Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: I love the full name of this unique children’s bookstore in Brooklyn—Stories Bookshop & Storytelling Lab (www.storiesbk.com) It’s a place that encourages kids not only to read good stories, but to make them!. We’re talking today with Maggie Pouncey, co-owner:
MUF: Some people are inspired to open a bookstore because their town needs to have one. Brooklyn has several, yet there was nothing like the store you imagined, a bookshop with a storytelling “lab.” Please tell us a little about your vision and how you are carrying it out.
Maggie:We believe sharing stories with your children is the surest lifelong gift you can give them, particularly in this digitally saturated age we live in. Brooklyn is a city filled with young families with tons of activities for kids, but it had no children’s only bookshop.
We loved the idea of these two symbiotic spaces—the small curated shop where you could find new books you’d never seen before, and the Storytelling Lab, which would be a community gathering place where stories were made, shared, and told. My husband, Matt Miller, and I spent a couple months writing our business plan —we needed one to apply for a small business loan—and we spent much of that time clarifying our mission for Stories, how we wanted the place to feel, and how we wanted it to serve in young readers lives and the lives of their families.
MUF: How do you choose what books to carry in your shop? Do you have some favorite themes?
Maggie: Because our shop is so small —smaller than the children’s section in many general interest bookstores!—we have to say no to a lot of things. Our largest sections are for picture books and board books, and/but we have thriving graphic novel and middle grade sections as well.
We also have a robust section of feminist books and books about change-makers; with so many good titles coming out inspiring kids to be activists, we even have an Activist Book Club people can subscribe to. We just love good stories! And books that have the kind of timelessness all great literature doe
MUF: As middle- grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new and old, fiction and nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to this age-group?
Maggie: We sell a lot of books by Brooklyn authors! Our bestselling middle grade books have been The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown—such wonderful stories and can work as read-alouds to kids as young as 5 or 6. We sell a lot of the fabulous mystery/ghost story, Greenglass House,
by Kate Milford. And the great memoir-in-poetry Brown Girl Dreamingby Jaqueline Woodson. (All three from Brooklyn!) We also sell a lot of beloved series —Harry Potter of course, and we’ve been very enamored of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow; Wings of Fire(and anything dragons!); Wildwood;The Penderwicks; in graphic novels Amulet, Lumberjanes, all the Raina Telgemeier books.
MUF: What’s happening at the upcoming meeting of your Middle Grade Book Club? Do middle-grade authors make appearances at your shop?
Maggie:Our Middle Grade Book Club for kids 8-12 meets once a month, and we read and discuss classics, graphic novels and new favorites. When it’s a local author we invite them to come! Peter Brown and Kate Milford have come. Karina Yan Glaser came to talk with us about the first book in her wonderful series set in Harlem, NYC, The Vanderbeekers. Last month we discussed Jacqueline Woodson’s powerful new novel, Harbor Me, and she came to talk with the group which was thrilling for the kids! This month we’re reading Dave Eggers’s new middle grade fantasy adventure, The Lifters, and after that we’ll do an awesome new graphic novel, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner.
MUF: Tell us something about your writing workshops for this age group, past and future. Have you spawned some writers?
Maggie: It may be a bit too soon to know if we’ve helped usher in a new generation of Brooklyn writers—but we certainly hope we do 🙂 We teach an art class called Mini-Makers for babies and it’s such fun to watch them explore new materials and make a very good mess making gorgeous art!
The graphic novelist Justin LaRocca Hansen teaches an amazing Graphic Novel Class for kids 7-12, and they really explore every part of the process, from idea, to penciling, to inking, to presenting their work to a live audience of their families!
We host a Storytime 6-days a week —on week-days led by our staff and on Sundays featuring an author or illustrator who shares a book and often does a drawing demonstration for us. I’m off right now to introduce Jessie Sima and her new picture book, Love, Z! These are such a lively and warm mornings, and I do hope they are showing the kids who come week after week the joy of making things.
MUF: If a family from out of town makes a day-trip to visit Stories Bookshop, are there family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or a meal afterwards? And if they can stay longer, are there some nearby sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Maggie: Absolutely! Brooklyn is filled with family-friendly diversions and eateries! Just around the corner from us is Bklyn Larder—a delicious stop for lunch. The bakery Ovenly offers tons of sweets treats. We’re also in walking distance from both Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park, lovely places to spend an afternoon walking or kicking a ball.
Brooklyn is a great walking city, and it’s the best way to see all the different neighborhoods. Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the Brooklyn Museum are not to be missed.
MUF: Thanks, Maggie, for making time for this interview, and for inspiring us with your vision of kids of all ages reading and creating stories.