Take Your Child to a Bookstore, and Build the Future

Across the U.S., bookstores set aside the first Saturday in December to celebrate the magic that happens when every kid has a book to read.

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day began in 2010, when my own kids were small and taking them to story hour at our local bookstore was a weekly occurrence. It was fun and enriching for them, a chance for me to see them interact with other grownups besides myself, and I even got a latte out of it, plus a new book.

But TYCBD really started long before that, when I was a kid myself. A lot of authors say this, and it’s true for me too: Books were my respite as a child. I was small, shy, and had a tendency to feel out-of-place. In stories I found kids just like me – a favorite was literally called “The Very Shy Girl” – as well as characters who became as strong and capable as I dreamed of being, from Nancy Drew to Mary in “The Secret Garden.” I counted on books to transport me, and they never let me down.

Fast forward to the next century, and these avenues of escape seemed to be dwindling at a ferocious rate, cut off by over-scheduling and digital devices and parents who are understandably too busy to read to their kids. There are economic and global forces at work too. We’re buying with one-click, and mom-and-pop stores are shuttering because of it, bookstores included.

There are also counter forces I thought we could draw on. If slow food is a Thing, couldn’t slow reading be? Aren’t we all a little drained from having the world and its near-infinite content tucked into our pockets and purses? Perhaps it’s a need we hadn’t even articulated yet but could be rallied to nurture our children and help support our communities, all via the magic of one special day.

In a perfect convergence of new and old, bloggers and members of a mystery listserv called DorothyL took my idea for Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day to the web. Suddenly it was everywhere, and in our very first year, over 80 stores signed on, celebrating the first Saturday in December with special kid-centric activities.

Things like author events, crafts, handing out treats, and even meeting Santa. Holiday gift-giving was given a boost when families who dashed into the shop for a quick purchase hung around so that their children could watch the show – or even be part of it. (One bookstore welcomed a magician who taught the kids tricks.)

That summer, my husband and I packed our own children into the car and drove cross-country, bringing news of Take Your Child to the Bookstore Day to the masses. We saw this great country of ours, bookstore by bookstore. And you know what? Not a single one was just like another. Homogenization is another of the forces undermining elements that used to give our lives structure and joy, and we saw this on the road. The car snack we bought at Starbucks in Montana tasted exactly like the one we got in Illinois.

Bookstores, though, were purveyors of uniqueness, places we came to count on for reassurance that there was still a whole country out there, filled with people whose diverse faces shone. These people proved we hadn’t yet seen our great land turned Stepford wife-style into a series of identity-less strip malls and big box stores, and that if we all work together to celebrate what is real, maybe we never will.

The following year, 500 bookstores became part of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

It’s my dream to see TYCBD grow beyond the families that tend to discover such a holiday anyway, by dint of knowing to stop in at their local bookstore, or by the good fortune of having one close by in the first place. Just as we have food deserts in this country, so do we have bookstore-less zones. There are kids who have never been in a bookstore, and who may not even know that they exist.

TYCBD field trips were born to try to counteract this problem. A pilot program has been running for three years now in the tiny town of St. Johnsville, NY, where two pre-K classes travel 40 miles round trip to visit the nearest bookstore, Mysteries on Main in Johnstown, and go home with a book of their choosing.

If Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day can continue to grow and work its magic, field trips will ensure that every child will one day have a book of his own to read and to cherish.

Each child will have a book to escape into as I once did, which helped make me the person I am today. Who knows what the kids of this world might become? We only know that books and bookstores can help them become it.