This post is the first in a new Portraits by Lisa series. We will be profiling independent and local resources for parents–some that involve your kids, and some just for you! Since I am located in Brookline, I’m going to start here, but if you’d like to nominate a business in your town, please send me a message at Lisa@Portraitsbylisa.com
I was lucky enough to talk with Shoshana, the manager of the extensive Children’s Book section at Brookline Booksmith. If you have never visited the, I recommend making plans to find yourself there soon. Booksmith is the bookstore of my dreams; the kind where all the staff people are bibliophiles, where you can walk in and ask about, “a book published last year with a female protagonist and the word ‘hair’ in the title” and someone will know what you are referring to, have read it themselves, and lead you right to it.
I have to admit to being a bit of a book snob. There are so many wonderful children’s books out there, that I can hardly stand to read bad ones. I’m a huge fan of picture books as gifts, and all the kids in my life have benefited from the knowledge that the Booksmith children’s section team bring to their jobs. Shoshana manages the extensive children’s collection in the store, and I had the privilege of talking with her last week. She told me a little about the fun things that Booksmith does for children and families–and also recommended a few great books (all the links here lead to the Booksmith page, where I would recommend you buy them and support this fantastic local treasure, and where you can learn the recommended ages and reading levels for each book).
The children’s books are in the back of the store under a big “tree” complete with lots of birds (art by Diane Bigda). Underneath is a little-kid sized table covered with books, some rockers and benches. Parents linger with kids of all ages, who pull books down from shelves and start reading. As we chat, parents inquire about different books–some want recommendations, others have a title in mind, still others want books featuring the new Frozen heroines. Shoshana is never at a loss, she tracks down their titles with an encyclopedic knowledge of the section, makes recommendations based on children’s ages and interests, and pulls dozens of books in no time flat. In fact, suggesting books is one of her favorite parts of the job. I personally have benefitted from the knowledge of the Booksmith children’s section staff who have introduced me to great authors like Oliver Jeffers (I personally think this one is the perfect length for a toddler/preschool bedtime story, and adults will love it too) and Marie-Louise Gay. A few of her current favorites for the younger set include: Sparky a picture book about a little girl who begs for a pet, gets a sloth, and is determined to love it; Hi, Koo and Zen Shorts both by Muth, both of which feature to die for watercolor illustrations; and anything by Mo Willems who has a wide range of work, all of which makes adults and children laugh.
I asked her about the “new classics”–the books that every young child should have but might not. For example, NOT Goodnight Moon, which every newborn seems to get 4 copies of, but modern books that have never moved to paperback or been on the bargain table. The ones that parents will love enough to barely mind reading them 20,000 times. Here’s a small list of the picture books: Olivia (especially the first three, she is a personal favorite for the heroine and brilliant illustrations), Knuffle Bunny (there are three in the series–any child with a serious attachment to a blanket or lovey needs this book), Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (for any truck obsessed child you might know), Press Here (the book that’s like an analogue app), and the board book Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes.
I asked Shoshana about trends in children’s books. It seems that the chapter books are moving from the Harry Potter and Twilight age of fantasy back to more reality-based fiction (see great books by: Rainbow Rowell and John Green) . Both still have their place, and there are many series in this age group to keep kids engaged. A couple of recommendations are: Wonder and the Percy Jackson series that started with Lightening Thief. Shoshana also mentioned that the lack of diversity was beginning to make some waves in the industry and she is starting to think that there might be changes. Some books that reflect this trend are: Niño Wrestles the World (which, when she picked it up, one mom said “it rocked my son’s world!”), Nelson Mandela– a gorgeously illustrated biography of Mandela and aparthied, and Flora Ulysses, a super fun chapter book about a girl and her super-hero squirrel. And, as I would expect from the cutting-edge staff at Booksmith, NPR was doing a show on the need for diversity in children’s literature when I got home.
Here are a few things handy things for parents to know about Booksmith:
- There are story hours the THIRD Saturday and LAST Sunday of each month at 10:30. If you buy a book (and how could you resist?), take the receipt for lunch at Otto’s a few doors down, where you will save 10%.
- The Brookline public school summer book list reads are stocked at Booksmith and they are easy to find–in fact, they’ll have their own section in the store.
- Some board books and picture books are available in French and Spanish. In fact, as I was looking up some of the books above, I noticed that there were editions in other languages for many of them!
- Booksmith staff are looking to increase the number of young adult (and even picture book) authors who come to the store. This is already on a slow uptick, so keep you eyes out for your favorite authors and support their readings by attending–and help your kids meet their favorites too.
- The sections of Booksmith’s children’s section are so diverse! Look around, I saw Award Winners, Non-Fiction, Fairy Tales and POETRY, as well as beginner, intermediate and advanced young adult sections. There is literally something for everyone.
Recommendations are found throughout the section (and all over the store) to help you choose awesome books!