Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: TreeHouse Books, Ashland OR

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s always a pleasure to feature a true children’s book shop! We are talking today with Jane Almquist and Cynthia Salbato, shopkeepers and creators of the Secret Book Club at TreeHouse Books(www.TreeHouseAshland.com).

 MUF: Treehouse Books has made the Best Bookstores in Oregon list, and Ann Patchett recently named it in her list of 26 bookstore favorites nationally. Brag a little. What do you think has made your shop so successful?
Jane & Cynthia: We have a 39 year old history and deep connection to our community. TreeHouse was founded by teachers and then nurtured through a lineage of owners passionate about children’s literature. The secret to our success? We excel at filling up a very tiny bookstore with a wide selection of carefully curated books, we have strong relationships with the area schools and Oregon Shakespeare patrons, and we have our own line of story themed Art Kits and community events.

Jane & Cynthia, aka Owl and Raven

MUF: Visitors to Treehouse Books describe it as unique, magical, and full of color.What atmosphere have you tried to create and what do you want customers to experience?
Jane & Cynthia:
We are a bridge between the world of the imagination and ordinary reality.  Both Jane and Cynthia grew up in the backyard of Disneyland, and Disney’s ‘lands’ were hugely impactful. Instead of Fantasyland, we have the Wizard Apothecary. Instead of Tomorrowland, we have the Secret World Vault. It helps that so many authors have created such vivid worlds for us to borrow from. Our Wizard Supplies section owes much to JK Rowling, as does our Book Vault for Young Adult readers. The mythic and faery realms are also well represented. Each genre or reading level is the entrance into a different ‘land’.
We love to encourage our guests to be their most magical selves while they are in Ashland, and to take some of that enchantment with them into their everyday lives. We ourselves love to be in our personas of LadyJane Owl and Cynthia Ravenwich when we are at the shop!
MUF: A number of independent bookstores have book clubs for kids, but your Secret Book Club for middle readers has developed into something wonderful called the Wizard Academy that includes monthly story games and involves the community. Tell us about that. What games are planned for this spring? What are your plans to expand the program?
Jane & Cynthia:
Merging story genres with community games, we have created a story-based calendar of events featuring 12 themed story games, a game for each month of the year.   The year starts with Time Travel, our science fiction game that also doubles as a goal setting game. In February we read animal stories and play Care of Creatures, a community kindness game.  March is our Wizard Academy. April is mystery, May is fairy tales and so forth. We are working with Matthew Beers, a software developer to take these games online and to other communities.

MUF: Please tell us about your story-themed art kits.
Jane & Cynthia:
 TreeHouse celebrates reading, writing and creating. The Art Kits are the hands-on creating part of our mission. Reading is a wonderful pastime, expanding our hearts and minds. The kits take that expanded heart and mind and put it into action and activate a kid’s own creativity. As kids we loved to “create somethings out of nothings” as LadyJane likes to say.  We put together fun supplies and offer some possibilities with a story theme, and then leave it up to each creator to come up with their own personal creations.

MUF: You describe your collection as “curated.” How do you choose the books to carry in your shop?
Jane & Cynthia
:We read A LOT. We also research a lot (not as fun as reading but essential.) Our customers and community are also big readers and are always recommending titles. It takes a village to build a good bookstore! A lot of great books get missed… possibly a boring cover, or not enough publicity. There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering an undiscovered book and sharing it with readers!  We also have great book publisher reps that help us discover new gems.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, do you find yourself recommending these days to ages eight through twelve ?
Jane & Cynthia:It does depend on what the reader likes… it’s very fun to match up a reader with their next favorite book! But here are the books that we have found to have universal appeal this past year:  Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jody Lynn Anderson. When the Sea Turns to Silver, by Grace Lin, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. Then there are those authors that we know will excite readers: Brandon Mull, Maile Meloy, Colin Meloy, Kelly Barnhill (yay! She won the Newbery award!), Kate DiCamillo, and of course JK Rowling.
One of the fun things with our book club is that we get to recommend books in different genres each month. In January it was science fiction to complement our Time Travel storygame. This month we switch to animal stories to complement our Care of Creatures Kindness storygame. And in March, when we go to Wizard School, we’ll be reading Fantasy.

