At today’s Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, two booksellers will be on hand to accept this year’s WNBA Pannell Award, given annually since 1983 by the Woman’s National Book Association to two bookstores—one general and one children’s specialty store—that enhance their communities by bringing exceptional creativity to foster a love of reading in their young patrons. This year’s winners are Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Framingham, Maine, in the general bookstore category, and 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., for a children’s specialty store.
A jury of five book industry professionals deliberated for weeks before selecting the winners based on creativity, responsiveness to community needs, and an understanding of young readers. Each recipient of the award, which is co-sponsored by Penguin Young Readers Group, receives a $1,000 check and a piece of original art by a children’s book illustrator.
“It was really hard to choose this year, as there were so many impressive stores that do so much to support their community, not only through reading but philanthropy as well,” wrote Pannell Award juror Kelli Chipponeri, executive editor of children’s books at Chronicle Books. “The outreach that these booksellers do, with little resources and support, makes them not only cultural touch points for the people who shop at their stores but also promotes reading, art, and education in communities.”
That is a fitting description for longtime Devaney Doak & Garrett owner Kenny Brechner, who notes that “children’s book buying, reviewing, literacy outreach, and creative event programming is the area of bookselling to which I have given my greatest emphasis and taken the greatest satisfaction and pride.”
Noting that his store’s location in rural central Maine has greatly influenced its programs, he explains, “Framingham has a population of more than one million—pine trees. Since we are not near any urban center and are not on the way to any, our tradition of creative marketing and direct outreach to publishers and authors is a necessity in terms of luring resources up here to enrich all the programming we bring to young readers.”
The seeds of one of Brechner’s exemplary—and ongoing—outreach programs were planted more than a decade ago, when he visited a classroom and asked students for their feedback on some blads and ARCs he’d received from Penguin. “Their fascination and enthusiasm were an epiphany for me,” he says. “I called my Penguin sales rep and arranged to receive an ARC of The Heroic Adventures of Hercules Amsterdam for every student in the class to read and review. This project led to a whole new style of classroom outreach for DDG. I started ‘ARC Review Projects in several other classrooms that have become annual traditions.”
DDG works year-round with nine area school districts that cover hundreds of square miles and encompass more than 30 schools. “These partnerships are built around the principle of sharing knowledge and resources to bring the power of engaged reading into the lives of young readers, lighting a flame here and stoking a flame there,” says Brechner. “If one wants to stimulate reading, there is one ingredient that is truly essential: modeling a passion for reading. That is the heart of everything we do.”
In 2003, owner Cynthia Compton opened 4 Kids Books and Toys (so named for her own four children, now ages 1321) as a neighborhood children’s bookstore. The bookseller and her staff organize a busy, year-round schedule of in-store events and activities, partnerships with community organizations, and strong relationships with schools, with the goal, says Compton, of “encouraging a love of reading and promoting the power of literacy to grow imaginations and create a community of readers.”
At its core, 4 Kids is what Compton calls a “very hands-on, fun place where everyone is invited to play, read, see, and make friends. This is an extended community family.” To foster that spirit, the bookseller offers programs for children of all ages, including art activities and story times for the very young, book discussion and writing groups, summer reading programs, and even a parent book club. “It’s very important for us to get kids at every reading level involved,” says Compton.
Her store also has a wider-reaching mission. Located in an affluent suburb of Indianapolis, where parents are committed to providing books for their children, 4 Kids works to “extend that commitment to the greater metropolitan community where children do not have access to books easily. To make this happen, we have developed a network of community partnerships, allowing us to spread these resources, most specifically to public schools in the urban Indianapolis district.”
Over the years, Compton has developed school outreach programs to provide books and visiting authors to urban schools, which in many cases, she says, “require matchmaking between community organizations to provide resources and funding for the schools needing assistance.” The roster of sponsoring companies and local groups 4 Books has partnered with include the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Rotary clubs, and the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s all aimed at getting more books in the hands of kids,” adds Compton. “In 2013, for example, 4 Kids Books participated in the donation of over 4,500 books through partnership programs, adding to the thousands of volumes distributed in the 10 previous years.”