Have you had the pleasure of visiting a real children’s bookstore lately (not just the children’s section of a chain store, with its standard and predictable book selection)? Independent children’s bookstores can be found all over the country, thank goodness–new and old ones, big and small, each unique and waiting to be discovered by lovers of children’s books. This month we’re talking with Jenesse Everston, Co-owner with Jill Stefanovich of bbgb (bring back great books) in Richmond, Virginia (http://bbgbbooks.com).
Sue Cowing for MUF: I was happy to hear about your new store (from middle-grade author Wendy Shang). What’s the creation story?
Jenesse: Jill and I first met on the playground while our children were toddlers. We chatted about books and art and travel and recognized straightaway that we viewed life from very similar perspectives and shared a similar aesthetic. Then and there we agreed that one day we should open a shop together!
As it happened, I moved to Europe for five years. While there, the children’s bookshop in our town came up for sale. Jill and I had been loyal customers for several of its 26 years in existence, and we couldn’t imagine life without it. One skype conversation and one week later…we became the new owners, and we would manage the shop together long distance for the next 15 months until I moved back.
MUF: I understand you remodeled the store to bring all the shelves down within kids’ reach and then turned the space above into a gallery. What else have you done to make the store unique and inviting?
Jenesse: Our customers are so patient with us, we have to say. We have moved fixtures so many times as our shop collection and mission has evolved! We worked hard to mix open space with little hidey-hole spaces to accommodate the spatial preferences of our readers. We have child-sized fatboys, a small bench and table, and a large bench and table. We want to create an environment that supports a variety of interactions around books.
MUF: You strongly emphasize matching books to kids. How does that work? Suppose a ten-or eleven-year old walks into your store today, looking for something good to read. . .
Jenesse: We engage them in conversation! We can see those eyes roving the shelves and know how daunting it can sometimes be when faced with so much choice. We find out the types of books they’ve read, they like to read and move from there. So many of our customers are regulars; we stay attuned to their preferences while we nudge them into new areas.
MUF: One of the best things about operating an independent bookstore must be that you absolutely get to choose which books to carry (or not) and how to feature and display them in the store. So what do you base your choices on? Do you carry some titles that most bookstores don’t?
Jenesse: We true back to those notions that have engaged us as readers: the sense of wonder, the perspective-changing, the smile or sigh engendered by our experience with books.
Our collection is very tight. We tend to rotate titles so that our customers are always finding a treasure.
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask, do you have certain favorite tiles, fiction and nonfiction, that you like to recommend to boys and girls in this age group?
Jenesse: Oh goodness! It absolutely shifts depending upon the child, our current interests and what we find is relevant in the context of the world at that moment. Our list of favorites is long and constantly changing, to be honest.
MUF: Have middle-grade authors appeared at your store?
Jenesse: Yes. We are currently preparing for Tom Angleberger’s launch-week visit for his third installment in the Origami Yoda series: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.
MUF: Your summer reading program sounds. . .rewarding. Is there still time to join up?
Jenesse: Well, we are well into the summer, but we just enrolled 3 more!
MUF: I can imagine what fun it was to watch Arietty in a children’s book store! Is movie night a regular thing at bbgb? What other events do you have coming up?
Jenesse:On Tuesday, local artist Mim Scalen, conducted a postcard art workshop with a group of participants aged 7 and up. We’ve had mother-child yoga, games nights, movie nights, local artists and artisans, knitting workshops…We want to support other small businesses in our community and love to collaborate. In addition, we like to keep our own kids engaged with the shop!
MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit your store, would there be kid-friendly places nearby where they could get a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jenesse: Our location really ties us into our community. We are just blocks from the Fine Arts Museum, coffee shops, and one of the largest retail streets in town, which full of restaurants gift shops, toy stores…
MUF: And if they could stay the whole day or even the weekend, are there some unique family activities indoors or out that they shouldn’t miss?
Jenesse: We are in a unique situation where the city is grounded by an urban university which is strong in the arts. In addition, we sit on the James River, which is home to herons, bald eagles, and where you can raft as a family. Plus, Richmond is a real restaurant town. Fantastic choices and family-friendly at all levels, from coffee shops to fine dining. We do love our town.
MUF: Thank you, Jenesse , for giving us this glimpse of your lively new store and your community!
Readers, Can you think of your own clever phrases bbgb could stand for? Have you’ve been to bbgb or does it sound like a place you’d like to visit? If so, leave a comment here for Jenesse and Jill. And if you have a favorite children’s bookstore you think should be featured in these posts, please let me know.
Sue Cowing is the author of YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a middle-grade novel (Carolrhoda Books, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012). She lives in Honolulu, 2,000 miles from the nearest children’s bookstore, but she’s planning a trip. . .