Monthly Wrap: Kids in Bookstores

by Susan Henderson on March 6, 2009

I was thinking about the years my kids were still into wearing costumes – no holiday required – and we’d head to the bookstore: me, Superman with a dishtowel for a cape, and his sidekick in a knight’s helmet, shorts, rubber boots and a whistle necklace which he was not to blow in the store.

My boys knew exactly where the books they loved were located, and liked to open one after another and explore every genre and turn the rack of Little Critter paperbacks round and round. We often read books to each other for an hour or more before choosing which ones to buy.

litpark bookstores children's section litpark bookstores children's section

We love going to the bookstore together just as much now as we did then, but our visits have dropped off. More often, we sit at one of the many computers in the house and type our orders into Amazon. We don’t stray from our lists. It’s just so easy to do it this way, but there’s none of the sense that we are bonding or creating good family memories with this way of shopping.

I hadn’t noticed this fact until our discussion at LitPark this month. Your answers to the question – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indie? – changed me. And so did my guest, who not only made me realize the invaluable role of the liasons between publishers and bookstores (Cory Doctorow describes them beautifully here), but the hit these stores are taking each time we choose to shop at Amazon.

When you buy from an independent bookstore, $68 of every $100 stays in the community. Think about what that means in this economy. And now think about what it would mean if physical bookstores disappeared altogether.

susan henderson's litpark visits The Book Revue

Here’s a little story for you. I like to take my kids to The Book Revue when there are visiting children’s authors. A couple of years ago, I took them to see Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, who had co-written a prequel to Peter Pan (called PETER AND THE STAR CATCHERS*) that my youngest loved, and that evening was the launch of the follow-up prequel. * = for an indie store click here

Dave Barry wore a Peter Pan hat and talked about what it was like to write a book with another author when one liked to work from an outline (Ridley) and the other liked to wing it (Dave).

Green-Hand, the one who used to wear the whistle necklace, was sitting in the first row with his newly purchased book, already reading and not at all bothered by their talking.

And then the terrible thing happened. Dave Barry (who might as well have slapped my son) opened his own copy of the book and began to read aloud from Chapter 3.

Green-Hand, still on Chapter 1, stood, pissed, and dragged his metal folding chair from the front row to the back of the bookstore, saying they were ruining the book by giving away what would happen. It was a long and loud while of pretending we weren’t related, and when he reached the back wall, he sat down in his metal chair and opened the book again.

At the end of the reading, the kids got in line to have their books signed, and I insisted that Green-Hand join his brother there. That’s him in the green shirt. And he’s smiling. Or trying to. Because I told him he better.

susan henderson's litpark visits The Book Revue

What will the world come to when there are no more physical bookstores, and all the readings are on YouTube? How will you show your righteous indignation? Who will hear you scrape your chair across the floor? These are the important questions we must ask ourselves.

And this is why I’m going to suggest that you join me in a little exercise this month. Click on this Indiebound link and type in your zip code and find a few indie bookstores in your neighborhood. Then have a visit. See if there’s anything that might bring you to the store on a regular basis: a book club, a cafĂ©, wi-fi, comfy chairs.

Introduce yourself. Tell someone who works in that store that you’re a writer. Tell him or her what you like to read. Learn something about the person you’re speaking with – maybe that person is a writer, too. Maybe he or she has an interesting story. Ask questions about the store. Find out if they sponsor readings, if they have a website, if they’ll order books for you that you’d otherwise buy from Amazon.

Just try it, and I will, too. I’ll be bringing the kids.


Normally, this is where I tell you what I read this month, but all were galleys, and I don’t want to give away future guests. I will, however, share the book I’ve been reading to my kids: Trenton Lee Stewart, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY *. It’s about extra-smart kids who are chosen to take a secret test, and if they do well, they will be given a “very special opportunity” – but is this a good thing? We’re just a few chapters from the end (the book is 485 pages) and absolutely love it. Every chapter is strange and unexpected and dangerous. And this author understands how alone smart kids can feel, which adds a real depth to the thrilling plot. * = for an indie store click here.


