Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Crious Iguana logo
I don’t know which is a greater delight to feature, a veteran independent bookstore that has survived the ups and downs and dire predictions of the last few years, or one that is new and also doing well. Today we’re talking with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner with Tom England of Curious Iguana (www.curiousiguana.com) in Frederick, Maryland.
(Have you ever noticed how founders of independent bookstores like to give them animal names: Blue Manatee, Bear Pond, Flying Pig, Mockingbird, Velveteen Rabbit? )

MUF: Marlene, your shop has been open just two years, and already it is thriving! Tell us how you came to found Curious Iguana and what you think accounts for its early success?
Marlene: My husband Tom and I opened Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in September 2000, and a couple of years ago we started dreaming about what a new curius iguana frontretail adventure might look like. Children’s books had been a consistently strong category at the Bear, so we originally planned to open a children’s bookstore. But the message we heard over and over again from our customers was how much downtown Frederick needed an independent bookstore for all ages, not just kids. When we found out a larger retail space was available around the corner from Dancing Bear, we relocated the toy store there in the summer of 2013 and opened the Iguana in the Bear’s former location just two months later.

Our local community, as well as out-of-towners who visit Frederick, has demonstrated so much love and support for the Iguana. I think it helps that Tom and I already had strong ties to the community—because of the toy store, we were a known entity and never the ‘new kids on the block,’ so to speak. We are also extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team of booksellers who are curious (of course!), passionate about reading, and dedicated to providing exemplary customer service.

MUF: The shop name is wonderful, as is the subtitle, “get to know your world.” In what ways do you encourage young readers to do that?
Marlene: We are very thoughtful in our selection of books, being sure to include titles that are diverse and globally focused.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry at Curious Iguana?Marlene: It’s a team effort that involves staff (particularly Kari, our children’s book buyer), publishing reps, online research, recommendations and reviews from other indie bookstores, and lots and lots of reading!

MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending most to 8-12 year olds these days?  Crious Iguana CartwheelingCruous iguana echo
Marlene:
Although classics are always a staple, new midgrade fiction is flourishing at the Iguana. Kids seem to be really interested in strong, Curious Iguana revolution
character-driven stories—books that open their eyes to the experiences of others and help them understand the world around them. Wonder (RJ Palacio) is still a big hit, but also Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan), Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Katherine Rundell)Curious Iguana Butterfly Hill, El Deafo (Cece Bell), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), The Crossover Curious Iguana War(Kwame Alexander), I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Marjorie Agosin), Revolution (Deborah Wiles), and The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). We’ve been really impressed with our midgrade readers—their appetite for reading, their interest in heavier topics.

MUF: Have favorite middle-grade authors appeared at Curious Iguana? Do you have other activities or events designed to appeal to this age group?

Marlene: Last year, we hosted Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) and were filled to capacity. I’m not sure we could have squeezed one more person in the bookstore! We’ve also welcomed Deborah Wiles (a longtime friend of our bookstore and toy store) and Grace Lin (who braved treacherous weather to greet 60+ fans on a very snowy Saturday morning).curious iguana Lin Several of our middle-grade customers attended a Q&A with a panel of authors from We Need Diverse Books, and we have hosted a Kids Go Global book club for ages 8-12, as well as several intergenerational book discussions at the Iguana and at our county libraries for middle-grade readers and their favorite adults.

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

MUF: Curious Iguana is a “benefit corporation.” Please tell us what that means for you, for your customers, and for the recipients of your donations.
Marlene: All benefit corporations have unique goals and objectives; ours is to be a successful business that also makes a difference in our world—that’s why we donate a percentage of monthly sales to global nonprofits that are making a world of difference. Recent recipients include Kiva, The Malala Fund, Room to Read, CamFed, and Children of Promise, Children of Hope, a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic that was started by a longtime customer and friend. This commitment to giving back helps us keep our priorities straight. It’s a constant reminder that helping others is a big part of why we do what we do. Our customers seem to respect our vision and appreciate that the money they spend at the Iguana is having a broad impact far beyond downtown Frederick.curous iguana interior

MUF: If an out of town family on a day trip visits Curious Iguana, would there be family-friendly places near buy to get a snack or meal? Are there other unique Frederick sights or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Marlene: Definitely! Our historic downtown is a thriving ‘Main Street’ community with all kinds of independent specialty stores and restaurants. There really is something for everyone. Of course, we’re just a tad biased and would encourage visitors to stop by our sister store, Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, just around the corner from the Iguana. Many families add some history to their shopping and dining with a visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is also located in downtown Frederick. Two helpful websites to check out when planning a trip to Frederick are http://downtownfrederick.org and http://visitfrderick.org.

curious iguana round logoThank you Marlene, for telling us about your bookstore and its mission!  Readers, have you visited this popular shop? (Hmmmmm. I wonder if Curious Iguana is acquainted with Reading Reptile?  Seems like they might have a lot  in common. )

Sue Cowing is author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012}.

