Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Read With Me, a Children’s Book and Art Shop, Raleigh, NC

It’s always such a delight to learn of yet another  new children’s bookstore! Today we’re talking with Christine Brenner, the owner of Read With Me, a Children’s Book and Art Shop, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

MUF: Congratulations on opening your new children’s bookshop.  What have been some of the rewards and challenges so far?
Christine: Thank you! I am amazed at the warm welcome that Read with Me has gotten from the downtown community and visitors to Raleigh. I carefully curate the children’s books we carry to be high quality stories with contemporary authors and engaging art. I seek out titles that have meaningful depictions of diverse characters. The best reward is when our customers express their appreciation for being able to find books at Read with Me that they haven’t seen anywhere else. It is easy to just order the books that are bestsellers, but we feel it is important to do better than that. It is challenging to stay well-read and informed with the thousands of children’s titles published each year, but finding unique stories that reflect our world is well worth it.

MUF: Anyone walking into Read With Me will notice that you arrange things a bit differently from other bookshops.  Yes?
Christine: Yes, on our main wall the books are arranged by age with the earliest readers at the bottom growing up to young adult books at the top shelf. There are 5 shelf levels- ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-10, 10-14, 14+. My background is in teaching and school library so arranging the books by age seemed like a helpful starting place for children to find a good book.

MUF: Tell us about the role art plays in your shop?
Christine: Children’s books are incredible works of art, between the illustrations, the cover art and the stories. The books we carry have exceptionally good visual art but I also wanted the store to be a well-rounded place for families. So we also offer local art for sale, classes that incorporate literacy and the arts as well as an art activity with our storytime.

MUF:And art also influences what titles you choose to carry?  What other factors do you consider?
Christine: I look for books that will hook new readers and keep avid readers engaged. I rely on recommendations from knowledgeable booksellers, readers and book reps to help me find titles that reflect the diverse world in which we live and the varied interests we have.

|MUF: As a former teacher and school librarian, you must have good ideas about what books kids and families will enjoy.  We middle-grade authors are curious to know what books, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending to readers ages eight to twelve.
Christine: Middle grade readers have more amazing choices than ever before. I love to be able to ask about a reader’s favorite books and try to match them with a new one from our store. Some favorite authors I have here, old and new, are Roald Dahl and Raina Telgmeier, Ben Hatke and Kwame Alexander.

MUF: You have a lot of readers’ “camps” scheduled this summer.  Which upcoming ones are planned for middle-graders?
Christine: It’s a busy summer in our store’s Creativity Corner! We are working on book clubs for July for middle-grade readers. I’m most excited about our upcoming cartooning workshop for ages 11-14. A local artist, Gabe Dunston, will teach an intro to cartooning class over six weeks where students will explore how to draw with their imaginations and learn how images can represent ideas within a reader’s mind.

MUF: Your shop seems to be located near many sites and activities of interest to this age group, which they could combine with a visit to your store.  What are some of your favorites?  Also please recommend family-friendly places nearby where visitors could get a meal or snack.  
Christine:
Downtown Raleigh is a very walkable city full of great family destinations, like the State Capitol, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and Marbles Kids Museum, all within ½ to 4 blocks of our store. Moore Square park renovations will start this fall and this Historic District part of the city has beautifully preserved and restored buildings. And food! Dee’s $1 Hot Dog cart is stationed across the street for something truly fast and cheap and is my son’s favorite. Some of his other favorites are Raleigh TImes for their hamburgers and fries, Sitti for their hummus and pita, Morning Times for their scones and Trophy Tap & Table for their chicken.

Thanks, Christine for taking the time to tell us about your shop. Readers, have you visited this shop yet?  Sounds like a good summer trip destination!

 

 

Indie Spotlight: Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files:  What an interesting idea:  a bookstore devoted half to kid’s books and half to adult! We are talking today with Valerie Koehler, Owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

MUF: I assume your shop gets its name from Blue Willow, the award-winning novel by Doris Gates?  Sounds like you’ve had children’s books  in mind from the beginning.
Valerie: I was not aware of the lovely book by Doris Gates when I named the shop.  But just like in her novel, the shop is named after Blue Willow china. When I bought the shop, I wanted to offer books for the entire family. so now it’s half and half.  Our top two selling categories are adult fiction and children’s picture books.

school visit

MUF:You’ve been open twenty years now and you survived the downturn several years ago when many bookstores closed.  What has contributed to your success?  What kind of atmosphere do you try to create for customers at Blue Willow Books?
Valerie: We never saw the downturn as we plowed ahead with new ideas, new partnerships, and lots of events.  I feel our success is due to our open minds to new opportunities.  We want everyone to feel welcome and we want to continue to spread our love of books through the city.  We venture far beyond our walls with school visits and our three yearly festivals.

MUF:Tell us more about your monthly book club, “Another Shade of Blue” for middle-grade girls.  What have been some of their favorite books, and what will they be reading in June?  
Valerie:It’s been a slow start to this club and we are retooling it as I write this.  It’s so hard to get critical mass when the kids are overbooked.  They loved The Green Glass House By Kate Milford. In June, they are reading Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk.