Okay. That’s it for March. Time for me to get back to the new book I’m writing. Thanks to everyone who played here, and to my guest, the very awesome bookseller, Ann Kingman. And thanks to those who linked to LitPark this month: Bookdwarf, Kash’s Book Corner, The Debutante Ball, Word of the Day, Daryl Ebneezra Kadabra, Bookavore, BitterSweet Blog, First Person Narrative, Bookies, Erin Balser, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Brad Listi . Com, Side Dish, Gray Skies, Endless Knots, and Read by Myfanwy. See you next month!

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

KatrinaDenza March 6, 2009 at 6:59 am

Xander and I are reading “The Mysterious Benedict Society” recommended by Angie at our local indie bookstore and we’re loving it! We’re about halfway through.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 8:33 am

Yeah, I always look forward to the book as much as they do. I have a feeling our next read will be The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.

Did you know the cover artist is the one who does The Decemberists’ albums?


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 8:45 am

My kids, by the way, are playing for the Long Island Music Hall of Fame tomorrow. Bach-Boy’s on keys and vocals for Philosophy (Ben Folds) and Death on Two Legs (Queen). He’s on keys only for Carry on Wayward Son (Kansas). And Green-Hand is on guitar and back-up vocals for Death on Two Legs. Everyone in our house is a total Queen fanatic, but if you don’t know that song, which is the opening of Night at the Opera, I put it up on my MySpace page just for today:


Amy_Nathan March 6, 2009 at 9:43 am

Thank you for that link — I didn’t know there was an indie bookstore less than 10 miles from me and when I visited their website they had announced a new larger location that just opened. I can’t wait to stop by. My daughter, as a teen, is not a bookstore meander-er like me. She wants to choose a book and get out — so I don’t take her with me much anymore. Although she gets a kick out of finding large print books and telling me I should try them. So I guess there is the humorous value. 🙂


Nathalie March 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

Well obviously the finder will not work for me but not to worry. As I wrote some years ago, I might be a bit hazy on church matters (names and whereabouts, that is) but I DO know each and every book shop in the centre of Rome by their Christian names… Next time I venture out – am in dreadful need of a haircut – I’ll play along.


troutbum70 March 6, 2009 at 11:41 am

I do everything as local as possible. Indie bookstore, farmers market, no chain restaurants. I am forced at times to go to wal mart but try my best to find it somewhere else first. we have to all pull together to make a better world and putting our money into the pockets of a local family beats giving it to some corporate giant whos only intrest in your community is the money they can make off of your efforts. Ranting a tad. I have The Decemberists on my ipod.


AndreaGillies March 6, 2009 at 11:57 am

I wonder if you noticed, Susan, what an almost elegiac tone this lovely short piece about family bookshop visits has. I share your keen mixture of melancholy and panic at the idea of the bookshop vanishing from our lives and the performance aspects of book launches becoming another of the growing list of things that happens to us in our virtual lives and not IRL (as I’m told to write it by Boy – “In Real Life mum – you should know this stuff”). It seems from your memories of your old style bookstore trips that there really is much more of a ‘touchy-feely, hang out and read’ bookstore culture in the US. We don’t have that here. I love the bookstore scenes in the movie You’ve Got Mail, in which children are busily using the place as a personal library, completely unselfconsciously. I’ve never seen anything quite that unselfconscious in Britain. Certainly in our bookshops here – a small university town by the sea – children are rarely seen sitting on the floor reading. Partly because their parents don’t think they ought to – they might spoil the book, bend the spine. We’re an uptight race. There might be bookshop owner tutting. Choosing is much more superficial and the experience ditto, on that account. I envy you your reader-centric bookstore culture.

