November 19, 2017

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An (Independent) Bookstore for Kids Grows in Brooklyn

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Maggie Pouncey and Matt Miller

This Saturday, April 30, 435 independent bookstores around the country will celebrate their place as community hubs on the second annual Independent Bookstore Day, an event that might make one forget how tough it has been to run a profitable “mom and pop” bookshop. The owners of a new children’s bookstore in Brooklyn are embracing the challenge—and throwing a party to introduce themselves to the neighborhood.

It doesn’t often happen that bibliophiles wake up one morning, decide to open a bookstore, and do so. But then most book lovers aren’t Matt Miller and Maggie Pouncey, college sweethearts from Massachusetts and Connecticut, who met at Columbia University (they’re now husband and wife and parents of two young boys). This duo is bucking the naysayers and betting that their soon-to-open business, Stories, a combination bookstore and storytelling lab, is just what their neighborhood needs.

Miller, 38, has a graduate degree in computer science and most recently worked at an educational tech company. The other half of this business team has writing in her blood. Pouncey, also 38, is the author of the novel Perfect Reader (Pantheon, 2010), holds an MFA in creative writing, and teaches the craft. It’s this literary background that helps to inform the new business plan—including the emphasis on honing kids’ writing skills.

We got the scoop from Pouncey herself on what little Brooklyn bookworms can look forward to when the reading and writing emporium at 458 Bergen Street in Park Slope opens. Here’s what we learned.

SLJ:  What’s on tap for the big opening?

M.P.:  We’re having some fun events at our Sneak Peek Party on April 30 in celebration of Independent Bookstore Day. Though we won’t yet have all our books or bookshelves or even resemble a bookshop on that date, there will be balloons, and cookies, and lemonade. The plan is to be truly open by mid-May.

What inspired you to open Stories?

We have so many inspirations, including the belief that the love of storytelling is one of the surest lifelong gifts you can give your children, and that in our digitally saturated age, stories are more important than ever. Bookshops are often my favorite places to be, and I’ve long had a bookshop fantasy. When Matt and I came up with the idea of combining one with a storytelling lab, it began to seem that maybe this could really be both a sustainable family business and a unique community center.

What do you plan to sell?

We’re aiming for a beautiful collection of children’s literature for ages zero through young adult with some rare, vintage, and out-of-print finds, too. We’ll also have storytelling supplies, such as pencils and notebooks.

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The store is slated to open officially in mid-May.

Tell us about the kinds of programs you plan to offer.

We’ll host a weekly storytime with authors and illustrators who will read and share their work, as well as teach master classes. We’ll have genre-based writing workshops and drop-in sessions where kids can bring something they’re working on for feedback. We plan to offer bookmaking classes for younger children and will explore other forms of storytelling, too—from puppetry to mural painting. This summer will be a time of experimentation to see what the community likes best.

Why is focusing on writing important to you?

Reading and writing are inseparable—all the best writers I know are voracious readers, and I’ve yet to meet such a reader who didn’t love to turn a phrase. There is a lot of good enrichment programming for kids in Brooklyn but not that much around the written word. We love the idea of Stories being a place where authors and illustrators can meet their audiences in new ways.

Why is it vital for kids to learn to write well?

For so many kids, unlocking the world of the imagination can be a huge liberation. They grow up with a lot of rules, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to spend time in a place with none at all? My imagination is the place where I felt fully myself, and I think for introspective, watchful kids having a place to quietly strut their stuff can be pretty life changing.

Are independent bookstores still relevant?

Thankfully, independent bookstores are having a comeback. They are important because they become community centers where the recommendations feel personal. I think people really feel a sense of ownership for their local bookshop in a way you just can’t for a chain store.

Editor’s note: The American Booksellers Association (ABA) confirms this news. For the sixth year in a row, ABA bookstore membership has grown, with stores operating in more than 2,200 locations, says Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer.

Who are some of your personal favorite authors?

We just started reading John Bemelmans Marciano’s The Witches of Benevento (Viking, 2016) to my older son, and it’s great. We also went through a major Greek myths phase that started with D’Aulaires, and then we discovered the Gillian Cross retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey (Candlewick, 2015 & 2012), which are wonderful. In picture books, I love all the ones by husband and wife team Philip and Erin Stead, Fraidyzoo (Abrams, 2013) by Thyra Heder, and Tough Guys Have Feelings Too (Flying Eye, 2015) by Keith Negley. And everything Mo Willems!

In terms of my own reading, like all of Brooklyn, it seems, I was swept up in Elena Ferrante fever and devoured her four Neapolitan novels. I’m following that up with a nonfiction phase, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), Sally Mann’s beautiful memoir Hold Still, (Little, Brown, 2015), and I’m finally getting to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Graywolf, 2015).

Is there any way for out-of-towners to join in the fun?

Those who don’t live nearby can sign up at StoriesBK.com for the Perfect Stories Book Club and receive favorite picks each month.


Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a freelance writer specializing in children’s health and development and the former research editor at Parenting

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