Bookstore of the Month: Bringing authors to kids

While our August Bookstore of the Month, Secret Garden Books, does host plenty of events in its Ballard storefront, most of the events on its robust readings calendar can’t be attended by your average adult Seattleite. “What we do mostly with events is school visits,” Secret Garden’s events manager Suzanne Perry tells me. She calls the school events “one of my favorite parts” of the job, event though “we don’t publicize them and people don’t know we do them.”

Secret Garden frequently brings authors and book sales to schools around Seattle. For a long time, they did events at high schools and middle schools, but now they mostly bring books to elementary schools and even preschools. The reason is a practical one: you can’t trust older kids to remember to do their part. “For a school visit to work,” Perry explains, “you have to send a presale flier home [with the students] and they have to remember it and they have to bring it back on that day.” It’s a lot to ask of a teenage audience.

What are some of Perry’s favorite Secret Garden events with visiting authors? “Mo Willems at the Central Library was a big one for us,” she says. “He was just kind of like a national superstar” at the time of the reading. Secret Garden has hosted its share of big-name national and international authors, and they’ve had a lot of fun with them, but Perry says that ultimately “for us, the watersheds were ones where we liked the book and nobody else on the planet liked the book” because they didn’t know about it yet.

One example of Secret Garden’s early discoveries: Frank Portman, the author of the King Dork series of books. “We were the first people that liked the book,” Perry says. Secret Garden was such an advocate for Portman that “his agent sent him to Seattle” just based on the strength of Secret Garden’s sales.

Other highlights: “It was fun when Graeme Base came to the Ballard Public Library and the people who came out for him were total hipster stoner kids,” Perry says. “It seemed like he was expecting kids, but the people who came out for the reading were twentysomethings.”

And “a watershed for me was bringing David Levithan to Ballard High School.” Levithan was reading “a totally inappropriate story,” Perry says, a short story called “Smoking” that she says was “all about how sexy smoking is.” The room fell hard for it: “You could’ve dropped a pin,” Perry says. “I thought all these librarians and teachers would kill me, but they loved it.”

Her favorite part of the whole reading experience isn’t on stage at all. Perry says during school readings, especially, when you look into the audience and see the way the kids look at the authors, you can watch an inspirational moment unfold on their faces. “You can see the kids sit there and go, ‘I could have that life. I could do that.’” She says it’s a moment unlike any other: “just the recognition that they could have a creative life,” Perry says, is a big deal.