A special greeting from New York to my fellow kiddie lit lovers!
Today, I had the good fortune of visiting one of New York City’s best independent children’s bookstores, Books of Wonder. This cultural gem opened its doors on September 2, 1980 thanks to founder Peter Glassman, and his partner James Carey. This wonderful store has moved around and expanded over the decades to become one of the nation’s finest children’s bookstores, hosting events with such celebrated authors as J.K. Rowling (twice!), Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, and many others. They were also the inspiration for the children’s bookstore in a little movie from 1997 called You’ve Got Mail!
The owner, Peter, was kind enough to sit down with our visiting group and chat for a bit. As if we hadn’t already turned back into children the moment we walked into this vibrant, colorful store, we sat around in a circle and listened to Peter speak about his side of the children’s book publishing industry as well as the importance of children’s books.
As we sat there in a circle, surrounded by the beautiful artwork and illustrations, Peter spoke about the crucial importance of reading to democracy by using the American Revolution as an example. He said the revolution was successful because unlike their ancestors, many Americans could read, and they were introduced to the ideas of independence and equality through the flyers and publications that were posted around towns. It wasn’t something that I’d thought of previously, but I have to admit it’s true! Reading changes minds (usually for the better!).
Peter further expanded on the importance of reading and especially of children’s books to the development of kids. He said that reading expands the imagination of children and makes them believe anything is possible. It gives them an understanding of the world they live in and how they can deal with the things that might come up in their lives. He pointed out that parents often choose to buy books that have characters that look like their kids, which is a shame because literature is meant to open our eyes and take us places we might never be able to go!
Some great recommendations of children’s classics by Peter include:
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Peter pointed out that parents often tend to misinterpret children’s books, or their purpose. I love that he said Charlotte’s Web is essentially about tricking people! After all, there was nothing special about Wilbur, other than he was a very nice guy, or pig (Almost his exact words).
He also shared a humorous anecdote about his dear friend, Maurice Sendak (seriously, can we please be friends with you, Peter! You are awesome!), and an interesting encounter he had during a signing. According to Peter, a woman approached the beloved author and told him that she reads Where the Wild Things Are to her daughter every night before bed, and she gets scared and has nightmares every night! To this, Sendak responded, “Then why are you reading it to her?!” (Perhaps not in those exact words). The woman responded, “ Because it won a Caldecott medal! She should love it!”
Oh, if only we could always love all the books people told us we were supposed to love… I suppose the book industry would be a lot less diverse and interesting if that were the case!
As it is, the children’s book world is filled with so many wonderful choices that I got lost in those rows for hours. For people like us, the term “kid in a candy store” is not as accurate as something like “kid in a bookstore.” But seriously, how could you not want to stay forever in this beautiful place?!