MUF: If a family visits Treehouse from out of town, are there family friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they can stay longer, are there some sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jane & Sylvia
:  Ashland is tiny but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival assures we have lots of visitors so good restaurants are easy to find. Standing Stone and Granite Tap House are two pubs that cater to families. Granite Tap House has just installed a game room and we may be collaborating with them in the future for story themed parties. Martolli’s is a family owned business that sells the best handmade pizza. There is always a big group of students in there and they offer ‘by the slice’ or full pies.
Just half a block from our store is the entrance to Lithia Park, one of our favorite places in Ashland.   The park features a couple of miles of trails along Ashland Creek which runs through the middle of the park.  There is also a playground, the Japanese Garden, some tennis courts, a bandshell, duck ponds, and ice skating in the winter months. For longer stays, OSF is actually very family friendly and student focused. At least one play every season is a rollicking comedy, and one is a big broadway style musical production. Last year we saw a family friendly production of The Wiz, and we’re looking forward to Beauty and the Beast this year. TreeHouse is right across the street from the theaters! Science Works Hands On Museum is a great family place. Don’t miss the Bubble Room!And Southern Oregon is famous for its outdoor activities. World class rafting  in summer and skiing and ice skating in winter are just a few of the outdoor activities for families. Emigrant Lake has a water slide and our neighboring town of Medford has a family fun center with mini golf, go carts, bumper boats and arcade.  The world famous Crater Lake is a great day trip which should include a stop at the Rogue River Gorge in Union Creek.

MUF:  Sounds like a great town for kids growing up, especially with such a dynamic bookstore at its heart!  Thanks for sharing some of the details.  Readers, have you visited this shop?

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

Indie Spotlight: Parnassus Books, Nashville TN

Ann Patchett, successful award-winning author and passionate promoter of independent bookstores all over the country,

Karen Hayes & Ann Patchett

has joined the growing number of authors who feel strongly about the value of independent bookstores so they open their own, in her case Parnassus Books in Nashville Tennessee (www.parnassusbooks.net), co-founded with publishing veteran Karen Hayes. We’re talking today with Mary Laura Philpott who writes the store’s lively blog “Musings” and has two middle-grade junior booksellers of her own.

Mixed-Up Files: What do you want people to experience at Parnassus? Describe an ideal day in the shop.
Mary Laura
: If you look around the store, you can see the experience that Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, our owners, have in mind. It’s open and light and clean, but with plenty of interesting nooks and corners, and lots of comfy seating. There’s usually a shop dog or two lounging around, hoping for a reader to snuggle with. And depending on the day, we might set up chairs in front of our stage for a visiting author to come read and sign books. It’s meant to be more than just a store — a real hub for lovers of the written word of all ages.

MUF:With your owners’ experience in the publishing business, your store collection must be well curated. Do you and your community have some special areas of interest?
Mary Laura:
You’re right — curation is key, especially for a small store where there’s no room for filler. Our owners and buyers have gotten to know what local audience is interested in. Of course, new fiction and nonfiction are always popular. Nashville’s full of voracious readers, so customers tend to be aware of the latest literary buzz and come in looking for new titles they’ve read about. Not surprisingly, we have a well-stocked music section. And with the expansion of our shop in 2016, we were able to add not only more elbow room for browsing in all our sections, but also more space for children’s and YA titles.

MUFHow do you help kids select books? We’d like to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers aged 8-12.
Mary Laura:
Great question! Our manager of books for young readers is Stephanie Appell, who has a masters degree in library science with a focus on youth services and is a former teen librarian. She also just might be the most enthusiastic champion of children’s literature and YA literature I’ve ever met. She regularly meets with publishers to discuss what they’ve got coming up, but she also does a lot of her own research, via trade publications and blogs, to stay on top of the best and brightest new titles. All of our children’s booksellers are great at reading ahead so they can recommend the best new reads the minute the books come out.
You can follow along with our staff picks on Musing, our online magazine. Every month, there are some picks especially for young readers, chosen by our children’s booksellers as well as our junior booksellers — a few kids ranging from elementary to high school who help us out on weekends and holidays. (Two of them are my own kids, and they love choosing their staff picks!) https://parnassusmusing.net/category/staff-picks/

[Looking over these staff picks, we found lots of new or somehow overlooked titles to add to our teetering pile of books-to-read.  Fiction:  Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly, Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur,  The Girl Who Could Fly and The Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Foster, and Awkward  by Svetlana Chmkova.   Nonfiction: The Courage to Soar by Simone Biles, Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska,  and March by John Lewis.]

