Interview With Jenny Milchman, Founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day
If you haven’t already heard, this year’s fifth annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day falls on Saturday, December 6th. We are so pleased to be a part of the holiday again and hope you will join us at Book Culture (including Book Culture on Columbus!) to celebrate the joy of reading and, of course, the magic of bookstores for children. This past week we had the chance to interview Jenny Milchman, the founder of TYCBD, about the roots and development of the holiday. We’d like to thank Jenny for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to seeing you all December 6th!
On your website you mention that the idea for TYCBD came about while taking your own children to story time at different bookstores each week. Can you speak a little bit more about what inspired you to create TYCBD? What were the early stages of development like?
In 2010 I had two young children whom I was bringing to story hour at our local bookstore almost every week. After all, what better activity to do with kids? It was enriching, fun, even relaxing. I didn’t have to feel guilty when I drank that 700 calorie butterscotch latte from the coffee bar. I was running back and forth between adult fiction and the flower-flocked children’s section—working off the calories for sure. My kids probably didn’t realize it was as much of a treat for me as for them. Which started me thinking—were other parents in on this secret? How many children knew the pleasure of spending time in a bookstore?
I frequent the mystery listserv, DorothyL, and a more avid group of readers you couldn’t hope to find. When I floated the idea for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, DLers spread the word. My husband designed a poster, a website, and bookmarks, and we designated the first Saturday in December as Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. This would coincide with holiday gift giving, hopefully giving people the idea that books make great presents. Just two weeks later, 80 bookstores were celebrating.
That summer my husband and I loaded the kids into the car and drove cross-country, visiting more than fifty bookstores. (You can tell he’s a supportive guy). In 2011, the second annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day found over 350 bookstores celebrating in all 50 states. Some planned special celebrations—children’s book authors, puppet makers, singers, even a baker who led kids in a gingerbread cookie decorating activity—while others simply hung a poster in the window. 2014 is our fifth anniversary, and as the number has risen to over 750 independent bookstores, and one major chain, we knew that word was getting out. Kids + bookstores = magic.
In what ways do you think the space of a bookstore is important for children? How about for parents?
There’s a cultural wave behind being in a physical space, especially one that is part of your own community—and a bookstore is a stellar example. The word locavore isn’t just for a Dr. Seuss story anymore. Buying local and the resurgence of Main Street are goals that more and more people recognize as important to building strong citizens as well as strong readers. You know that old ad campaign, “Orange juice isn’t just for breakfast anymore”? I hear that now as, “Bookstores aren’t just for reading anymore.”
And by that I mean more than the fact that you can also buy toys, cards, gifts, or have your butterscotch latte at a bookstore. Bookstores are places where people come together over ideas and engage in a cultural conversation. That concept is so important I have to say it again. They are places where people come together. And booksellers are a group who know how to zig while others are zagging. Their stores are places of physical interaction in an increasingly virtual world.
When you take a child to a bookstore, you stimulate his mind and all five senses. (If taste seems a stretch, just let her have the whipped cream on your latte). There’s a tactile dimension to the experience that is increasingly rare these days. You also make that child a crucial part of the place where he lives, supporting it and helping it to grow.
Best of all, these things happen in a guise that to the child is sheer magic. On the shelves of a bookstore sit gateways into whole new worlds. Children go into bookstores—but they come back out having journeyed somewhere else entirely.
TYCBD has received an incredible following since it launched in 2010. As noted in an article in Publishers Weekly, TYCBD has expanded from an initial 80 participating bookstores in 2010 to over 620 bookstores in 2013. How do you account for the amazing success of TYCBD?
Well, to a certain extent, I think that growth of any sort is a natural extension of giving people what they want, and need. And people need books, bookstores, and booksellers. They need the kind of immersion that only comes from getting lost in a story or engaging deeply with text. They need human contact. They need to smell and see and touch. All of these experiences and more are found in a bookstore, and TYCBD reminds people of that. The rest is up to them, and as we can see, they seem to be welcoming it.
I also have to give credit to the booksellers. Their investment in the future is why they are in this business in the first place. When they hand a book across the counter, they are touching the future….whatever it may become in that reader’s hands. And by pouring resources into a special Day just for children at their stores, they are creating memories that will live for years to come…and hopefully nurturing a generation of customers who will bring their own children back.
What do you hope kids take away from TYCBD?
That it’s fun to slow down and read. Not everything has to beep or light up, click and clack, although those things are certainly fun. But there is magic to be found when we lift something up and gaze into the unknown. The first page of a book is like stepping off a cliff, and realizing that you’re flying. I hope that every child on TYCBD learns how to fly.
What is your vision for TYCBD’s future? Any upcoming projects or developments you can tell us about?
Well, we now have a Board of Directors, and are well on our way to becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit. Once we achieve that status—and boy, it hasn’t been easy—we will be able to raise funds and structure projects I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I’d like to create field trips to bookstores for at-risk school districts. There are children who have never owned a book, or gotten to make their own selection from a whole room full of treasures. I would like every child in this country to know the pleasure of keeping a book—and the investment that comes when he or she gets to choose it.
And while we’re talking about dreams for the future, I would love James Patterson to become involved with TYCBD. He is such a champion of bookstores and children’s literacy. I would love to see what his imagination—and marketing muscle—could do for the Day.
As Book Culture is opening a new location at the end of November, do you have any ideas or suggestions for ways we can reach out to children in the neighborhood? How can we help inspire kids to read?
What a great question. And I can’t wait to visit your new location! As your third question touched on, I feel like a lot of the “work” involved in getting kids to read happens naturally once they’re alerted to the possibilities. I would create a celebration to let community families know you’re there—get a little creative. Make a “Do Your Birthday Party Shopping” activity whereby kids are occupied with a story hour, and parents can choose from special displays of books, toys, cards, then have their gifts wrapped. How many parents run out frantically the morning of a party, snatching up the first thing they see out of sheer last-minute-itis? But you would have arrayed a selection of possibilities, and parents can leave with a whole month’s worth of party shopping done. Plus, their child leaves with a new book to read.
Or stage a “Mom’s Night Out” book club…or a Sebastian Junger/Cheryl Strayed He Said/She Said discussion about how outdoor books differ across gender lines…You could do almost anything, and people will probably be thrilled to welcome you to the neighborhood. The sky is the limit when it comes to bookstores and creativity!
To learn more, visit http://www.takeyourchildtoabookstore.org/.