Like you, I used to love going into bookshops with the children when they were little. But actually I enjoy it just as much now. It’s always a big part of our twice yearly London trips, and our much more frequent visits to Edinburgh – where the eldest is now a student – to go into bookshops together and browse and share ideas. I find now that I have a didactic role in these experiences, pouncing on books I’ve read and loved and thrusting them into my teenagers’ hands. We’ve always had the rule that there are no spending limits in bookshops and you can have whatever you want. The teenagers take this for granted now, which is rewarding, but blooming expensive. The cashier in the bookshop usually keeps his/her composure when we turn up, the five of us, at the till with 6 or 7 books each. It’s become a major household expense. I don’t care. I’d rather the children had to live on baked potatoes and chicken legs and were dressed entirely out of charity shops, than that they ever felt they didn’t have free access to books they wanted. (Another British problem – our libraries are pretty poor and getting worse, and are being closed in the spending cuts round). I think I’ll still be sending the eldest book parcels when she’s 25 and working wherever she’s working in the world. She’ll still be my child and I’ll still feel as if I’m on a journey of reading and feeling and knowing and learning with her, sharing that civilising, shaping, polishing force that is literature. As they ‘re growing up, reading is more than ever a strong bonding force in our lives.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Isn’t it a cool little link? Though I was hoping to find something closer that I’d never heard of. Very funny about the large print books! I think teasing is their favorite way of showing affection at this age.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I just love your answer here, and when I make it to Rome, you can take me book-hopping.

(I just got a haircut, too, and feel so much better.)


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I’m going to try your all-indie plan, or at least be more aware of the decisions I’m making. I’m happy to say I’ve never been to Wal-Mart.

(I’m glad there’s another Decemberists fan here. I think they’re fabulous and just my kind of quirky.)


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Once again, Andrea sends me to the dictionary, this time to look up “elegiac”. Be right back!


aimeepalooza March 6, 2009 at 12:38 pm

All I can say is woo hoo! I think we already know I am a huge fan of indie. I want the Shaman Drum to survive. So, even though I have no affiliation, thanks. Also, I like your son’s spirit. I’m sure the authors did too.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Elegiac, according to Webster:

1 a: of, relating to, or consisting of two dactylic hexameter lines the second of which lacks the arsis in the third and sixth feet b (1): written in or consisting of elegiac couplets (2): noted for having written poetry in such couplets c: of or relating to the period in Greece about the seventh century b.c. when poetry written in such couplets flourished2: of, relating to, or comprising elegy or an elegy ; especially : expressing sorrow often for something now past

Yes, we do definitely use the bookstore a little bit like a library, but they get their money out of us in the end. What a wonderful memory for your kids – no limits on books. I’ll bet you they continue that with their kids. I love hearing these stories and walking through your different worlds!


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm

He has more spirit than he knows how to handle! I’m told often that my mature and studious older son takes after my husband, and the little one with the iron will takes after me. He already has a trunk filled with books he’s writing – he’s quite good but only writes the first chapter and then loses interest and starts another book.


gaywalker March 6, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Wow! There is still an Indie not too far from me! Thanks for posting the link. I can hardly afford to take my daughter to a bookstore anymore–she doesn’t stop shopping until her arms are full, and she’s older now so she holds out a lot longer before she makes it to the cash register. It doesn’t matter that she’s 19–she still expects mom and dad to buy. “Because they’re good for me, right?” If we try to decline, she’ll flash her most ingratiating smile and say something like, “It’s not my fault. You’re book addicts. How was I supposed to escape?”

We have a hard time passing up bookstores when we’re out shopping, and I’ve already said that no trip through Denver is complete without a stop in at the Tattered Cover. My sister’s inlaws are there, so we usually make it at least once a year–seems like there’s always something going on that gives us an excuse to visit and get in some skiing while we’re at it.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm

My son was just accepted into the Johns Hopkins summer program, CTY ( Hooray!


