Today was the 4th annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. This is not just a national event; more than 500 bookstores from every state in the US are joined by booksellers in Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany in encouraging parents to foster a love of books and bookshops in the next generation of readers.
This annual event was started by Jenny Milchman, author of Cover of Snow and the forthcoming Ruin Falls, whose love of bookstores led her to spend seven months on the road this year, visiting booksellers all across the country. I was fortunate to have Jenny at The Moonstone Mystery Bookstore early in her tour, and to meet her two lovely children (and wonderfully supportive husband), who inspired her to create a holiday when children everywhere would be introduced to all that bookshops have to offer.
Every author I have met in this wonderful second (really third) career as a bookseller has been sincerely supportive of bookstores, particularly independents, even in this age of electronic books and on-line selling. But Jenny Milchman is in a class by herself; even before her book tour, she spent her vacations traveling the country to visit bookshops. If anyone is keeping track for the Guinness people, I am sure she holds the record for bookshops visited, and also for booksellers who consider her a friend. On tour, she left a small (and yummy) gift at each stop, with a tag that still hangs on my bulletin board: “Thank you booksellers, keepers of community, culture, and conversation.”
Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day is not a literacy program. Milchman says, “It's really about the fact that there is a physical immersion to reading a book and there is a physical immersion to choosing that book, or there can be, and when there is it becomes almost a completely different experience. It says something to a child in a way he'll never get if he just sees mom order a book online." I have written before about the joy I experience in watching children choose books in my shop. They are as wide-eyed and awed as if in the more commonly referenced “candy store.” When they are allowed to make their own choices, to hold and scan the volumes, to take time exploring all the possibilities, to talk to the bookseller, they realize that a bookshop is a place where people know, love, and discuss books, and that they are welcome to become part of that community.
In this world of on-line shopping, it is possible that even the most privileged children will be denied the opportunity to browse in a bricks and mortar bookshop. Jenny Milchman’s efforts to combat this potential loss of an important formative experience for the young booklover need support from all of us. Take your child to a bookstore on the first Saturday in December next year, where there will be special events to welcome him or her. But don’t wait until then. Take a child to story time. Take them to shop for themselves. Of course, give gifts of books for the holidays, but include a gift card or certificate and the promise of a trip to the bookshop to redeem it. And interpret the words “your child” broadly: if you don’t have biological offspring, borrow a niece or nephew or neighbor’s child and show them where the booklovers hang out. It’s the future, not just of bookstores, but of the community of booklovers.
And thank you, Jenny, promoter of bookstores, lover of children, and giver of hope to both.