For nearly 50 years, Manhattan’s Bank Street Bookstore has enraptured kids with hand-picked books as well as puppet shows, toys, and musical storytimes. The children’s bookstore is owned by Bank Street College of Education, a graduate school for progressive educators, and is a nationwide resource for teachers. “At Bank Street, we take pride in handselling directly to our young customers, and we’re not afraid to give them books that expand their world,” says manager Caitlyn Morrissey. “We think teachers are rock stars and do everything we can to support them.”
How would you describe Bank Street Bookstore to the uninitiated?
Bank Street is a place with enormous respect for children and childhood. We proudly champion books that tackle tough subjects, such as immigration and racism. We are a place for kids to feel utterly at home. Kids lie on the floor after school and do their homework. Our storytime hosts know the names of all our regulars.
What were some of your favorite interactions with young readers?
The best feeling in the world is when a kid comes back after reading something you recommended and asks for another like it. Our individual booksellers definitely get their own fan clubs. One teen reader came in after reading Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. I handed her the ARC for the sequel. She couldn’t believe it. It’s not always about the size of the sale—it’s the pure glee when you hand them the exact book they need.
I love watching our staff lead storytime. The littlest kids walk up and put their faces right in the pages. One bookseller pretends to forget how the alphabet song goes, and the audience erupts in giggles. I read Dragons Love Tacos to some 6-year-olds, and they were actually rolling on the floor with laughter when the dragons ate the hot salsa.
In a children’s bookstore, you have to be prepared for everything. I often get attacked by rubber snakes and unicorn hand puppets at the register. I love when a kid comes up to me with a more out-of-the-box question. I was recently approached by a 7-year-old who adores guinea pigs and thought of the perfect recommendation. (Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, of course.) They feel like you just conjured the book out of thin air just for them!
If Bank Street were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Margaret Wise Brown, and Ruth Krauss would be our patron saints. Lucy was a founder and Margaret and Ruth were early members of Bank Street Writers Lab and taught us that children’s books should reflect the way they experience the world.
Our tenets: reading breeds empathy. Books should be mirrors and also windows. Every kid deserves to see themselves in a book. And all reading is good reading even if adults don’t see the appeal of reading the 57th or 96th book in a series!
How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community?
Our community is fantastically diverse, and we reflect that in our buying and our displays. We partner with local schools to do multicultural and Spanish-language book fairs. Educating for democracy, equity, and social justice are key components of the Bank Street curriculum, and we uphold that in our bookselling practices.
What are your favorite handsells?
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love is my hands-down favorite from 2018. It’s gorgeous and communicates so much in the spare text. I am giving it to adults and kids alike. I’ve long loved Nina LaCour’s writing, but We Are Okay left me stunned. This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe gives kids a great sense of how families around the world live. Fergus Crane, from the Far-Flung Adventures series by Paul Stewart, is perfect for kids just advancing from chapter books to meatier novels; it’s hilarious, and Chris Riddell’s illustrations are fantastic. Anything Polly Horvath but especially The Trolls. She understands her audience’s desire for the eerie and quirky! Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin and illustrated by Ana Juan, about a Mexican girl who won’t let anyone tell her she can’t be a glassblower. This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender is dead-on in its depiction of how immense your feelings are as a teenager.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.