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I’m so glad you tried the link. And you’ve given me an idea for the next time I visit my brother – we’re going to his local indie bookstore, and I’m going to learn all about him by the books he pulls off the shelves.


eileen_rita March 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm

I think part of the saddness, and I’m not sure if this is a global trend or not, is that we don’t have many stores here that are ‘just’ bookstores any more. Even Borders which has guest authors, and encourages you to sit and read, is also a DVD and Music store.
Most book sellers here are also stationary and lotto suppliers. Because of the constant rise of the minimum wage in NZ you no longer have people behind the counter waiting to help you find your next escape from reality, you have young, part time cashiers who can’t wait to see you heading out the door, with what we hope is the right change. They have to check the computer in front of them for every single query – because they don’t even browse the stores themselves to know what they have to sell me.
I wish I felt more encouraged to go out to shop, because I want to support my community, but I think people have to start caring again about what they’re selling, and how they’re selling it.


SusanHenderson March 6, 2009 at 8:33 pm

What a great observation, even though I’m certainly one of those people who expects to have coffee and wi-fi service and stationary whenever I go to a bookstore.

One more observation, and it’s a good one: Here today, in this one place, are folks from New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, and all over the U.S. Pretty remarkable!


gaywalker March 7, 2009 at 12:35 am

Maybe you need to start him working on short stories–get him published, even–until his attention span is longer and he’s ready for the marathon of writing a novel? I just finished an MFA program on the short story, and nearly all of it was immensely helpful toward writing novels.


gaywalker March 7, 2009 at 12:38 am

Somehow I missed that your boys were so musical. I love it. I used to play jazz piano, but I’ve somehow lost that skill, and didn’t pass it to my daughter. She does OK with guitar hero, but that’s about it, LOL. We ADORE Queen–no fights over the radio when Queen comes on!


Carolyn_Burns_Bass March 7, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I can’t believe how fast the week went. Zoom. Gone.

Sadly, there are no indie bookstores within a 35-mile radius of my home. There is a Borders only two miles away. I am such a hobbit now that my kids are grown and don’t require continual chauffering service that I rarely leave my little hobbit town. Plus, the thought of driving 35 x2 miles just to get a book doesn’t seem very green. If there were an indie bookstore in my hobbithood, I would be a great customer.


eileen_rita March 8, 2009 at 4:20 am

Oh that’s cool – such a great mix of nations!

I think as those trends twist towards convenience, which is part of the big battle stores face over the internet, the inviting environments we grew up with will disapear – and quickly.

I saw an interview with who I think was the director of and he was introducing the new palm book. Soon we won’t even have pages to thumb through. A sad day I thought.


SusanHenderson March 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

They did great yesterday. I’ll post YouTubes when my husband gets around to them. It was very funny because the Hell’s Angels showed up and absolutely loved them.


SusanHenderson March 8, 2009 at 2:32 pm

At this age, I’d rather have him climb a tree than finish a piece of writing. But that’s a very good point, not to tackle a novel as your first creative piece.


SusanHenderson March 8, 2009 at 2:34 pm

The stores that have wi-fi are definitely competing better, just like stores that take credit cards zoomed past all the cash-only stores. I just hope, as we all evolve and adjust, that we don’t throw out all of the lovely traditions that kept us connected.


SusanHenderson March 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I’m not in a great indie bookstore hub, either. The second closest stores were in Conneticutt and New Jersey.


gailsiegel March 9, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Many of you may have read work by a wonderful writer named Bob Arter. Bob died on Saturday, which is a tremendous loss for many of us. Fortunately, his work lives on, both on-line and in print. But really, this is a story about Susan Henderson.

Years ago, when I first met Susan, we took a road trip from Chicago to Galesburg, for a reading for the journal Night Train — another one of her accomplishments. At the time, Susan mentioned to me that Bob was in ill health. As an admirer of his work, I said to Susan, “Why doesn’t somebody pull together a collection of Bob’s stories, and turn it into a book?” Just like me, thinking up projects for other people.

But guess what, that’s exactly what Susan did. Pulled together a collection of Bob’s stories, with commentaries by his friends. Worked with other people (Bev Jackson?) to get it printed and distributed. She put her publishing skills to work creating a beautiful product — all as a surprise for a beloved writer and friend.

