The Women’s National Book Association has announced that two Michigan booksellers are this year’s winners of the Pannell Award, given annually since 1983 to two bookstores – one general and one children’s specialty store – that excel in bringing books and young people together. The winner in the general bookstore category is Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, and Bookbug in Kalamazoo clinched the award for a children’s specialty store.

A jury of five book industry professionals deliberated for four 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 underwritten by a gift from Penguin Young Readers Group, receives a check for $1,000 and a piece of framed original children’s book art, this year donated by James Dean of Pete the Cat fame (HarperCollins) and Susan Stockdale, author and illustrator of Stripes of All Types (Peachtree).

The jurors cited Nicola’s Books for the store’s “over and above commitment and partnering skills to benefit children, families, and the community at large. The Bookbug was similarly praised for having a “terrific history of civic engagement, actively engaging in all aspects of the local community to stay relevant and of service to children and their families.”

Nicola Rooney, who has owned Nicola’s Books since 1995, said that her store’s children’s department has doubled in size since 2001, when children’s buyer and “our children’s empire builder” Linda Goodman came on board. The store works closely with local schools, libraries, and authors to create programming that motivates children to read. Programs have included science-themed camps, events with a local nature center whose staffers bring animals into the store, and summer reading programs with various incentives for young customers.

“This is the first award we’ve won, and I’m totally thrilled that it is a children’s award,” Rooney remarked. “Our customer base is entirely sympathetic to the importance of children’s books and encouraging reading at a young age. Ann Arbor does have a reputation for being academic and literary, but I think it is very important to get children reading by exposing them to books that they enjoy. I work with schools to get the message across that a book may not have great literary merit, but if it engages children and lets them discover that reading is entertaining, that is a great beginning, and they’ll branch out to other books.”

At Bookbug, Joanna Parzakonis, who has owned the store with her husband Derek for five years, called winning the award “amazing and humbling and surprising, because of the youth of our store compared to other booksellers with so much more experience than we have. We were thrilled to be nominated for the award and hear from so many people about how much our store means to our community, and we truly feel that winning the Pannell Award is a testament to our community as much as it is to Bookbug.”

The bookseller explains that Kalamazoo has “a passionate commitment to young people, and has made a promise to fund a college education for every child in the city. The town has been an inspiration to us in the way it rallies around its youth. Our mission is to support that promise to children. We feel as though we are participants in the community first and booksellers second.”

Bookbug’s outreach has included partnering with local schools and libraries, as well as “smaller organizations that connect with youth in a grassroots way, like Open Roads, a bike program for kids, and Peace House, a safe haven and learning center in a tough area of town. We work with them to provide books for kids attending their programs.”

Parzakonis says that she and her husband “share this award with our town in every way,” and to that end are directing the cash component of their Pannell award to RAWK: Reading and Writing Kalamazoo, a newly launched nonprofit literacy initiative that will include creative writing workshops, author-led events, and reading support for children ages six to 18.

The Pannell Awards will be given out at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast at BEA on May 31.