Portland , Oregon is a lucky city with not one but several independent bookstores catering to children! We’re talking today with Jennifer Green, owner/founder of the newest of them, Green Bean Books, established in July, 2009 and located in the city’s Alberta district. “Green Bean Books is the quintessential spot for cheerful coziness on a rainy Portland day,” says Portland-based children’s author Roseanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle). “Whether you need just the perfect picture book, a chapter book for a finicky fourth grader or a novel and a mustache, the Green Bean staff is there with just the right suggestion.”
MUF: Jennifer, it’s heartening to see a relatively new bookstore thriving. What made you decide to take the plunge?
Jennifer: I was an elementary school teacher for ten years and wanted to try something new with some of my favorite aspects of teaching: fantastic children’s literature and reading-based activities with kids! Portland is a city with lots of families with young kids just looking for fun activities and educational things to do, so I thought I could fulfill a need in my neighborhood. Developing a sense of community for friends and neighbors was key to me in creating Green Bean Books.
MUF: What’s unique about Green Bean Books (aside from the vending machines, which I’ll ask about in a moment)?
Jennifer: Green Bean is all about noticing minutia (: There are surprises waiting to be discovered around every corner of the shop. I wanted it to be a place where people are constantly noticing new things that they may have overlooked the first time they perused the place. My hope is that people do not think of Green Bean as just a store but an adventure and a discovery!
MUF: What kinds of things do you do to welcome the community and make them feel the store is theirs?
Jennifer: I’ve tried to make the store a cozy, friendly, and inviting space that encourages families to snuggle up with a book and hang out for awhile. I’ve also created interactive displays that beacon kids to explore on their own. We have a sweet, weeping mulberry bush in the yard that I’ve turned into a reading fort when the weather is good. We also do lots of activities on our beautiful deck in the summer.
MUF: Although Green Bean Books is a small store, you could close your eyes, reach in any direction, and pick a book you’d want to read. One of your booksellers said,” We don’t have any bad books here. We don’t have room for them!” How do you go about selecting books to carry at Green Bean?
Jennifer: All three of us read, read, read, and I like to think we have really good taste in books. We also try and keep in mind our audience and our neighborhood. . . what people are talking about and asking for each day when they come in and chat with us. We write it all down and make title choices based on our community.
MUF: We’re Middle Grade authors, so we just have to ask: what is your favorite book of fiction (all-time or current) for readers ages nine to twelve? Nonfiction?
Jennifer: That’s actually my favorite group to read for! There are sooo many good ones! I’ve recently loved The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai and With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo were excellent, too! In the nonfiction arena, I love Maira Kalman’s new picture book geared toward older readers, Looking at Lincoln. I also found World wIthout Fish by Mark Kurlansky completely fascinating.
MUF: Thanks, I’ve just added some titles to my to-read list! Okay, now let’s talk about those vending machines. You won’t find that kind of creativity at Barnes & Noble.
Jennifer: Yes, I collect vintage vending machines and re-purpose them into dispensing new items that kids will enjoy. For example, I have an old tampon machine from the 70s that you can by fake-fur mustaches and beards out of for 25 cents. I also hand-make muskrat finger puppets and sell them out of a funky old cigarette machine from the 60s (I collect finger puppets, too). There’s a mini-journal and pencil set machine, a tattoo/sticker machine, and a miraculous baby machine that dispenses miniature babies with bottles and birth certificates. I’m always trying to thing of the next machine to invent.
MUF: You seem to have a lot going on at your store all the time.. .
Jennifer: We offer a ton of community activities each month, including weekly story times, monthly Spanish story time, bookmaking classes, author visits, sing-alongs, and surprise craft stations. One of our most sccessful events was probably Fairy Day last summer. We read fairy books, kids made magic wands, ate sparkly cookies and then they got to create miniature woodland fairy houses outside all around the bookstore yard. It was truly magical.
MUF: Any events coming up that you’re especially excited about?
Jennifer: Yes! Singer Laura Viers is coming on February 29 at 11 AM to share her beautiful music with families from her new album Tumble Bee.
MUF:We encourage families, especially those whose towns don’t have a children’s bookstore, to make places like Green Bean Books a day-trip destination. In case they can stay awhile, are there any family restaurants nearby where they could have a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jennifer: Yes, there are several great restaurants that are kid-friendly in Alberta. One of my favorites is the Grilled Cheese Grill: kids get to eat deliciously greasy grilled cheese sandwiches on an old school bus that has been converted into a restaurant. Helzer’s, right next door, also is very family friendly and has the best potato pancakes in town!
MUF: And if they can stay the whole day or the weekend, are there a couple of unique Portland sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jennifer: The Portland Children’s Museum is awesome, and I’ve recently discovered an eccentric museum in NW Portland called The Peculiarium that even has an alien abduction room! What kid would not like that?!
MUF: Thank you so much, Jennifer, for giving us a glimpse of Green Bean Books!
Readers, if you’ve already visited this store or would like to, please let Jennifer know in a comment here. Or share your thoughts about children’s bookstores with us and let us know of one you like that you think we should feature. Then stay tuned each month to read about still more children’s book experiences that you won’t get online or in a chain store. On March 26, we’ll be visiting Blue Manatee in Cincinnati.