Indie Spotlight: Stone Alley Books, Galesburg IL

We’re talking today with Ben Stomberg, founder-owner- manager of Stone Alley Books & Collectables (www.facebook.com/stonealley)  one of  a growing number  of small town independent bookstores created  by people who simply believe their town should have a bookstore you can visit in person.  I’m especially grateful for this one because it’s in the town where I grew up, which always had at least one bookstore that served Galesburg and surrounding smaller towns until a certain chain came in, outcompeted the locals, then failed and closed.  You know, that story.

Stone Alley logoMixed-up Files: Everybody who opens an independent bookstore has a bookstore dream, and that’s what makes each one unique. What was/ is yours?
Ben
: When I moved back to Galesburg in 2007 I thought, “It’ll be OK. There’s a bookstore and a Starbucks. I’ll Be Fine.” Then the bookstore closed and the Starbucks followed. Finding a better coffee shop wasn’t difficult, but living in a town of thirty-some thousand with no bookstore was more than I could handle.

MUF: Stone Alley is the only full bookstore in the area. How does knowing that shape what you do?
Ben:
When we first opened, I wanted Stone Alley to be a universal bookstore with a little bit of something for any kind of reader. But being a small brick and mortar shop in a small town, it’s difficult to have a deep enough selection in every genre. I began to specialize more in fiction and Young Adult and Kids Stone Alley, too many booksbooks. We lean on special orders and a loyal customer base that prefer to order through us instead of on line.

MUF: Congratulations on your move to a bigger store on Main Street this year. What have you added and changed in the process?
Ben:
When we moved to Main Street, Stone Alley merged with the local gaming store, For The Win. So we have added a wide selection of board games and card games such as Magic: The Gathering and YuGiOh. These things compliment our selection of comics that has grown steadily over the past 5 years. We’re a One Stop Geek Shop now.Stone Alley new front?

MUF: How do you help connect readers with books they will enjoy? Ben: I rely heavily on suggestions from my other customers. Nothing has ever interfered with my personal reading time like owning a bookstore has! So, even though I try to follow reviews and sales trends, my best tool is my customers. Being in such a small town, all of my regulars tend to “review” their last purchase when they come back in. That’s what I lean on the most when customers ask about titles or authors that I haven’t read.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, Stone alley drogdo you find yourself recommencing to readers aged eight to thirteen these days ?Stone Alley Magic Treehousestone alley blume
Ben:
Besides You Will Call Me Drog?
Honestly, the kids around here know exactly what they want before they walk in, or they’ve given their
grandparent/parent/aunt/uncle a specific list of titles lite Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Magic Treehouse or Junie B Jones.Stone Alley.  SilversteinWhenever someone needs more direction than that, I lean toward the classics. I don’t have children of my own and my only real experience is with what I grew up reading. But, parents love to find the books they loved to share with their kids. It’s hard to go wrong with Judy Blume, Shell Silverstein, Dr Seuss or Charlotte’s Web.Stone Alley new interior

MUF: If a family from out of town visited Stone Alley Books, would there be family-friendly places nearby to get a snack or meal? And if they could stay awhile are their some unique places and activities in Galesburg that they shouldn’t miss?
Ben:
The Landmark Cafe and Creperie and Q’s Cafe are both within a block of the shop. There is also the Discover Depot Children’s Museum and the Galesburg Railroad Museum. We host the Railroad Days festival on the 4th weekend in June and the National Stearman Fly-In every September.

Thanks, Ben , for telling us  about your store.  Best wishes for your continuing success.  Readers, do visit Stone Alley Stone Alley logo #2if you’re in that neck of the woods, especially if you have a geek in tow!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog,  Carolrodha Books 2011, Usborne UK, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland OR

Annie Bloom's extended logo

Portland, Oregon  is a haven for book- and  bookstore lovers, and Annie Bloom’s (www.anniebloomsbooks.com) in the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood is one of the most popular.  Today we’re talking with author/bookseller Rosanne Parry:

