|Bear Pond Books~Montpelier, Vermont|
For too long, I confess, I took my town's independent bookseller for granted. Then one chilly evening I attended an event sponsored by Montpelier's beloved locally owned bookstore, Bear Pond Books. Author M.T. Anderson read to a sold-out house from his YA book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, and a talented string quartet played a passionate and moving selection of the music of Shostakovich. There were delightful refreshments and an enthusiastic music- and book-loving crowd. Wow! Not bad for the wilds of Vermont.
|Jane Knight, on location at Bear Pond Books|
The brilliant person who conceived of and organized this multi-media event was Jane Knight. I tracked her down at Bear Pond Books, where she presides over the children's books section, to chat about favorite books, programming for kids and educators, and what this great independent book store does. Jane has worked at Bear Pond since 1995, and she's still filled with excitement every time she discovers a new book or author to fall in love with.
Q: Jane, one of the things that impresses me is how you seem to have read, and formed opinions about, all the most recent children's books at all levels, and I know I can count on you to recommend a great book for every reader. When you were a child, what was one of your favorite books?
|One of Jane's childhood favorites|
Jane Knight: I still have it on my shelf today -- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl. Each story in the book was fascinating to me in a dark, vaguely sinister, totally intriguing way. I remembering sitting in front of a candle flame, trying to hone my second sight after reading Henry Sugar. I am impatient and it never paid off for me, but I still believe the story to be true.
Q: What's your view of the role of independent bookstores in general, and Bear Pond in particular?
JK: Indie bookstores have come a long way from the initial e-commerce onslaught about 10 or 12 years ago, when Amazon drove its book prices down so low the rest of us had to find other ways to be competitive and inspire customer loyalty. I believe the reason Bear Pond was able to hold on through some dark days was because we did not have many other bookstores in the area, and many of our customers came to realize the symbiotic relationship between their spending habits and a healthy downtown.
|Downstairs at Bear Pond Books|
But we have had a lot of “educating” to do--and I don’t mean that in a condescending way--to help our customers understand the benefits of an actual brick and mortar bookstore in their community. We offer more than just books--we are your local hub of culture and information. We can bring authors to you. We are the place where you can actually open and touch a book. We answer the phones and we are available to talk to in person. We bake, we smile, we look you in the eye. I believe many people still want that kind of service.
Q: Kids love spending time in Bear Pond's Children's Room, with its comfy reading nooks and resident mascot, Veruca the Russian tortoise. How does this space fit into the local children's reading scene?
|VERUCA on patrol|
JK: The Children’s Room is inextricably bound with other literacy groups in our area. It is a symbiotic relationship--we are constantly striving to strengthen one another through cross-programming and promotion. Also, I have made wonderful librarian, teacher and parent friends through our book fairs and book giveaways. The Vermont College of Fine Arts is also a fabulous resource and our partner-in-crime in Montpelier. They hire really talented writers and help keep the pulse of this community jumping with excitement through their programs and events. Really, the more tangled web we weave, the stronger we all become together-- I guess that’s my philosophy to promoting literacy.
Q: Tell me about the Educators' Series you present at Bear Pond Books.
|Jane shares her book wisdom at an educators' event|
JK: Bear Pond’s Educator Series is about to embark on its fourth season. We host these events in the fall and spring of each school year. The goal is to offer thoughtful, diverse voices on literacy in the classroom for Vermont educators. We strive to help make book connections related to the material presented, especially new and kid-friendly titles. We also support educators by blogging about our events with supplemental material and book lists. Our presenters are authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians, literacy specialists, poets . . . anyone speaking to literacy issues that kids and teachers face in school and at home. There may very well be other bookstores doing something similar out there, but I can’t name any. Maybe your readers know of them!
Q: You're on the committee for the state's Dorothy Canfield Fisher book award. Your committee lists 30 books, and then each year Vermont students read the books and vote on the winner from that list. How much time do you spend reading children's literature?
JK: Can I LOL here? In order to come up with that wonderful Dorothy Canfield Fisher list of 30 middle grade books each school year we read dozens and dozens of books throughout the year. So. It’s KidLit TV 24/7 and I don’t regret one minute of it. It helps me in my job in so many ways.
Q: How do you decide which books to order?
A: For me, ordering children’s books is informed mostly by experience and bookstore personality, aided by my incredibly hard-working book reps and my intuition. It’s alchemy, really.
Q: What would you tell parents about their kids' reading?
JK: For the love of all that is good, let your kids read what they want! If it’s Pokemon, let them read it. If it’s racy or violent, let them read it. If it’s above their so-called grade or maturity level, let them read it! If it’s Percy Jackson for the umpteenth time, let them reread it!! And also, read in front of your children, and not just on your phone or your iPad. Model the reading lifestyle for your kids. There’s a wonderful interview with Neil Gaiman about kids and self-censorship that should be required reading for all parents. Sorry--- rant over!
|The dedicated staff of bibliophiles at Bear Pond Books|
. . . So, dear readers, have you checked out what's happening at your local indie bookstore? We'd love to see your comments and ideas for bookstore programming, and for more ways to encourage kids to read. Thanks, and happy back-to-school and reading.