If you’ve published a kids’ book and you live in Seattle, the odds are good that you’ve been to Secret Garden Books. Either you’ve stopped by and introduced yourself because you know they have a rapt audience of children who pay close attention to their recommendations, or they’ve hosted your book launch party. The fact is, though Seattle is home to many terrific bookstore sections for young readers — Elliott Bay Book Company’s children’s section improved exponentially when the store moved from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill; University Book Store has always had an incredibly diverse selection of titles and an adoring staff — Secret Garden is the city’s headquarters for children’s literature.
Secret Garden has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the western Washington chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international organization which “acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people.” Secret Garden booksellers attend monthly meetings of the SCBWI and engage in book talk with members on a regular basis. Agents and art directors from the New York publishing industry drop by meetings to keep in touch with the local chapter and to see what Secret Garden booksellers are loving these days.
Secret Garden’s events coordinator, Suzanne Perry, says the local chapter of the SCBWI “is the best one in the country.” It’s a very active organization that hosts meetups, webinars, and serves as a resource for all the readings, classes, and networking opportunities that local writers and artists and lovers of children’s literature need to know.
Why is the western Washington SCBWI so strong? Probably because the Seattle area is home to a large number of fantastic children’s book authors and illustrators. Perry has so many Seattle-area favorites she has to stop our interview every few minutes to add someone she forgot. She cites “super, super, super strong authors” like Martha Brockenbrough, Justina Chen Headley, Dana Sullivan, and Ben Clanton. Perry also likes an up-and-coming author named Kim Baker, adding “she only has one middle grade book out now, but she’s got a great future ahead of her.”
Perry is on a roll. “You know who I really love? I love Kevin Emerson,” she says. The local author has “put out like 15 books. He’s amazing. I think his storytelling is just top-notch, and I wish he would get the attention he deserves.” Emerson is a prolific writer of YA fiction who loves writing for kids, and Secret Garden has been ardently promoting his books from the very beginning. Perry says his novel Breakout, about a young musician who is torn about how rebellious his rock band should be, is a real “passion project” that deserves a much wider audience.
Is there anyone Perry doesn’t like? She says there was a local children’s author who published a book for adults. That by itself is no problem, but she says that when he was writing the adult book, “he was going around saying he was writing a real book, and I stopped loving him.” The moral of the story: children's books are every bit as real as books for adults, and don't you forget it.