MUF: Any events or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Mary Laura: Yes! We are so excited about the launch of Andrew Maraniss’s Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. This is a middle grade adaptation of Andrew’s New York Times bestselling book of the same title, and it’s an incredible true story of courage and perseverance. Andrew is going to discuss the book with fellow New York Times bestselling author Ruta Sepetys at Parnassus on February 9th. You can check our online calendar for more upcoming events at http://www.parnassusbooks.net/event.

MUF: Many independent bookstores have store pets, but Parnassus has several wonderfully named dogs (Sparkman Vandevender or Sparky, Opie Breman, Belle Rock, Bear Gardner, Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman, and Eleanor Roosevelt Philpott), who not only greet customers but actually perform same-day delivery service?
Mary Laura
: Ha! Yes, that was their April Fool’s Day joke on us all last year. (https://parnassusmusing.net/2016/04/01/announcing-our-new-service-parnassus-on-paws/) Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the dogs could drive and they just showed up at people’s doorsteps? They actually serve a variety of functions in the store, from offering wet-nosed greetings to acting as furry footstools to snuggling anyone who looks like they need a little love. They also have their own blog, “Shop Dog Diaries,” where they share their bookstore adventures. (https://parnassusmusing.net/category/shop-dog-diaries/)

MUF:For those of us who can’t visit and enjoy Parnassus soon, tell us what we can experience online.
Mary Laura:
If you can’t be here in person, make sure you’re subscribed to Musing — it’s almost as good as visiting the store. You’ll get lots of exclusive, free bookish content delivered right to your inbox: author interviews, reading lists, staff reviews of new books, Ann’s blog, the shop dogs’ blog, and more. (www.ParnassusMusing.com) You can also shop directly from our store website, www.ParnassusBooks.net, and we’ll ship your books to you. One other thing far-away readers need to know about is our subscription programs. (http://www.parnassusbooks.net/first-edition-clubs) There are two, actually: the First Editions Club (a signed, hardcover, new adult book every month) and ParnassusNext (a new, signed YA book every month). And if you’re on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, you can interact with us every day!

MUF: If a family visits your shop from out of town, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal? And if they can stay a little longer, are there some unique sites or activities nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Mary Laura
: Oh, Nashville is such a family-friendly town. Depending on the weather, there are lots of places right in the middle of the city to hike and enjoy the outdoors (check out Radnor Lake and Warner Parks). The Parthenon is pretty cool, as are the Nashville Zoo and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. If you’re into science, the Adventure Science Center is worth checking out. There are some family-friendly activities at Opryland as well. As for food, well, we could go on forever . . . Andy Brennan, our store manager, strongly believes Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is the best in town. There are several spots right here in our shopping center, too, including Fox’s Donut Den right around the corner. Donuts and books, does it get better than that?

MUF:  Amen!  Thanks for telling us about Parnassus Books.  Readers, have you visited this delightful shop?  If not, wouldn’t you love to go there?

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

On the Road? Find a Bookstore

Having recently made a voyage to Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, I was tickled to see this week’s New York Times article, Ann Patchett’s Guide for Bookstore Pilgrims. Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and I had been dying to see her famous bookstore. I reveled in the light and airy feel, the healthy children’s book section, and the entire wall of signed copies of her new book, COMMONWEALTH. I came home with a few goodies.

My trip wasn’t a pilgrimage per se. I was visiting Nashville anyway, and made a stop in to the store. That’s one of my favorite things to do when traveling. There’s nothing like a good independent bookstore to get a feel for the unique personality of a town (the cookbook section and community message boards are particularly good for this). Wandering through a well-curated bookstore is also the perfect antidote for the disorientation of travel. I come out calm and refreshed, my bag filled with thought-provoking entertainment for the trip and gifts for those back home. And no matter where I am, I always find my people in a bookstore.

In the past year, I’ve discovered The Galaxy Bookshop in Hartwick, Vermont, and Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Portland, Maine. In Chicago, I found Andersonville’s Women and Children First, and in Baltimore, The Ivy Bookshop.

Patchett’s article has inspired me. I’m putting on my bucket list a trip to an independent bookstore in every state. Our Indie Spotlights are a great place to start. I’ll check in from time to time on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of stumbled-upon or sought-out bookstores. I’ve got trips planned to Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia; and maybe Anchorage. Any recommendations?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is eager to visit your local bookstore. Until then, you can find her at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram, where she posts lots of pictures of books and bookstores. Also cats.