Tag Archives: independent bookstores

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)

 

 

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)