Tucked into a West Los Angeles neighborhood is Children’s Book World www.childrensbookworld.com), a treasure of a childrens’ bookstore. Today we’re talking with “assistant manager and book wizard” Cherry O’Meara, with assistance from owner Sharon Hearn.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere of Children’s Book World. What strikes someone when they come into your shop? Are there any special features, nooks and crannies?
Cherry: Customers are invariably immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of books displayed on our store! Next, once they catch their breath and start to browse a bit, they comment also on the quality, range and diversity. Our center room has a large display table with books relating to the major holiday of the season, for Black History Month at the beginning of the year through Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza. We set up displays around the store in advance of most occasions, right now we are featuring: Earth Day, Poetry Month, Cinco de Mayo, the Japanese National Holiday Children’s Day, and Mother’s Day.
MUF: Children’s Book World has been in business for over twenty-five years, while other children’s bookstores have come and gone. What’s the secret of your success (and your continuing enthusiasm)?
Cherry: We have a very simple secret. Besides having an amazing selection of books, our staff READS! We love books, we love to read, and we read constantly! Because we read the books, we are able to tailor suggestions to the tastes and abilities of individual kids. Because we love to read, we inspire parents and kids with our enthusiasm for books. And because we see kids daily who love to read, we get inspired in turn! Our customers are very loyal to us, and we’ve seen many families stick with us from Very Hungry Caterpillar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
MUF: Children’s Book World has become known not just as the place to buy children’s books, but also the best place in Los Angeles to recycle them, and this effort all began with a request form a certain best-selling middle-grade author. Please tell our readers something about Ann M. Martin, the Book Recycling Center and the programs you have for getting used and even new books into the hands of children who need them.
Cherry: When Ann Martin came to do a signing for one of her extremely popular Babysitter series books, we asked customers to bring in a book to be donated to a program working with children from low-income families. This request was the inspiration for starting our non-profit program, the Children’s Book Recycling Center, founded in 1997. We collect “gently used” book donations, which we organize by age and subject in a storage facility behind the bookshop. Staff from literacy programs, low income schools, and non-profit organizations can arrange to come in to gather the books their children need from our selection. Recipients are invited to come back every 6 months to replenish their collections. We have provided recycled books to over 200 under-served schools and organizations.
Children’s Book World is just starting a new program, Readers & Writers Rock!, thanks to a grant from author James Patterson, that has the mission of bringing authors to low-income schools and bringing underserved children to Children’s Book World author events. Each of the children attending will receive an autographed copy of one of the visiting author’s books. We want to put books into the hands of children and be able to provide them with author visits that can give them inspiration and generate and nurture a love of reading.
MUF: Many bookshops list staff picks on their websites, but your list of recommendations is quite extensive, covering all age levels, with a mixture of classic, currently popular, and lesser-known titles—apparently favorites of your booksellers! How do you decide which titles, new and old, to order and keep in stock?
Cherry: It’s hard, with so many great books out there! Our founder and owner meets with sales reps, and she reads trade magazines for reviews. We have an enormous library of ARCS that the staff can take home to read. We talk to librarians and teachers, and we talk to kids to get ideas for great titles that we hadn’t come across ourselves. We carry our favorites, old and new. If a book that one of our booksellers loves is a slow sell, we may still keep it on our shelves, hoping to be able to offer it when the “right” reader comes in.
MUF: So unlike the chain stores! How do you help shoppers find the right book?
Cherry: We conduct mini-interviews with shoppers. What grade is the reader in? What books have they read recently that they have really enjoyed? What books haven’t they liked– and why? We love to talk to kids to get an idea of not only their reading level, but their personality.
As Middle- grade authors, we have to ask: what
particular fiction and nonfiction titles are you recommending to middle-graders at the moment?
Cherry: Well, tell us a little bit about your reading tastes… what have you read recently that you liked? We have so many books that we recommend that it is hard to make a list that accurately reflects the titles that we sell daily. Popularity Papers by Amy Ingatow, anything Wendy Mass, The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander, H.I.V.E. by Marl Walden, Cornelia & the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Wolf Brother by Michele Paver, Ice Fall by Mathew J. Kirby, School for Good and Evil . We like to find readers for books that are a little less obvious, but that we love: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, Nation by Terry Pratchett; Saffy’s Angel byHilary McKay, The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater.
Non-fiction: Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin, How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Fanmous, by Lesley M. M. Blume, Primates, the Fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian
Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottavani, Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for Justice by Pete Nelson.
MUF: Who are some middle-grade authors who have visited Children’s Book World for readings and/or signings? Are any special events planned in the next few months?
Cherry: Sharon Creech, Lois Lowery, Eoin Colfer, Brian Selznick, Sid Fleischman, Katherine Patterson, Kate DiCamillo, Jon Scieszka, JK Rowlings, Rick Riordan, Betty Birney, Richard Peck, and many more. We wind down our middle grade authors events in May because of testing and end of school scheduling conflicts, and go full steam ahead when school starts again in the fall. We have events with picture book authors the next few weeks: Jon J Muth, Barney Saltzberg, Antionette Portis , Tim Eagan, and Max Kornell.
We love when authors visit us just to see our store. Recently, Stuart Gibbs just dropped by to say howdy ! So come by and visit us!
MUF: If a family visited your shop from out of town, would there be family friendly places nearby where they could get a bite to eat afterward? How about other interesting family activities in the neighborhood?
Cherry: There is great food very close by – our favorites are a casual, order at the counter, gourmet quality place called FOOD, right across the street, and John O’Groats, a block down, with the best breakfasts in town.
Thank you, Cherry(and Sharon), for chatting with us today about your lively store. Readers, if you have visited Children’s Book World or would like to, please click on comments below and chime in.
Sue Cowing is author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)