Books of Wonder, New York’s largest children’s bookstore, started small in Greenwich Village in 1980. It moved a few times, expanding at each location, and now has two stores, one in Chelsea and the other on the Upper West Side. BOW, the inspiration for the children’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail, was founded by Peter Glassman, who started bookselling when he was a teenager. We talk here with Glassman about children’s lit icons and the future of independent bookselling.
How would you describe Books of Wonder to the uninitiated?
Well, to be literal, I’d describe Books of Wonder as a bookstore dedicated to the love and art of children’s books, where we sell new children’s books, old and rare collectible children’s books, and original art from children’s books. We host several author and artist events each week at our stores as well as storytimes on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
But if I was being more lyrical, I’d say it’s a place to discover all the books, stories, and adventures you love, that it’s a magical place. And if I was being totally honest, I’d say it’s the children’s bookstore I wanted to find as a kid but never could.
If BOW were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
Of course, the physical book, handsomely bound and beautifully illustrated, would be our most cherished icon. Our tenets would be a celebration of imagination, storytelling, and the written word. And in terms of people, our icons would encompass everyone from Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum to Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, John Steptoe, Natalie Babbitt, and Diana Wynne Jones to Mo Willems, Lane Smith, Jerry Pinkney, Oliver Jeffers, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, S.E. Hinton, and Walter Dean Myers. The list could go on and on and….
Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?
There are two events that really stand out. First, the event we did with Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and Peter Dickinson when all three were here for their latest books. Listening to those three incredibly articulate, insightful people discuss the art of writing and their individual takes on fantasy, publishing, and their creativity was mesmerizing! The second would be the evening we had seven first-time writers of fantasy for young readers, including Suzanne Collins, (a very pregnant!) Shannon Hale, Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, and Chitra Divakaruni. Getting to hear these authors—some brand new, others new to fantasy for young readers—was so thrilling. And, of course, so many of them went on to have amazing careers. Finally, on a very personal level, as a boy who grew up watching the space program, getting to meet Buzz Aldrin when he did events at the store for his two picture books was a childhood dream come true!
What are your thoughts and concerns about the future of bookstores?
As a bookseller for 42 years (I started when I was 15!) and store owner for 37, I’m both optimistic and worried about the future of bookstores. The current expansion of bookstores and support from communities for their local independent retailers are very heartening. But the thin margins bookstores work on constantly leave them in perilous financial conditions. Publishers are far more profitable. They need to divide the pie more equitably, especially as they know that nothing can compare to handselling for building an author’s or title’s audience.
What trends are you noticing among young readers?
The trend I’m most excited about is the breadth of subjects being tackled by writers for kids and teens—and the eagerness with which they’re read. As a fantasy reader, I’ve been delighted by the explosion of fantasy for all ages thanks to J.K. Rowling, but I’m thrilled to see more science fiction, mystery, historical fiction, LGBTQ, and contemporary novels all holding their own with young readers. The defining characteristic seems to be a good story well-written.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.