At Wednesday’s Children’s Book & Author Breakfast, two bookstores received the WNBA Pannell Award, given annually since 1983 by the Women’s National Book Association to a pair of bookstores that excel in bringing books and young readers together. This year’s winners are Book Beat in Oak Park, Mich., in the general bookstore category, and Monkey See, Monkey Do in Clarence, N.Y., in the children’s specialty category.
An award jury of five book industry professionals selected the winners based on creativity, responsiveness to community needs, and an understanding of young readers. The winner of each Pannell Award, which is underwritten by a gift from Penguin Young Readers Group, receives $1,000 and a framed piece of original art by a children’s book illustrator. This year, the art is contributed by George Ford, the first illustrator to win the Coretta Scott King Award in 1974 for Ray Charles; and Jenni Desmond, whose Red Cat, Blue Cat is due from Blue Apple Books in the fall.
The jurors praised Book Beat for its “passion and true understanding of children’s books and young readers,” for its “tremendous success as an independent haven within a tough urban environment,” and for going “beyond expectation to support and expand children’s and YA services programs and events.”
Colleen Kammer opened Book Beat 30 years ago with her husband, Cary Loren, in a close-in suburb of Detroit. She says that the recent years’ economic downturn has affected their community, and thus their business. “We’ve seen budgets slashed in our school districts, so teachers have less money to purchase books, which is integral to what we do,” she explains. “These have been tough times, so we’ve had to work harder to make things go forward.”
Book Beat often partners with local libraries to host author events. “Our store is small, and we want customers to be comfortable at our events,” she notes. “When publishers offer us the chance to host authors, we like to share the events with libraries, which have more space. Local librarians have been our strongest allies and best resource for spreading information about books and authors into the community.”
The Pannell Award jurors were also impressed with Kammer’s initiation of the annual celebration in local schools of International Peace Day on September 21, established by a United Nations resolution in 2001. “No one really seemed to know about this day, yet so many schools are doing anti-bullying programs,” she observes. “I thought this could be a natural part of that initiative.”
Kammer met with teachers to encourage them to organize commemorations of this event and mailed out postcards to 1,100 customers and individuals in the religious community. She also created thousands of flyers to give away at the store and insert in books, and had Tracy Gallup, an artist friend, design an image for an International Peace Day poster to distribute to schools. She and Loren create window displays each year to encourage celebration of the event. “It is a matter of talking about this day and spreading the word to get schools involved,” she says. “This may be a little thing that we’ve done, but small steps can make a difference.”
Kammer strikes a similar note when asked about her reaction to learning of her store’s Pannell win. “I was thrilled, but very surprised, to learn that we won,” she says. “I didn’t think that what we’re doing was big enough for anyone to appreciate or understand. The day we found out was my birthday, and it was the first day I’d taken off from work in a very long time. It was a great birthday present!”
Located in New York’s Erie County, Monkey See, Monkey Do was commended by the Pannell Award jurors for its enthusiastic and innovative approaches to engaging kids with reading and for its “spirit of entrepreneurship, looking for ways to make money not just from book sales.” One of these ventures is the store’s ambitious programming of in-store summer camps, which this year will involve 300 children attending 43 themed camps over a period of eight weeks.
“Each camp is literacy based,” explains Kim Krug, who opened the store in 2009 with her mother, Kathleen Skoog. “We bring in teachers, local artisans, and authors to put together some creative programming. One new camp that we’re especially excited about is the Young Authors Camp: Meet the Authors. Each day for a week, children in grades 4 to 8 will meet a different author, who will read to the kids, talk about what inspired them to become a writer, and guide them through the creative writing process.” Additional summer camps on this year’s schedule are Hunger Games Training Camp, NASA Science Space Camp, and Pirate Adventures.
Monkey See, Monkey Do also hosts a spectrum of ongoing book clubs, after-school art programs, and preschool programs. Launching this month is Puterbugs, a program designed to introduce computer skills to children ages three to eight. The store has also established a partnership with two local theater groups, Theatre of Youth and Shea’s Buffalo. “We pair up with them on any production that is literacy based, like a recent production of Charlotte’s Web,” Krug explains. “We tied that novel into our book club reading and activities. And we’ve initiated a Reader’s Theatre onsite here, where the companies do performances that bring literature to life.”
Krug and Skoog flew to New York City for the day yesterday to attend BEA for the first time—and to accept the Pannell Award. “We are very excited about the award, and excited to be here,” says Klug. “We’ve wanted to come to BEA since we opened the store, but we needed to get our business up and running. Now it’s time for us to begin networking further with other independent booksellers. I think it’s very important that we work together to help each other out.”