Like so many Harolds with very industrious purple crayons, three local bookstores—Little Shop of Stories, Brave + Kind and The Story Shop—have become community centers that beckon young readers with stories and more celebrations than you can shake a cat's hat at.
And guess what? You don't need a child to accompany you to one of these havens. Nobody's too old to nest in one of their smushy armchairs (or, in one case, a pillow-strewn teepee) with a stack of soothing picture books. Try it some time if you want to feel the stress seep out of your bones with every turn of the page.
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Here’s where to go.
The Story Shop
124 N. Broad St., Monroe. 678-635-8801, visitthestoryshop.com.
If the three-year-old Story Shop had a motto, it might be “Come for a party, leave with a book.”
The Pinterest-ready party room is the literal center of the Story Shop’s sprawling space on Monroe’s main drag. Themes for the shop’s myriad birthday parties, bridal and baby showers and other celebrations range from Llamapalooza to Alice’s tea party to construction trucks.
But, says director of operations Lauren Brown, every celebration hinges upon the books that are on the shop’s picturesque shelves. “Everything here is whimsical or part of a story or something kids can grasp onto with their imagination.”
It’s impossible to list all the Story Shop’s design delights but here are just a few to whet your literary appetite.
There are a hobbit hole and a nook full of flying keys. (Yes, one has a broken wing). Also, there is a potion shelf, Peter Pan’s shadow, books that flutter through the air like butterflies and a crescent-moon cradle. To get to the storytelling room, you must open the doors of a massive wardrobe and plunge through fur coats. But be forewarned, adults who do this are prone to fits of nostalgic weeping. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Brown to elaborate on the experience at Story Shop.
Q:What's it like being the wizard behind the curtain at your shop?
A: It's nice when people come in and remind you this is magical. That's what we're working so hard for.
Q:What do you say to adults who think kids' books are lightweight?
A: We try to nicely point out a lot of titles and examples that put that theory to shame. The beauty of fiction is you learn a lot of things and get a lot of truths in through the side door of stories.
Q: How do you curate your inventory?
A: We're very picky. A book has to be whimsical, either in the story or illustrations. It must appeal to the imagination. And even if it's non-fiction, it has to be story-oriented.
Little Shop of Stories
133A East Court Square, Decatur. 404-373-6300, littleshopofstories.com.
Many in Decatur barely remember what the town was like before Little Shop of Stories opened 14 years ago. It’s where now-twentysomethings went to a midnight Harry Potter release party. It’s where a brilliantly terrifying graveyard-themed party earned a put-’em-on-the-map personal visit from Neil Gaiman.
Today, Little Shop is firmly established as one of the nation’s most influential children’s bookstores. Co-owners Diane Capriola and Dave Shallenberger (she, a former school psychologist and he, a former lawyer) have become sought-after experts on everything from school book fairs to forming community partnerships to crafting literary camps. Hang out on the Decatur square any summer day and you’re likely to encounter Little Shop campers zipping around on homemade brooms, measuring dinosaurs or hunting Bigfoot.
To put it in picture book terms, Little Shop is big—a regular tour stop for kid lit luminaries like Dav Pilkey and Kate DiCamillo and an incubator for local stars like Nic Stone and Laurel Snyder. It has a towering gallery of art by hundreds of illustrators and its very own Harry Potter-inspired Platform 9¾.
But Little Shop is also little, a place where staffers have laboriously glued pennies to the floor until they spelled out “read,” and where every reader can and will find their soulmate of a book. Capriola talks more about what she feels makes the bookstore special.
Q:You're known for handselling books, like nobody else can.
A: Yes, our primary focus is definitely customer service. We have to know our inventory because when a kid walks through the door, we're helping him or her find the right book. A lot of times, it's not the first book we hand them.
Q: What keeps you going after 14 years in this business?
A: We feel adamant about using books to help parents and teachers have hard conversations about things happening out there right now. Using books to foster empathy and celebrate diversity—that's a big reason I do what I do.
Q: What’s it been like for your kids to grow up in a bookstore?
A: My daughter wrote her college application essay about it, about being surrounded by people who create books. It's made her think about the world in a different way. Everybody pushes STEM, but growing up in a bookstore has made her recognize the value of reading and how that makes you a better citizen of the world. Even if you're all about STEM, reading is what makes us human and connects us.
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Brave + Kind Books
722 W. College Ave., Decatur. 470-440-5714, braveandkindbooks.com.
Opening a second children’s bookstore in Decatur seems as daunting as launching a newspaper in Times Square.
But Brave + Kind owner, Bunnie Hilliard, notes that her temperament is right there in her shop’s name. “Opening the store was the brave thing to do,” she says.
And Hilliard’s kindness? There’s evidence of that throughout her sweet and light space in the city’s Oakhurst neighborhood. The store’s start a year ago was crowdfunded by Hilliard’s devoted community, and the owner has fashioned it to be a home away from home for neighborhood readers and their adults. A well-worn farm table hosts book clubs and craft klatches. There’s a tea-and-snack corner, a cozy mod couch and shelves full of books that reflect the children’s publishing industry’s recent push for diversity. “I want children to come in and see faces that look like theirs on the book covers,” Hilliard says. “That’s how I want my two children to see the world and other people’s children to see the world.” She elaborates more on the personal journey that led to Brave + Kind.
Q: You used to work in the corporate world. What inspired you to open a bookstore?
A: I would be fibbing if I said the (1998) movie "You've Got Mail" didn't play a small part. When I was getting ready to open, I asked a U.K. bookseller I was following about the kind of books I wanted to have in the store. I told her I'd raised $12,000 plus a little savings of my own. She said, "When I opened my store, I had $300 and 30 titles." So I thought, if she can do it, I can do it.
Q: How tired are you?
A: I'm always on. I think about it all the time. I have all these grand ideas, but I'm only one person right now.
Q: But after one year, you’ve got a lot going on!
A: Yes, we have Brave in Schools (a campaign that fights against bullying in schools), supplying book fairs and curriculum books. We have storytimes, including Spanish and French immersion ones. We're working on Service Project Saturdays. At the end of the day, I wanted to do something that felt like it would have a lasting impact on the community. And even if I was only open a year, people would still have those books on their shelves.
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