On Saturday, May 17, authors and bookstores across the country participated in Indies First Storytime Day: a celebration of stories and the independent booksellers that put them into the hands of readers. Stores welcomed children who were eager to take part in events featuring local and nationally recognized authors and illustrators.
“Our Indies First Day was great,” said Joanna Parzakonis, owner of Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The theme of Bookbug’s event was based on local author Sarah Stewart’s popular picture book, The Gardener (Square Fish), which is about a young girl who spreads hope and joy by planting flowers around her uncle’s bakery during the Great Depression.
All of Bookbug’s visiting authors –– David Small, Thisbe Nissen, and Jessie Kalusmeier –– were invited to join Stewart in reading books about planting or gardening, and young attendees planted flowers in the store’s window boxes and hanging baskets.
“The result was fantastically fun, rewarding, and beautiful,” said Parzakonis. “It’s a tradition we plan to continue for many years to come, based on the overwhelming enthusiasm for it.”
Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, had to compete with beautiful weather on the day of the event, said children’s bookseller Rosemary Pugliese. Despite gorgeous skies outside, the event drew a crowd of about 30 for readings from local guest authors Julie Fortenberry and Stephanie Greene. The authors read several children’s books, including store favorite Corduroy (Puffin), and young guests were treated to a visit from Corduroy himself, thanks to a character costume provided by Random House.
“The kids were wrapped up in the stories read by the authors, and ecstatic over Corduroy,” said Pugliese, who donned the Corduroy costume. “I kept feeling little hugs around my legs,” she said. As part of the event, children decorated a sugar cookie to stand in as Corduroy’s missing button.
Quail Ridge also encouraged attendees to come dressed as their favorite children’s book character for a chance to win a small prize. The winner was a young boy dressed as Christopher Robin. “Parents were delighted, too,” said Pugliese. “It went over really well, everyone was very receptive.”
“It was exactly the kind of happy chaos you’d expect from 11 authors, no rehearsal, and a script that was overly optimistic about our acting capabilities,” said Kate Milford. “Though there were some fairly brilliant pratfalls from Kekla Magoon and Sophie Blackall.”
In New Orleans, Louisiana, a busy weekend of author events in conjunction with a reading conference preceded Indies First Storytime Day so Octavia Books decided to take a quieter approach to the celebration. In the morning, local children’s author Dianne de Las Casas performed a reading and was followed by Natalie Parker in the afternoon. “The day was successful and provided a special up-close experience for a number of kids,” said co-owner Tom Lowenburg, who added that he plans to build on the event for next year.
For its Indies First Storyime celebration, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, North Carolina, hosted six authors and illustrators — Alan and Wendi Gratz, Allan Wolf, Constance Lombardo, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, and Kit Grady — and drew about 20 people to the event.
“Indies First Storytime Day offered us another opportunity to connect with our local children’s authors, and for them to enjoy each other’s company,” said general manager Linda Marie Barrett. “The crowd grew and grew as the authors read from their favorite books and invited those gathered around to join in. We don’t measure the success of our events by sales alone. In this case, the publicity, community-building, and important emphasis on reading to children made it all worthwhile.”
At Let’s Play Books! in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, John Grogan, the author of Marley & Me, drew a crowd that completely filled the store, said owner Kirsten Hess. “We had a great time,” added Hess. “I would host this event every day if possible.”