MUF: How do you choose which books to carry in your shop?
Valerie: I read advance copies, I look at reviews, I look at trends and past sales.  It’s an art and a science (and a crap shoot!).

MUF: How do you help kids find their next best book? As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers between eight and twelve?
Valerie We tend to recommend stand-alone novels as the kids already know the series.  All of us like different books!  This past year, we all loved PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  But each kid deserves to be different so we help them one at a time.

Tweens Read Festival

Gene Luen Yang & Fan at Tweens Read Festival

MUF: Do you have any events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Valerie: We are retooling the bookclub so stay tuned.  Also, put October 21st on the calendar for our 8th annual Tweens Read Festival.  The authors will be announced very soon. Last year we hosted over 3000 kids.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after shopping?  And if they could stay longer, are there some unique sites and activities in the area they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie:
We have a great patisserie in our center which is kid friendly.  Just down the street is Hungry’s which has food for the whole family.  For longer visits I like to recommend visiting www.houstonfamilymagazine.com for great Houston ideas.

Thanks, Valerie, for talking with us about Blue Willow Books, and congratulations on your continuing success!  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting this shop?  Putting it on your list?

 

Indie Spotlight: The Voracious Reader, Larchmont NY

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: We’re talking today with Francine Lucidon of The Voracious Reader (www.thevoraciousreader.com).  Don’t you love the subtitle: “for young people with an appetite for books”?
MUF: You opened your shop ten years ago in 2007, generally considered a precarious time for bookstores, yet you’ve thrived.  Guess you knew something the doom-predictors didn’t!  How do you account for your success? 
Francine: While it may not have been the “right time” for a new indie, it was absolutely the perfect time for me and my family to embark on this adventure.  I can be a little headstrong that way. As for our success (which in the world of bookstores often means simply scraping together the rent and salaries each month) again, I credit that hard headed determination. Plus a wonderful supportive staff and community!

Franklin, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Extraordinaire

MUF: For those who haven’t visited (yet), please describe the atmosphere of your store.  When a middle-grade girl or boy comes to your store, what would you like him or her to experience?  How to you connect them with the next best book?
Francine: The store is super friendly – on Fridays you can meet our dog. Navigating the store is fun, with many themed displays, lots of great face-outs and of course, our treats and tea shop attached.

MUF: How do you decide what titles to carry in your store?
Francine: I do a lot of reading myself but also rely on feedback from our Uncommon Corps group. I look for both authors that consistently do well here as well as exciting debut authors. Often I find out about debut authors from regional conferences. I also make sure to read reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal.

MUF: Tell us more about your book club for ages 8-11, Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers (love that title—so true for this age group) and what they do.  
Francine: this is an ARCS club, a group of book and pizza loving 8 to 11 year olds. Each person reads and reviews/discusses a unique book not yet published (cool factor J). On the first Friday evening of the month middle graders gather at our meetup to talk books and eat pizza , and at the end of the evening everyone gets another free Advance Review Copy to talk about at our next meeting.

MUF: When the members turn 12, they can move on to the YA Alliance, right?
Francine: Yes, that’s our teen club which is run similarly with YA books.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to middle-graders these days.
Francine: Recommendations depend so much on the reader. I like to know what they’ve read recently, what they tend to enjoy most, then, by showing them maybe 3 titles or so, I feel confident to choose the recommendation that makes their eyes light up. To be honest I usually find 2 or 3 titles a season that I absolutely love and foist them on everyone! A couple of favorites not too long ago have been Kathy Appelt’s Maybe a Fox and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, both soon to release in paperback. Middle grade readers often prefer books that appeal to their strong emotions.  Then there are books that are just plain, silly fun like The Terrible Two from Mac Barnett and Jory John.

 

MUF: Any author visits or events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Francine: We’ll be launching book 2 of the Pixie Piper duology by Annabelle Fisher , Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, probably at the end of May. People who’d like to attend our events can sign up for our newsletter (www.thevoraciousreader.com) or follow us on our Facebook Page.

MUF: If a family came to Larchmont to visit your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or a meal afterward?  Any unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Francine:
They could certainly get snacks in our attached teashop, A Proper Cup, including all natural ice cream from Jane’s of the Hudson Valley. We’ve got lemonade, a huge variety of loose leaf teas and Stumptown cold brew coffee. We’ve also got cupcakes, cake pops. Scones and more. There’s a great Chinese restaurant right next door, wonderful restuarants of all kinds throughout town and a beautiful beachfront park called Manor Park. The town is strollable and filled with families which makes an afternoon here a great family destination.

MUF: How will The Voracious Reader be celebrating National    Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 30th?
Francine:
This year over 400 bookstores nationwide (including OURS!) are joining up to let you know that, with your support,your independent bookstore (that’s US!) can serve as an important hub of ideas, fun and community building! Publishers and authors have created special items to be sold ONLY by participating stores and ONLY on our day of celebration! Stop in for special items from such luminaries as Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Tad Hills and more! We’ll also have giveaways, story times, crafts for the kids and some special treats available in our tea shop!

MUF: Thanks, Francine for taking time to help us  get to know your shop.  How many of our voracious readers reading this column have visited Francine’s shop, or would like to?  Comments welcome.

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