Happily for us all, Bob lived on for many years. Even better, we now have a bound collection of his work. Sadly, he is no longer around to enjoy it with us.


SusanHenderson March 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

It’s taken me all morning and afternoon to feel up to getting on my computer and coming here to share the sad news. I really really miss him, he is such a rock for me. Thanks for this, Gail. Maybe we’ll all be in California next week. : (


AnnKingman March 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Susan, now you’ve made me cry.
Thank you.
And tell Green-Hand that he’s a kid after my own heart — I would have moved my chair, too, and not without some loud sighs and harumphs.


kategray March 10, 2009 at 8:51 am

Indiebound is a good search tool, but I noticed that if you google or yahoo “independent booksellers” with the state you live in, you may get additional results, since it looks like indie sellers need to be members of indiebound to be listed. is a site that allows you to search for indie stores in your community, as well as to buy from them online.
It did remind me that UConn, which is mere miles away, has not only an indie co-op bookstore, but also a massive farm complex, which can be toured for free, and their really awesome Husky Dairy Bar, which serves ice cream made on-site, with milk from their own cows, as well as eggs, and small batch cheeses. And every year, they host a gigantic used-book sale.
I think it’s vitally important to be a locavore, especially right now, in all the ways and means available to us!


SusanHenderson March 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Can’t wait to see you do this during a reading sometime! 🙂


SusanHenderson March 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I’m so happy to know about these links. And for the reminder to shop locally.

By the way, since you mentioned the economy, one thing I discovered this month, much to my delight, is that everything is really really cheap right now. We happened to need some pricey items (a bed and a new toilet) and we got them at unbelievable prices. The plumber – not so cheap.


Nathalie March 11, 2009 at 4:31 am

I went out yesterday evening and took some pictures of one of my favourite bookshops in downtown Rome, The Almost Corner Bookshop, In Trastevere. It’s tiny but lovely. Bought two books.


SusanHenderson March 11, 2009 at 8:14 am

Wow, I’d go to Rome just to visit that bookstore. I’m so glad you linked that, Nathalie.


SusanHenderson March 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Hey folks, here’s Bob’s obituary. Sigh.

Robert W. Arter, 62 died March 7, 2009 at Kaiser Fontana Medical Center. Bob was born in Richmond California October 27, 1946. He was a U.S. Army veteran. He was a freelance writer and a contributing editor to many literary journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Gator Springs Gazette, Literary Potpourri and Night Train.

A graduate of Colton H.S. class of 1964, Occidental College 1968 and most recently CSUSB with a degree in Computer Programming.

Survivors include his wife of 28 years Christina Baer Arter, son Kiran Lee Arter of Grand Terrace, Mother Madeline Arter of Colton, sisters and brothers- in -law Carole and Gary Wetherington of Brush Prairie Washington, Susan and Darrell Hill of Westchester CA, Nancy and Steve Burger of Redondo Beach CA. He also leaves behind nieces and nephews.

A burial is scheduled at Riverside National cemetery on Friday March 13, 2009 at 10AM.

A Memorial Service will be held at the Mission Assistencia, Barton Road, Redlands Friday March 13 at 12 noon.

Donations may be made in honor of Bob to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a foundation dedicated to research for a cure of spinal cord injuries., Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation 636 Morris Turnpike Suite 3A Short Hills, N.J. 07078.


robinslick March 13, 2009 at 6:56 am

I still can’t process this loss.


SusanHenderson March 13, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Me neither, Rob. xo


Nathalie March 13, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Sorry about your loss, Susan.


SusanHenderson March 13, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Thanks, Nathalie.


SusanHenderson March 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Here’s an article you might find is worth your time:


terrybain March 30, 2009 at 10:26 am

Incidentally, did everyone here already wish our hostess a happy birthday?

Just checking. It was last week.


SusanHenderson March 30, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Wonderful link about indie bookstores right here:

(And thanks to Lance Reynald for sending it to me!)

P.S. Thanks for the birthday wishes, t. And where has the little button gone that lets me reply to individual posts?


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