Today we’re talking with Janet Reynolds who was General Manager of The Blue Bunny (www.bluebunnybooks.com) from its opening in 2003 until 2015 and is currently the Events and Publicity Coordinator for the store.
MUF: A number of successful children’s authors seem to be opening bookstores, often in their hometowns. Please tell us the story of why and how Peter H. Reynolds started Blue Bunny Books and Toys (including where the name comes from).
Janet: Our hometown of Dedham, MA was without a bookstore when Peter and his twin brother (my husband, Paul) noticed an empty storefront in the center of town, back in 2003. This was just at the time of publication of his book The Dot, which has gone on to be a bestseller with a huge following among both kids and adults. With a big vision for that little space, but no retail experience, they signed a lease and we proceeded to stumble our way through figuring out how to open a business, renovate the space, stock it with inventory and fill the bookstore void in our town. The name is a nod to the historic Dedham pottery which was made in our town in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is well-known for the cobalt blue rabbit pattern on a signature crackle-glazed base.
MUF:What kind of atmosphere do you try to create in your shop? What do you want visitors to experience?
Janet: We say we’re the little shop with a big mission — to inspire creativity in kids and grown-up kids. We want our customers to feel a friendly, positive vibe when they come in. Our current location (we moved one block in 2007) is an old-fashioned space with original tin ceilings, hardwood floors and bead board walls. We want kids and grown-up kids to be inspired to read, write and create. We also host a free storytime for preschoolers every Monday and Tuesday morning at 10:30 (except for December), and we want families to feel comfortable and welcomed in our store.
MUF: Peter H. Reynolds emphasizes the creative process and likes to help others be creative. How is that reflected in your shop? Please tell us a bit about your children’s magazine, Hutch.
Janet; Besides the books in our shop, we always make sure to have art supplies and other creative materials on hand. One of our best selling items (and what Peter always tells kids is his “favorite book,” is the “blank book” — a hardbound blank journal with white covers. We started HUTCH magazine at the store (now with the additional help of the family nonprofit — The Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity), soon after we moved into our new space in 2007. The idea came to us from one of our customers, Nancy Marsh, who still serves as our editor. We publish twice a year and accept submissions from elementary and middle-school aged kids: art, stories, poetry, interviews, book reviews, comics, photography and other creative pieces. Our publication parties are some of our favorite nights of the year, when we get to boost the confidence of our young contributors, celebrate their creativity, and encourage them to keep making their mark!
MUF: Naturally all of Peter’s books are available at the Blue Bunny. How do select the other books to carry in your shop?
Janet: One of the benefits of having a small shop is that we get to be selective in what we carry.
Yes, we proudly sell all of Peter’s books, and they are certainly our bestsellers, along with his prints and posters. But we also keep a broad range of books in stock. Each bookseller at the store is deeply entrenched in the children’s book world, and is encouraged to suggest titles for purchase. We try to keep a mix of classic titles, current bestsellers and personal favorites in all age categories: board books, early readers, middle-grade and YA. Fiction and non-fiction — we have a little bit of everything. Although we carry primarily children’s books, we do also have a growing selection of books for adults, especially since we merged with our local coffee shop, Mocha Java, last fall, and now have more adult customers coming in each day.
MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending to readers eight to twelve these days?
Janet: We spend a lot of time trying to match kids with the right books for them, so there’s no specific mix of titles that we recommend. We find some kids are loving non-fiction (the “Who Was?” series is very popular) and others are huge fans of many of the other popular contemporary fiction or fantasy series right now. I personally love middle-grade books — so it’s very hard to narrow down my favorites. I do always recommend the works of Roald Dahl, Kate DiCamillo, Jacqueline Woodson, Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, and Grace Lin. Some recent books I’ve loved have been by Sheila Turnage, Rebecca Stead, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Gregory Maguire, and Gary Schmidt.
MUF: Do your have any author visits or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Janet: Our event schedule at The Blue Bunny keeps getting busier and busier, and we have several that will appeal to middle graders. We have a lot going on!!Friday, March 11th: 4:30 p.m. Meet Kory Merritt, illustrator of the new graphic novel Poptropica series by Jack ChabertSaturday May 7th, at 2 p.m.
Lisa Yee will be visiting to celebrate the debut of Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, the first book in her new series with DC Comics.
Saturday, May 21st, 2:30 p.m. Bob Pflugfelder will be with us to share the newest book in his popular Nick and Tesla science series for kids, and he will be doing a science demonstration as part of the program.
Saturday, June 4th, we have a great middle-grade author panel scheduled with MarcyKate Connolly, Jen Malone, Claire Legrand and Dana Allison Levy.
And we’re still finalizing dates for events with Anna Staniszewski, Ammi-Joan Paquette and some others. We’re already planning for the midnight party we are going to have on July 30th this summer for the release of the new Harry Potter book too!
MUF: Please describe the neighborhood of your shop and nearby places of interest for out of town visitors. Are there family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping?
Janet: We love our little town of Dedham! The Blue Bunny is located in Dedham Square, the central commercial district in town. It’s a typical New England town with lots of historic interest. Right across the street from our store is the Dedham Community Theatre, one of the last independent cinemas around. We have lots of good places to eat within walking distance, including Ron’s Ice Cream (from March through October) — chosen third-best ice cream parlor in the world in National Geographic’s “Ten Best of Everything” back in 2007. We’ve got the Dedham Square Artists Guild for art lovers, a farmer’s market every Wednesday from June through October, and The Dedham Historical Society Museum is just up the street. And we’ve now got a coffee shop right inside The Blue Bunny!
Readers, have you been to Blue Bunny Books? Dedham Square is only a short hop from Boston, so treat yourself to a visit to this unique store next time you’re in town!
Sue Cowing is the author of puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harper UK 2014)