores that IndieBound is not going away entirely. The site will continue to help customers find independent bookstores as well as publish the Indie Next list and post other ABA resources.

It’s just the “buy” links to individual books that will now go to

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