Annie B's interiprMixed-Up Files: Who is Annie Bloom?
Rosanne: Originally Annie Bloom’s was owned by two women. The store name is a combination of their first and last names.
Molly Bloom is our beloved store cat. She is an all black rescue cat with the perfect disposition for presiding over a bookshop. She spends much of her day in the in-basket by the register in front of the store receiving attention from customers of all ages with patience and good humor. Annie B. the cat #1She has a few hiding places throughout the store and her food is kept in the basement office, so if she grows tired of the adoration of our customers she has places to escape. She lives in the store full time and is particularly fond of author readings. She often comes to sit among the guests and sometimes steals the show by parading back and forth in front of the author.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere at Annie Bloom’s. If a ten- or eleven-year old came in for the first time, what would you want his or her experience to be?
Rosanne: Our middle grade section has its own cozy corner in reach of the younger chapter books for kids who are reading up and not far from YA for those who enjoy the occasional foray into older titles. There’s a shelf for new arrivals, and one dedicated to graphic novels of all kinds. My particular favorite is the spinning rack of unabridged classics because MG is the perfect age to discover The Secret Garden, Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes, annie bloom's sherlockAnne of Green Gables,screenshot_212Annie Bloom's Anne of Gree Tom Sawyer and so many others.annie B's treasure island

MUF: Best-selling adult and children’s author James Patterson has been giving away money recently to support independent bookstores. Congratulations to Annie Blooms for being one of the ones he has chosen! How have you used your windfall?
Rosanne: We’ve completely updated our computer system. It’s been a huge help. Keeping up with the technology is hard for any small business so the Patterson grant was terrific.

MUF: In a small bookshop, there is only room for good books. How do you decide what titles to carry?
Roseanne: The final decisions about book purchases are made by our buyer, but one of the real assets to the store is our staff of more than 20 avid readers. We are a general bookshop carrying fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose, literary and genre, NS adult’s and children’s titles. No one person could possibly be on top of all those choices so staff members have a balance of favorite areas and help our buyer stay on top of both the great new books and the classics we should always have on hand.
In order to maximize our offerings we usually only carry 1-3 copies of a book. But we order books for customers all the time. If a book is in print we can almost always get it in 2 or 3 days.Annie B's I don't remember the cover

MUF: And how do you help people find books they will love?
Rosanne: Helping a customer find the book is often a group effort, brainstorming a book similar to something the customer already loves, or searching through our data bases for a beloved story when the customer can’t remember the exact title or author’s name. Just yesterday we helped a mom looking for a poetry collection to share with her 12 year old. She had already read most of the good children’s collections and wasn’t quite ready for Mary Oliver or Emily Dickinson. We thought about William Stafford and Billy Collins and Annie Bloom's poisoned applesRobert Frost who many young readers enjoy but wanted a woman poet and after a bit of searching remembered Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman, a collection of poems based on the Grimm’s fairy tales and exploring the toxicity of the beauty culture for young women—perfect for sparking lots of important conversations between a mom and daughter and spot on for middle school.
Perhaps best of all we strive to encourage lengthy browsingMolly B the Cat relaxing Annie B's cozy loftwith free coffee, comfy chairs and plenty of unsung gems and local interest books mixed in with the latest best sellers.

MUF: As middle grade authors, we have to ask: what titles, new or old, fiction or non-fiction, do you find yourself recommending most often these days to boys and girls from this age group?
Roseanne
: One of the pleasures of a neighborhood bookshop is the ability to champion local authors. We put a note in our computer system for local authors and mark their spots on the shelf. I love recommending Absolutely Truly Annie Bloom's Absolutely Trulyby Heather Vogel Frederick to kids who are moving up from Encyclopedia Brown. It’s been all joy to see Victoria Jamison’s graphic novel Roller Girl Annie Bloonm's Roller Girltake off, not just locally but nationally. Fans of Raina Telgemeier love it. Other middle grade authors who live in the neighborhood include Graham Salisbury, Susan Fletcher, Laini Taylor, Robin Herrera, Lisa Schroeder, Barry Deutsch, and Roland Smith.
Yesterday someone came in looking for the Little House books and considering reading them aloud to her second grader. I suggested she give Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich a try instead. Annie Bloom's Brchbark HouseHelping people broaden their horizons to excellent books with a lower profile and more diverse titles is also one of the great joys of working in a bookstore.
I also have to give a shout out to the wonderful school librarians who put together the Oregon Battle of the Books list every year. We have a shelf dedicated to books that are on the list, and especially for those of our booksellers who are not widely read in children’s lit, so they can be confident recommending OBOB books all year long. They are some of our best-loved books in the store and many continue to sell long after their OBOB year.

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

MUF: If families from across town or out of town make the trip to visit Annie Bloom’s, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood for them to get a snack or visit after browsing?
Roseanne:
We are a neighborhood shop so many kids who come in are celebrating after their soccer or baseball game in Gabriel Park, or attending a birthday party at the Craft Factory next door. We get a steady parade of frozen yogurt from Necter across the street and home-made fudge from Hatties Candy Shop two doors down. If you’re in the Village for Thinker Toys, then Annie Bloom’s is the spot to get the perfect book go along with the toy. And many a young patient from Zoom Care stops by for a graphic novel to read on their day off of school.Annie B's gift card

Thank you, Roseanne, for taking us inside your shop.  Readers, when you go to Portland, don’t miss this gem!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)