Every first Friday of the month for the last two years, 10-year-old Una Goodspeed of New Rochelle joins fellow readers for pizza and conversation about books in The Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers Book Club at The Voracious Reader in Larchmont. Una is a self-described “book maniac” but it wasn’t always this way.
“When Una was in 3rd grade, her teacher told me she noticed that Una wasn’t excited about books,” says Laura Goodspeed, Una’s mother. “I had heard about this great bookstore for children so I brought Una in to look around.” Goodspeed credits The Voracious Reader owner Francine Lucidon with inspiring her daughter to be an enthusiastic reader. “Francine meets the kids where they are, remembers their interests and helps them fine tune their reading choices. There is something about her recommendations that really resonate,” says Goodspeed.
Westchester County is fortunate to have three bookstores – Little Joe’s (Katonah), Scattered Books (Chappaqua) and The Voracious Reader (Larchmont) – with expansive areas exclusively dedicated to children and young adult books. Each of these special bookstores offer spaces that are intentionally comfortable, relaxed and welcoming, with enthusiastic, well-read staff that often know their young customers by name and reading history.
Building a Community of Readers
Children’s bookstores are selling the experience of enjoying books as much as the books themselves. They share a common goal of building positive associations with the bookstore experience and helping their clients find joy in books.
“Choosing a book is like a new pair of shoes, it has to be the right fit,” says Gretchen Menzies, owner of Little Joe’s. “We talk to the kids, not necessarily the parents, listen to what they have to say and help guide them. When kids, toddler to teen, find the right book it’s like they are leaving with a treasure.”
“I treat each child with respect, learning what they are curious about, what motivates them. There is nothing better than getting it right and finding a book that makes their eyes light up,” says Francine Lucidon, of The Voracious Reader. “I feel privileged to be trusted by parents to help their children make reading discoveries. I see it as so important because it helps children build their own thoughtfulness and perspective about their world.”
While online shopping presents significant competition to booksellers, Scattered Books owner Laura Schaeffer finds that a less discussed challenge is reluctance; that is, reluctance to look around, to try new ideas or authors, or even admit to liking certain kinds of books.
“Anyone can order books online, but what you don’t get there is a personal connection. I meet a lot of kids who are falling out of an interest in reading. They might be nervous about their reading level or not sure how to find an entry point,” says Schaeffer. “We try to make the store feel like a safe, low-pressure place where we encourage reluctant and eager readers alike to find the right connections. This also means encouraging parents to let their kids take the lead, even if it might mean going down a level in reading in order to build confidence.”
“I am so happy that my kids will grow up with a bookstore in their little town, where they feel at home and comfortable,” says Sabine Asselbergs, a mom of two young children and an employee of Little Joe’s. “For the community it means a place to connect with like-minded people, with staff who know your kids and literally watch your kids grow up through the books they read.”
From Bookstore Bunnies to Midnight Release Parties
Westchester’s three bookstores for children and teens each have their own unique personality and vibe.
25 Katonah Ave., Katonah
Owner Gretchen Menzies describes Little Joe’s children’s book loft as more like a living room than a store – think shoes off, curled up on the floor or in the cushioned window seat with a good book. Books are organized by reader interest and level, with books for the youngest children on shelves nearly at floor level for easy access. Katonah is a very walkable town and Little Joe’s works hard to be part of the fabric of the community. Opening at 5:50 a.m. every day for commuters, the store then transitions to the toddler set in the early part of the day to the tweens and teens who visit after school and spend time flipping through the books and talking about what they are reading. What makes a visit to Little Joe’s even better? Possibly the ice cream, cookies, brownies, smoothies and snacks in the first floor Coffee Shop as well as tons of high-quality science, art and craft gift items to browse.
29 King St., Chappaqua
The bookstore bunnies Acorn, Oatmeal and Pumpkin wander the floor of the children’s book area, but that’s just one reason to visit. Owner Laura Schaeffer designed Scattered Books to feel unpressured, safe and relaxing. The store is coffee- and dog-friendly, and is a comforting place where many customers (children and adults) are known by both their first names and reading interests. The open, sunlit area for children’s books has a lovely, eclectic vintage feel, with lots of cushions and rugs to sit on and an enthusiastic well-read staff, many of whom are teenagers, who make recommendations. Storytime with the bunnies is offered every Tuesday. Preschool through middle school students are invited to write book reviews and then receive a $5 gift card to shop in the store. Available for birthday parties with themes ranging from Bunny Parties to Cupcake Wars to Dino Dig.
The Voracious Reader: Update this bookstore has closed
1997 Palmer Ave., Larchmont
The only bookstore in Westchester dedicated to children’s and young adult books. Owner Francine Lucidon wanted to reflect her daughter’s childhood love of the Victorian Gothic Series of Unfortunate Events books, but wanted a brighter playful flair. Calling it “cozy, faux, fun posh,” the store is pretty and proper, and encourages children to take themselves seriously as readers. This is not to say that the space is stern in any way, quite the opposite. It is sunny and friendly, with the space organized by age so very young children can explore in their own area, while children from elementary through middle and high school can find the books that suit their levels and interests. The store offers an active program of community events, author visits, book clubs, storytimes and midnight release parties for special titles. There is also a birthday party space available. Customers are encouraged to spend quality time with a book and conversation in the adjacent teashop, A Proper Cup.
Corinne L. Zola is a founder and current board member of the Westchester Children’s Museum. She lives in Mamaroneck with her husband and two kids, all of whom love a good visit to a bookstore.
Other Bookstores in Westchester with
Anderson’s Book Shop
96 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont
Twice weekly interactive storytime for children 18 months and up.
15 Purchase St., Rye
Barnes & Noble
Locations in Eastchester, Mohegan Lake, White Plains and Yonkers
Storytime every Saturday morning
22 Main St., Hastings-on-Hudson
10 Washington Ave., Pleasantville
2018 Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival
Your Favorite Children’s Book Authors
Up Close and in Person
Saturday Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Since we are talking about books, did you know that more than 95 renowned children’s book authors and illustrators will be on hand to meet young readers, sign books and read aloud at the 2018 Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival (CCBF)? As the largest children’s book festival in the metropolitan tri-state region, CCBF gives kids and families a chance to meet the creators of their favorite characters. The free event is expected to attract upwards of 7,000 attendees from all over the region.
Among the authors scheduled are perennial favorites Rosemary Wells, Victoria Kann, Bruce Degen, Bernard Most, Gail Carson Levine, Sally Cook, Barbara Dee and Peter Lerangis. More than 20 new authors and illustrators join the roster, including Tracey Baptiste, John Parra, Lori Wallmark, Michael Northrop, Veera Hiranandani, Torrey Maldonado, Michael Rex, Jennifer Rollo, Samantha Berger and MacKenzie Cadenhead. Proceeds of the non-profit festival will support literacy programs in schools throughout Westchester.
“Authors are amazing people and don’t often get a chance to meet their fans,” says CCBF founder Dawn Greenberg. “The Festival, which grows bigger and better each year, creates excitement about reading while giving authors an opportunity to interact with the kids who love their work.”
A full and fun day of readings, illustrator demos, signings, crafts and activities is planned. A Gourmet Food Court features food trucks from around the region.
Sept. 29, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Robert E. Bell Middle School, Chappaqua, N.Y.
Free admission and parking
Rain or shine